A walk to remember: How Wanda Davis survived Legionnaires’ disease after a yearlong battle
by Sara Dawson
Mar 06, 2013 | 3843 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Homeward bound!
Image 1 / 3
WANDA DAVIS CELEBRATED her graduation from therapy at Life Care Center of Cleveland on March 1 with her family and friends. Pictured behind Davis, seated, are Davis’ sister Eva, son Ben and daughters Leslie and Laura. Banner photos, SARA DAWSON
Exactly 365 days after a bout with pneumonia caused severe medical complications, Wanda Davis graduated from therapy at Life Care Center of Cleveland.

On March 1, friends, family and Life Care staff gathered at Life Care Center of Cleveland for a walking-out party for Davis, who just a few months earlier had not been able to walk at all.

“It’s an exciting day. I haven’t been home in exactly a year today. I’ve been in hospitals or rehab centers or nursing homes,” Davis said. “This is my one-year anniversary, and I’m going home.”

Davis was admitted to SkyRidge Medical Center in Cleveland on Feb. 29, 2012, with shortness of breath and fever. She was diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs and placed in the intensive care unit for four weeks. She needed a ventilator to breathe as her condition deteriorated.

Davis’ pneumonia had been caused by a rare bacteria known as “Legionella” bacteria. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 8,000 to 18,000 people are diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease caused by the “Legionella” bacteria each year in the US.

“You just don’t see this very often,” said Becky Harris, a physical therapist at Life Care Center of Cleveland who worked with Davis. “Most people, if you look up Legionnaires’ disease, don’t live. If they do, they are on a ventilator. They have very poor outcomes.”

Soon after Davis began her fight against the bacteria, she began exhibiting signs of a severe and rare symptom that can accompany the bacteria: rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which bacteria attacks and breaks down muscle tissue rapidly. Other complications also occurred, including various infections, blood poisoning, kidney failure and cardiac arrest. Davis was put on a ventilator with a tracheostomy (an opening in the windpipe), on a feeding tube and on dialysis.

“When I woke up from my drug-induced coma, I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t move my fingers off the surface. I couldn’t speak. I had horrid dreams, and I lived those even after I woke up,” Davis said.

Davis moved from SkyRidge to Kindred Hospital in Chattanooga, where she was in the ICU for five weeks until moving to Standifer Place Health Care Center in Chattanooga. During her stay at Standifer Place, she began breathing on her own and was able to speak again, and therapists began working with her to regain some of her strength.

On July 11, Davis was able to have her trach removed, but she was still battling several infections that caused her to have confusion, memory loss and vivid dreams.

“When I visited her in the hospital, she was a totally different person,” said Annette Smith, director of marketing for Life Care Center of Cleveland. “You would not think she was going to live.”

Davis was able to move closer to her family in Cleveland after the trach was removed. She had worked for 13 years as secretary to Forrest Preston, Life Care Centers of America’s founder and chairman, so on Sept. 6, she moved to Life Care Center of Cleveland. Her progress, however, was very limited.

“There’s so much we take for granted. It took me a long time for me to lift my hand to my chin, and then to my nose,” Davis said.

At the end of November, Davis returned to SkyRidge with dehydration, a urinary tract infection and extremely low blood pressure. This time, treatment seemed to work, and Davis was able to focus on therapy when she returned to Life Care.

“[Davis’s family] were told she may never go home at the first of December,” Harris said. “By the end of December, we had her walking for the first time.”

Harris; Hollie Ryan, physical therapist assistant; Christina Hunt, speech therapist; and Eileen Nudd and Emily Salter, occupational therapist assistants, were among those who helped Davis regain daily life skills such as swallowing and eating on her own, as well as walking.

Harris and the team at Life Care say Davis’ own willpower and the constant support of her friends and family have had a lot to do with her rapid progress.

“I would call it a miracle because when we first started treating Wanda, I did not expect this to be her outcome. She has worked so hard,” Nudd said. “A lot of it is [Davis’s] determination. Without determination, there’s nothing we can do.”

As part of the Ready ... Set ... Go! return-to-home program, Davis relearned many home skills she will need when she returns home, including grocery shopping and eating in a restaurant. The staff at Life Care also helped to wean her off pain and anxiety medications.

Davis will continue in outpatient therapy with Life Care Center of Cleveland three times a week. She has long-term goals of walking without a walker and eventually driving again, goals that the support staff at Life Care think are very attainable.

“I’m a miracle — I believe that wholeheartedly,” Davis said. “There’s no reason medically I should be alive.”

Though Davis is excited to head home, she said that she will miss the nursing staff and rehab team she has gotten to know throughout her time at Life Care. Davis knows all of them by name and is so thankful for all of their help.

“Wanda is a great example of the power of rehab to restore function and bring healing to the human body, and I am so proud of our therapists who are able to accomplish that,” said Beecher Hunter, president of Life Care Centers of America. “It is such an exhilarating feeling to know you are touching human lives and making them better the way that they do.”

Life Care Center of Cleveland is one of 26 skilled nursing and rehab facilities in Tennessee operated or managed by Life Care Centers of America.

Founded in 1976, Life Care is a nationwide health care company. With headquarters in Cleveland, Life Care operates or manages more than 22 nursing, post-acute and Alzheimer’s centers in 28 states. For more information about Life Care, visit lcca.com.