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In the blink of an eye, life changed forever for Deb Holsapple.
It was October 14, 2019, and Holsapple went home to make supper after working all day at school. While eating with her family, she started to feel sick and quickly got hot, sweaty and dizzy. She laid down on the bathroom floor to try to cool down.
The next thing she remembers is being at a hospital in Des Moines.
"I have no recollection of anything after laying on the floor," Holsapple says.
Summoned to her home were two ambulances and a host of first responders and sheriff's deputies, plus all the lights and sirens you can imagine. As she likes to humorously retell it, "there had been a party at my house, and I had been the guest of honor."
When Holsapple was finally coherent enough, she was told she'd been unresponsive. In fact, she didn't have a pulse when EMTs from UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown arrived.
"I remember this call well," said Jesse Husmann, a paramedic with UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown who was joined that night by teammates Travis Hoover, Quinten Guevara and Ben Helms. "Deb was very sick, and we knew getting care initiated and transporting her to the hospital as quickly as possible was critical. IVs were placed in both arms, and fluids were started right away. Her blood pressure was dangerously low, and her heart was working hard to keep up. Her condition was very serious, and we could tell it was taking a lot out of her body."
It wasn't a stroke, as one might have suspected. Instead, Holsapple had gone into septic shock – a surprising development because she didn't feel sick until just before her episode at home.
Fortunately, help wasn't far away. Thanks to quick action by all the first-responders, as well as Dr. Jake Flinkman and his team in the emergency department at UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown, Holsapple is alive. A few weeks ago, she reached out on the anniversary of her rescue to thank all those involved.
Of course, it was a greatly appreciated gesture for a health care team stretched physically and emotionally by a challenging 2020.
"These exact instances are why I got into this field," said Husmann. "When I'm meeting someone while at work, chances are it's one of the worst days of their lives. Something has happened that has required an emergency response. Having the opportunity to make a positive difference in someone's life is what makes this career path more than just a means to paying bills for me. This is my passion."
Holsapple is also thankful for the other first responders, like those who assisted the ambulance crews and the Marshall County sheriff's deputies, as well as a special thank you to Shannon, the 911 dispatcher who took the call from her family.
Despite the health care heroics, the situation has changed for Holsapple's life. At times, she finds herself working twice as hard to do tasks she had done for 20 years, and depression followed when she struggled to cope with a new reality. Still, she's battled back from post-sepsis syndrome (PSS) thanks to numerous appointments with speech and language pathologists, psychologists, neurologists and neuropsychologists.
"Sepsis, septic shock, Post-Sepsis Syndrome and almost dying is not something you just ‘get over,'" Holsapple said. "My entire body and all of the systems had shut down and were dead. I was basically dead.
"I don't have any memory of the month of October," Holsapple said. "I can't remember how to do things that I had done for 58 years. I had to ask for help for some of the simplest tasks, as I simply couldn't remember. All I could think about was, ‘Will I ever get back to where I had been?'"
Due to the physical and mental challenges in the wake of the incident, Holsapple had to retire after nearly 40 years in education. And COVID-19 only complicated her situation. However, Holsapple said she isn't sharing her story for the sake of sympathy or attention. Instead, she wants to raise awareness about PSS. After all, just because someone doesn't look or act sick, doesn't mean that they aren't.
"My hope and prayer is that even though my life as I knew it has been destroyed and is in the process of being rebuilt, that if someone you love ever experiences this horrible situation, that you show empathy, kindness and support," she said. "It has been a very long, lonely and uncertain year – full of fear, sadness and self-doubt."
Deb's future is looking up now. In fact, she's been hired by Aimee Deimerly-Snyder and Tom Snyder with Lillie Mae Chocolates in town.
"I continue to heal physically, mentally and spiritually. I know I will never be able to return to the educational profession. Thank you to Aimee and Tom for taking a chance and hiring me. I now have purpose back in my life."