Skip Navigation
The Catalyst

When 'it' works, medical miracles can happen

By Mikie Hayes
Public Relations

Former patient Leah Adkins, second from right, visits with members of her care team at the Medical ICU. They include MICU nurse manager Janet Byrne, from left, medical director Dr. Dee Ford and respiratory therapist Brad Kilpatrick. photo by Mikie Hayes, Public Relations

Former patient Leah Adkins is filled with Thanksgiving.

November 24, 2012 began as a normal day for this nursing student. Between studying for exams and high hope of finding the perfect Christmas tree with her boyfriend that day, the furthest thing from Adkins’ mind was the possibility she might not survive a day with such promise.

An active 21–year–old, Adkins was blindsided when after experiencing an unrelenting sharp pain in her thigh and shortness of breath walking up a flight of stairs, she suffered a saddle pulmonary embolism – a large blood clot that travels to the lungs and is often deadly. A “saddle” embolus straddles both sides of the arterial branch and is nearly unheard of in a healthy woman with no characteristic risk factors: she didn’t smoke, had not recently traveled, had not undergone surgery, and her labs showed no risk factors.

Adkins credits the superior care she received from MUSC doctors and nurses and is happy to recount how their accurate diagnoses quite literally saved her life. “I don’t think people realize how quickly it happens,” Adkins said, describing the series of events that nearly claimed her life. “I was struggling to breathe, blacked out on the floor and started convulsing. By the time EMS arrived, I was blue, unresponsive, had no heartbeat and was not breathing. I was defibrillated twice before they were finally able to get a heartbeat. All I can say is, thank goodness I was so close to MUSC.”

The ambulance arrived at MUSC within moments of Adkins having been resuscitated at her James Island home; the young woman, who just 15 minutes prior was enjoying time with her boyfriend, was facing almost certain death. Adkins recounted, “They were in disbelief that I was alive. My doctor later confided in me that when I came in, things didn’t look good at all — I literally looked like I was dead.”

Thanks to the level of care and expertise at MUSC, Adkins received a second chance. While it comes with the territory, emergency care providers are routinely presented with the most challenging situations and hers was no different. Following an assessment of her condition, Neil Glover, M.D., formerly with the MUSC Emergency Department, and Dee Ford, M.D., associate professor of medicine and medical director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit, they concluded that Adkins suffered from either a pulmonary embolism or a brain hemorrhage. Both dire in their own right, each condition required a different course of action and the wrong decision could have yielded a very different outcome. The physicians agreed it was a saddle PE and administered the thrombolytic agent tPA to break the clots. That accurate call was the key to her survival and the fact that the successful collaboration of the skilled ED team, under the most stressful of circumstances, was critical to her survival has fueled her passion to deliver the most compassionate care to every single patient with whom she comes in contact.

“Adkins was one of the ‘great saves’ we occasionally get to experience in medicine; a young person with a bright future ahead of her for whom a terrible tragedy was narrowly averted. When I went to the ED after a request for assistance, I saw a patient who was very nearly dead. It was really the amazing MUSC team, primarily in the ED, who deserves credit for this wonderful outcome. Without their rapid assessments and interventions, she wouldn’t have had the time to receive the medication that did save her life.”

In May, Adkins will complete her nursing education at Trident Technical College; her dream is to work at MUSC. “I knew I wanted to be a nurse, but after my personal experience, I fell in love with nursing,” Adkins said. “To have experienced such a traumatic, life-threatening event at my age has given me a level of empathy that most people my age will never understand. You just don’t realize what patients go through until it happens to you. When you flat-line and are not responsive and then you are brought back to life, you have an entirely different perspective on care.”

The ED staff was so pleased with Leah’s remarkable recovery that her case was selected to be the subject of the May 3 Schwartz Center Rounds. Panelists for the rounds included Ford, ED nurse Karen DeGueldre and respiratory therapist Rhead Martinette. Adkins was on hand to share her experience and her family was there to express their gratitude. The discussion was titled: “When ‘It’ All Works, Miracles Can Happen.”

After her brush with death, Adkins is more convinced than ever that she is in the perfect profession to make an impact in the lives of patients; her conviction was deepened by an extraordinary personal experience.

Degueldre refers to it as a miracle case. Adkins shares a commonality with those whose lives she touches now every day through her work.

Adkins credits MUSC with saving her life, and more, with giving her an opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse in hopes of providing the exceptional level of care that was so generously given to her.

December 1, 2013

© 2013  Medical University of South Carolina | Disclaimer