‘Mir­a­cle woman’ re­cov­ered af­ter her life sup­port was turned off

The Dominion Post - - World - Michele De Leeuw

Af­ter his wife had a heart at­tack that left her al­most brain dead, Karl De Leeuw had to make the hard­est de­ci­sion of his life.

A doctor told him that ‘‘the woman you know as your wife is not there any more’’. Des­o­late, he dis­con­nected her from her life sup­port unit at a Michi­gan hos­pi­tal. Mo­ments later she started breath­ing on her own. Now she has made an al­most com­plete re­cov­ery.

Michele De Leeuw, 57, said: ‘‘I don’t think I’ve re­ally pro­cessed ev­ery­thing that [has] hap­pened in the past four months. I just thank God I was saved.’’ Her re­cov­ery has baf­fled doc­tors.

The cou­ple had been at home in Ster­ling Heights, a sub­urb of Detroit, when Michele De Leeuw was im­mo­bilised by a heart at­tack. Her hus­band, 58, called the emer­gency ser­vices and a phone op­er­a­tor coached him through CPR while they waited for paramedics. He ma­noeu­vred his un­con­scious, barely breath­ing wife out of her chair, laid her on the floor and started try­ing to re­sus­ci­tate her while the op­er­a­tor helped him to count out the com­pres­sions.

She was with­out oxy­gen for 15 min­utes until paramedics ar­rived. On the way to St John Ma­comb Hos­pi­tal, the paramedics re­vived her mul­ti­ple times.

Karl De Leeuw shared the news with their daugh­ter, Myles, and son, Jake.

Six days af­ter the heart at­tack, the fam­ily was told Michele De Leeuw had only 5 per cent brain func­tion and 25 per cent heart func­tion. It did not seem like much of an ex­is­tence. ‘‘I took her off the ven­ti­la­tor,’’ Karl De Leeuw said. ‘‘I un­plugged her.’’

His daugh­ter said: ‘‘When we pulled the plug, it was just so sad to start liv­ing with the re­al­ity that my mom is dead.’’

They did not have to live with it for long. Al­though she sur­prised them by start­ing to breathe, med­i­cal staff cau­tioned that she was still likely to die and she was placed, still un­con­scious, in ‘‘com­fort care’’. Then her re­cov­ery gath­ered pace.

‘‘Two days later, the doctor called me and said: ‘We’ve had an un­ex­pected event hap­pen’, ‘‘ Karl De Leeuw said. His wife’s eyes had opened. Two days later she started talk­ing. Two days af­ter that, she was sit­ting up in bed, feed­ing her­self. She was con­fused, in­co­her­ent and still had block­ages in her veins but af­ter open heart surgery, speech and phys­i­cal ther­apy, she is al­most back to how she was be­fore the heart at­tack. ‘‘She’s a mir­a­cle lady,’’ her hus­band said. ‘‘You wouldn’t be­lieve it if you didn’t know what she’s gone through.’’

His wife re­turned home on their 26th an­niver­sary, which got him think­ing about their mar­riage vows. Their bond had sur­vived ‘‘for richer or for poorer’’ and ‘‘in sick­ness and in health’’, he re­flected. ‘‘For me, though, I don’t think there are a lot of cou­ples who can pass the last one. Till death do us part.’’

He told that his wife’s re­cov­ery re­mained a ‘‘total mys­tery’’. He said: ‘‘I truly don’t be­lieve that the doc­tors even know [why it hap­pened]. Even the neu­ro­sur­geon said, ‘Now you know that we know noth­ing about the brain.’ It’s just truly amaz­ing.’’

Ster­ling Heights fire chief Chris Mar­tin said how she con­founded med­i­cal opin­ion was still the ‘‘mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion’’.


Michele De Leeuw re­cov­ers in hos­pi­tal, with a friend by her side.

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