Gwen Sick had dealt with back problems over the years, but nothing like she experienced in 2008 while she was planting 15 gallon trees at her home in Paulden.
“I blew my back out,” she said. “I couldn’t function after that. When I walked, the lower part of my body rotated because basically, it wasn’t attached. If I laid down, I needed help getting up. It was painful.”
Gwen had fractured the bones that hold the three discs at the base of the spine. Her next stop was surgery at a hospital in Phoenix.
Gwen’s post-surgical recovery was difficult. She was given Heparin to prevent blood clots. Her blood pressure plummeted and her legs were numb. An anticipated three-day hospitalization stretched into six days, with four days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
At home in Paulden on the ninth day following surgery, Gwen still didn’t feel right.
“I was sitting in a chair, and I thought, ‘My legs feel dead. It feels like they’re not there.’”
A Mystery Illness
Soon Gwen was in the Emergency Department at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC). The hospital team began sorting through Gwen’s contradictory early test results. An ultrasound detected blood clots in her legs while a blood test showed her platelet count was at a very low 22,000. The question: How could Gwen have blood clots when she didn’t have enough platelets in her blood to form clots?
Enter Mukundkumar Patel, MD, a YRMC Internal Medicine physician who specializes in Hematology/Oncology. He believed Gwen was suffering from a rare autoimmune reaction to Heparin, a diagnosis soon confirmed by a special blood test.
“Dr. Patel said there was a chance that I could lose a limb,” Gwen recalled. “But, he said they were going to do everything to stop that from happening. My arm was purple at the time.”
YRMC Team Saves Gwen
Dr. Patel prescribed a slow-acting blood thinner. Still, there was concern the blood clots could break loose and cause significant health issues for Gwen. Next, Dr. Patel recommended implanting a special filter that would permanently trap any clots. Using a state-of-the-art, interventional radiology procedure, the filter was placed into Gwen’s carotid artery. Her platelets soon rebounded and after three weeks she left YRMC for home.
“Everybody at the hospital was great,” she said. “I’m so glad the YRMC Emergency Room team contacted Dr. Patel, because if they hadn’t, I could have died.”
Today, Gwen walks, swims and does most anything she wants. But, she leaves any planting of 15 gallon trees to others.