Luke’s Story: Beating the Odds

They were sure I was a goner

Dec. 9, 2009. By Luke Duvall.

Friday, October 2nd, 2009 Atkins vs. Mountain View, five days until emergency med flight. It was the first cool night of the season. I remember thinking when the game got started “Wow, I can’t wait to get back in the car where the heater is”. That probably explains how I felt. I was coming down with a virus called H1N1, or swine flu, that would put me on a vent, make me susceptible to pneumonia, and almost take my life. I had no idea that exhaustion was the first signs of having this flu because it had only been in America for about a year. Because of this, I didn’t know much about it. I thought I was just having a bad night and was going to have to try to play through it, but later it came to be known that I had no business playing that game.

Saturday, October 3rd, four days until med flight. I woke up feeling like ten pounds of trash in a 3 pound sack. I felt horrible. This isn’t uncommon for the day after a game considering I play both ways and special teams. I knew that it was a little different kind of tired, but none-the-less I forced myself to get up and go work for my grandpa. My grandpa being the slave driver he is didn’t cut me any slack all day. He kept pushing me and pushing me to keep up with him and then, as if it wasn’t bad enough already, convinced me to go out on a double date with him that night. I shouldn’t have been out doing any of that in the condition I was in. I survived work and the date by telling myself that I was ok and that I just had a little headache and nothing was the matter. Boy was I wrong.

Sunday, October 4th three days until med flight. The day it finally got me. I couldn’t hide it anymore, I was sick and I knew it. My temperature was 104.3 and I felt horrible. Tylenol wasn’t kicking it, and its kind of funny that I thought it would now looking back and seeing what I actually needed to fight off the fever. I tried everything, cold baths and wet rags, but nothing helped. I couldn’t eat anything and didn’t even want to drink anything. I have had the normal flu before and I knew that this was different.

Monday, October 5th two days from evac. My temperature was now 104.5 and a restless night didn’t help the problem any. Now my family was beginning to realize that something really is wrong with this situation. My dad calls the clinic and schedules an appointment for 2:30. I remain in the same state up to my appointment. I enter the clinic and they take me back to a room where my doctor comes in to check me. He decides that I have the flu and that I have had it long enough that there is nothing they can do for me except give me diarrhea and nausea medicine. He missed the ticking time bomb that I call my left lung. At this time, it was slowly filling up with mucus as we later found out. I’m sent home with a dinky med and a lot of frustration because I can tell things are still not right.

Tuesday, October 6th , 1 day from evac. I continue the same routine, cold showers and wet rags with Tylenol to try to fight off MSSA pneumonia. That day I begin spitting up blood. The news hadn’t yet started putting bloody mucus as a sign of H1N1, but because of my case they started listing it as a symptom. After the bloody mucus began I knew I was dying. It wasn’t a fast dying, but I knew it was coming. My dad calls a family friend who is an RN to came to check me out. She looks at me and says to call an ambulance. I thought that was an obvious thing to do because I was panting like a dog saying call 911 please get me an ambulance and get me to a hospital NOW. At the hospital we find out my immune system is shot and my lungs are packed concrete tight with bloody mucus. Now we KNOW that something isn’t just kind of wrong, it is VERY wrong. Later, at Arkansas Children’s Hospital we also found out that my bone marrow was dying, my kidneys were shot, and my liver was shutting down.

This night at Saint Mary’s is the worst night of my life. I enter into the ER and then I’m admitted to a room in the ICU. In the ICU my care consisted of oxygen and a pat on the back. They do nothing for me. I see a nurse and doctor once all night. Around midnight that night my dad pleaded with the nurses to give me some medicine to make me sleep or calm down because I am very restless. Finally, a nurse came in and shot me up with Ativan. About an hour later I begin hallucinating. Later, my dad finds out that Ativan given at a fast rate to a minor can make them hallucinate. So instead of sleeping for the next 4 hours I see and hear crazy things. I never did go to sleep.

Tuesday October 7th , 4 hours until take off. My parents are notified that if they intend for me to survive I need to immediately go to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. They also tell them I’m not stable enough to ride in an ambulance to Little Rock. This creates a problem. It looked like the story was going to end sadly and very bad on my part, but God had other plans for me. There just so happened to be an Arkansas Children’s helicopter coming to Saint Mary’s within the hour to pick up another patient. Also, it just so happened that CBS’s 60 Minutes wanted a H1N1 case that involved a healthy athlete that was hospitalized by this flu. They had come to ACH looking for just such a case a few days earlier, but didn’t find it and went on their way. A man by the name of Tom Bonner, who later became a good family friend, was the PR man for the Children’s Hospital. He caught wind I was the exact case 60 Minutes wanted, but I needed to be air lifted , or I would die. This was significant to him because I was the chance to get the hospital national recognition. If they could get me to the hospital, they could put me and the hospital on T.V. He made a phone call to Saint Mary’s hospital and asked to speak with my dad and Tom said, “Chad, this is Tom Bonner with Arkansas Children’s Hospital. We would like to air lift your child to our facilities and film him as he exit’s the helicopter for a 60 minutes episode. Do I have your consent?” And I believe my dad’s exact response was “I don’t care what you do as long as you stay out of the way.” Tom responded, “Thank you, the Angle One helicopter should be there in a few minutes, see you soon”

