Erik’s Miracle Story

March 15, 2008, I was admitted to St. Louis University Hospital (SLUH), where I had my two successful kidney transplants. I had the flu and my first transplanted kidney, no longer functioning, had become infected and needed to be removed. Okay, I need to back track the story a little bit. My wife, Jill, and I had left our home in St. Charles, on a Friday afternoon, to spend the weekend at the Tan-Tar-A Resort, at The Lake of the Ozarks. Every time I go Tan-Tar-A, I always end up in the hospital, and this was no exception. Overnight in our room, I developed a high fever and being a transplant patient that automatically gets me a trip to the hospital. Saturday morning we drove back to St. Louis, after calling the Transplant PA, and being told to come in for a check up on Sunday morning. I really felt lousy at this point.

We finally get home and I lay down on my bed. Later, I got up to go get some Tylenol from the kitchen. As I reached into the cabinet to get the Tylenol, I passed out. When I come to, I’m laying on the ceramic kitchen floor with a pool of blood around my head. Luckily, I didn’t hit my head on the cast iron woodstove we had in the kitchen. The rest of my family had been napping and didn’t see what happened to me. Then my son, Julian, came upstairs from his bedroom, and quickly called 911. Within 15 minutes the neighborhood was filled with emergency vehicles. I was assessed and then strapped to a board and stretchered out to a waiting ambulance.

Now we can continue the story, back up to speed. The ambulance is taking me to SLUH, when I start telling the paramedic what had happened. When he found out that I might have a head trauma he told me it was policy to take me to the nearest ER for a MRI. So we stopped along the way at St. Johns Mercy Hospital. I had the MRI and there was no head trauma. So back I go into the ambulance and we continue on to SLUH.  Once at SLUH, I get admitted and get in the hospital bed, and that’s the last thing I remember for seven weeks. My wife tells me that two days later the surgeons removed the infected kidney and I was up, sitting in a wheelchair, eating, and talking with her. I have no memory of that. By this time I have been diagnosed with the flu, and being immune suppressed from my kidney transplant, the flu hits me hard.

The flu quickly turns into pneumonia and one of my lungs collapses. My doctors fix that. Then both lungs collapse and my doctors don’t give my family much hope for my survival. It’s at this point that I am put into an induced coma for five weeks. With an induced coma, you are given paralytic drugs, which paralyze you so you don’t feel the pain of the trauma you are going through. And you are given drugs that make you forget, so that’s why I have no memory. When I finally start waking up from the coma, it takes a whole week for me to become lucid and coherent. Waking up in the hospital is normal for me, but this time was a little different. First of all, I was paralyzed and couldn’t move my arms or legs, and had minimal movement in my neck. And I soon realized that I couldn’t speak, as I had been given a trachea tube and was on a ventilator.

Every time my wife came to visit me in the ICU, I would have her repeat the story of what happened to me, so I could begin to assimilate what had transpired. In all, I spent five months laying in that ICU bed, motionless, and lost all of my muscles from lack of use. After I had awoken from the coma, I still had a very bad infection raging in my body. My doctors were stumped, as they couldn’t figure out the source of the infection. So they started giving me large doses of antibiotics, of every kind known to man, so much, that I ended up losing my hearing.

There is a side effect from antibiotics, and other drugs, that produces a condition called Ototoxicity. The fine hair cells in the inner ear are destroyed from too much antibiotics and I’ve been told that they don’t grow back. But I know the Creator, and with God all things are possible. Ototoxicity usually goes unreported, so it’s more common than one might think. It usually happens to young children who have frequent ear infections and get Amoxicillin. I had such a severe hearing loss that I really don’t hear much at all. I have high tech, digital hearing aids, but they only help a little. I don’t hear low tones, so conversations with men are difficult and everyone has a cartoon voice. It can be comical at times. The upside to my hearing loss is the ability to turn off my hearing aids when I want peace and quiet.

