Good Morning Ladies,

Our We Survive stories continue. I am mixing them up a bit so we get a good spread of the stories, some are on similar subjects. Highlighting all your stories in their own way is my goal so I do not want them to blend together at all. This next survivors story is a story of strength and quite a will to live. Now this one is a bit long so grab a snack and a drink!

Here is her story:

“Her body is riddled with infection. Her will to live is unlike any I have seen from someone her age. Were there no warning signs previous to this?”

 

Stories of Survival

 

“No. No! She never said anything. We never noticed anything.”

If I could have made a sound, I would have laughed. There were signs. I mentioned my fears, my worries, my pain, many many times. Over the last 4 years, I had tried to tell my parents that something was wrong with me. I had tried to get them to understand too many times to count. But when a tube is breathing for you, there is no sound… When your throat is swollen shut so tightly that not even air can pass through it, the only thing to hear from you is silence. My mind, however, was anything but silent. So while my mother lied to my surgeon, I let my thoughts take over…

Stories of Survival

 

His office was like a bad 1970’s flashback. The scent of stale body odor, dust, and old shag carpet assaulted my senses as I waited to be called back to his chair. Everything in me screamed LEAVE!!! But I was two weeks away from my sweet 16. I had no authority. He looked like his office, faded and forgotten. I sat down in his old dental chair shoved against the wall and tried to occupy as little of the chair as humanly possible.

 

Stories of Survival

 

His gloved hands slowly came towards me, and I realized my mother hadn’t told them about my latex allergy. “I’m allergic to latex” is the only thing I have ever said to this man’s face, though since then, I have cursed his name to Hell and back. His halitosis blinded me as he huffed in annoyance. He ripped off the gloves and proceeded to check my teeth with his bare hands. This was not right. This was not okay.

Stories of Survival

He washed his hands in a small sink behind him, walked back to my mother. I heard snippets of ‘cavity’, CHIP only covers a portion, and $50. I hoped that meant I could leave and research my own dentist that would take our state welfare insurance. I didn’t trust him. My intuition was on fire, and there was absolutely nothing I could do. He shuffled back in and started fumbling around in a cupboard door. I sent up a prayer begging for protection, or at least a magic appearance of hand sanitizer and Listerine. Again, with bare hands he set to work, drilling, prodding, poking. I thanked the Lord for my high pain tolerance because there was no numbing either.

Stories of Survival

 

As we left my mother informed me I would have to come up with the remaining $50 balance. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have any money, and I never paid the bill. The notices kept coming.

I still have them. I keep them all in the same envelope. The first one I received in the mail. On it, my mother had written a note to me, reminding me I was the one who had to pay this bill.

 

Stories of Survivial

 

Nine months after the appointment, I came down with what we thought was the flu. It was unlike any flu I had ever heard of. It radiated from my jaw down through my chest. It felt as though knives had taken residence in my abdominal organs. The illness lasted 2 weeks, but the fatigue had never left me.

 

Stories of Survivial

 

I pushed through the persistent fatigue and tried to ignore the stabbing pains in my lower jaw, shoulder, lungs, and abdomen for the next year. My parents insisted it was acid reflux or heartburn. I knew it was something more. It didn’t feel right. My body felt as though it was made of sludge. My brain was fog. I didn’t feel like me. My energy levels could only maintain my bubbly personality and quick-witted dry humor for a few hours a day. I gave all of my energy to my schooling and my friends. At home, I couldn’t keep up my facade. I was on edge, and always near breaking. My family didn’t understand why I always seemed so angry. But they refused to hear me when I tried to explain, I wasn’t angry, I was exhausted. I just wanted someone to listen to me when I said something was wrong.

 

Stories of Survivial
It wasn’t until I vomited blood and couldn’t stop that someone finally paid attention.
My sister walked in on me and saw the red on my mouth, asked what it was, and then ran to my mom. My mother immediately called the clinic closest to us, and set up an appointment. Within 5 minutes, I was being advised to contact the hospital to set up an ultrasound. They worried my appendix had ruptured. It wasn’t quite that simple.

 

Stories of Survivial

 

My liver was giving up. My heartbeat was irregular. Over the next 3 years, I lost my gallbladder, my tonsils, (which were so full of infection the ENT didn’t understand how I was still breathing) and developed re-occurring appendicitis as well as high fevers.

By sheer willpower, I graduated from high school and passed my AP class despite missing half a semesters worth of classes and having major abdominal surgery in February of my senior year.

