Lesley Bunning had so many close calls in the intensive care unit, she nearly gave up. It was getting too hard to breathe. Her family, too, suffered as they agonized through quality of life and organ-donation discussions.
But something gave Bunning the will to persevere against the H1N1 flu virus, and hope to her husband and three daughters. Actually, it was a lot of somethings.
First, there were the numerous healing prayers from friends, the faithful, even strangers overseas. Social media spread the word, and hundreds perhaps thousands of people worldwide who call themselves prayer warriors responded by appealing to a higher power on Bunnings behalf.
Then there were the doctors and nurses at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Roseville, where Bunning was hospitalized for 10 weeks until Thursday, when she graduated to Kaisers rehabilitation facility in Vallejo. Shes expected to come home to Granite Bay in three weeks.
There was karma, which, daughter Tamra Alsbergé hypothesized, was giving back tenfold the good will that Bunning had given to others over her 62 years.
There was the supportive habit family and friends developed of placing their hands on Bunning while she was deathly ill and saying, Take our energy, take our strength.
And, of course, theres Bunnings devotion to her grandchildren.
I told my husband that Im coming through because Ive got grandbabies, Bunning said from her hospital bed Thursday, as 6-month-old Naomi Johnson busily crawled over the bedcovers. I didnt get this far not to make it.
Then, once in a great while, mysterious forces come into play when life brushes up against death.
Perhaps it was an out-of-body experience, Bunning said. I thought I was dying because I couldnt get my breath. Then these two big hands of a gigantic man grabbed me and he said, Its not your time. She said he advised her to count one-two-three-four-five through the difficult breaths. I counted, then I could breathe. I cant tell if it was a person or an epiphany. He said, Youre not done yet.
Alsbergé said her mother described the figure as wearing armor, like an ancient warrior. When Bunning regained her speech, about a week ago, she asked for the man, who she reasoned may have been a nurse, so she could thank him for saving her life.
Whatever transpired, Bunning says shes a changed woman. Having been intubated, on respirators, rotated around in a special roto-bed to take the weight off her fragile lungs all while being kept in a medically induced coma for 50 days gives Bunning pause. She also was administered Tamiflu, an anti-viral medication that targets the H1N1 virus; fed nutrients through a tube; and underwent numerous chest X-rays.
Ive always been like a Tasmanian devil, like a whirlwind, a very hyper lady, she said. Now, she said, shes been reborn as flu-shot Grandma, destined to visit as many school grounds as she can manage, preaching the right way to make it through the flu season with a flu shot. Im going to come up with a campaign for the flu shot. Maybe thats what Im meant to do now.
Alsbergé said the family envisions starting a foundation and locating it right across the street from Kaiser Permanentes hospital in Roseville. It would be dedicated to the mission of getting people vaccinated, she said.
One things for certain this is a family that sticks together. All five of them work at the family business, an accounting and tax preparation firm. Our lives have always revolved around tax season, said daughter Allison Johnson. This is the first tax season her mothers missed in 32 years.
Bunning said shes befuddled as to why she survived and so many others didnt. Statewide, nearly 400 people have died of the flu. I dont understand, why me, she said. Why, when six people are in the ER, and five leave in body bags, why the one remaining is me.
The difficulties of making it through H1N1 and the acute respiratory disease it triggered stay with Bunning. The memory is terrible. Whats so scary is not being able to get enough oxygen to take a breath.
The numerous chest X-rays have not shown improvement in Bunnings lungs, Johnson said. Medically, we dont know how shes breathing on her own. The family said Bunning may face life with a respiratory disorder, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which involves chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Still, her doctors say Bunning had a remarkable immune system and ability to fight the H1N1 virus strain. They also credit the integrated team of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, respiratory and physical therapists and spiritual care chaplains for coordinating care to manage her respiratory illness. Also helpful were the state-of-the-art ventilators, according to her doctors.
Bunning says she is grateful to be alive. Her daughters think more is at play than just modern medicine.
Its a miracle, said Johnson. They said her lungs are probably trashed beyond repair, that maybe shed had a stroke. We didnt know if she was brain-dead or not because the doctors couldnt do a CAT scan. The doctors, theyve been good, but theres more going on here.
Bunnings husband, Bernard, said, This has truly been a miracle and has touched our family in more ways than I can express. Somehow saying thank you didnt seem to be enough to show our appreciation, so we decided to pay it forward. We are creating Project Help so other families that find themselves in situations like ours have a place to find answers ... support and help.
Call The Bees Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270. Follow her blog at www.sacbee.com/healthy-choices.