Not long after that, the Angle One team arrives at Saint Mary’s. My dad said that when they arrived everyone just stopped and stared as they walked down the hall. They were in complete control of the situation and the hospital. The only thing that could have made it any cooler was if they had played Clint Eastwood background music when they arrived. He said that when the air medics asked for something that the Saint Mary’s nurses didn’t just go get it, but they ran and brought back two, no questions asked. That’s exactly what I needed because I was still dying, but now, much faster. All the Angle One team came and stood around my bed and told me exactly what was going to happen in a calm voice. This part gets a little fuzzy for me, but I remember thinking, “Wow, these guys are cool!”, and they were. They told me they were going to put me to sleep and then stick a tube down my throat and fly me to ACH. I remember thinking, “Awww man, I’m not going to get to see the flight, dang,” They also told me that it was going to feel like falling asleep and then waking up the next day. I didn’t believe that part, but they knew exactly what they were talking about. They intubated me, and moments later I took my first crash. My blood pressure bombed out, and they had to cram me full of fluids to keep me stable. This was a tune that we sung far to often. After I stabilized, they loaded me up and we were off.

My dad recalls the flight as being great, but our situation as being critical. He knew he would never fly in an $8 million medically decked out Black Hawk ever again, so he took a little time to look around. I, of course, don’t remember a thing. I did wake up many times through the flight and through the time I was in a coma, but I don’t remember a thing because they gave me some nice amnesia medicine. The flight took approximately 20 minutes, and when we landed there they were, just like Tom had said. Tom Bonner and a camera crew were waiting on me. The med team ran with me and my dad to the PICU, or Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where they would fight and battle to save my life and eventually succeed. My mom had already arrived at the hospital, since she had to drive. I had hardly entered the door before I had IV’s and all kinds of tubes running into me. My dad remembers counting 11 IV’s running into me at once. I was almost as connected as a person can get. The next step is the final step, ECMO, which thank God I never had to have. Later in the day, I decided that almost dying once wasn’t enough so I thought I should try it again. My blood pressure started dropping again and once more I was crammed full of fluids to keep me alive.

The next few days of PICU were about all the same. I would either slightly improve or stay the same. I was taking baby steps. The steps forward ended exactly 1 week from my arrival and I took a leap backwards. I crashed again for the third and final time. This one was really bad. They called in all the family because they were sure I was a goner. My mom couldn’t handle it so she ran into a small conference room and fell on her face, not in rememberance of me and my life, but to plead to God for my life. As she cried and prayed that I would improve, my dad was going back and forth from my room to the conference room and would tell her my condition. One time when I was almost stable he entered her room and said, “Don’t stop honey, your moving heaven and earth don’t quit,” and she didn’t. She stayed in that room until I was better and never moved, she didn’t look up, she didn’t move around, she just prayed.

From that point forward I steadily improved. My lungs were getting better and my blood pressure stayed normal. I never had another fall out or back step. After being intubated and in a coma for 12 days I woke up. Not because they let me wake up, but because I just woke up. When I came to, I wasn’t scared and I didn’t fight. I was confused, but I knew something was ok about the situation. They untied my hands so I could move, I was so happy. I didn’t try to pull out the tube in my throat, which is a miracle in its self. They normally keep a person tied and sedated because they will almost always pull our their tube since it is so uncomfortable. It does a lot of damage to the throat and can cause reconstructive surgery. I may have been doped up, but I was still smart enough to know that if I had to withstand this tube to remain awake then I would. I also knew the tube was keeping me alive so I was ok with not pulling it out. I withstood the tube for five days and the doctors and nurses had never seen anybody awake on the tube for that long because no one could control their self enough. I was extubated on the 24th of October. That was one of the happiest days of my life. Of course, I had cameras in my face, but I didn’t care.

I stood for the first time the next day on Saturday. It was harder than any sprint, workout, or football game I have ever experienced. I moved to rehab on the 28th to relearn how to live. The saying goes that PICU saves your life, Rehab gives it back. Rehab was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, because I was conscience for all of it. How long Rehab lasted was all up to me and nobody else. I was coming off of drugs, still fighting pneumonia, battling depression, dealing with extreme homesickness, and on top of that having therapy and relearning to eat and drink. After going through that I know I can do anything. I was sent home Tuesday, November 10th at 11:00 a.m. after my month long battle. I was now 36 pounds lighter, much weaker, and very fragile. I can only think of one thing more exciting that coming home and that was being extubated. The whole town, and the whole Nation as a matter of fact was thrilled I was home. People kept up with my story like I was their own son. I don’t see myself as a celebrity or a hero. I see myself as an example, an example of what prayer and faith can do for a person and how God can bring a person through. I am back to gaining weight and exercising everyday. My aim is to be the best pitcher in our baseball conference this year or even in the state maybe. People say I’m crazy, but I know its possible, that would be the least of what God has done for me.

I really hope everyone gets the H1N1 vaccination. What I have been through has changed my life forever. Except by the grace of God I would not have survived. While I was at ACH there were many kids that had H1N1 who didn’t make it. I can’t help but think how different things could have been for me and for them if we had all been vaccinated. Since leaving ACH my whole family and I have gotten the vaccine. Don’t wait. Get the shot!

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