Surgery Patient Stories
It sounds something like the opening scene to a classic TV show: six friends out on an evening cruise in the Bahamas, it’stheir last night of a relaxing week long vacation in paradise. The dimming light is making navigation hard, and a lack of lit channel markers makes the situation worse. In an instant, the boat strikes a submerged reef, throwing the passengers in all directions.
For Kellie Kraft, wife of Chris Kraft and matron of the well-known Kraft family who own Kraft Nissan in Tallahassee, this was no TV show – this was terrifying reality.
Kellie was ejected from the boat, and instead of landing in safer deep water like the others, she became tangled in a razor sharp coral reef.
“It was a freak accident,” Kellie says. But it was an accident that changed her life.
Stuck, literally, in the throngs of the coral, embedded with pieces of it all over her body, it was clear that Kellie’s injuries were severe.
Kellie was missing large chunks of soft tissue on her legs; her feet, arm and head were mangled and bleeding severely. Both of her knees were completely exposed; the skin on her kneecaps was gone. The tendon connecting her left knee to her leg was severed.
Without Coast Guard and no emergency number to call in the Bahamas, Kellie and the other passengers were rescued by citizen volunteers of the Hope Town Fire and Rescue Department, part of the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association (BASRA), against all odds. Stabilized in Marsh Harbor, Kellie and a frantic Chris – who suffered severe injuries of his own, including a lacerated liver, punctured lung, broken shoulder and head injury – waited all night to be transported to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
“Chris was desperate. He was severely injured himself, but after seeing my legs and how much tissue I’d lost he begged everyone to ignore him and help me,” recalls Kellie.
The next morning, Kellie and Chris were airlifted to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare where physicians were already waiting for her to arrive. An army of trauma surgeons, wound experts and plastic surgeons worked to repair the extensive damage.
“Initially, they weren’t sure if I would keep my legs, particularly my left leg, but they were able to recreate my knee using muscle from my calf,” said Kellie. “They also prevented me from getting any infections, which was one of the most miraculous parts, considering my open wounds were exposed to seawater and given the amount of coral lodged in my body.”
After weeks in the hospital, Kellie was moved to the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center (TMRC) to begin working on mobility and healing while still being transported to TMH for skin graph surgeries.
“The communication between the hospital and the rehabilitation center was excellent. Everyone was on the same page, and had the same goal to help me get better. As soon as I arrived at TMRC, they were working to get me mobile – putting me in a wheelchair and building up my upper body strength – with occupational and physical therapy.”
Due to the deep wounds in Kellie’s legs, physicians employed V.A.C. therapy – a type of negative pressure therapy that healed her wounds from the inside out. Kellie had up to four of these devices on her body, working 24/7 to heal and prevent infection. Each of these V.A.C. therapy sites had to be cleaned and redressed every other day, an excruciating process that took over four hours – in addition to Kellie’s already challenging rehabilitation schedule, which included physical and occupational therapy.
Kellie’s injuries severely limited her mobility. Her therapy started with small movements focused on basic mobility to assist her transfers from the hospital bed to a wheelchair. After one month, she was able to stand and pivot to get in and out of bed or a chair. Throughout months of therapy, at TMRC and at home, Kellie continued to progress.
“It wasn’t easy,” Kellie remembers. “I was scared to move in the beginning, there was a lot of pain, but the staff at TMRC were so warm, kind and encouraging. They gave me the drive to stick with it – they’re the reason I’m able to walk today.”
Sheree Porter, MS, CCC-SLP, Rehabilitation Program Manager, not only remembers Kellie’s time at TMRC, but still stays in touch with her today.
“Kellie recovered from her very serious injuries so well thanks to the excellent medical treatment she received along with aggressive physical therapy, occupational therapy and wound care intervention,” said Sheree. “But the most crucial key to her recovery was her determination. Kellie demonstrated the ABC’s of success: she maintained a positive ‘Attitude,’ she ‘Believed’ she was going to heal, and she ‘Committed’ herself to the therapeutic process.”
