Amory Family Witnesses Miracles Every Day
TUPELO, Miss.—Dawn Bickerstaff’s life is slowly righting itself after being turned upside down on March 29.
“I was eating lunch at work, and my head started hurting really bad,” says Bickerstaff, 45, who lives in Amory and has worked at Eutaw Construction in Aberdeen for almost 25 years. “I can remember grabbing the top of my head because it hurt so bad. I couldn’t focus my eyes—it’s like they were working independently of each other. I got my coworkers to call an ambulance.”
A scan at her local hospital revealed a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a medical emergency caused by a bulging blood vessel that bursts in the brain (aneurysm). Because this medical emergency can lead to permanent brain damage or death if not treated promptly, Bickerstaff was flown by helicopter to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. There, she underwent endovascular coiling, a procedure to block blood flow into the aneurysm.
Family members say Bickerstaff was recovering remarkably well at UMMC—talking, walking and eating—until April 3, when she began suffering vasospasms which caused strokes on both sides and the frontal lobe of her brain over the next two weeks. “I felt like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me,” said her husband, Danny.
“At one time I think there were 16 bags of different IV fluids plus tubes and machines everywhere. She had a drain and a shunt put in to keep down the pressure on her brain,” says her mother-in-law, Linda. “She was on every prayer list we could get her on.”
Finally, on April 26, Bickerstaff was stable enough to move from the Critical Care Unit to a private room. Physical therapists started working with her to be able to sit up and then to stand.
By May 8, she was discharged from UMMC and transferred to NMMC’s Rehabilitation Institute in Tupelo to begin the long journey toward independence. “When they got there, Dawn didn’t want to get out of the car,” her mother-in-law said. “But a wonderful crew of people met us. We could just see the optimism in their eyes.”
At NMMC’s Rehabilitation Institute, a 28-bed inpatient staffed by a team of professionals under the direction of physical medicine physicians who help patients reach their individual goals, Bickerstaff spent several hours a day doing physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Soon NMMC’s physical therapists had her walking with a walker. By May 16, she was walking without assistance. Occupational therapists helped her relearn and adapt activities of daily living, like dressing herself. Speech therapists helped improve her memory and swallowing skills.
“It was just amazing,” Linda Bickerstaff said. “Every day there was a milestone. She was improving by leaps and bounds.”
Bickerstaff left the Rehabilitation Institute on June 5, and therapists with NMMC Home Health worked with her at home twice a week for two months. Now, she comes for physical and speech therapy twice a week at NMMC’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center, located in Longtown Medical Park.
Because she was so sick for so long, her family worried how much of her memory she might retain. Her mother-in-law laughs recalling a recent instance when Dawn and her sister challenged their husbands to the card game Rook. “Yeah, we won,” Dawn interjected.
“Her brother-in-law said he wasn’t going to feel sorry for her anymore,” Linda Bickerstaff said.
In spite of the amazing progress she has made in a matter of mere months, Bickerstaff still has aspirations. “My next goal is to go back to work and be normal,” she said.
“She has really been a determined, strong woman,” her mother-in-law said. “We’re thanking God every day. We get to see a miracle every day.”