|Julia, Katie & Mia|
1st day of summer break. Students are out but Teachers are in, cleaning the last of their decorations, taking down the old, and excited for a summer break of their own. My daughters Julia, Mia, and I walked into the building ready to help two of our best teachers from the year swap classrooms; Mrs. (Katie) Ruffolo, 1st grade, moving out and onto a new school in the district, and Mrs. (Becky) Pierson, 2nd grade, moving in. We kept laughing how Julia was going to be in the same classroom 2 years in a row from Mrs. Ruffolo to Mrs. Pierson, funny stuff. Our family loved being at school together helping out where we can and when it comes to our teachers, this was right where we wanted to be kicking off our summer, believe it or not, at least for the first few hours J .
|The Ruffolo Family!|
Katie and I shared the plans of our summer in between taping & labeling boxes and moving desks out of the way. The girls popped in and out of the classroom transporting items back and forth across the halls. Katie, with husband Keith, have three beautiful children of her own, the oldest, Maddy (K5 at the time), Ryan & Emily. Keith was also off work a little bit during the summer so family time was well on its way and many trips were planned to fill it! We talked about the plans both of our families had and how fast this summer was going to fly by just thinking about it. It was a great end to a perfect school year and a new beginning to another fun summer. Or was it…
Only about 3 weeks in, all those plans changed and within an instant, Mrs. Katie Ruffolo was in intensive care and coding, unsure if we’d ever see her again. EColi took over Katies body, and this fast moving monster had no idea who it was dealing with.
"You don't know how strong you are until you have no choice." -Katie Ruffolo
It was a Sunday night and Katie wasn’t feeling good and went into the doctor Monday morning. Her parents stayed with the kids and Katie returned home the same day to “stay hydrated & get some rest”, assuming they were flu like symptoms. Tuesday came quick and unlike the flu, she continued to get worse instead of better. Vomit and blood took over and she went from the Urgent Care to the Emergency Room. Tests of EColi arrived positive from her first appointment Monday. Mrs. Ruffolo was ready for the battle she had no idea was ready to begin. She was now in the ICU.
EColi- E. coli is the name of a type of bacteria that lives in your intestines and in the intestines of animals. Although most types of E. coli are harmless, some types can make you sick. The worst type of E. coli, known as E. coli O157:H7, causes bloody diarrhea and can sometimes cause kidney failure and even death. – FoodSafety.gov
|A hospital bed full of fun love!|
Keith immediately gets the call while in a meeting and rushes to the hospital where they are getting her ready to have a port put in to place her on dialysis. The “chicatoxin” producing EColi within her body attacks the filters in the kidneys, this was happening fast. Now the kidneys start to flare up with toxins instead of cleansing out. Katie leans back while having the port put in, toxins may have rushed to her heart and she codes. Katie coded for 15 minutes. 15 minutes of this lifetime, Katie was gone and the doctors, nurses and staff all work together to bring her life back to us; her children, family, friends. This was all just the start of her new “interrupted” summer plans.
The doctor tells Keith, you have no idea what 15 minutes of CPR and other activity can do to the body and more tests were quickly getting done. Her brain scan came out fine, thank God. Port was given another try and dialysis now safely began. Her body was losing its way of knowing how to work (put in simple non-medical terms).
The entire staff had Katie on their watch. When you ask Katie who she’d like to thank when she looks back at this journey, her eyes water and she tells me, it would be a list a mile and longer. She named, doctors, departments, nurses, administration, she named teachers, friends, and she named people that were once strangers that are now angels to her that helped her fight against this EColi monster. Everyone was an angel in Katie’s life working overtime to keep her safe with us.
She remained in the hospital for two months coding three times during her stay there. Her body needed to start all over and fought the battle she thought she’d never survive to see. She was transported to St. Lukes Hospital by ambulance for 3 weeks of Rehab. ReLearning what our everyday life is taken for granted of walking, lifting and so much more.
This brief timeline above (with so much more detail on her Caring Bridge site), Katie knew nothing about. When she came out of her first “coding” experience she had no idea what was happening. "Was I in a car accident? Where were my children? Did I just have a baby?!" Her usual fine-motor skills were not the same and she was so confused what she was doing there. Her mother, a retired nurse explained her situation and stayed with Katie every minute of this entire experience all together. She reassured Katie, “your safe & this is what is happening…”.
|Families came together|
Katie had the support of her family and so many others. Her parents, & Keith when he had the chance, kept her community up to date through the Caring Bridge website. People reached out from everywhere and people even connected or reconnected with others realizing how small Katie’s circle really was. The entire community prayed and commented everyday as her family so kindly kept us up to date with every detail they could. She had so many of us in tears of joy one day and fear the next not knowing if she was ever going to be back with us. Caring Bridge kept us all connected with Katie in so many ways, and for Katie, she is so thankful for the updates to go back and read all that she has been through and know all of the littlest to the eldest hearts were pulling together FOR her & WITH her.
