Recovering from Sepsis

India (Chapman) Hight, formerly of Oswego, poses for a photo with her husband, Kevin Hight, in their Arkansas home following India’s return home after more than 80 days in the hospital and a rehabilitation unit. India developed sepsis and went into septic shock, with the end result being loss of her lower legs and hands. India is an Oswego High School graduate and attended Labette Community College.

BELLA VISTA, Ark. — At night time it’s the worst, when India (Chapman) Hight is exhausted, hurting and her mind takes her to that place where concern and fear lurk. That is when she cries.

That is when her husband, Kevin, comforts her and helps her focus on their blessings.

“You know, at the end of the day, I don’t have my hands, and I don’t have my feet, but I’m alive and I’m going to get to see my girls grow up, and they are not going to have to grow up without a mom,” India said stoically as she sat in her wheelchair in the living room of her home in Bella Vista, Arkansas. “(Kevin) keeps reminding me of that frequently when I get down: ‘You’re here and that’s what’s important.’”

Just the flu

March 9, about 4:50 p.m. Kevin received a text from India stating she thought she was getting the flu. India worked from home as a quality assurance coordinator for a medical billing service. That night flu-like symptoms worsened and vomiting and severe chills set in. Kevin suggested India go to the emergency room, but with a $3,000 deductible yet to meet, going to the emergency room for “just the flu” seemed ridiculous to India. Kevin left the house about 7 a.m. saying he would call in a couple of hours to check on her.

“I called, no answer. I waited about 20 minutes, called again, no answer. I came home and I think I got here probably close to 10 o’clock and she was just totally unresponsive,” Kevin said.

He rushed his wife to the urgent care unit. Once she received fluids, she was awake and talking. Neither of them realized at first how serious her condition was. Kevin left India’s room with their 3-year-old daughter, Landree, in tow.  

“The doctor came out and said basically, ‘Your wife is very sick, do you have someone who can come get Landree,’” Kevin said, rubbing his forehead as he recalled the conversation. “I left, came back in about 20 minutes, and the doctor said, ‘We want you to know we’ve called in the chaplain, because we don’t think your wife is going to make it.’”

Medical personnel determined India had contracted E. coli, and her body was going haywire in reaction to battling the infection, sending her into septic shock.

The doctor kept working for about three hours to increase India’s blood pressure from its level of around 50 over 30, in hopes of transporting her by ambulance to the main Mercy Hospital six miles away. Not able to achieve the wholly desired response, they finally life-flighted India the short distance and kept working to stabilize her.

“So she did fairly well and that went on for about six hours. I think they called me back about 3 in the morning and said they were just going to have to put her in a coma, because her organs were shutting down,” Kevin said. “I think, that night her heart stopped and they had to resuscitate her there. That next day is when she had a heart attack. They resuscitated her again and they said we were pretty much done, that we should say our good-byes.”

Under normal circumstances, the doctors would have removed the blockage and put in a stent, but because of the infection, and dangers involved, it was not possible.

“When your body goes into septic shock there are different stages. Your body, to protect the core, shuts off blood flow to the extremities, and that’s kind of what happened to her and there’s no way to reverse it,” Kevin said of India. “Once the blood clotting goes there, there is just no way back around it.” Then the organs start shutting down. Traumatized, the family lifted up prayers and sent out requests for prayers from others via social media.

Alive, but…

Somewhere between the family present at the hospital being told “say your good-byes” and the family waiting on India’s brother to arrive to day good-bye, things began to turn around.

“So as far as a miracle, yes. It was,” Kevin said. “I can’t tell you how many people we had reach out praying for her. The support was literally from around the world.”

Two more days passed, then India’s heart stopped again. Again they resuscitated her.

Defying doctors’ predictions, however, she remained alive.

“Then it was about day five when they started having conversations about her limbs, that they were starting to turn black. …So they ended up and going ahead and taking her hands at the point, because they were just gangrene. They thought that was just driving the infection,” Kevin said, adding that the strongest of antibiotics was not decreasing India’s white cell count, which peaked at 54,000. Normal is between 3,500 and 10,500.

“I want to say it was two or three days after that when they went ahead and took her feet,” Kevin said. “The reality was, I don’t remember ever second guessing the decision. You do what you have to do. It was just truly overwhelming.”

Finally, India began to respond to the antibiotics.

“From my perspective, anything positive was truly that. You know, it was just days before, literally, the preacher had come in and we had said our good-byes. … So anything when you are that low, anything heading in the right direction, was good, because we were literally done,” Kevin said. “We were just sitting there. It was a miracle.”

Nurses slowly began to reduce the medication keeping India in her coma, though she remained heavily medicated for the pain. She would awaken to discover her hands and feet missing, receive explanations, then fall asleep, only to reawaken to the same thing again.

