A year ago today my little sister Laura Rubinoff had life saving surgery on her lungs.
Prior to the surgery, she was on oxygen and in a wheelchair. She could barely stay awake for more than a few hours at a time. Her heart was working overtime trying to pump oxygen deprived blood through her body. The prognosis was eventually heart failure – I heard my parents talking about a couple years of diminishing health and then death.
I live 900 miles away from my parents and sister. Laura had come to my wedding a couple years earlier but I hadn’t seen her since. When I saw her a year ago at an extended stay hotel in La Jolla, California, I was alarmed at her state. Blue lips, gasping for air after a few steps from the room to the car. It was really scary.
A Long Path
Laura has suffered from blood clots for years. The first time I remember was about a year after I graduated college. She was admitted to the hospital and they used the clotbusting drugs to thin out her blood. She was stable for several more years but they came back again when I was living in Pinecrest, FL. Again she went into the hospital – this time for a few weeks. Getting her blood chemistry just right took a long time.
Then fast forward a decade or more. Laura was excelling in her career as a Paralegal and doing well in life. Inexplicably she developed a lung infection – Nontuberculous Mycobacterium. It caused her to cough and cough to no end. She bruised herself from coughing so much. It actually got to the point where she wasn’t able to work. In her diminished state, the blood clots came back. I don’t think anyone’s really sure what caused what – a chicken or the egg thing. Suffice to say, it was a perfect storm. She was in real trouble. She had blood clots in her lung that were causing massive hypertension and she had a crazy lung infection that she couldn’t get rid of. Double whammy.
Laura was seeing the best Dr’s at the University of Miami. They recommended she travel to Denver. She did and got her hopes up that maybe there would be a solution. They didn’t feel they could help her. She was too weak – they didn’t believe she would make it. Depression set in. Incapable of caring for herself, going to the store, dating, going to the movies, working, etc. And on top of her inability to be self sufficient, insomnia set in. She’d go days only sleeping a few minutes at a time between horrible coughing fits. A bad situation was only looking bleaker. She confided in me that she wondered what the point of going on was.
And Laura wasn’t the only one affected. My parents, now both in the 70’s were carrying the load. The toll on them was horrendous. I’ve had an opportunity to care for my wife this year in her battle with Breast Cancer and its not easy. Besides, Laura is kind of high maintenance to begin with so taking care of her must have been really tough!
At some point in the spring of 2012 we learned about a team at UC San Diego Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center that had developed what was being billed as a miracle surgery. We didn’t have many options. My sister was dying.
The surgery is called Pulmonary Thromboendarterectomy (PTE). I’m not 100% sure how its done, but they basically are able to remove huge blood clots.
I made my way to La Jolla to meet up with my Family. I spent a weekend with my sister, dipped my toes in the Pacific and we were able to take my dad out for Father’s Day lunch at Torrey Pines. Before her surgery, the nurses came in and spoke to Laura about a living will and stuff. My Mom was having trouble talking to her so I took over and Laura and I talked about her options with humor and love like only a brother and sister can do. I said my good bye’s and kissed her and left back to Mississippi. She had surgery the next day and came out just fine.
The surgery is so major that they usually keep people there for months to recover. Somehow, her little heart and cardio system got back quickly and her recovery time was way shorter than normal. When I spoke with her on the phone I could just hear the health returning.
Back In Action
Her recovery has been simply amazing. Today, she’s back working and enjoying a moderately active and self sufficient lifestyle. Laura was never big on exercise and I doubt she’ll be running any marathons anytime soon. She’s alive though. Laura visited Mississippi a few weeks ago to celebrate my adoption of Chance and his graduation.
I’m grateful for the doctors at UCSD for all their work and for giving my sister her life back.