|Katie & Keith on their wedding day|
One year has passed since this has all happened. Roughly June 14th through August 6th of 2016, when she returned home. Keith and Katie spent their 10 year anniversary in the hospital together, both so thankful she was alive to celebrate. She had to take one year off before working at the new school that gladly had her classroom ready and waiting. Her parents continued to help through her recovery. They had sold their house prior to Katie being in the hospital, they put looking for a new home on hold and moved in to help Keith from the very start. This also helped tremendously, especially since two of the 3 children were contaminated with EColi as well. The children had different symptoms, way less severe of course, and able to stay home, with stool samples taken to the doctor every day being tested until the bacteria was completely flushed out. No play dates could happen, gloves had to be worn, no baths taken together, bad diarrhea, and besides all that, most importantly, playing just fine within the house, good spirits, and keeping other children outside, safe from getting it too.
EColi runs throughout the entire body like the “tazmanian devil” taking over as much and as quickly as it could, destroying much of the body organs. When Katie first went into the doctor, she couldn’t send her home with anything to take; anti-biotics, etc. until she knew exactly what it was she had. If this Primary doctor had sent Katie home with anti-biotics, this would have “fed” her EColi, and it could have killed her with no 2nd, 3rd, or 4th chance in Katies case. Once they knew for sure it was EColi, she was then able to be treated. And crazy how those test results from Monday came back on Wednesday when she was already in the ICU and they were able to move forward with how to give her the best care knowing what they were against.
While talking with Katie and discussing, What now? What’s life like now moving forward?
“You don’t know how strong you are until you have no choice. Every day is a blessing of people, time with kids, and renewing your faith in humanity. When things go really bad, so many people have done so many amazing things for us. It’s made me rethink our perspective of what’s important and slowing down more. Do those million things that need to be done matter? I helped others learn through my own experience, realizing life can be taken away so quickly. Do it, do everything the best you can and don’t ever stop to think, should we? Just do it and go big when you do.” -Katie Ruffolo
|Back to work & staying strong!|
Katie, Keith and her mom have returned to the hospital that saved her life to thank them, to show them she’s doing great and to remind them that what they do every day matters. She related the medical staff to teachers; you see them (patients & students) move forward and out the door, but sometimes you never know what path they take next. Her amazing medical team made more than just a difference in her life. Keith was faced with all the “what if’s” within minutes and this staff, (along with numerous family members) were there with him the entire way. Katie realized what an important role they played not only in Katie’s survival, but Keith’s as well. They were all in this together and with the help of so many friends, family and medical staff, she feels forever grateful.
*No outbreak was publicly announced due to only a few people in the hospital in different areas. Unless you log what you eat everyday within the last seven days before ecoli being detected, the source of what caused this ecoli is not known.*
12/17/16 Katie's final Caring Bridge Entry:
Earlier this week I had an appointment with my kidney doctor. This consists of me getting blood drawn and submitting a urine sample...and then anxiously waiting to see what the results are. My creatinine levels from the blood draw are what they pay close attention to, my level is now 0.92 (for all your medical nerds who like to know numbers!), this is within the NORMAL range and is actually down slightly from my last draw in September...huge sigh of relief! The doctor told me my urine couldn't look any better...another huge sigh of relief!!
|One happy family! Photo Courtesy, Christy Ruffing|
He told me he doesn't see a need to continue to see me and from now on my primary doctor can do urine/blood samples once a year to just keep tabs on everything. He ended the appointment saying, "go and live your life and don't worry about your kidneys, because I am not worried about them," - cue me getting emotional and him hugging me. He talked about how what happened to me was so incredibly rare and how glad he is to see me doing so well. Again, he was a reminder of how wonderful all my doctors have been, and how they genuinely cared about me.
I ended up sobbing on the phone with Keith outside St. Luke's while waiting for my car...but very happy tears (even though I think I scared Keith for a minute when he answered his phone!). This was the last specialist that I was seeing, and it is such a good feeling to be officially done seeing specialists, a wonderful step in the right direction.
SOOOOO, with all of this, hopefully, behind me, this will be my LAST caring bridge update. Caring Bridge has been an amazing blessing since June and has shown my family and I how wonderful people are and how when things in your life aren't so great, there are so many great people ready to help out and support you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am forever changed because of the last 6 months - I have learned how to only worry about the important things in life (don't sweat the small things!), to slow down and enjoy every moment, to make sure you spend time with those who are important to you (everything else can wait), and also how absolutely amazing my family and friends are (I knew this before but it took on a whole new appreciation). And, one last shout out, to my husband, he was absolutely amazing through this all, always by my side, so patient and wonderful. SO many doctors and nurses have made it a point to tell me how lucky I am to have him, yes, yes I am - and I am so lucky to have so many years left with him and my children. Merry Christmas and God Bless! Love, Katie & Family