Who cares? Durango couple finds staff that does

Nurses, doctors, case managers – all here helped Durangoan Ginger St. Ours, right, survive a near-fatal bacterial infection that sent her to the hospital for a month in April. These are just a sample of the Mercy Regional Medical Center staff whom she credits with saving her life and bringing her back to good health. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Herald

Nurses, doctors, case managers – all here helped Durangoan Ginger St. Ours, right, survive a near-fatal bacterial infection that sent her to the hospital for a month in April. These are just a sample of the Mercy Regional Medical Center staff whom she credits with saving her life and bringing her back to good health.

When your life’s on the line, you want people around you who care.

Ginger St. Ours is alive today, and that may be the reason why.

The world inside the hospital, that microcosm, is not something that she understood well until very recently. And it’s not something she was expecting to get to know in early April.

That’s when she began feeling the symptoms of the harmful bacteria that would nearly kill her. Still, she kept commuting from Durango to her job as a schoolteacher in Aztec.

After several days of suffering through the malaise, she gave in one morning and stayed home. Among the many life-saving decisions she and others, including husband Jeremiah St. Ours, made in the next 48 hours, that was the first.

Jeremiah made the next, insisting that Ginger go with him to the emergency room at Mercy Regional Medical Center. What she was enduring just didn’t seem right to him. She was coughing and had vomited. By itself, that wasn’t such a big deal, but there was more – the violence of the cough. And it was only getting worse.

In the ER, Ginger’s condition deteriorated abruptly and frighteningly. Her chest hurt horribly, to the point where she thought she was having a heart attack.

Several doctors and nurses crowded around to help. But what was going badly turned catastrophic.

Within the next hour, several of Ginger’s major organs – lungs, kidneys, bone marrow production – shut down. Although her heart never stopped, her blood pressure registered zero.

Meanwhile, doctors frantically tried to figure out what was wrong. The answer: A bacteria had caused a systemic inflammatory reaction, in which every part of the body becomes inflamed. The bloodstream was infected, and she also had pneumonia. Her unconscious body was hanging on, but only with modern medical help, and for a couple of days survival appeared questionable.

She was placed on a ventilator in the intensive care unit, a mass of other tubes giving her nourishment and medicine, monitors keeping track of her vital signs.

The ordeal challenged Jeremiah, Ginger’s visiting family, and the Mercy staff as it struggled to care for Ginger. This kind of thing should not be happening to a healthy 48-year-old, but it was. Doctors said later that Ginger survived probably because of her good health coming into the ordeal.

For nearly the next month she lay in a hospital bed, three weeks in the intensive-care unit, one week in a regular room. Slowly she improved.

Ginger said that when she regained consciousness, staff kept popping in. “Ten to 12 people I didn’t know were coming by and saying, ‘We’re so glad you’re doing well. We’re so glad you pulled through.’

“It’s just something you can feel. I just really sincerely felt cared for.”

Meanwhile, Jeremiah watched daily as the hospital staff did its thing. The Fort Lewis College graduate who went on to found the outdoor clothing company Sequel is not easy to impress. But he was consistently impressed with the consideration and attention Ginger received.

“I’ve been in business all my life and can unequivocally state that there is one thing you cannot train someone to do, and that’s care,” Jeremiah said.

Ginger’s brother, Glenn Bigsby, is an oncologist in Orlando, Fla. Her sister, Geneen Bigsby, is an OB-GYN doctor in Lewiston, Idaho. “They were extremely impressed” with the staff and how it worked as a team, Ginger said.

The St. Ourses want to share their story not to tell about Ginger’s life-or-death saga, but more to express their appreciation for the care that Ginger received by everyone at Mercy.

(Full disclosure: I am friends of the St. Ourses, whom I got to know when Jeremiah wrote a popular biweekly story in the Herald from 2005-07 about a motorcycle trip he took that spanned North and South America. Also, my wife, Judy Peel, is a longtime Mercy employee.)

By early May, Ginger’s failed organs were bouncing back. Her kidneys began to show a spark. She was removed from dialysis and on May 8 was discharged from the hospital. Tests Thursday showed her kidneys are back at full strength.

Those involved with the public process of moving Mercy from its former home at 375 E. Park Ave. to the Grandview site may recall Jeremiah St. Ours being an outspoken critic of the move. Well, he’s still not a fan, but count him as among those who will speak praises of how the new $84 million building operates on a human level.

“It’s about the people, not the building,” he said.

“The doctors, nurses and custodial staff, the accountants, the managers, the food-services folks, the pharmacists, the physical therapists and (everyone else we encountered) were all exceptionally friendly and helpful. It seemed everyone looked you in the eye, smiled and said ‘good morning.’ Even one of the janitors went out of her way to come by Ginger’s room on her final day to say goodbye and wish her well. While we would all like this to be our society’s baseline ‘normal,’ we all know that it’s not.”

A chat with a paramedic friend brought home the point to Ginger that it’s common for medical personnel to be involved in a patient’s life-and-death struggle, then never hear from the patient again.

“It’s rare anybody takes the time to recognize the positive things that are done,” she said. “That’s really what I wanted to do, is take the time to recognize the positive.”

Jeremiah St. Ours said Mercy is blessed with “kind and caring human beings whose intensive training, attention to detail and personal investment pulled off something miraculous – they saved my wife’s life.”

johnp@durango herald.com

A ventilator and other high-tech equipment help to keep Ginger St. Ours’ body functioning during her time in the intensive care unit at Mercy Regional Medical Center. Enlarge photo

Courtesy Jeremiah St. Ours

A ventilator and other high-tech equipment help to keep Ginger St. Ours’ body functioning during her time in the intensive care unit at Mercy Regional Medical Center.

Chuck Cole, respiratory therapist at Mercy Regional Medical Center, was among the many who worked on Ginger St. Ours. Enlarge photo

Courtesy Jeremiah St. Ours

Chuck Cole, respiratory therapist at Mercy Regional Medical Center, was among the many who worked on Ginger St. Ours.

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