With the infection still raging, my doctors decided to do exploratory surgery to see if they can find something, but with no success. Later, I have bowel surgery twice, and right before the surgeons are going to sew me up the second time, one of my brilliant surgeons notices a leak in my bowel. That fixed, the infection goes away. We figure the leak had been there for a long time, and that’s why my transplanted kidney had not properly functioned since I got it in 2002. My doctors where scratching their heads because the kidney started working better than a normal person’s kidney. And then every day I would get better and better, which my doctors said shouldn’t be happening. But I know it’s a God thing.

During my five month stay at SLUH, I developed a massive hematoma, a collection of blood outside the blood vessels, in my left calf. Like a huge blood blister, it was causing tremendous pain for what seemed like hours waiting for a doctor to come check it out. My wife was with me when the doctor came in, and when he started poking the hematoma it literally exploded, sending blood all over the room. But now the pain was gone and I was happy again. It took a long time for this to heal and now I have scar tissue that I refer to as my “tattoo”.

During the first couple of months of my ICU stay, I was being given a lot of powerful drugs that caused me to hallucinate most of the day, which I would spend most of the time sleeping, waking up for a half hour at a time, only to fall back asleep for three or four hours. These hallucinations kept me from being able to separate reality from fiction. And at the same time communication with my wife and caregivers was almost nonexistent, due to the fact that I could not speak or use my hands to write. My wife would have to go through the alphabet, one letter at a time, until I nodded at the right letter to form simple words. People would try to read my lips, but not too many people are good at that.

I should probably tell you that a lot of people have said to me that this past year must have been a really bad year for me. But I always proclaim that it has actually been the best year of my life. I have had so many miracles and blessings come my way. First, I have beaten the grave three times now, because of two kidney transplants and surviving respiratory failure. My God takes me from victory to victory! Then there’s this little insurance policy I have. A few years ago, Allstate sent me an offer in the mail for Hospital Indemnity Insurance, where they pay you when you’re in the hospital. I thought it over for about 20 seconds, and said out loud, “DUH!!!” because I usually spend a week or two every year in the hospital. For a $200 a year premium, Allstate pays $100 per day if you are in a regular room, but if you are in the ICU they pay $200. Well, five months in the ICU works out to $30,000. I think that’s a better return on an investment than the stock market. So every time I get admitted to the hospital, I always have a smile on my face, and if my doctors say those three magic letters, I-C-U, you will probably hear me say, Cha- Ching! Because I know I’m getting paid.

Another great miracle and blessing that occurred in my life this past year was getting a new house. We go to a nondenominational mega church of 5000 members. At a Wednesday evening service, months before I got sick, Pastor’s wife got up and said, ”If there’s something you want. What are you willing to sow for it?” For the past twenty years we had been living in a split level house with a lot of stairs. Jill and I were getting older and our knees were wearing out. We had been dreaming of buying a ranch house, with everything on one level.

So, on a small slip of paper I wrote “new ranch house”. Then I asked myself what would I sow for it. I used to be an unfriendly, grumpy kind of guy. So I decided that I would begin to sow kind words and compliments into other people’s lives. Then we all took our slips of paper up front to the altar and Pastor’s wife prayed over our requests. When word got out about my sickness, when I was put into the coma, friends of ours from church, who are home builders, stepped up and offered to build us a brand new ranch house, at cost. They even visited me later at the hospital to discuss all of the accessible features that I would require. So Jill started getting our old house ready to sell in a depressed real estate market. After a couple of months my son, Julian, decided to purchase his childhood home, saving us about $10,000 in commissions. I’ll describe the new house later in this story.

When I was finally discharged from the ICU at SLUH, after what seemed like an eternity, I went to live at three different rehab facilities. I still wasn’t strong enough in the beginning to do any physical rehab and I had developed a bad bed sore on my behind. It was a pain in the butt, no pun intended! With the position of the bed sore, I couldn’t lay on my back or sit up. And not being able to roll myself over in bed, everything still had to be done for me.

Eventually, I was moved to the last rehab facility, Westchester House, where I lived for three and a half months. It is a skilled nursing home, with a wing devoted to physical rehab. I was hanging out with 70 and 80 year old people and grandma was kickin’ my butt, able to do things I could only dream about at that point. But I soon realized that everyone comes in with different abilities. Since I had lost all of my muscles, I was like a newborn baby, having to relearn how to do the simplest things, like eating and swallowing.

