For Sue Doig, a nightmare ordeal transforms into a miraculous recovery
By Brian Sweeney
For many people, a 60th birthday is a bittersweet milestone. Don’t try telling that to Andes resident Sue Doig — she has never had a better celebration.
Sue’s 60th birthday on Oct. 11 was the day she returned home following a lengthy medical ordeal, the outcome of which many are labeling under the heading of “miraculous.”
On the morning of September 20, Sue reported for work at the office of her longtime employer, Coldwell Banker Timberland Properties in Margaretville, where she is an associate broker and sales manager. A short time later, Sue began experiencing shortness of breath. She never experienced the chest pain usually associated with a heart attack.
“Against my wishes, my conscientious co-workers called the Margaretville Hospital Ambulance,” Sue recalls.
The call turned out to be a literal lifesaver.
The ambulance arrived a few minutes later and Sue was rushed to the Emergency Department where personnel began treating her for symptoms of a heart attack. Sue noted that her assistant, Fentriss Stickeler, had the presence of mind to head to the hospital while ambulance squad members were working on Sue to explain the symptoms she had experienced.
Saved her life
Dr. Paul Llobet and Physician Assistant Eileen King were the primary medical personnel who Sue credits with keeping her alive when she “flat-lined” four times after arriving at the hospital. A Medivac helicopter had been summoned almost immediately, but ended up standing by or several hours until Sue was finally stable enough for the flight to Albany Medical Center. She was packed in ice prior to the trip to slow down body functions and improve her chances for survival.
Odds were low
When she arrived in Albany, physicians immediately placed Sue in a drug-induced coma where she remained for 10 days. Sue was later told by her cardiologist that her changes of surviving the first night were about one in nine.
Although she made it through the critical first 24 hours, the medical staff had numerous concerns about not only Sue’s chances for survival, but also regarding her ability to function normally, if she did live. While in the coma, she contracted sepsis (blood infection) and the medical staff was also worried that Sue’s vocal chords may have been cut or that her esophagus may have been damaged during a “violent intubation” when the breathing tube was placed in her throat. The physicians tried to bring Sue out of the medically-induced coma several times, but had to stop due to various complications.
“After awhile, they pretty much thought I would survive, but that I might not be able to speak, walk properly or that I might always need a feeding tube,” Sue relayed.
Adding to these concerns was the fact that on September 29, Sue’s family was notified that she had experienced 15 mini-strokes. This news brought increased concerns regarding recovery. Sue’s husband, Jack, and her sons, Adam and Nate, were growing understandably pessimistic about her prognosis. It was possible that Sue would not be able to walk and could have severe memory loss.
With her condition having changed very little since she arrived at Albany Medical Center, Sue’s 10th day in the hospital proved to be one of the worst — and ultimately one of the best.
The family was naturally despondent over the news of the strokes. The trauma of the events was also exacting a toll of the family and Sue’s 10th day in Albany Medical Center was the first time that no family members had visited. When Adam called the hospital to check on his mother’s condition, he had no reason to expect any encouraging updates. As a result, Adam was startled to hear the nurse respond, “She’s doing great, she’s having a good day.” The staff had been able to safely bring Sue out of the coma.
Still confused by this unexpected occurrence, Adam pressed the nurse for some type of confirmation of this status change. The nurse then asked Sue if she could give a “thumbs up” sign regarding her condition and she immediately responded.
Hearing this news, Adam said he’d leave his home in Saratoga Springs immediately and be at the hospital in 45 minutes. Coldwell Banker Timberland Properties owner Eric Wedemeyer, Sue’s employer and longtime friend, also arrived at the hospital a short time later after being informed that Sue was now out of the coma.
Although she was understandable disoriented by the ordeal, Sue (who still had the breathing tube in her throat), was able to answer a series of questions from Adam and Eric by nodding. From that point, Sue began a slow, but steady recovery period. She had been restrained while in the coma to keep her from pulling out the various tubes and wires for the nine devices that she’d been hooked to since her arrival. As her condition improved, Sue was constantly being tested to determine possible lingering effects from her experience.
The initial plateau of relief occurred when the breathing tube was removed and it was revealed that Sue’s vocal cords and esophagus had not been damaged. Each day she continued to gain strength and demonstrate that many of the side effects that had been listed as possible outcomes of her experience had not occurred. Fears of internal bleeding also proved unfounded.
In fact, Sue related that her worst experiences took place in the 48 hours after she came out of the coma, when the medications she had been under caused extreme bouts of paranoia. Another odd effect of her experience was the feeling that she had been in the coma for 20 years.
“Somehow, I thought I was an 80-year-old woman,” Sue pointed out. In her initial interactions with family and friends, Sue also thought of them as being two decades older.
As she continued her recovery, Sue’s physicians were amazed by her ability to bounce back with virtually none of the lingering impacts that had been part of her prognosis.
“Survival is one thing, but to have no aftereffects, was quite remarkable. The staff told me, ‘You’re our poster child,’ for a best-case scenario,” Sue explained.
Almost a year to the day before her ailment, Sue had undergone a thorough battery of tests after she had experienced some unusual symptoms. She was relieved that her heart tested to be 100 percent healthy. When tests were run to determine the cause of her heart attack, it was determined that a virus from a lingering cold had settled into her heart and eventually led to her problems. Since this diagnosis, Sue has learned of two other people whose heart attacks were virus-related.
Since receiving her very special “birthday present” with her discharge on October 11, Sue has continued to gain strength and work her way back to normal. She had been back selling real estate for several weeks, working part-time until January when she expects to be back on a full-time basis. Doctors say that by the six-month anniversary of the incident, Sue should be 100 percent recovered.
She did have a pacemaker inserted as a precaution against any irregularities that may occur with her heartbeat, but Sue and her medical team are not anticipating any lingering effects.
“I won’t be able to box or play rugby,” Sue laughed, regarding the restrictions of the pacemaker. On the benefit side, she earns the right to cut to the front of the line at airport check-ins.
Hard to comprehend
With some time to reflect on the events of the past three months, Sue said she has undergone a series of emotions. In the beginning, she preferred to maintain a focus on her recovery and consciously tried to avoid thinking about her traumatic experience. As time has passed, Sue has become much more comfortable reflecting upon these events.
Another oddity of the episode is that Sue’s family was told by medical staff, “Don’t worry, she’ll never remember anything – but I remember just about everything.”
Sue compared the experience to “being in a bad nightmare.” As she began her recovery, Sue (who has little medical knowledge) once commented to a nurse, “Every portal of entry is an opportunity for an infection to gain entry” — words that had been spoken by medical personnel while she remained in the coma.
Hers is truly an amazing recovery from a very dire situation. Sue said she’s indebted to her co-workers for realizing she was in desperate need of medical attention and she credits the Margaretville Hospital Ambulance Squad personnel and the Emergency Department staff with saving her life during the critical period after her heart attack.
Sue said she was also overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community.
“Truly, it left me speechless. There were like nine prayer chains set up and the whole thing has been incredibly touching. The kindness of people in small towns in just remarkable. It’s been very spiritually uplifting.”
With the holiday season upon us, Sue is already taking additional pleasure for life’s precious moments.
“Last weekend, I made Christmas cookies with my granddaughter, Hannah, who will be three in the spring. She cut out the dough and decorated the cookies with icing and sprinkles. I’m so grateful that I’m here to enjoy these simple pleasures,” Sue related.