Minneapolis woman who survived a rare illness gives back to doctors this Thanksgiving

6:58 PM, Nov 28, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - The warmth of a holiday can be hard to find inside a hospital's most critical care unit, but at Abbott Northwestern Hospital this Thanksgiving, you don't have to look far to see the healing powers of gratitude.

"It's hard, but really joyful, because I made it.  And not everyone does," said Janis Houston, a downtown Minneapolis resident, who returned to the ICU where she was a patient one year ago.

Houston says she can't repay the doctors and nurses at Abbott Northwestern for a lifesaving miracle, but she can begin with a meal. She brought a gourmet Thanksgiving spread for everyone in the ICU unit, including patients.

"This is our way, a very small way, of trying to thank the ICU staff, all the people here, for what they do every single day. Not just for me but every day they help people in real dire need. This is not an easy job," said Houston.

Houston became sick after a safari trip to Zimbabwe, Africa. She contracted an extremely rare disease called African Sleeping Sickness. It was caused by the bite of a tsetse fly. This fly injected a parasite into the bloodstream.

"My kidneys, my heart, my lungs, my liver, everything broke," said Houston.

She was in the ICU 55 days, and doctors had to restart her heart. Her only antidote and shot at survival was a serum, flown in from the CDC in Atlanta. Once administered, the serum caused septic shock. Houston lost both hands and legs as a result, and now is considered a quadruple amputee.

"I have talked to many of the doctors. As nicely as they can, they let me know I wasn't expected to live at all. I'm just grateful to be here. Yeah, I have some loss, but I didn't lose my life. I have great hope," said Houston.

After five and a half months in the hospital, Houston is home and learning to walk on new prosthetic legs.

The warm Thanksgiving gesture comes easily for her family. Houston's husband, Bruce Taher, owns Taher Inc., a food service company that caters meals to private schools across the country. He also owns several restaurants including Forepaugh's restaurant in St. Paul. As another gesture of gratitude, the family catered hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to those in need in the Twin Cities.

They hope to make the hospital meal a tradition, bringing the healing powers of gratitude into a place where holidays and memories can be uncertain.

"That's just absolutely extraordinary to see her go from the first part of her illness where we weren't sure if we'd be able to make it through at all, to now being vibrant, healthy, smiling," said Dr. Bill Parham, the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Chief of Staff in the ICU, who cared for Houston.

Houston soon plans to get a prosthetic electrical arm, and is learning how to dance again.

"You got me on the path," she said, hugging several nurses. "And I'm not stopping."

 

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