Being the Giantman, a nickname I picked up many years ago, my physical therapists soon found out that being extra tall was working against me in rehab. All of the equipment is made for “normal” sized people. Someday, I will get my own cable show called, “Big Person, Little World”. To try to get me to walk again, my therapists would have to pick me up out of my wheelchair and have me support myself on the parallel bars. Only one problem, the parallel bars only adjust upwards so much, but not high enough for the Giantman. So we wasted about a month, with the therapists trying to build up the bars, but with no success. Then one day someone says, “Why don’t we just get him an extra tall walker?” So they did, and then I was able to take my first steps. Walking is the most amazing thing after laying on your back for several months. As the Giantman, I am used to seeing the top of other people’s heads, not looking up their noses.

So as I got stronger every day at rehab, I began walking further each day. Then I got bored with walking circles around the parallel bars in the rehab room, which I called NASCAR, because you keep making left turns. So I asked if I could go out and walk the hallways of the nursing home. Once again, walking is the greatest thing! Being the Giantman, at six foot, eight inches tall, I can touch the top of my head to the top of the doorframe, which usually impresses “the ladies”. So it became my daily routine to leave the rehab room and walk with my walker, therapists in tow, through the many doorways out in the halls. As I would approach each opening, I would shout out, “Low bridge, everybody down!” I had to keep my sense of humor running on overtime to keep myself sane. 

My wife insisted that I be home for Christmas, so I was discharged from Westchester House on Christmas Eve, 2008. And I went home to the brand new house. Our new house is located in Wentzville, Missouri, and we live in the country. We even have some big black cows on the adjoining property. We really love our new home and we are only ten minutes away from major highways and shopping. I have all of the accessible features I need in the house. It is a very open floor plan with mostly wood floors. We replaced regular swinging doors with wider sliding pocket doors. There’s a nifty ramp in the garage and the covered patio has no step down. And our backyard view is of 10 acres of common ground with mature trees and native grasses. For all of you California people, of which I used to be one of, we bought our 1400 sq ft house for about $200,000. But then again, you save a lot of money on snow shovels.

Once home in my new house, I started three months of in-home physical therapy. When I completed that, it was suggested that I start going to out-patient rehab. Presently, as of this writing of June, 2009, I go three days a week to a facility about ten miles from my house, with transportation provided. Oh yeah, I can’t drive right now because my ankle muscles still don’t flex. But I’m working with my state’s Voc Rehab to get trained to drive with hand controls. Mobility wise, I am actually able to walk on my own power wearing my custom fitted AFO’s (angular foot orthotics), because I have the foot drop. I usually use a cane now, but still rely on my walker and wheelchair depending on what I’m trying to accomplish.

From the moment that I woke up from the coma, I have been standing on the Book of Job. In the Book of Job, the Devil comes to God and says, “I don’t think Job will remain faithful to you, because he’s only doing it for the perks”. To which God replies, “Go ahead and test Job”. So little by little, God removes his blessing and protection from Job and the Devil goes to town on Job. Job was the richest man with the most wisdom, and biggest family for his time. Kind of like a Bill Gates. Job ends up losing all of his wealth, family, and his health. Job has boils all over his body, and he’s scraping them off with broken pieces of pottery. Job’s friends ask him why he is not cursing God. But Job continually tells them that God does not put sickness on his people. Job kept his faith. And in the end Job got everything, that he had lost, back doubled. So I knew that God had not placed this illness on me, I knew I was just going through a test. In church we sing a song called, “It’s Only a Test”. In the song you are reminded that all you have to do is stay strong, keep the faith, and don’t give up, because it will all be over soon. And I believe, that like Job, I am going to get everything, stolen from me by the Devil, back doubled.

So you have to believe to receive miracles in your life. I don’t really like to be the “Poster Child” for muscle loss, but if my miracle story can inspire other people to have hope, which helps to build their faith, then that’s the plan and purpose that God has for my life. Thanks for spending the time to read my story. I know that the future holds bright things for me, because I walk by faith and not by sight….Erik Jacobsen.