She remembers FaceTiming with her husband and teenage daughters on Aug. 11, 2021, shortly before she was placed on a ventilator after arriving from a community hospital.
She remembers Oct. 26, the day she was finally discharged to a rehabilitation facility as her care team lined the hallway in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, clapping and cheering.
But most of the days in between are a blur for Ginger, a 40-year-old mother from Washington Court House, Ohio.
“You can go to sleep on oxygen one day and wake up on life-support,” she said. “I just feel so blessed to be here. I want to give people hope.”
Ginger’s family and care team remember every moment, however: the dark ones as well as the happy ones. And to them, she is truly a beacon of hope and perseverance.
“It wasn’t just one time that we thought we were going to lose her – there were many times,” said her husband, Kendal. “But there is hope. The ride is wild – it’s up and down. You have to trust God and put your faith in him.
“We’re thankful that God put the correct people in the correct place at the right time to get her through this dark endeavor that we had to experience,” he continued.
Staying Afloat with ECMO
There was the day in mid-August when Ginger, intubated with COVID-19 pneumonia, needed to be moved to the ICU. The day she needed the advanced care provided by extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a device that provides heart/lung life support to the most critically ill patients.
The day she was able to be removed from life-support. Then the day when her body, unable to fight the pneumonia on its own, had to go back on ECMO for a second time.
And especially the awful day – Sept. 14 – when Ginger lost her unborn daughter, Ellie, at just 28 weeks after Ginger went into early labor and experienced placental abruption.
The day when her lung scans finally began showing signs of improvement. And then the joyful day in mid-October when Ginger – still on the ECMO life support machine – took her first steps in months.
The day when she could speak again. The day when she was discharged from the hospital. The day when she was discharged from rehab: Kendall recalls with a chuckle that she stubbornly insisted on cooking biscuits and gravy for dinner that same night.
Kendal also remembers the many kind gestures from Ginger’s care team: Suzanne Bennett, MD, UC Health anesthesiologist and associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, called him late on a Saturday night to explain that a second course of ECMO was urgently needed to save her life. ordan Bonomo, MD, UC Health emergency physician and intensivist, Professor of Emergency Medicine and director of the Neurocritical Care Fellowship at the UC College of Medicine, sat in Ginger’s room for hours, just watching her breathe to understand why her lung scans and cough had worsened.
Courtney Jones, MD, UC Health anesthesiologist and assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the UC College of Medicine, sat with Ginger all night the day Kendal told her about the loss of Ellie, but had to leave when visiting hours ended.
The nurse who bought a stuffed elephant in the hospital gift shop for Ginger to remember Ellie by. The housekeepers who left encouraging notes in Ginger’s room to cheer her up. The physical and occupational therapists who helped her learn to walk again. The steady stream of doctors, nurses, therapists and staff who came to visit on discharge day, shedding happy tears as they said goodbye and snapped photos with her.
“Those are the things that get you through the darkest of days and the lowest of lows,” Kendal said. “We will continue to celebrate Ellie, and the nurses – we’ll have a lasting experience of that memory, as well. That’s what we’re thankful for.”
“The nurses: they’re amazing, they really are,” Ginger added.
Inspiring Hope: A Successful Treatment for COVID-19 Pneumonia
During the two and a half months she spent in the Cardiovascular ICU at UC Medical Center, Ginger achieved many medical “firsts”: she was the hospital’s first patient to require ECMO not once, but twice.
She was the first patient to be part of a tracheostomy collar trial while still on ECMO; the device allowed her to speak while helping wean her lungs off the ventilator. And she was the first patient to be able to walk around the unit while also still on the ECMO machine.
In all, Ginger spent 71 days on ECMO at UC Medical Center. To the doctors, nurses, therapists and others who cared for her, she is a true inspiration.
“Not only did it feel like a win and a success story for Ginger and her family, and something that might be able to give hope to other patients, it also it felt like a success story and a win for our whole ICU team,” said Maggie Mechlin, MD, UC Health critical care physician and assistant professor of anesthesiology at the UC College of Medicine.
“All of our ICU team has been diligently working for this last year and a half, and to have something turn out so well – a lot of us really needed the inspiration and hope that Ginger gave us,” she said.