The sign says it all

If you happened to drive by a Berger Auto Center location in Fort Wayne in the past few days, you may have noticed that the business’ signs feature a special message for Parkview Regional Medical Center (PRMC) co-workers:

“Big, big thank you PRMC doctors, nurses, ECMO team, for saving lives! You truly are our heroes!”

The Berger family’s thank you follows Rita Berger’s two-month struggle to recover from influenza. Rita is the sister-in-law of Jim Berger, RN, EMT-P, Nursing Services operational lead, ED, Parkview Hospital Randallia (PVH). We learned about the family’s experience from Jim and his brother, Dan, who is Rita’s husband.

In early January, Rita and Dan were driving home from Wyoming, following a visit with their son’s family, when, after stopping at Lincoln, Neb., for the night, Rita became ill. Although they considered staying until Rita felt better, they decided it would be best to head home. They arrived in Fort Wayne, and the next day, Dan returned to work, while Rita planned to see her physician. Rita’s breathing became more and more labored, and when Dan called home to check on her, she whispered only one word – “Hospital.”

He quickly rushed home, put on her shoes – she was too ill to put them on herself – and drove her to PRMC. Although the flu outbreak had begun and the ED was full, Dan said it was clear to the staff that Rita needed immediate attention. “They didn’t waste any time,” he said. “They took her back right away.”

Within minutes she was placed on a BiPap machine to assist her breathing. “When her oxygen saturation didn’t improve, Dr. Steinhofer [Jonathan Steinhofer, MD, Professional Emergency Physicians] approached us about intubation and placing her on a ventilator, and she was admitted to MICU,” said Jim, who had joined Dan at PRMC.

Hearing words like ventilator and medically induced coma made a deep impact on Dan. “Man, I got scared,” he said. “I had my coat on, but I was shaking because I was so upset.” He was glad his brother and other family members were with him.

Rita tested positive for flu and was developing pneumonia when Vatche Israbian, MD, PPG – Intensive Care Medicine, talked with the family. “He said she was on 100 percent oxygen on the ventilator, but it wasn’t working,” said Dan. “Her kidneys had shut down and other organs were starting to shut down.” Based on the frank conversation, Dan said he understood that she had “only about a 10 percent chance of survival.” According to Jim, “She was not improving. He gave her a very bad prognosis and said the only thing to save her would be ECMO.”

ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation and is a life-support treatment that replaces the function of the heart and lungs for people who have a severe, life-threatening illness. In Rita’s case, her lungs weren’t providing enough oxygen for her body.

David Lloyd, MD, PPG – Cardiovascular Surgery, placed her on ECMO and then transferred her to the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) at Parkview Heart Institute. “The team in CVICU was remarkable, providing excellent care while keeping everyone informed as to what was happening,” said Jim.

Being on ECMO allowed Rita’s body to fight her illness. She remained on ECMO for five days and then transferred back to MICU, where she remained on a ventilator and dialysis for another two weeks. As she improved, she was sent to 7 Medical, returned to Progressive ICU and then back to 7 Medical until she was transferred to Inpatient Rehabilitation at PVH. Now home nearly a month, she continues working with the Outpatient Rehabilitation team at PRMC.

In addition to being grateful for the expertise of Rita’s outstanding care providers, Dan is thankful for the incredible kindness shown by everyone he encountered. Among the many examples he shared, he mentioned Dr. Israbian making a special visit to Rita after she improved and was no longer in his care; the chaplains who brought comfort during a distressing time; and the Environmental Services co-workers who offered him coffee and asked what they could do to help make him comfortable.

He mentioned one particular moment when he saw a nurse stop what she was doing at Rita’s bedside to join their pastor in prayer, and another when one of the doctors said he’d pray for them. “It showed me they really cared, and it meant a lot,” he said.

Dan said he posted the signs at his business locations because it is the least he can do for the people who cared for Rita and the important work they do at Parkview.

“When you’re faced with thinking that your wife isn’t going to make it….” Dan’s voice trailed off, then he added, “They’re all my heroes.”

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