I started cosmetology school, took a few classes at SLCC and began working at both Target and Deseret First Credit Union. I stopped trying to get someone in my family to listen. My last two surgeries they hadn’t even been there for. My friends had been the ones to drive me to and from. My family had no interest. I was being “dramatic” and a hypochondriac, or so they would say when they didn’t think I was around.

Stories of Survival
I was accused of lying to my doctors to get the surgeries for “attention.” Maybe it’s because I was the oldest of 5, or perhaps it was because I chose a different religion pretty early on in life, or maybe it’s just because I’ve never fit in my family… whatever the reason, I learned pretty early on I had to be my own support system. My family would pretend for the outside world, but when it came down to it, I was all I had in this world aside from God. So when I chipped my tooth, the same tooth only one other “dentist” had touched, I knew in my heart something was about to happen.

I just didn’t think it would start while I was on a group date. Worst. First. Date. Ever. I can promise you that. Nearly passing out on his kitchen floor, and then vomiting all over Copperton Park is not a good first impression. I wouldn’t have texted me back either… No hard feelings Josh. Promise.

4 days, a dental visit gone horribly wrong, and an ambulance ride later I find myself tethered to a hospital bed by wires, monitors, and tubes, staring at the faces of my parents, waiting for them to say something. I was in the Alta Hospital ICU. My throat swollen shut. A trach tube my only means of air, bandaging along my neck and under my chin. My chest was heavy, my arms and legs seemed to be floating, the taste of saline in my mouth, and my eyes full of questions. I looked at these two people in front of me. My parents, who just didn’t quite know what to say to me.

Stories of Survivial

 

Over the next 6 days, I started to gain traction. My white cell count started to rise. My true personality started to come out via notepad and a fat red pen. My dry humor made the nurses laugh, my quick wit kept my room busy with hospital staff coming in to say hello and leave smiling. My newest friend and immediate soul sister came every day to make sure I wasn’t alone. We look so alike they assumed she was my sister, so we never had issues with the “family only” rule. At day 4 they made me start to get up and walk around the ICU. Day 4 is also the day my Dad’s family called in their version of a priesthood holder to give me a blessing. It was a sweet gesture that resulted in my uncle Alden accidentally giving me an oil bath. My hair smelled like McDonald’s for the next week. It was on day 5 that the stabbing shoulder and chest pain began to get really loud. At first, they thought it was pneumonia… My singles ward bishop, Dan Leatherwood made his regular visit, and said again, ‘This isn’t over, but I’ll be with you every step of the way.’
On day 6 I was given a feeding tube and life-flighted to LDS hospital due to heart failure. The infection was moving, and it was moving fast. I watched as Dr. Garner Meads, a man whose soul is unbelievably good, stood by and watched as I was loaded into the helicopter. He had grabbed my hand as the flight team wheeled me out of my room, and held it until they had to close the door. He knew I was scared, and he also knew I needed someone to fight for me when I couldn’t do it myself. He saved my life while I was at Alta, and he moved mountains to make sure I had the absolute best care while I was at LDS hospital. I don’t know if he remembers me, but I won’t ever forget him, or the warmth of his hand as they wheeled me out into a breezy May day.

 

Stories of Survivial

 

Dr. Pearl was my general surgeon. Dr. Sharm from the U of U was given special privileges at LDS hospital at the request of Dr. Meads, so he could be my new ENT, Dr. Collins was my heart surgeon. I was immediately taken to the ICU room 34, a room with the view, also a request of Dr. Meads, where I was prepped for immediate throat surgery.

Dr. Sharma put in a throat drain and permanent trach. I woke up to voice in the dark whispering around me. I tried to ask for water, but as I mentioned before, when a tube is doing your breathing, all you get is silence and post-surgical breath. My Dad was the only one in the room watching my face. It was the first time I had seen my parents in almost 2 days.

A nurse in pink scrubs was putting motion leg wraps on my calves and talking to my parents about what would be happening next. The movement of the leg wraps made me instantly seasick. As the nurse left to get a syringe of anti-nausea, I grabbed the notepad and wrote WATER!!!!! My Dad sat next to me, a cup already in his hand, and said water was the first thing he had wanted after his first open heart surgery too. He slipped me a few ice chips from his ice water just before the nurse walked in, for which I will always be grateful.

