It’s spring and Donna Slack is anxious to load up her fifth-wheel camper and get on down the road. “I just love to travel,” said the spry, 75-year-old grandmother from Gothenburg, Neb.
A vacation was the farthest thing from Donna’s mind when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2007. “The doctors gave me six months to a year to live,” said Donna. “It was a frightening time and I was skeptical of the chemotherapy,” she admitted. Her close-knit family, including four adult children and her life partner of 24 years, Denny, encouraged her to give the chemo treatments a try. Donna
felt she’d made the right decision when follow-up tests revealed the tumor had shrunk to half its original size. She opted to undergo lung surgery on Dec. 3 when surgeons removed one of her ribs and part of her damaged lung.
In the weeks following the surgery, Donna was heavily sedated and her health deteriorated. Once again, her family conferred and recommended she transfer to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. The Slack family is no stranger to Madonna. One of Donna’s granddaughters was a patient here ten years ago after she’d suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. “My family remembered the wonderful
care she received at Madonna,” said Donna.
Two days after Christmas, Donna arrived at Madonna’s LTACH unit. Sheri Struebing, licensed respiratory care practitioner, recalls Donna being admitted in a very weakened state and dependent on both ventilator and feeding tubes. It didn’t take Donna’s nurses long to get her weaned off the feeding tube. The vent was a different story and presented a challenge for Donna’s respiratory therapy team.
“It was quite a process to wean her off the vent as her anxiety level was extremely high,” said Sheri. As Donna progressed, the nurses and therapists described her as a woman with pure determination. Donna loves to walk and her respiratory staff placed the vent on a cart to keep her mobile. She never lost sight of her goals to walk and breathe on her own again. “I told myself to just plant my feet and go!” Donna
Sheri explained that initially a trach mask was used at night to ensure Donna’s lungs received adequate humidity levels. The first night she was weaned off the mask, Donna was very restless and didn’t sleep much. “I was scared, but I knew it was a step closer to being independent,” Donna shared. She celebrated being free of the vent and trach mask on March 27. Donna never rejected an opportunity to try new therapies. Her favorite physical therapy sessions included the NuStep cross trainer and the challenging stair work.
By spring, Donna was filling out her discharge paperwork. She was excited to get back home to her family, especially her grandchildren. “Thanks to Madonna, I’m walking out of here and will be able to attend their summer activities,” said Donna. Her treadmill and stationary bike are going to get a consistent workout once she’s home. And, of course, Denny has the fifth-wheel gassed up and ready for their next adventure.