Thursday, December 03, 2009

Becky update 2

For those of you checking up on Becky here, here is the update I posted on her CaringBridge website. Check for further updates at that site, entering her name as Becky Arganbright.:

When we went to see Becky this morning at about 8:30 she was just coming out of her medically induced hypothermia. This is a relatively new, life-saving technique that they call the "Cool It Protocol." I counted eight IV lines, not including the ventilator she had shoved down her throat; she also was getting an "assist" for her heart from a balloon inside an artery that was helping her circulate her blood.

Around 9 am they began taking her off the drugs that were keeping her heavily sedated and paralyzed (so she wouldn't shiver during the hypothermia). I was told by the nurse that the sedative would wear off fairly quickly, but that she might not be responsive for several hours or a few days. Well, around 10 a.m. the doctor supervising the ICU came in and talked to me for about 20 minutes, basically saying that there was reason to be optimistic but that we should also be prepared for the worst. I stepped out of the room so he could examine her, and when he did, she woke up. I could hear the nurse saying, "Rebecca, you are in a hospital. You need to stay still and try not to move too much." And then the doctor was asking her whether she was in pain and explaining that her vision would be foggy for a while. And then the nurse was saying, "Your kids are all right. Your baby is being taken care of." When the doctor came out, he had a big smile on his face and said that it was really good that she was awake and responsive, that it improved her prognosis significantly.

When i went into the room Becky was moving her arms and legs quite a bit and seemed to be trying to sit up -- she looked scared and confused. The nurse tried to calm her down a little bit, and I again reassured her about the kids and told her that everyone was praying for her and that she would be all right. She started crying a little bit. She kept trying to talk around the ventilator, which of course is impossible.

She continued to be responsive to her parents and husband when they arrived a short while later, although the nurse increased the sedative to calm her down a little bit. Later, a neurologist came by to test her and found that she was able to feel everywhere he touched and able to respond to his questions in a way that made sense (still nodding or shaking her head). We also talked to a cardiologist who said that her prognosis for a full recovery is very good, although she will have all of the issues that anyone who has survived a major heart attack would have -- including concern about the arteries growing into the stents that were placed in her heart. She will be in the hospital for another week or two, and then she will need at least six weeks to fully recover. She should be able to lead a fairly normal life after that, although she will have some minor damage to the heart.

The cardiologist also explained that the survival rate for this sort of event is very, very low -- like in the low single digits. She survived because her husband was there to call 911 when she told him to (she must have had some early symptoms); and because the emergency response was so fast; and because she received CPR less than a minute after going into cardiac arrest; and because the CPR was good and continuous for the 40 minutes or so until they could shock her heart back into action; and because she was taken by helicopter from the initial receiving hospital to Abbott Northwestern, which is one of the best heart hospitals in the country and which has been pioneering the life-saving techniques used on Becky; and because the head of the emergency cardiology unit at Abbott Northwestern was available to do the emergency surgery and oversee her initial care, including the innovative new techniques that probably made the difference between mere survival and full recovery. Without all of those things, she would have either died or been in a persistant vegetative state, most likely.

And let's not forget the incredible outpouring of prayers. She has had Masses said for her, countless rosaries, and people staying up all night to pray, people who don't know her but know someone in the family or have simply heard of her situation. Thank you for all those prayers; clearly, we have been very, very blessed to have the outcome that Becky seems to be experiencing.

Becky's kids are hanging in there pretty well, although obviously they miss her; they are a little too young to fully understand what is going on, other than having lots of strangers and relatives in the house and being completely off their routine. As far as they know, mom is away taking a really long nap. The newborn has had problems adjusting to formula -- she was up most of the night, keeping Dennis (Becky's husband) awake for a second night in a row. My sister Mary and I will be taking the baby tonight.

They hope to begin weaning her off of the heart assist pump today, and if that goes well, they will remove it tomorrow; if that goes well, they will remove the ventilator, which I am sure Becky would hugely appreciate.

Things are still incredibly busy here, so I have to run -- more updates later.