Kellie left TMRC after two months of in-patient rehabilitation, and several additional surgeries, and began receiving therapy at home. She walks with a cane today, but considering the trauma she’s been through she’s come farther than she thought possible.
“I simply can’t say enough good things about every single person at Tallahassee Memorial who helped me. The physicians, nurses, therapists, technicians, orderlies – even the folks who delivered food and cleaned the rooms – were so professional and compassionate.”
As a well-known resident in a small town, Kellie has occasion to see several of those on the medical team that saved her.
“Sometimes when I run into a physician or nurse at the grocery store, I’ll just go up and say ‘thank you,’” said Kellie. “Every time I drive by TMRC I smile. I became very attached to all the doctors and nurses, I’ll have that bond forever.”
A teacher and facilities director at Maclay School, 51-year-old Scott Eagen is always on his feet. In addition to his career, Scott spends his personal time being active. However, over the years of running and playing basketball regularly, he eventually wore out his medial meniscus.
“I was fine when I would run a few miles a day or play ball, but the next morning getting out of bed was awful,” said Scott. “My knees were achy and swollen. I had finally had it when I was having a hard time going up and down the stairs to see my children.”
After meeting with his primary care doctor, they decided he needed surgery.
“One thing led to another and I actually ended up having eight surgeries over a period of four to five years. The problem was there, there just wasn’t any cartilage left.”
It was time to fix his knees for good so Scott was referred to Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic and met with William Thompson, MD, who performed the previous scopes. They decided to move forward with total knee replacement surgery.
“Dr. Thompson would always listen carefully to diagnose the issue and offer suggestions and advice on how to get the most from my body with minimal pain or damage,” said Scott. “I trust his judgment 100 percent.”
On July 24, 2012, Scott moved forward with bilateral knee replacement surgery in both legs. His surgery was performed by David Bellamy, MD at Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic.
“Dr. Bellamy is the best knee replacement doctor in the region,” said Scott. “I appreciated his professionalism. He called from his personal phone the night of the surgery to check on me. The nurses at the hospital had me up and walking with a walker the same day.”
Following his recovery, Scott went to Tallahassee Memorial’s Rehabilitation Center for inpatient care for a couple of days to learn how to walk again.
After a week of laying low around the house and going to rehab, Scott was able to return to work. “The rehab was tough but we got through it with hard work and a good attitude,” said Scott. “Throughout this process, TMH really made me feel like a person, not a number. They took great care of me.”
“I went to outpatient rehab at the Tallahassee Memorial Rehabilitation Center for orthopedic and sports physical therapy twice a week for about six weeks,” recalled Scott. “I also did a lot of my own rehab at home and at the gym.”
In just 10 days, Scott was back in the full swing of things at home and at work. He began light jogging four months after surgery and was fully recovered after 10 months. Currently, Scott is enjoying his active lifestyle and spending time with his wife, Michelle, their daughter Amber and son Logan.
“I feel like I have added years onto my life,” said Scott. “It’s important for other people to know that anything is possible. I believe you have to have a positive attitude and you can overcome anything. Now instead of acting my age, I can go out and enjoy sports like I’m in my 30s. I run 8-15 miles a week and play and officiate basketball regularly. I even went snow skiing just five and a half months after surgery. Life is good!”
As a full-time accountant, a part-time graduate student and a leader in her church, Tracy Peppers keeps a packed schedule. When she began experiencing severe headaches, stress seemed to be the obvious explanation, even after the pain led to emergency room visits on two occasions.
In reality, the headaches were symptomatic of a latent health problem, which became frighteningly clear one evening in late August.
“I had sat down on the couch to watch TV and fell asleep—the next thing I knew, the dog was going crazy,” says Tracy.
Alarmed by the barking, Tracy’s son rushed into the room to find his mother experiencing a seizure. He ran for Tracy’s husband, James, and they called 9-1-1. An ambulance transported Tracy and James to the Tallahassee Memorial Bixler Trauma & Emergency Room, where tests revealed an intracranial aneurysm in the frontal lobe of the brain.
