Jolissa Doerksen is a Hantavirus survivor and a former patient of the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital ICU in Grande Prairie, Alberta as well as both the Cardiovascular and General ICU at the University Of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.
Jolissa became exposed to mouse droppings and debris while cleaning her holiday trailer in the country after winter. Four days after exposure, while camping, she became very fatigued and nauseated. She attributed it to having a 4.5 month old baby, none the less she and her husband Jerry cut the trip short.
While at home for the next 3 days her symptoms worsened and she decided to bring herself into Emergency the next morning. Over night her symptoms became so severe that she couldn't stop shaking and caring for her baby became nearly impossible. With the last amount of strength she had left, she drove herself and her baby to the hospital at 7am. It took her a half hour to regain strength from the 15 minute drive to even carry in the car seat.
Once seen by the doctor, Jolissa was admitted immediately with a suspected kidney infection. Within a mere few hours, Jolissa's symptoms and fever was out of control. She started throwing up and her lips and fingers were blue. Her vitals were checked every 15 minutes and her lungs started shutting down. It was less than 24 hours being admitted before the decision was made to fly her to a bigger hospital in Grande Prairie 6 hours away.
Already on oxygen, Jolissa was admitted and rushed to the ICU. Dr's and nurses were gowned up and wearing masks. Diagnoses were bouncing around between infection, double pneumonia, and H1N1. No one knew what was causing this young, new 23 year old mother to become fatally ill but one thing was certain, she needed to be hooked up to ECMO life support - and fast.
Jolissa's husband Jerry arrived to the ICU to be told that his wife is critical and needed life support. He came into her room to see her completely blue and her chest rising higher and higher, fighting to breathe. He fell apart and seeing him like that broke Jolissa's heart. Very slowly, she breathed out, "I love you and our baby very much. Please ask the church to pray." Jerry's heart was breaking and in an effort to comfort him she choked out, "everything is going to be okay" but what she meant was that everything was going to be okay without her as she already knew she was dying without being told.
They ushered him out of the room and started to prep Jolissa for life support. She started to loose consciousness. Fighting to stay alive, she did the only thing she could do. She prayed. Jolissa couldn't bare to leave her new baby motherless, having also lost her mother at a young age. She pleaded and prayed for her life until she felt all her strength leave her. It was then that she finally felt at peace and knew her prayers would be answered. She opened her eyes one last time to tell everyone she would be okay but then immediately drifted off to sleep, not to wake up for weeks. She was then flown to Edmonton with a team of doctors and medical care professionals as a last effort to save her life, her survival rate being only a 20% chance.
Even with all the odds against her, she awoke briefly 2.5 weeks later with multiple tubes down her throat and surrounded by machines. It would be 5 more days on the ventilator before she could communicate, eat or drink. Once she completed basic rehab at the hospital, she was flown back to Grande Prairie ICU for a few more days before finally (and gratefully) being released to make the 6 hour road trip home with her husband to get back to her baby girl, now almost 5.5 months old.
Jolissa had a long hard road of recovery ahead of her for the next year. She has suffered damage and nerve loss to her feet due to lack of circulation while on life support that caused recurrent infection and chronic pain, her lungs and body were very weak and although minor, she was devastated that her vocal chords were damaged that had ultimately altered her voice, laugh and was no longer able to sing to her baby. She had also developed anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Despite all the after effects of her illness and time spent in the ICU, she felt incredibly blessed to be given the care that she received and a second chance at life. She knew her survival from a rare fatal illness was no accident and so she shares her story of her illness, time spent in the ICU, her gratitude towards all 300+ medical care professionals who fought for her life and above all, her thanks to God for answering her prayer.
Today Jolissa is a very healthy 26 year old mother of 2 little girls, Jordana age 3.5 years, and Jerilyn 1.5 years old (born less than 2 years post Hantavirus). She spends her time raising her girls at home and helping her husband as they have recently set up a new home and farm. Jolissa continues to be active in raising money for the University Foundation and in sharing her story in hopes of helping others understand the importance of support for both patients and medical care.