Features — 18 November 2016

Eric Pineda @EVPINEDA311

Thousands of people travel to Central America every year to get a glimpse of the rich Hispanic culture, experience famous landmarks, and take in its active wildlife. While many come back from this country with gratifying stories, some return with scarring memories, unexpectedly affecting the rest of their lives.

Sarah Thompson, Sociology teacher and previous head of the Sociology department, suffered a tragic incident when her daughter, Audrey, was bitten by one of the world’s most venomous snakes, the Fer-de-lance, on June 7, 2016.

The Thompson family were visiting the South Central American country, Belize, where the snake attack occurred. As she was walking into a restaurant, the snake surged from a nearby bush and bit her on the ankle. She walked only 10 steps afterward, and collapsed, seized, and turned purple from a loss of oxygen. “The whole time I thought she was going to die in my arms, and I didn’t say a word,” Sarah said.

Audrey recalls little to nothing from her time in the ICU.

She was quickly rushed to the closest clinic, via car. Fortunately, the clinic they chose had anti-venom, which helped reduce further inflammation and paralyzation. It is important to note that not all medical centers contain anti-venom. Since Belize contains many poisonous animals, antivenom is in greater demand and production at a multitude of sites. This center, however, didn’t have any equipment to prevent Audrey’s seizing and vomiting, prompting Audrey and her family to take a 40-minute ambulance ride from the clinic to the city.

Everyone was held in terror of her critical condition as a nurse kept her alive with a handheld ventilator. “She started to internally bleed, so (the nurse) had to turn her upside down. I was sure she was going to die,” Sarah said.

Arriving on a gurney at the hospital, the doctors weren’t sure they could save her life. The medical practitioners gave Audrey more antivenom to further stabilize her and simply waited to see if her body would overcome the venom’s effects.

Audrey was unconscious, and her blood pressure was so low that she suffered a stroke.

The Thompson family stayed determined to hold onto the hope that their daughter would return. They stayed in the room next to her as they waited restlessly; all were quiet and intense.

“There was only one time in the hospital that I became a weeping mess. That was when she first woke up,” Sarah said.

When Audrey awoke, she seemed different.

“She was there, but she wasn’t there. She couldn’t see me or hear me. She couldn’t even look at me. It was almost like she was brain dead. At that moment, I was thinking, ‘we did all this for nothing,’” Sarah said.

Several MRI’s indicated that Audrey had suffered a stroke on the right side of the brain, as well as encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. Audrey couldn’t use any of her senses and the left side of her body was completely paralyzed.

She eventually began to regain some dexterity and control of her body, raising her family’s spirits and optimism.

Her first sign of progress was the ability to move her foot and acknowledge that she still knew who her family was.

“I jumped out of bed and she looks at me. The doctor said ‘do you know who that is?’ and she nodded,” Sarah said.

Audrey spent one month in hospital, slowly recovering. She had lost total memory of the 9 days before she was bitten to the 9th day of being in the ICU. However, Audrey was able to remember her memories with her friends and family as well as the information she had learned at school the year before. In addition, her much of her motor skills have been severely impacted. Audrey’s speech was slurred since she lost fine movement in her tongue. She was unable to see clearly as she had temporarily lost sight of colors as well as depth perception. Audrey couldn’t even walk, as all of her left side was paralyzed.

Intensive rehab was integral to help Audrey regain her skills before they were permanently lost.

She was assigned 4 different therapy doctors to return her body to pristine condition.

She goes to speech therapy and occupational therapy twice a week as well as physical therapy and visual processing therapy once a week.

The physical therapists work a lot on movement planning to prevent body mirroring. Some exercises used to improve Audrey’s dexterity are heel-toe motions as well as finger touches. A careful and rigorous regimen is used to progressively correct Audrey’s motions and return her to normal.

Remediation is also implemented at home to where Audrey works on 8 to 10 hours on what their family calls Audrey’s bucket of therapy. This includes activities and drills, ranging from occupational to speech therapeutics. One essential game that Audrey plays weekly is a game called Q-Bitz, which helps enhance her visual processing skills and finger dexterity to work quicker.

Q-Bitz is composed of blocks with specific images on each side of the block. Some of the images include circles, triangles, and other shapes. There are also pattern cards which have pre-made illustrations of the designs, similar to those on the blocks. The challenge is to match the blocks to the detailed model within a short amount of time.

“When we first started playing this game, she could not grasp there was a white dot on every die. We literally had to show her to show her how she can look (at it),” said Sarah.

“It was difficult to see that every square had that one thing,” Audrey added.

Although Audrey had difficulty in the first stages of her rehab activities, substantial improvement can be seen from beginning to present day. Thompson measured all the times for how long Audrey takes to finish games like this and keeps track of it weekly.

Audrey’s life and near death experience has brought her family, as well as her community together. Her sister, mother and father give her love and affection periodically to reassure Audrey that she is not alone in her hardship.

“At times, it’s a little frustrating because I’m slowly changing and I’m not going to be where I used to be. But I’m working toward that goal. (My family) helps me work back to where I could be (and sometimes they) just hug me,” Audrey said.

The  people around Audrey have shown support and admiration of her event too. Individuals such as Audrey’s water polo coach and close friends, have arrived at her front door step to listen to her story and help her recuperate in any way they can.

“What I’ve learned is that when your world falls apart, there’s hundreds of people that are around you willing to jump in and help out,” Sarah said.

Audrey’s family hosted a Thank You Party to show gratitude to all the people, dubbed Audrey’s Angels, that have assisted and accompanied in her journey. The list ranges over 300 people, including family members, friends and medical professionals. Thompson says that their communal support has been tremendous and has given Audrey a chance to resume being a regular individual.

“The hardest part about something like this is that you’re simultaneously experiencing grief, fear, and joy. You grieve that Audrey will never by the same person she was. There’s fear about the future, and joy from every day accomplishments,” Sarah said.

Since July 3rd, Audrey has been slowly and steady recovering from her tragic adventure. It was said that it might possibly take up to 3 years for Audrey to return to full functioning as she previously did. The overwhelming warmth and compassion from her friends and family, however, has exponentially sped up her healing and has brought hopefulness to all.

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