As a single working mother, Kathleen Taylor is used to focusing her time on others.
“I’m not always the first priority,” she admits. So, when lingering fatigue and swelling in her neck persisted, she went about the business of her life and trusted the medications her primary care doctor prescribed would eventually restore her health. Unfortunately, her symptoms only worsened, and she found herself in GBMC’s Emergency Department in early January 2022. It quickly became apparent just how sick she was. An abscess in her neck had pressed on her airway, dangerously compromising her breathing, and flesh-eating bacteria was wreaking havoc on her body. Kathleen spent twelve days in the hospital and endured several surgeries.
“She’s a tough, tough cookie,” remarks Dr. Julie Winston, the otolaryngologist on call when Kathleen came to the Emergency Department. “Necrotizing fasciitis (the clinical term for flesh-eating bacteria) is incredibly critical and can prove fatal.” Dr. Winston is grateful for the collaboration and rapid response of her GBMC colleagues to get Kathleen into emergency surgery so quickly.
Once an initial surgery stabilized her breathing, Kathleen spent the next five days in GBMC’s intensive care unit (ICU). In addition to Dr. Winston, three other doctors oversaw Kathleen’s complex medical condition: Dr. Ray Blanco, Medical Director of the Milton J. Dance, Jr. Head and Neck Center; infectious disease specialist, Dr. Ibukunolupo Oni; and plastic surgeon, Dr. Damon Cooney. Dr. Winston also credits residents Dr. Jonas Miller and Dr. John Ryan for doing “an amazing job coordinating all of (Kathleen’s) labs to help with making the diagnosis.”
A first-time GBMC patient, Kathleen was amazed with the care she received. She praises her care team for its comprehensive approach and personal attention. “Dr. Winston was in the Emergency Department that first night. She said, ‘You’re super sick; here’s our plan.’ She explained everything.” Kathleen says she appreciates how well the doctors and nurses kept her informed, especially as she was having difficulty remembering everything that was taking place with her condition and treatment. “The level of care started immediately. It was about ‘Let’s get you healthy.’ The doctors were really present.”
Dr. Blanco understands the value of GBMC’s collaborative approach to multidisciplinary care. “We have one mission - the patient.”
Infectious disease specialist, Dr. Ibukunolupo Oni, echoes Dr. Blanco’s view of coordinated communication between the care team and with the patient. She understood the challenges of Kathleen’s aggressive infection and recognized the multidisciplinary team for determining a treatment plan in a timely manner. “GBMC is a community of well-trained specialists invested in delivering the highest-quality patient care,” Dr. Oni says.
In addition to the doctors overseeing her care, Kathleen knows there were many others helping her to get well. “People knew my name” she says, crediting “Mark, who did my CT scan; Lauren, Lacey, Gyanne, Andrew, and Carly in the ICU; Aimee, Rikki, Carol, LaLa, Kim, Nicole, and Anita on the 4th floor; the transport team who took me to every scan, and the wonderful nurse who helped me wash and comb my hair…the care was just above and beyond.”
Now two months after her frightening illness, Kathleen reflects on life before and after her experience.
Her advice to others who are feeling unwell: “You don’t need to be Wonder Woman. Give yourself permission to be sick and don’t wait!” As she continues to heal and return to a full and busy schedule, she is grateful for her health and “the little things” that define daily life with her 14-year-old daughter. “GBMC saved my life.”