Fortunately, Adam Oliver, MD, one of the region’s only two neurosurgeons capable of providing endovascular treatment for anuersym and stroke, had just begun practicing in the Big Bend. Dr. Oliver scheduled Tracy for an endovascular surgery the following day. The minimally invasive procedure allows for the removal of aneursyms without an incision to the skull. Dr. Oliver and Matthew Lawson, MD, are the only physicians in the area offering this state-of-the-art procedure.
“Dr. Oliver was sent here for me, I think,” says Tracy.
After the operation, Tracy recovered in the Tallahassee Memorial Intensive Care Unit for three weeks. Dr. Oliver and the clinical staff monitored her recovery and vital signs. Persistent bleeding in the brain called for a second operation, but following two more weeks in the hospital, Tracy was able to begin rehabilitation to restrengthen her cognitive and physical abilities. Today, she has returned to all her normal activities and plans to graduate with her master’s degree in Health Administration in July 2014.
Tracy even recovered in time to enjoy a cruise through the Western Caribbean that she and her husband had been looking forward to for months before the emergency.
“I haven’t had a headache since the surgery!” she says.
“What Dr. Oliver did—performing the procedure, explaining it to where the family could understand it, the sensitivity he showed and for Tracy to come out the way she did—you can’t overstate that. And the fact that Tallahassee now has that capability is wonderful,” says James.
After two complications with internal bleeding due to blood thinners, Evelyn Sharpe could no longer take the medication intended to reduce her risk of stroke. Evelyn is one of three million people across the country diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (Afib) – a heart condition where the upper chamber of the heart beats too fast and irregularly. People with Afib have a five times greater risk of stroke. Afib patients are often prescribed blood-thinning medication to prevent blood clots, but for Evelyn, this was no longer an option.
“My brother had a stroke and I was concerned it could happen to me,” explained Evelyn. “Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a good alternative to the blood thinners.” But, when Evelyn met with her cardiologist, B. Clay Sizemore, MD, FACC, FSCAI, he had a new treatment option to share with her.
“Dr. Sizemore mentioned there was a new procedure being done at Tallahassee Memorial and I may be a good candidate,” said Evelyn. “So he referred me to the Electrophysiology Program at TMH.”
Evelyn met with Farhat Khairallah, MD, FACC, FHRS, in Thomasville, Ga. at the Physician Partners, Cardiac & Internal Medicine Specialists, Services Provided by Southern Medical Group, PA clinic. After a series of tests, it was confirmed that Evelyn was a candidate for the new procedure to place a special device in her heart known as WATCHMAN.
For people with Afib, a specific part of the heart called the left atrial appendage is the most common source of stroke-causing blood clots. The WATCHMAN device closes off the appendage and prevents clots from entering the blood stream, in turn, reducing the risk of stroke.
The Tallahassee Memorial Heart & Vascular Center was the first program in the Southeast, and third in the country, to commercially place the WATCHMAN device. Dr. Khairallah and interventional cardiologist Wayne Batchelor, MD, MHS, FACC, FSCAI, perform the minimally invasive procedure together in the cardiac catheterization lab.
“At TMH, we have been expanding our heart treatment options to bring the most advanced procedures possible to our patients,” explained Dr. Khairallah. “Patients do not need to leave Tallahassee for excellent heart care. In fact, patients across the Southeast now travel to TMH to receive innovative and state-of-the-art treatments,” added Dr. Batchelor.
Evelyn was one of the first patients at TMH to receive the WATCHMAN device. Forty-five days after her WATCHMAN procedure, Dr. Khairallah confirmed that Evelyn’s left atrial appendage was successfully closed.
“I have energy again and can’t wait to rejoin my fitness group,” said Evelyn. “Before the procedure, going to the grocery store was a chore and I often lost my balance. Now, I am walking more and enjoying life.”