Getting back to the simple joys in life
For Brenda Walker, family is everything. She loves spending time with her three children, five grandchildren and great-granddaughter.
Brenda, 55, was at a family birthday party when she began having trouble breathing. She waited, hoping it would get better. It didn’t. She called 911 and an ambulance rushed her to the emergency room. There, doctors discovered Brenda had pneumonia in both lungs.
She fell into respiratory failure and was placed on a ventilator, airway support and a feeding tube.
For a month, Brenda battled for her life. Her family anxiously waited and prayed. They’d recently lost their father, and Brenda’s sister. They couldn’t bear to lose her as well.
Mercifully, Brenda rallied and stabilized enough for the family to consider the next step in recovery. They chose Select Specialty Hospital – South Atlanta, a critical illness recovery hospital with experience caring for medically complex patients.
Brenda arrived unable to breathe, speak, eat or move on her own. Brenda’s family wanted her back, so a physician-led team of nurses, therapists, dietitians and pharmacists created a plan to get her there.
Respiratory therapists and pulmonologists worked together on a plan to dial back the amount of work the ventilator was doing for Brenda’s lungs. Therapists led her through deep breathing, coughing and chest exercises to increase stamina. They also used monitored bursts of time off the ventilator to help her practice breathing independently. In two weeks, Brenda liberated from the ventilator.
Her speech language pathologist led Brenda through verbal exercises, urging her to form syllables and sounds until Brenda heard her own voice for the first time in more than a month. Overjoyed, she video chatted with family to say hello. There were tears all around.
She continued working with the speech language pathologist on mouth, tongue and jaw exercises to re-learn how to swallow safely. She passed a test indicating she was not in danger of drawing food or liquid into her lungs and restarted a regular diet.
Brenda continued to diligently practice speaking and soon the airway support in her neck was also removed. She returned to the small tube of oxygen at her nose that she used before falling ill.
Physical and occupational therapists worked with Brenda twice daily on mobility. At first, they led her through bed exercises, such as ankle pumps and turning from side to side. Soon, Brenda was able to sit up and took several steps toward a chair.
Brenda graduated to walking with a walker, therapists by her side. Each day, she walked longer distances in the hallways and never missed the chance to offer a cheerful hello.
In late May, Brenda met all her goals and was ready to go home.
She couldn’t wait to hug everyone and give a big kiss to her great-grandbaby. After that, she said, she was looking forward to a long soak in the tub, followed by a night in her own bed.