Debra's Story

A beloved grandmother overcomes complications from the flu

Debra Howell was coughing and short of breath. Diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) several years ago, she occasionally had these episodes. But this one felt different.

The 62-year-old retiree asked her grandson to call an ambulance. Doctors discovered Debra in respiratory distress and immediately placed her on a ventilator and airway support.

Tests revealed Debra had the flu complicated by COPD, ultimately decreasing her lung capacity. She was malnourished, her heart rhythm fluctuated dangerously and there was too much carbon dioxide in her blood.

For a month, Debra fought for her life. By early February, she stabilized and her family was ready to consider the next steps in care. They chose Regency Hospital Springdale.

Debra arrived minimally awake, unable to breathe, eat, speak or move independently. Her family, however, knew Debra could return to her active self, if given the chance.

A physician-led team of nurses and therapists created a plan to help Debra reclaim her life.

Respiratory therapists assessed Debra’s breathing and began gradually reducing her ventilator settings, testing whether her lungs could do more work.

Physical therapists moved her arms, legs, wrists and ankles to keep blood flowing, while nurses repositioned her frequently to avoid skin breakdown.

Her first memory was waking up in our hospital trying to speak, but being unable. With her increased awareness, she participated more fully in respiratory, physical and occupational therapy, growing strong enough for a special valve to be inserted into her breathing tube and finally giving her a voice.

She told her family about the unusual “dream” she had, believing that her hospital room was instead her late mother-in-law’s lake home. It wasn’t scary, she insisted, as the lake home had always been a comforting place. Being able to speak again was Debra’s turning point; after that she believed everything was possible.

Her breathing grew stronger until she no longer needed airway support. With a physical therapist close, she took her first tentative steps using a walker. It wasn’t long before Debra was cruising the hallways several times a day.

“I’ve never been to a hospital where everyone is so caring,” Debra said. “I wanted a Mellow Yellow (soda) and someone ran out and got me one.”

In just under a month, Debra was ready to return home. She had a lot to look forward to. Her children had updated her kitchen and given the whole place a fresh coat of paint.

Debra said she never dreamed something like the flu could end in such a significant medical ordeal. “I’m going to take better care of my health,” she said.