The Will To Live
(Pittsburgh, PA USA)
When Todd and I married in 2007 neither of us expected the 'in sickness' part of our vows to be tested so soon. Todd (50), a retired Navy Lieutenant Commander, was in top physical shape. He had completed 75 triathlons and 35 marathons, including seven Ironman triathlon races and 8 Boston Marathons.
Todd having a heart attack was the last thing I expected. But, on June 16, 2015, while vacationing in Aruba, my world shattered. Todd went to the emergency room with chest pains. The medication given to treat Todd’s heart attack caused a Cerebellum brain hemorrhage, resulting in increased cranial pressure and swelling. I could see my husband slipping away. He was in terrible pain and in and out of consciousness.
He was rushed into emergency brain surgery. I did not even have time to kiss him before they whisked him away. I requested a Priest for last rites and was uncertain if I would ever see him alive again. I was told he probably would not survive. Back in the U.S., our friends started a prayer group. It was the love and support of these friends who held me up in my darkest hours, alone and terrified in Aruba.
Todd survived the surgery, and the next morning our friend Tom arrived to be with me. He provided me the support I desperately needed. After two days, we were ready to leave for the US. As we waited, Todd, who was comatose, continued to deteriorate and was placed on life support.
When we left Aruba, I rested my head on Tom’s shoulder and slept. It was then I experienced something life-changing. In my “dream” a man appeared to me and told me Todd was going to survive and recover. He explained the journey would be long, and I should lean on my faith. When I awoke, I was at peace. I knew in my heart Todd was going to be ok. This was more than just a dream. I had been in the presence of God.
Arriving in Florida a team of doctors was waiting to assess Todd's condition. The prognosis was poor. The scans showed he had several brain stem strokes, a herniated brain stem, and diminished brain stem activity. The recommendation was to remove life support. Thinking back to my dream, I needed to trust in God and be Todd’s advocate.
I don’t remember the next hours; but I know I was kneeling on the floor next to him, holding his hand, willing him to wake up, praying for a miracle. The next morning, the first of several miracles in our journey occurred. A new doctor recommended a second brain surgery. If Todd was going to make it, this was his only chance.
Overnight, the brain swelling had subsided, and his brain stem was not as herniated as the night prior. What was medically impossible, was possible by God. After the surgery, Todd remained comatose on life support. The hospital continued to recommend end-of-life care. I held steadfast in my faith.
My heart told me to leave Florida and return home to Pittsburgh, PA. We had a daughter there who needed her mother, and the hospitals are world-class facilities. I was determined to find a doctor who would agree to take Todd’s case. Upon returning home, the doctors informed me that Todd was considered to be in a vegetative state and the prognosis continued to be poor. He remained in the ICU for over 40 days.
While in the ICU, I began to see signs of life. He responded to my voice with eye movements and blinked to answer me. My eye witness accounts of purposeful communication were dismissed by the doctors as a wife in denial. Holding my faith while surrounded by negativity was difficult, yet, Todd depended on me. I was certain he was fighting to return to his girls.
Weeks passed with little change. Exhausted and frustrated, one especially hard morning, I spoke to God. I needed to know this fight had a purpose and Todd was not suffering. Later, I asked the staff to help me see if Todd could speak by capping his tracheostomy. Hesitant, they agreed. After ten minutes with no response, I whispered to Todd and turned away feeling defeated. As a tear escaped my eye, I heard the faintest sound of 'I love you,' the first words spoken in weeks. God provided my sign. Ironically, the 2nd miracle happened on our anniversary.
Todd was diagnosed with Locked-in syndrome (LIS). LIS is a rare neurological condition that leaves a person quadriplegic with no way to produce speech or swallow. They cannot communicate but are aware of their surroundings. Blinking his eyes became Todd’s only connection to the world. The main cause of LIS is a brainstem hemorrhage. Full or even partial recovery of functions is rare.
In spite of this, my hope was renewed. If anyone could beat LIS, it was Todd. I enlisted help from holistic healers like Acupuncturists and Reiki massage workers. God continued to provide the right person, at the right time. Our 3rd miracle occurred when Todd’s Reiki worker suggested I speak with the doctors because, during his treatment, she could not complete the session because the energy he was omitting around his head was too hot. His doctors discounted her assessment. However, after some prompting from me they agreed to run tests. They found a brain infection. It was discovered early enough for surgery and antibiotics to heal it.
Almost immediately, Todd began to regain movement and some speech. It was as if God had made a path for Todd’s recovery. He spent four months at an inpatient rehabilitation unit. He wanted to be home for Christmas and was discharged on Dec 21, 2015. He spent six months in total hospitalized. Todd required my assistance to do even the smallest thing. Our basement became a hospital room. Volunteers gave up their time to administer therapy in our home, as Todd relearned how to swallow, talk and walk. I will forever be grateful for these Angels on earth. They were all blessings from God.
Now, 4 years later, Todd performs physical exercise most days. He returned to work in April 2016 and drives. He ambulates with no cane or walker only relying on his Great Dane service dog, Groot, to keep him balanced. Of course, my husband is determined to return to his passion, racing. In June 2017, he participated in Leon's World's Fastest Triathlon. Leon’s supports the active and retired military. The race is held in collaboration with the two-day Dare2Tri Injured Military Camp. With the assistance of a partner & adaptive equipment, Todd crossed his first post-stroke finish line.
While Todd takes his recovery day-by-day, he dreams of completing the lronman in Kona, Hawaii. He is training toward this goal. Daily, I watch my husband fight to regain his balance, so his dream becomes a reality. Neither of us is giving up. With faith, love, and hope, we continue to beat LIS. I know that with God anything is possible, and I can’t wait for the day I watch Todd cross that finish line. That will be our 4th miracle.