Patsy's Story

Patsy using airway support and smiling from her hospital bed with family standing behind her.

A family’s faith in miracles confirmed

Patsy Duncan was at home when she tripped and took a nasty fall onto concrete. The 71-year-old had her husband, Sherman, take her to the local hospital. Though awake and alert, she was sent to a larger trauma center as a precaution.

The decision likely saved her life. Almost as soon as Patsy arrived, she became unconscious and stopped breathing. Scans and tests revealed Patsy had a subdural hematoma – a large, blood-filled bruise on her brain. Rushed into the operating room, Patsy had skull surgery to relieve swelling. She was placed on breathing and feeding tubes and moved to intensive care.

Doctors didn’t give her family much hope. As days passed and Patsy’s brain activity didn’t rebound, they cautioned if she did wake up, Patsy would be “100 percent dependent, nonfunctional and unable to communicate.” It was suggested the family make her comfortable and let her go.

Her daughter, Michelle Phillipi, said, “God had everything timed perfectly though.”

When Patsy’s grandchildren, Chase and Cara, came to visit her, they swore Patsy recognized them. The family decided Patsy’s fight wasn’t over. From that point forward, she began to stabilize and liberated from the ventilator. Her caseworker suggested Select Specialty Hospital – TriCities, a critical illness recovery hospital specializing in helping medically complex patients begin to breathe, eat, speak, move and think again.

She arrived fully dependent and unable to follow commands. Her family’s main goal was to get their mother, wife and grandmother home. A physician-led team of therapists and nurses created a plan to help Patsy accomplish that.

After a head-to-toe evaluation, physical and occupational therapists began a mobility program. They started with range of motion exercises in bed, moving her arms, legs, hands and feet to circulate blood.

Over several weeks, Patsy reemerged. She began sitting up, moving purposefully and was able to sit in a chair.

Respiratory and speech therapists inserted a special valve in her airway support that helped Patsy speak, and she could communicate more clearly with her family. The valve also allowed her to breathe more deeply.

“Before coming here, she could only move her eyes. She couldn’t respond to anything past that, but now she is able to do so much,” Michelle said. “They started having her do exercises for comprehension, then moved onto other movements like sitting and following directions. Yesterday she even stood with a little help for 10 minutes. The strides forward she has made since she got here have been nothing less than extraordinary.”

By the end of February, the woman some had given up on was ready to take the next step in recovery. She moved on to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital, where she spent two weeks focusing on physical and occupational therapy in preparation for going home.

“Your staff has been wonderful, attentive, kind, and compassionate,” Michelle said. “They have pushed and encouraged her every day. Trying to pick just one person or team here to recognize would be impossible. They are all just excellent, I don’t see how anyone could say anything but great things about y’all. Y’all really just give us hope.”