“I think all the drugs they were giving me helped. I don’t remember really flipping out. When I finally remember the nurse telling me that, I remember it was just like, ‘Oh. OK,’” India said, dry-eyed, thinking back to awakening to her altered physical state.

Conscious after being in a coma for 10 days, India’s ventilation tube was removed.

“I remember that date because it was my dad’s birthday and I remember his saying it was the best birthday present he could have ever asked for,  just to hear my voice,” India said.

Recovery

India did not go though the seven phases of grief, as was expected.

“We went through all of that with Emeree, or at least I did,” India said of their 9-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. “And with this, I’m like, ‘I’m going to go through that. It’s perfectly normal,’ but I never really went through that. I just pretty much accepted it, because considering the alternative … I died three times and I could have been gone. End of story. I’ve never really gotten angry. I’ve questioned the why, … but I can’t do anything about it. I was just so thankful to be alive.

“She doesn’t like it, but I always do comparisons, like ‘It could be worse.’ She has her knees, which is huge, and she has her elbows, and when you get into prosthetics, those are two huge complications if you don’t,” Kevin said. “And just the part of having a wrist, palm and portion of her (left) thumb, is huge.

“I’m right handed, but I’ve been learning to use it,” India said. “Like my signature is not pretty, but that’s OK.”

She signed her own discharge papers from the hospital when she was released 62 days after she was admitted and was moved to a rehabilitation unit to begin more extensive therapy. She was able to return home June 1.

Because their insurance does not cover home care for India, and the cost is $15 to $22 an hour, India’s mother, Beckie Chapman of Oswego, and Kevin’s mother, Marilyn Fairchild of Bristow, Oklahoma, have been taking turns each week, traveling to stay with and care for India and help with their granddaughters during the day while Kevin is at work.

Days have been filled with doctor’s visits and working with therapists, but hard work has been paying off.

Among other tasks, India has learned to dress and undress herself, buckle her seat belt and, for the first time, two weeks ago, put on her makeup by herself without having prosthetics.

Kevin and India realized quickly not to set limitations on India.

“It was really that. A realization that it was way too early to even start setting limitations,” Kevin said, smiling over at his wife, with whom he celebrated their 10th anniversary on May 21.

“We learned that with Emeree,” India added, smiling back at him. “Having her just prepared me in so many ways for this. I think that is what really helped me deal with this because I had already been through something I thought was traumatic, because we didn’t have a prenatal diagnosis and then here this child comes out and they tell me she has Down syndrome.”

“I have him reminding me all the time of how far I’ve come, just what I managed to do that I couldn’t do two weeks ago,” India said of her husband’s support. “I definitely know for sure I’m very strong. I’ve always been a fighter. That’s very clear, I think.”

Kevin mentioned that he contacted three women whose stories are nearly identical to India’s, from their early symptoms, to husbands finding them non-responsive, to the coma, to be becoming quadriplegics. One of the ladies was in People magazine.

“When she’s ready, they will talk to her,” Kevin said. “They are all about two years ahead of her.”

Shaking her head side to side, indicating, a “No,” India said,  “I’m just not ready yet. I guess I’m scared I’m going to hear, ‘I can’t do this or I can’t do that.’ I want to hear their successes. ‘I did this and I did that,’” India said.

“Just everything I discover I can do is such a win, if you can call it that … just any little thing that other people take for granted,” she said. “Any time I just do something like that I am so proud of myself.”

Mommy

The proud moments of accomplishment are counter balanced with difficult moments, especially in parenting.

For the children, it was a difficult adjustment to grasp the change from their normal daily routines with mommy, and the change in her appearance.

“When the bandages first came off, Landree was more withdrawn,” India said. “At first she wouldn’t come and sit on my lap. Then she would finally come sit on my lap and then finally she would touch my arm. I just cried when I saw that. It was like, ‘She’s touching me. She’s actually touching me.’ It was so hard watching my kids struggle to process this.”

The girls have begun to understand that right now, mommy can’t do much to help them, and that she is the one who needs help.

“I discovered both girls can get me on and off the toilet. My chair won’t fit into any of the bathrooms. They’ve watched it done, so they are able to do it. I’m very proud of them, but what 9 and 3-year-old wants to help their mom get to the bathroom,” India said, looking down at the floor, contemplating the question. “But they are so proud of themselves that they did it. It is so rewarding. I feel so bad, but they take a sense of pride in taking care of their mom.

“I don’t like it. I feel like such a burden,” India said.

Having to receive her daughters’ help is difficult, but not being able to participate in regular daily activities impacts India the most.

