A Second Birthday for Eileen

How a ventilator gave an Orillia woman another chance at life

Paul and Eileen Leishman outside of Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital two years after Eileen’s incident.

Saturday, June 24, 2017 was supposed to be just a regular day for the Leishmans.

They had spent the night before preparing for their street sale scheduled for the next day.

Price tags were on the items they planned to display across the tables they were going to set out before the early birds arrived.

The couple drifted off to sleep feeling a bit anxious about their 5 am alarm but were both looking forward to a good night’s rest.

It wasn’t the alarm that awoke Paul the next morning. The sound of his wife Eileen’s phone hitting the floor is what startled him out of bed. When Eileen didn’t answer him, he hurried to check on her. That’s when he found her unresponsive on the bed.

A type-1 diabetic since childhood, Paul assumed Eileen’s blood sugar was low and rushed to find her emergency glucagon. He then realized she wasn’t breathing.

“Her lips were turning blue,” he says as he recalls the events of two years earlier.

Frantically, he dialed 911 and followed the dispatcher’s instructions for administering CPR. He’d been trained, but never thought he’d need to use it. As Paul continued chest compressions, emergency crews arrived.

“In the commotion, I must have unlocked the door,” Paul remembers. “The next thing I knew, firefighters and paramedics were in my house.”

They quickly took over and hoisted Eileen into the back of an ambulance. A police officer drove Paul to the Emergency Department of Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.

Five agonizing hours he waited there while doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists moved into action to save Eileen’s life.

Paul took this photo of Eileen while she was in the Intensive Care Unit in June of 2017. She is intubated and breathing with the assistance of a ventilator machine (left).

When Paul did get to see her, she was unrecognizable. She was hooked up to several machines, unable to breathe on her own. A ventilator—a critical piece of equipment that Paul says saved her life—took over her breathing.

For three weeks, she was intubated in the Intensive Care Unit at OSMH while she regained her strength.

When Paul inquired as to how long she would be on the breathing machine, Dr. Mark Bailey assured him, “It’s not a race. Eileen sets the pace.”

A tracheostomy was performed to allow her to wean off the ventilator by the end of the fourth week.

Though Eileen spent an additional four weeks recovering in Hospital, she has no memory of her two-month stay and the ordeal that put her there.

“I was busy sewing flower girl dresses for a wedding and getting ready for our yard sale,” said Eileen, calling to mind her last thoughts before the incident. “That’s where my memory ends.”

For Paul, it’s a different story. All the emotion from that time comes flooding back to him when he relives what happened. “I remember every detail,” he describes. “I slept beside her hospital bed every night. Considering doctors don’t know how long she wasn’t breathing, it’s a miracle she has recovered as she has.”

Today, Eileen is feeling like her old self again. “I have a little less stamina,” she says. “Stairs are harder and so is getting out of a low chair, but other than that I’m excited to now have two birthdays to celebrate!”

Paul credits the emergency crews, Hospital staff and, of course, the ventilator—that without which this story might have a different ending—for Eileen being here today. “It’s truly incredible to see all the puzzle pieces fitting together,” says Paul. “From the moment I called 911, everyone sprang into action to save my wife.”

Eileen is a retired teacher and principal who spent the final part of her career at Marchmont Public School in Orillia. She is now the Patient Family Advisory Council Representative for the ICU.

Both she and Paul have a renewed outlook on life after the events of the past two years. They have vowed to spend more time doing the things they love together.

“You don’t always know why things happen the way they do, but if I wasn’t thinking about getting up for that garage sale, I might not have woken up to hear that phone drop,” says Paul.

Doctors still can’t agree on what caused Eileen’s incident. Either her blood sugar dropped so low it sent her into cardiac arrest or a heart attack might have triggered her blood sugar to plummet. But everyone can settle on one thing: Eileen is here today because she had access to the equipment she needed to keep her alive.

The Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital Foundation is currently fundraising for new ventilators like the one that saved Eileen. The Hospital’s current fleet is ageing fast and replacement parts are not available.

Every year, more than 320 people are placed on ventilators at Soldiers’. OSMH needs 11 new machines to fulfill needs in the Nursery, Recovery Room, Respiratory Unit and the Intensive Care Unit, where Eileen stayed for her first month of recovery. The Hospital receives no government funding for new or replacement equipment, so the responsibility is on the community to fund the entire $56,000 for each of these essential machines.

Unfortunately, unexpected medical emergencies can happen to anyone at any time and the best way to ensure patients who find themselves in that situation have a chance at survival is by supporting the purchase of life-saving ventilators.

If you would like to donate to help secure these vital machines, please contact the Foundation Office today at 705-325-6464 or found@osmh.on.ca.