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