“I feel like I’m not even their mother. Like all I can do is sit on the couch or sit in this chair and bark orders at them or yell at them and try to parent them that way because I can’t give them a bath. I can’t fix their hair. I can’t take them to their activities. I can’t … That’s he hardest thing I think,” India said, her stoicism slipping momentarily. “But we’ll get there. I have no doubt.

“I never really took life for granted before, because I knew every day was a gift, but, you really truly don’t appreciate things, I think, until they’re gone. I would give anything now just for my life to go back as it was, to normal… .”

Support

Support in all forms from the mothers, friends, family and others has been difficult for India and Kevin to accept. Both describe the response as overwhelming, but something for which they are most grateful.

Kevin said he had never really given India credit for all the times she would raise her hand to volunteer, and how many lives she had touched in the process. It became evident in the first days and weeks following India’s hospitalization, as one person after another came forward with get well wishes and offers to help. Cards, emails and letters, some including a financial donation, have come from everywhere, from India’s hometown of Oswego to the other side of the ocean.

“I think that was the hardest thing for me, was finally having to give in to the them caring part,” Kevin said, explaining both he and India’s independent, self-supporting attitude of the past. “I had multiple friends that sat me down and said, ‘People want to help and you have to let them. If you don’t do something, you can’t stop it and you’ll end up with 20 years of Subway gift cards. Because people want to help. So you get a You Caring site, or you get a gift to Subway.”

“I’m very humbled by people’s generosity — people I didn’t even know donating. It just blows me away,” India said.  “How do you say thank you enough? I can’t thank everybody enough. I can’t send out thank you notes, because I can’t write, so I’m like ‘How do I send out thank you notes to people?’ I don’t know how I’m going to do it to let them know what it means.”

Presently, Kevin said, smaller donations can be submitted through You Caring to the India Hight Medical Fund. Larger tax deductible donations can be sent to India through Helping Hands.

Every little bit will help. While insurance is paying for most of the medical bills, they are a massive expense for the family, made more difficult by being reduced for now to one income.

“The scary thing is the unknown. Where are we going to be with the prosthetics? We don’t know what are we going to end up with and whether insurance is going to pay. So with a lot of these donations, we are saving for that,” Kevin said.

There are a great many other things, too, that insurance will not help with, such as the ramp into their home, home modifications, a van to transport the wheelchair and then, later, the van modifications that will allow India to drive.

It is unknown exactly when she will be able to get prosthetics.

“We’re just waiting for everything to heal and I’m doing a lot of desensitization exercises to help because it is pretty tender and zingy. I’m waiting for the skin to toughen up a little bit because it is all new skin,” India said. “I’m looking forward to getting back to normal and getting our life back to normal just as soon as we can. Get those hands and feet working.”

India said she still has not been able to go back and read all of the comments people left on Facebook. Kevin said he shared some with her, but India said she is just not ready to handle it.

“I guess I’m so humbled. I’m just so humbled by people’s generosity and prayers, cards and the words of encouragement. I’m like, me? Me? Why me? What’s so special about me?” India said. “I’ve read a few things, but it is emotionally draining. It’s just so humbling.”

After effects

Nurses, family and friends and supportive strangers all keep expressing to India how strong she is and that she is an amazing fighter.

“I say it wasn’t me. I’m only here because obviously the power of prayer works,” India said, glancing to Kevin sitting on the couch beside her wheelchair, reminding him she still wanted to see the Google map covered in pins marking the places people lived who were praying for her. “There were people praying for me clear over in Europe and around the world.”

“You’ve had a ton of emails and cards just saying they believe in the power of prayer now,” India said. “There were a lot of people who before were where they didn’t believe, who were questioning their faith in prayer and they said we helped them to know that it’s legitimate, that it’s the real deal, I guess you can say. They stopped questioning what they believed in.”

“He spared me for a reason. I know that,” India said of God, in whom she was raised to place her faith. “I don’t know what that reason is, but I believe it is something big.”

“I always told my girls the reason mommy got better is because God heard their prayers, because they prayed to help mommy get better,” she said. “I just think about that. These two girls love and need their mama. … I’m alive, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters. These girls are my whole world. My family is my whole world.

“I think once I have more energy and I’m able to be up and about,  then so what if I don’t have a meal prepared every night. I mean these kids have lived forever on peanut butter and jelly, now. So what, so let’s go do something. I said to Kevin, I regret that we didn’t travel more. I regret that we never had a family vacation. We’ve never had a family picture taken. I mean, so many  things. So I already told my mom in the hospital, ‘I get my prosthetics, and I get to where I’m on the go again, I’m coming home to Labette County and we’re having family pictures taken. I think the last one was at our wedding and we’ve had two kids since then, and my niece has a kid.

“There are so many things I have yet to do, still. … Kevin just keeps reminding me, ‘We’ll get there. We’ll get there.’”

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