Tragedy, Trauma & Triumph

Jenni 's Story - 22-10-200-138
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As told by Jenni Babatz of American Family Insurance

22 – 10 – 200 – 138
There are many reasons I’d like to share our story with you today! Share the reason as to why donating blood is so important and explain what our family experienced on February 4, 2018. Provide what I’ve learned throughout this journey and lastly share the one word that sums up who I am today.

▪ I’m Jenni Babatz and have worked at AmFam for 20 years in Personal Lines. 9 years in Services and 11 years in my current role as a Policy & Procedure Technician. Earlier this year I turned 40 and enjoy spending time with family & friends!
▪ Meet my rock/fiancé Rick Meland, who turned 49 this past May. We met at work when I was in services and he was an underwriter. Later he worked for a family business in the Structured Settlement industry and finished up the business months before 2-4-2018. He enjoys watching Hockey, working out and spending time with family!
▪ In 2008 my everything Riley Meland came into our lives! Our daughter turned 13 this year (yup, teenager)! She completed 7th grade strictly online and looks forward to attending West Jr. High (Hopkins) this fall. Riley enjoys playing Soccer, Gymnastics, Downhill Skiing, Golfing and recently picked up Skateboarding!
On February 4, 2018 we just finished up eating dinner and Rick started to complain of chest pain and sharp pain in-between his shoulder blades. Started to get lightheaded, and very sweaty. He couldn’t get comfortable, and at first thought it was heart burn. After 10 mins of waiting for the pain to pass; we called the paramedics. Once they arrived, they checked his vitals right away and everything was ‘normal’. Before the paramedics left for the hospital, they conducted an EKG test which came back normal. Which was a relief – right…not so fast.

At the hospital, Rick had another EKG and the results were extremely abnormal. Doctor ordered a CT (CAT) scan for further results. I was brought into a Triage room where there were numerous nurses/doctors prepping Rick for surgery. Rick was having an Aortic Dissection from an aneurysm and needed major surgery.

As the nurse was wheeling Rick to the operating room, he told me to go home and get some sleep and I shouldn’t stay for the surgery. Yeah Right – Don’t Think So Buddy! The last thing he said to the surgeon before he went in was ‘Good Luck!’.

As you can imagine; I found myself watching the clock, hour after hour after hour. The morning came and went, friends and family came to give support while Rick was still in surgery. 8 – 10-hour surgery would have put completion of surgery around 5:30 – 7:30am.

The 8 – 10-hour surgery should have put completion between 5:30 and 7:30 AM. The nurses told me they were having trouble locating the bleeder. All I could think about was how I’d tell our daughter, or his mother, and how could I live without my best friend, the love of my life?

Moments later, a nurse from surgery came up to provide me with an update. She said, they finally found the bleeder and they were stitching it up as she was walking out of the surgery room. Now the next step was to get Rick stable enough to transport him over to the U of M hospital. He required a special equipped ambulance. The surgeon was exhausted when he came up and explained there is a team at the U waiting for Rick and he will be in good hands. Rick was in surgery for 22 hours, had 10 surgeons who operated on him.
As you can imagine, Rick lost a ton of blood during surgery. Over 200 units to be exact! To put that into perspective, this is 18.75 gallons. Typically, when someone donates blood; usually one unit is what is donated. Believe it or not… there was a time where the hospital sent out a message to other hospitals as they were running extremely low on blood supply because of this major surgery and how many blood transfusions Rick was receiving.

Thirteen days after the day surgery started, February 17th Rick was finally closed up! This was the time he was pulled back on his sedation meds. As Rick was waking up; he started chewing on the tube from the ventilator; at this time the medical suggested to do a Tracheotomy. This will help speed up his recovery and he will be less agitated.
A nurse wrote a note,
You made some progress tonight. You blinked on command! I know this may seem small, but it gives us hope! You have been through unimaginable things and I am so lucky to have gotten to be your nurse! You will be in my prayers! -Leia E (RN)”
Think about that for a moment… 20 days it took after surgery to just blink on command. March 2nd he was able to move his toe on command!
For the next few months, Rick went into three different rehab/therapy facilities. Luckily, our daughter was able to visit and I think that helped him focus on therapy and getting better so he could come home.

By June 22nd 138 days (post-surgery), Rick was welcomed home with open arms! We had to do a lot of prepping and getting nurses to come into our house each day to take his vitals, check his wound, and his blood thickness. Rick will need to be on blood thinners for the rest of his life. He had a mechanical valve put in which requires his blood to be a certain consistency.

We are just about three and a half years post-surgery, and Rick has come a LONG way! He is dedicated to do his own physical therapy each day; whether it’s walking (without assistance – walker/cane), lifting weights, working on sit-ups, etc. The doctors and surgeons all told us over and over and over again; it’s going to be a long recovery. Be patient!

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