Home for the Holidays
After five months, Jose Ortiz of Columbus finally headed home from North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, just in time to spend the holidays with his family.
“The past several months have been a roller coaster of emotions, but today is the day they said might never happen,” said Jose’s wife, Jessikah, as he was being discharged from NMMC on Dec. 2. “We are thankful that we are able to see this day, especially before the holidays.”
Jose’s health issues began abruptly in July while at work, where he operates heavy machinery as a utilities constructor. “He was drinking a Gatorade® and said he had a weird feeling in this throat and a funny taste,” Jessikah said. “He called me and said he couldn’t talk right, but I thought he was just being funny.” When they both got home and Jessikah realized he wasn’t kidding, she took him to the Emergency Department in Columbus, where he was treated for high blood pressure and tonsillitis and dismissed.
The next day, Jose stayed home from work. “He texted me saying that he was seeing double,” Jessikah said. “I left work and by the time I got home, he couldn’t eat or swallow. He couldn’t get out of bed, and I basically had to carry him to the car.” She drove him straight to the Emergency Department at NMMC-Tupelo, where he underwent medical tests of all types.
The following day neurohospitalist Feras Jeradeh-Boursoulian, M.D., diagnosed Jose with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder in which his own immune system was damaging his nerves, causing muscle weakness and paralysis. Like many people who develop Guillain-Barre’ syndrome, Jose had a cold a few weeks before developing symptoms.
Because Jose was deteriorating so rapidly, Dr. Jeradeh-Boursoulian recommended putting him into a medically-induced coma so they could treat him quickly and aggressively. Jose responded with a thumbs up. After more than two weeks in the Critical Care Unit, Jose was moved to NMMC’s 3 West Pulmonary Stepdown Unit. He was still breathing with a ventilator at first but was eventually weaned off to CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure).
Jose was improving daily—then the unthinkable happened. “On Aug. 17, I was sitting beside his bed and he flatlined.” Jessikah said. “His nurse Jenna (Funderburk) ran into the room and started doing chest compressions. She was crying big tears—she was his favorite nurse and they had formed a bond. The doctors weren’t sure if he would recover. Thankfully, they got him back.”
After this major setback, Jose was back in the Critical Care Unit on a ventilator. Finally, at the end of August, Jose opened his eyes for the first time since he had arrived at NMMC. On Aug. 31, he was able to return to the 3 West Pulmonary Stepdown Unit. Over a month later, on Oct. 5, he was finally breathing on his own.
Despite his steady improvement, the paralysis and muscle weakness persisted. “He couldn’t talk, but he would move his leg up and down for yes and side to side for no,” Jessikah said.
Jose was transferred Oct. 14 to Baldwyn Nursing Facility, where he received nursing care and physical, occupational and speech therapy to rehab from being so sick for so long. “He had to build up the strength in his legs, and he couldn’t really move his arms or fingers,” Jessikah said. “He couldn’t open his mouth and swallowing was a big issue.”
By early November, he was strong enough to move to NMMC’s Rehabilitation Institute for more intense therapy several hours each day. Eventually, his tracheostomy and feeding tube were removed. And on Dec. 2, he finally went home to reunite with sons Gabriel, 2; Isaac, 3; Carlos, 10; and JJ, 12.
Jose celebrated their first wedding anniversary in August and his 38th birthday in October at NMMC, but this Christmas season will be celebrated at home with those he loves.
“The past several months have been a roller coaster of emotions, but today is the day they said might never happen."