Editor’s note: This story was the third place winner in the 2012 “Who Inspires You” contest.
By Joanne Kabanuck
As I was waiting for my flight to Indianapolis in October 2011, I was thinking about the last time I’d seen my sister in August 2010 and wondering what she looked like now and how she could move around. I was asking myself how I could help her while I visited with her and her husband, Bob.
You may be wondering “why doesn’t she know what her sister looks like?”, but 2011 wasn’t a good year for my sister. When we last saw each other, I knew she was planning to have hip surgery, but otherwise she was in excellent health.
Lois went in for hip surgery January 12, 2011, and was home several days later. She had no clue of what was to come and how her life was about to change. She started feeling like something was wrong and noticed her incision was looking infected. She saw her surgeon and he had her go directly to the hospital where she then had three more surgeries as they attempted to isolate the problem.
At first they reopened the incision to check for a cause for the problem but nothing was found. Next the doctors thought her body could be allergic to the titanium, so they removed the hip joint. Soon it became apparent that there was much more going wrong, as her skin began to deteriorate. The doctors scrambled to figure out what was going on, even calling in specialists for consultations and going online to ask other doctors if they had seen anything like this before. The wound grew to about 8 inches by 17 inches in size and was very painful.
The condition was finally diagnosed as “Pyoderma Gangrenosum” an autoimmune disease, by the process of elimination as there is no test for this condition, and they started treatment for it using prednisone. The skin and flesh around the incision had been eaten away by the disease, which in some cases can be triggered by a history of colitis, which Lois had been diagnosed with in the past. Once the spread of the disease was controlled, they did more surgery and installed a spacer in the joint.
Lois went home after becoming stabilized but started getting weaker and after a few days her primary care doctor sent her to a large hospital in Indianapolis, where she would have access to more specialized care. It was determined that she had developed two blood infections most likely caused by the huge open wound on her leg. Several days in ICU, where she got fantastic care, controlled the infection but it had contaminated the spacer. A series of seven operations at an every two to three day interval were used to remove the spacer, the remnants of the infections and to stretch her skin to reduce the size of the open wound.
In all, Lois had a total of eleven surgeries and she will now go through life with no hip as the risk of any artificial joint or additional surgeries is far too great. Through this, she wondered if she would survive. Her positive attitude has inspired many people. One doctor told her that without her optimism and strong faith, she would have died. At one time, he thought he had lost her during a surgery, but she pulled through. She told me later, that she had seen our parents looking down at her, but they were smiling at her and not beckoning her to join them.
Through it all, Lois had a support network that spanned many states and she renewed friendships from all over the country. The Caring Bridge website was instrumental in keeping Lois connected with her friends and family, and even with people she hadn’t met, who wished to send her supportive messages. Lois said that those messages kept her going and gave her comfort when she was feeling down. Lois truly believes that it was through prayer that she received the proper care, and was given access to the top surgeons and top infectious disease doctors.
Lois had hopes of going home by the end of May, but missed that goal by several days. She finally got to take a shower at the end of May, and she was so excited! She finally went home on June 3rd. Because they live in a two story house, her husband built her a bed in the family room, where they still sleep. She has her lift chair near the bed and her sewing table in the family room also. She is now back to sewing quilts and also does some baking and cooking. She has many exercises to do each day to keep her muscles strong and flexible.
Her shoulder joint is now deteriorated and very painful. The joint looked good in February, but by June the x-ray showed bone on bone. This was caused either by the prednisone or the blood infections. Her right knee also bothers her, but the doctors have told her that she can’t have any more surgeries, as they fear the disease might flare up again. Lois goes to physical therapy each week and recently has added water therapy now that her thigh has fully healed, which she enjoys very much.
When I first saw her, I was surprised at how “normal” she looked. Her hair had always been kept brown, but now it had turned to a lovely gray with dark brown undertones. I was amazed at how she was able to get around with her walker and that she didn’t seem helpless at all. Her one leg is two and a half inches shorter than the other leg, so she has gotten her shoes built up to make it easier to walk. Lois had entered 2 of her quilts in a quilt show, so the next morning, we went to the quilt show to see all the quilts. Lois was able to walk around with her walker for over an hour!! She would run into people she knew and was always greeted with so much caring. Lois never complained or whined about what she had been through. She told me how the little things that we all take for granted, are tough when your movements are limited. She has trouble sitting down and getting up, negotiating steps, and public restrooms can’t be negotiated on her own. She no longer takes simple things for granted. She has always been very independent, so she has had to learn to depend on lots of help from others.
Lois has always been a role model to me, but I have been truly inspired by her strength of character, her strong faith, her positive attitude, bravery and determination.
Note: This year is looking much better for Lois. She will become a grandma for the first time in September and is planning to move into a new single level home later this year also.
Joanne (Joey) Kabanuck is a Registered Sales Assistant in Bismarck.