E.coli that never got out of the body is deadly.
Amputee focuses on her blessings, not her woes
By LORETTA SWORD
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN
A Christmas tree in the living room of her Pueblo West home hints of how Lovella Thompson survived a months-long
illness that should have killed her.
She survived, but came home without feet and missing part of all 10 fingers. But like the fully decorated tree that peeks
through a large window into all four seasons outside, her spirit shimmers from her huge hazel eyes into a world she's
thrilled to still inhabit.
The Christmas tree never comes down, except when it gets old and she buys a new one, the petite 60-year-old said
during an interview this week.
Every ornament has a story, she said, or serves as a reminder to live each day with the spirit of Christmas in her heart.
"I love Christmas. I am Christmas, my family says. I just think we should live in love and giving all the time," she added,
waving her scarred, stumpy fingers as she laughed.
As she twice lay in a coma at Parkview Medical Center last summer, she said, "I knew that I had to wake up. Somehow, I
think I heard all the prayers - I was cradled in prayer and love - and deep inside I knew I had to wake up for all the
people who love me and need me."
Nurses who didn't believe she would ever open her eyes burst into tears when she did. Their tears turned to laughter
when Lovella's eyes widened into the first smile they had ever seen on her face.
Then they marveled at how she handled torturous daily scraping of dead tissue from her feet after two amputation
surgeries, and at her determination to learn to walk on her heels - all that's left of her feet - and to grip a pen, a cup, or
buttons on a blouse with partial, atrophied fingers.
The staffs on the cardiac and intensive-care units, Four North Tower and the rehab unit helped her celebrate her 60th
birthday a week before she left the hospital for months of home therapy that finally ended last month.
When God laughs
"I had wondered all last year how I would celebrate my 60th birthday," she said with a chuckle. "It reminds me that God
must laugh when we make plans, because none of this was in my plans."
Lovella's ordeal started last May, when she visited her doctor at the U.S. Air Force Academy clinic in Colorado Springs
after several days of worsening pain and weakness.
Tests confirmed that Thompson had kidney stones, including a very large one that her doctor determined was causing
the pain as her body tried to pass it through her urethra.
She was sent home with pain medication and assurance that the stone would exit on its own and she would feel better
Two days later, however, she had grown feverish and could barely walk from her bed to the bathroom a few feet away.
Glenn Thompson knew something was terribly wrong and called friends to help him get his wife into their vehicle for a
trip to the emergency room.
He said nurses at Parkview Medical Center knew immediately that Lovella was in trouble and drew blood samples to
find out why she was so feverish and confused. The tests showed that she was in septic shock from an e-coli infection
that they later determined had originated in the kidney stone and then infiltrated her bloodstream through a tear or tiny
Glenn said at least 10 doctors and nurses crowded the ER treatment room, and the doctors concluded that his wife
had little chance of surviving the widespread infection.
He told them they were wrong, as he would repeat many times as his wife struggled to emerge from the coma she
entered that day, and another later on during the three-months-plus that she was in the hospital.
"After I was getting better, a lot of the nurses told me they were more worried about him than me. They didn't know how
they would tell him when I finally died," Lovella said.
Thoughts become things
"I just knew that wasn't going to happen," Glenn countered. "I knew her spirit. And I held on to what she always says:
'Thoughts become things. Thoughts are things.' And I held on to the thought that she would pull through."
While she was in a coma the first time, her weight ballooned to more than 200 pounds because of fluid buildup caused
by her infection.
As her body instinctively sent all the oxygen and nutrients it could muster to her failing internal organs, she developed
gangrene in her hands and feet.
When a surgeon told her he would have to amputate both legs just below the knee to give her more options in
prosthetics, she convinced him to try to save both heels. And he did.
The first surgery involved her left foot and all the fingers on both hands. The second addressed her right foot, and
further tissue removal on a thumb and two fingers that developed staph infection after the first surgery.
She doesn't remember much of the stay, except for the painful wound healing, the fear that she would never be able to
breathe without the ventilator feeding oxygen into her failing lungs through a trachea tube, and the constant love and
assurance from her husband and his two grown children, along with her son and daughter, and many friends.
One of her sisters kept their other 10 siblings and many friends posted on Lovella's progress through a Web site.
Reading the many postings after she was released prompted Lovella to begin posting inspirational thoughts online
every day since she returned home in August.
Her first regular followers, besides friends and family, were the army of medical professionals who cared for her
through her ordeal.
Those posts led her to the idea of writing a book, tentatively titled "Where Angels Live," about the whole experience.
She wants to publicly acknowledge the doctors, nurses and therapists who helped her, she said.
Just as important, she said, is her desire to inspire others facing serious illness or life-changing circumstances to
realize that their ability to survive, and even thrive, depends as much on their attitude and beliefs in healing and
miracles as on the professional care they receive.
"I woke up every day expecting some kind of miracle, and just about every day there was one, whether medical or
financial, or spiritual or emotional," she said.
She learned to walk on her heels while in the hospital, and now walks, and even drives, with prosthetic half-feet
attached to her legs with braces.
The miracles continued after she came home at the end of August. Soon after the hospital and other medical bills
came rolling in (after three months of little income because Glenn was spending more time at the hospital than at their
residential maintenance business), Lovella learned that the congregation of her former church in Denver had collected
enough money to pay the bills off.
The estate settlement check from her father's death three years earlier finally came, "out of the blue, and just when we
needed it most," she said.
And she has no doubt that business will pick up with warmer weather coming, and the couple will be able to pay for the
home nurse and therapy she had until late last month.
Inspiration is the message of the book, she said.
But her message to anyone reading this story is to insist on a blood test for infection if they've been told they have a
kidney stone and are sent home with medication but no treatment.
Since coming home last August, Lovella has learned of two similar cases that made national and international
Mariana Bridi da Costa, a 20-year-old Brazilian model, died in January after losing both hands and feet to gangrene
caused by a blood infection that eventually was traced to her urinary tract.
Tabitha Mullings, a single mother of three from New York City, is suing a Brooklyn hospital where she sought treatment
for pain and fever last August.
Like Lovella, she was diagnosed with kidney stones and was sent home with pain medications. She returned to the
hospital a few days later unconscious, and awoke from a coma weeks later to find that both hands and part of both
legs gone. The infection in her blood also blinded her in one eye.
Lovella said she has no interest in suing the military clinic where she initially sought treatment, but her husband, an Air
Force retiree, has requested a formal inquiry into her case.
"I wouldn't want to make any money that way," she said. "If I make money, I want it to be from my book - something that
I hope will help other people in some way. I am so grateful to be alive, and it's a miracle that I am. I have to share that."
Nothing says I love you like flowers! Find a florist near you now.