Stories of Survivial
The next 24 hours were critical. Dr. Pearl explained that it appeared my brain had been doing most of the work over the last few years. By sheer willpower, I had kept my body alive, and I was exhausted.
Dr. Collins came in after Dr. Pearl had left and explained to me what he was going to be doing to my heart. The infection had filled my throat and had moved into my lungs and my heart. It was suffocating my aortic valve and had filled the lining around my heart. He was going to have to surgically vacuum it out. He also warned me my body was weak and it was a long surgery. My chances of survival weren’t high, but he’s seen the damage already done, and he knew if I wanted to, I would survive.
The key was I had to fight for it. As I assessed my body, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I did not have the strength to survive this. I could feel the exhaustion in every fiber of my being. I knew I had to let my best friends know. I had to tell them that it was okay if I died. That I was ready. I had fought a good fight, but I was tired. I was so incredibly tired. I couldn’t push my way through this one, not on my own, and that was okay.
 Stories of Survivial
 My friend Brooke, who was in Hawaii told me she loved me, and that she had already made peace with the idea of me dying. My Sunnie was in Arizona for one more day, but she too knew it would be okay. It was the last one, my best friend of the last 4 years who was not okay. He called me immediately after receiving my text message. He in tears played our song for me. Then he told me to fight. To get another priesthood blessing from the bishop or hospital missionary, but I had to fight. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t do anything but let silent tears flow down my face as I listened to him struggle for words. I sent a text after he hung up promising I would ask for one more blessing…but I knew it was going to take a miracle for me to survive this heart surgery. I just did not have the strength my body would need. My Bishop, his counselors, the elder’s quorum president Donovan, and I think the ward clerk was there. They stood in a circle and gave me a priesthood blessing. Where I was promised I would survive if I chose to. I was promised Christ’s hands would guide the surgery, and that my faith would determine the outcome. Faith in God has been my saving grace more than once, but this time, my life depended on it.

 

 Stories of Survivial

I went into surgery at 6 am. I was calm. I knew God had me. I woke up in immense pain, but a heart full of comfort. Bishop Leatherwood was the first person I saw as I opened my eyes. He had been waiting for a few hours and had to leave, but he sat with me for a few minutes and told me I was lucky to be alive. The OR nurse who wheeled me in said that it was a miracle I had survived any of it, and couldn’t understand why I was alive. Leatherwood kiss my forehead and said he knew exactly why I was alive. He also left a massive vase full of 4 dozen roses on the nurses station for me. He knew I couldn’t have them in my room, but he wanted to make sure I could see them, and smell them. His roses scented the entire ICU unit. They survived for another 2 months after that surgery. Not even I know how that was managed.

Stories of Survivial

 

I spent another 2 weeks in the ICU at LDS hospital. 1 more week in the ICU, 1 week in recovery.

My first meal after the feeding tube was removed was spent with my Bishop. He cut my sandwich, cooled my soup, and kept my water glass full. Dr. Meads, who had called to check on my progress every. single. day had made sure I had a bowl of fresh strawberries, and a nurse I will never forget ran to get me a second bowl before I had finished my first one just because she wanted to see me smile. Nothing in this world tastes as sweet as a strawberry, after weeks of not eating anything. Family and neighbors stopped in every now and again, as they could between kids and jobs. My best friends were there for me every single day, some of their parents even visited. Brooke’s parents were there with me nearly every day.

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Stories of Survivial

 

I spent another month on in-home healthcare, with a 24/7 penicillin drip and a rigid set of rules. I lived in a good place for it though. The Luna family had 2 very well equipt NICU nurses living in the house, and Dr. Hancey lived across the street.

The “dentist” we learned, had been practicing under a revoked license. He was also nowhere to be found… until 2011… on a whim, I decided to check facebook for him. I found him. He was living in Belize. He was untouchable by the means of this earth, but one day he will have to face what he has done.

Stories of Survivial

 

I will forever feel the repercussions of that first dental visit. I have since lost my appendix and had various other medical issues that were caused by leftover scar tissue and the war-ravaged remains left from the infection. My heart is permanently damaged. I will always have the scars on my neck and throat, my back, my abdomen, and both sides of my ribcage. But I will also always have the emotional scars, not all of which are negative. My testimony of my Savior is no longer just a belief. I know who He is. I know the power of the priesthood, and the power of prayer, and fasting, and most importantly, the power of faith. I know the impact one life can have on many, for better or worse… I also know that we have the capacity to survive more than we think we can, we just can’t do it alone.

-Jess Durrant

Read More Stories of Survival:

Depression and Suicide 

Molestation

Abuse and Porn Addiction

 

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