Lisa's Story

Refusing to give up, a wife and mother returns to life

Coughing and short of breath, Lisa Watkins had her husband, Jerry, take her to the emergency room.

Shortly after arriving, the 53-year-old went into respiratory failure and was placed on a ventilator. She spent 18 days in intensive care, surviving multiple complications; her heart stopped several times.

Doctors there attempted to liberate her from the ventilator, but each time, she failed.

At one point, Jerry was told he should resign himself to Lisa living on a ventilator for the rest of her life. However, he wasn’t ready to accept that, and knew Lisa wouldn’t either. He explored options and chose Select Specialty Hospital – Cincinnati North for is experience helping medically complex patients like his wife relearn how to breathe, eat, speak, think and walk again.

Lisa arrived dependent on tubes to provide oxygen and nutrition. She had multiple intravenous antibiotics coursing through her system to fight infection in her respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.

Jerry’s biggest goal for Lisa was to get her home. A physician-led team of nurses, therapists and pharmacists created a plan to help get her there.

Physical therapists began by implementing a mobility program. Studies have shown that even small movements can enhance a patient’s potential ability to liberate from the ventilator. 
At the same time, respiratory therapists started assessing her readiness to breathe on her own. Pharmacists assessed her medication regimen, calibrating doses and evaluating her need for each one. Nurses repositioned Lisa to avoid pressure injuries, administered medication and ensured her comfort.

Two weeks later, Lisa awoke. Aware of her surroundings, she was able to participate more fully in physical and respiratory therapy. She also added to her list of goals – becoming strong enough to go to church with her family and drive.

Respiratory therapists started leading her through breathing exercises, and gradually reduced the ventilator’s settings, allowing her lungs to do more of the work. Lisa liberated, graduating to airway support-only then returned to breathing on her own.

Physical and occupational therapists exercised her legs and arms, helped her into a chair and began working with her to brush her hair and teeth.

“I refused to think about what happened for the weeks that I was in a medical coma and I just wanted to focus on the future only,” Lisa said. “The nurses and doctors never let me give up and kept pushing me. I did a ‘bed happy dance’ every chance I got once I found out I could move. I couldn’t get out of bed, but I moved while laying down to work on being able to walk one day.”

As she grew stronger, Lisa had one, final goal – she wanted to walk out of the hospital.

In a little under a month, Lisa met her goal. She went home, planning to continue outpatient physical and occupational therapy. When we spoke with her 11 days later, Lisa happily reported she’d been to church, was still walking well and was nine weeks nicotine-free. She’d stopped wheezing for the first time in her life and was looking forward to spending time with her children.

“I just want to say thank you to all of the Select employees who took care of me,” Lisa said. “Lisa in OT and the rest of therapy, for never giving up on me and making me push my best effort every day. And, my husband, who never lost faith in me even when doctors told him that there was nothing else they could do.”