November 26, 2013 | 09:39 AM
Thanksgiving has a new meaning for one Laconia woman. That's because earlier this year, Tina Kennedy was declared dead.
However, as the Emergency Room medical staff was preparing to complete a death certificate, an observant nurse at Harrison County Hospital noticed something that deceased people don't do: Tina had swallowed.
And that one little act gave the Tina a new lease on life.
Tina, who has worked in the health field since she was 17, had gone to work April 30 at Autumn Woods, where the 42-year-old was responsible for payroll. But she began to feel ill.
"I hardly ever get sick," Tina said, "and I hardly ever took medicine."
Late that morning, Tina went to her physician, who believed she was coming down with the flu, Tina said, and wrote her a prescription then sent her on her way. However, she began to feel worse and went home.
Her husband, William, later drove her to Harrison County Hospital in Corydon. Their daughter, Kristin, was with them. During the drive, Tina had a seizure and stopped breathing.
The ER staff spent 45 minutes trying to revive Tina.
Tammy Seitz was one of the registered nurses on duty. She said recently she kept seeing Tina's wedding ring and thinking how this relatively young woman had a family.
But after nearly an hour of what appeared unsuccessful attempts to revive her, Tina was declared dead and the paperwork had begun.
That's when Seitz, who happened to go back in the room where Tina was, noticed the "deceased" woman had swallowed. She told the rest of the ER staff what she had witnessed.
A flurry of activity began with hopes of getting Tina transferred to Norton Hospital in Louisville. Tina's family was told that, if they saw the Air Methods helicopter, which is based at HCH, take off, they should go to Norton Hospital in Louisville, an affiliate of HCH.
Tina was packed in ice — a move that Tina believes kept her from having brain damage — and put her in the helicopter. She has been told that she "flatlined" 21 times during the approximate 15-minute flight. After arriving at Norton, the medical team there kept the Laconia woman packed in ice.
For the next 40-some days, Tina remained in the Intensive Care Unit. Most of that time, she was in a medically induced coma. Her liver and kidneys began to shut down, requiring round-the-clock dialysis. She also gained 40 pounds of fluid. For 15 days, Tina was on a ventilator and later required a tracheotomy. A feeding tube was used to provide her body with needed nutrition.
Eventually, Tina was stable enough to be moved to the Transitional Care Unit, where she spent the next 70 days. She developed pneumonia a couple of times.
"I lost all my muscle," she said. "I couldn't do any physical therapy while I was hooked up to everything."
After recovering, Tina was released from Norton Hospital. She required dialysis for several more weeks, but is now done with that.
"My kidneys function at about 40 to 45 percent," she said.
And late this summer, Tina returned to HCH for surgery; she had a stint placed in her heart.
Since that day in April, Tina learned that she had a heart defect.
"One percent of those with this defect live," she said. "Most don't live past the age of 20."
She said she often wonders why she was allowed to survive and others don't make it.
Tina may require additional heart surgery, but, for now, she's following doctor's orders and concentrating on getting healthier. She goes to Harrison County Hospital for cardiac rehabilitation three times a week. She said the rehab staff is "like my mental health nurses; they perk me up."
For a while, she depended on others to take her to rehab. However, that changed in early October when she was released to drive. A disability placard, something Tina said she never thought she'd have at this age, allows her to park in handicapped spaces.
Last month, Tina returned to the ER to thank those who had given her a second chance at life.
"I never thought I'd see you smile," Suzanne Fetz, an Emergency Dept. technician, said to Tina.
Fetz, Seitz and registered nurse Damion Wagner, the ED manager at HCH, talked with Tina about the evening she arrived at the HCH ER. They told how CPR had been performed but to no apparent avail. They recounted how Seitz had seen the small sign of life, which changed the outcome for Tina. The staff also dubbed Tina their "miracle patient." The story of the woman who had been declared dead but instead survived circulated through the hospital. Some of the HCH ER personnel visited Tina and her family at Norton.
Tina told them she remembered most of what happened and the visits, mainly because it all had been told to her several times. She also told them about seeing a light while at the ER and seeing her father and sister, both whom are dead, but then she heard her husband calling her name. The near-death experience has strengthened her faith in God, she said.
Numerous times during the visit, Tina said "Thank you" to those she credits with saving her life.
That's why Tina plans to stay with the Norton hospital family, she said, and has switched physicians, choosing Dr. Lisa Clunie over the doctor she went to in April.
"I've heard people refer to HCH as a Band-Aid hospital," she said. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here today."
Besides being able to share Thanksgiving with her family, Tina and William celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary this month. And the Laconia woman believes she'll see their daughter turn 20 in January.
"I want everybody to realize this hospital saved my life and how much HCH means to me and my family," Tina said. "I'm grateful for what they did."