|Bill Bryant's Survivor Story|
My story begins in May of 2002 when I developed a really bad cold that just wouldn't seem to go away. For several weeks I had a severe cough, pain in my chest and right side which felt like a knife stabbing me, loss of appetite, and fatigue. I slept in a recliner most of the time just to breathe. I finally went to my doctor and he told me that I had pneumonia. I finished the 10 day supply of antibiotic he prescribed, but still didn't feel much better. I went back for another visit and the doctor said the pneumonia was better, but I had some fluid accumulation around my right lung. He felt it would resolve in a couple of days. The next day I was at work and had a coughing spell and could barely get my breath. I called my wife and she immediately took me to the doctor. The x-ray showed that my right lung had collapsed from the fluid accumulation and there was almost no air in that lung. I was immediately admitted to Roanoke Memorial Hospital where a needle was inserted into my right pleural space to drain the fluid and re-expand my lung. The date was June 12, 2002.
The procedure was not successful because the fluid was too thick to drain through the needle; it also showed that there was a large amount of infection in the fluid. At this point I was transferred to the step-down unit for closer observation. This is where I met Dr. Scott Arnold, the surgeon who would not only save my life, but care for me over the many months to come. He placed a chest tube in my right lung and an enormous amount of horrible smelling fluid immediately drained off my lung. I was started on antibiotics and over the next few days felt some better. After about a week the fluid continued to drain and I had a second tube placed in the same lung to drain air that had accumulated and was keeping my lung from expanding. At this point, I thought it would only be a day or two before I was home. I could not have been more wrong.
The first tube had been in about one and a half weeks and began to hurt very bad. A red area developed around the tube and whenever I walked, fluid leaked out onto my clothes. The decision was made to take me to surgery to inspect what the doctors thought was cellulitis (inflammation of the tissue). It was supposed to be a simple procedure. The date was June 28. Several hours into surgery, Dr. Arnold called my wife in the waiting room and told her that he had very bad news. The culprit was necrotizing fasciitis and it was extensive. During surgery he consulted a plastic surgeon to try and spare as much muscle and skin as possible. He told my wife that "people don't recover from an infection like this". The surgery took 5 hours and I was immediately transferred to Med Surge ICU with a gaping hole where the right side of my chest used to be. Everything was gone right down to my lung. I was put into a drug-induced coma and would remain that way for nearly two and a half months. During that time I battled multiple infections, causing my blood pressure to be critically low. I was on multiple antibiotics, medicines to raise my blood pressure and pages of other medications. I received 27 units of blood, received nutrition through a tube down my nose, and had to have a tracheostomy (tube inserted in my neck) for my ventilator tube. My kidneys failed and I was one day away from receiving dialysis when the medicines began to help. Many times, I was not expected to make it through the day and things looked really grim. But I had several angels in my corner. My wife is a Registered Nurse at the hospital and she stayed with me around the clock and assisted with my care. My mother also came daily to help care for me, rubbing lotion on me as much as 6 times a day. The support from our church and other church friends was phenomenal, I was constantly being lifted up in prayer and I firmly believe that God was listening. Also, the care from the nurses and doctors was for the most part outstanding. The doctors tried everything they could think of to help me. I had almost every group of doctors in the hospital consulting on my care.
My wound care specialist used a device called a wound vac to help my wound heal, and it is nothing short of a miracle. It pulls blood into the wound bed to speed healing and pulls out drainage, helping new tissue to grow. Within weeks the massive wound was showing some improvement and my condition had stabilized enough to be moved to a step-down unit. Due to systemic infections, I would be transferred back to ICU 4 times before reaching 8South (a step-down unit) where I would reside for the next 5 months. I received a skin graft during this time which only adhered about 60% mostly due to my body's poor nutritional state. The doctors estimated that I had lost 80-85% of my body's muscle mass. I was nothing but skin over bone. I also had developed a large open sore over my tailbone which was not only excruciatingly painful, but further depleted my body's energy source. I had severe diarrhea due to the antibiotics and the only food that I would eat was eggs and waffles. My left lung became problematic and I had at least 5 tubes placed in it to remove fluid caused by treatment. Repeated efforts at weaning me from the ventilator failed until finally, in February, I was able to breathe on my own. This was the hardest thing I've ever had to overcome.
Physical Therapy and Occupational therapy had been working with me every day to rebuild my strength, but it was a very slow process. I could not even turn myself in bed. February 26th I was transferred to the Rehabilitation unit for extensive therapy. I became stronger, but it was a exasperatingly slow process. By the time I was discharged home, March 26, 2003, I could walk about 15 feet with much help. I was so weak, I fell getting out of my car.
I received Home Health Physical Therapy for about 2 months and got to the point where I could walk 150 feet with a walker and go up and down 14 steps in my house. We had to have an elevator installed in my house before I came home so I could get in and out. I now am going to Day Rehab and can walk 1/4 mile with a cane and several rest breaks. My wife bandages my 2 wounds (side and bottom) daily and they are healing, slowly. I have foot drop and have to wear splints on my feet. I am gaining weight (I lost approximately 100 pounds during my hospital stay) and the doctors feel I should make a near full recovery eventually. I still have months of therapy ahead and I hope to reopen my business in August.
Despite my multiple scars and continuing struggle to regain my strength, I am thankful to God for his healing touch and faithfulness. I have a deeper appreciation for my family and friends, and for life itself. I am also thankful for my caregivers and the researchers who have developed the technologies that allowed me to live. Please remember me in prayer that I will continue to make progress, and if you know someone who contracts this illness, continually pray for them and be there to support them in any way possible. This disease cannot be overcome alone.
Update: September 12, 2003
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September 12, 2003