'Nothing Short of a Miracle'

Published: Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Rosalie Pitzer, an active, healthy 87-year old participant at LIFE Lawrence County, has a quick wit, a contagious smile and is determined to live her most Abundant Life®.

In late January 2016, however, she was hospitalized for a bowel obstruction. Testing also revealed a large hiatal hernia which caused her stomach to migrate into her diaphragm, and a failing gall bladder. Her condition worsened quickly, resulting in a life-threatening episode of aspirational pneumonia. She was intubated and put into a medically-induced sleep for 12 days to allow her lungs to recover, with the hope of performing a complex digestive surgery.

“The odds were that Mom wasn’t going to make it. We were mentally preparing for that,” said Don Pitzer, Rosalie’s son.

With only a 50 percent chance of survival, Rosalie lived through the surgery, but other complications including infections, failing organs and muscle atrophy occurred.

“I don’t remember much from that time,” Rosalie said, “but I distinctly remember a doctor telling me I needed surgery because the hernia had grown to the size of a grapefruit.”

“I’m so glad she doesn’t remember anything from those weeks of recovery,” Rosalie’s daughter, Cindy Weiss, said. “She was in really bad shape.”

Rosalie remained motionlessly asleep for six weeks. In early March, she was transferred to St. John Specialty Care Center for continued treatment and intensive therapy.

“She was still on the ventilator, wasn’t opening her eyes and wasn’t following commands when she came to us,” said Kristi Schutte, occupational therapist at St. John. “She really wasn’t even with us.”

“I knew we had a long way to go with her,” recalled Jessica McGuinness, physical therapist at St. John, “but I told Kristi, ‘We’re getting her back.’”

With the help of her therapists and aides, Rosalie slowly began showing signs of progress and was able to be taken off the ventilator. She began to walk and swallow on her own.

“It took a long time for her to bear weight and grip,” said Tim Reamer, physical therapy assistant. “She was so swollen from all that her body had been through.”

The therapy team at St. John and the interdisciplinary team at LIFE Lawrence County (where she would eventually go to continue her rehabilitation), however, never lost hope and were determined to help Rosalie recover fully.

“It was really amazing to watch her body slowly awaken, from her head to her toes, over the course of months,” Cindy said.

Part of Rosalie’s therapy involved walking up and down the hallways with Reamer to regain her strength.

“Just when I thought I couldn’t walk anymore, he would tell me to go a little further – and I did!” Rosalie recalls.

After three months at St. John, Rosalie was finally ready to go home to New Castle. She made a seamless transition to becoming a participant at LIFE Lawrence County for continued therapy.

Jodi Wallace, physical therapy assistant at LIFE Lawrence County, said that each day, Rosalie sets a new goal for herself. “She was using a wheelchair when she started here, but now she walks around the center with just her wheeled walker.”

Pitzer said she is relieved to be regaining her independence. “I don’t like to ask for help when I am capable of doing things for myself,” she joked.

Rosalie is back to participating in her old hobbies and is engaged in several activities at LIFE Lawrence County, where she continues to receive physical and occupational therapy several times per week. Her next goal is to graduate to walking with only a cane, and eventually unassisted.

“God has mercifully preserved my mom’s life,” Cindy said. “He used the medical teams at the hospital and St. John’s to accomplish that goal. Mom’s strong will certainly contributed to her healing. She’s a tough farm girl!”

“Everything happens for a reason,” Don said. “I don’t question that. But what happened with my mom while she was in the hospital then at St. John and LIFE is nothing short of a miracle. They gave Mom her life back.”

Cindy said that the family is grateful to everyone who helped Rosalie recover and return home. They are very appreciative to LIFE Lawrence County for their continued care of her. Because of LIFE, Cindy said, and Rosalie’s eldest son Skip, who lives with her, she has been able to return to her beloved home and resume the activities she most enjoys.

Pictured above: Rosalie Pitzer (center) surrounded by her family and parts of her therapy teams. Top Row: Russ Umstead; Don Pitzer; Dale Umstead; Tim Reamer, St. John. Middle Row: Gena Knight, LIFE Lawrence County; Lori Umstead; Rosalie Pitzer; Skip Pitzer. Bottom Row: Jennie Popojas, LIFE Lawrence County; Jessica McGuinness, St. John; Kristi Schutte, St. John; Jodi Wallace, LIFE Lawrence County.

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