Video: Retired nurse breathes sigh of relief after near death experience

by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada

  • Retired nurse treated for ruptured appendix in Grenada.
  • Misdiagnosed in St Vincent.

“I worked for a major trauma medical centre in the US and I could not have got any better care than I did right here in Grenada,” said retired nurse Jody Whalen. Whalen served as a Physician Extender for the inpatient service at Parkview Regional Medical Centre in Fort Wayne, Indiana for the past 14 years.

One does not cater for illness while on vacation in the Caribbean, but for Whalen and her partner Daniel Bult, that nightmare became a reality. They were aboard the S/V Champagne Moment, docked in Bequia in St Vincent & The Grenadines, when Whalen felt debilitating abdominal pain and sought medical attention on 9 January. She was moved to a hospital on mainland St Vincent where her symptoms worsened.

Speaking with NOW Grenada, an emotional Whalen said she made the decision to discharge herself from the government-funded medical facility in St Vincent after 4 days. “I was sent to a government hospital in St Vincent… I understand that the government hospital is severely underfunded, but kindness, compassion and caring, they do not know any borders. They need some serious help over there to attend to patients, because it was not just me. I was looking around and I was very sad, so actually checked myself out of the hospital because I felt I was dying.”

Whalen returned to Bequia having lost all confidence in the medical professionals on the mainland. While awaiting the test results, her overwhelming pain prompted them to leave for Grenada where arrangements were made for her to be rushed to St Augustine’s Medical Services (SAMS).

Landing at the Maurice Bishop International airport on 19 January, she collapsed. A taxi transported her to SAMS, where Dr Amechi was able to quickly determine the cause of her illness – a ruptured appendix.

“Dr Amechi was waiting for me there. In about 30 minutes he had 2 IVs in me and tubes everywhere, and had me diagnosed. I had been walking around with a perforated appendix for nearly 10 days, and he said, “I am not kidding you, you are very sick.” I literally cried that finally someone was taking care of me; and the doctors and nurses there were just simply amazing. They stabilised me and had me see the surgeon who got my pain under control, and about 10 hours later received surgery, then spent the next 10 days recovering at St Augustine’s. I tell you, I worked for a major trauma medical centre in the US and I could not have got any better care than I did right here in Grenada. I can’t thank them enough for saving my life.”

While recovering at SAMS, Whalen said it became clear that she was misdiagnosed in St Vincent as having gastroenteritis and not appendicitis, and if she had stayed there, she would not have made it out alive.


St Augustine’s Medical Services (SAMS)

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, a narrow, finger-shaped organ with no known function, that branches off the first part of the large intestine on the right side of the abdomen. If not treated promptly, the appendix can rupture, spreading infection throughout the abdomen. Possibly life-threatening, this condition requires immediate surgery to remove the appendix and clean the abdominal cavity.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Sudden pain that begins on the right side of the lower abdomen
  • Sudden pain that begins around your navel and often shifts to your lower right abdomen
  • Pain that worsens if you cough, walk or make other jarring movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Abdominal bloating

NOW Grenada spoke with Dr Amechi who recounted the event that led to Whalen’s speedy diagnosis. “She arrived that evening on 19 January and when she came along you could see that she was extremely ill. We ran all the diagnostics and in a couple of hours we had a confirmed diagnosis… because she was so unwell we had to do some resuscitation and she was operated on the following morning. It turned out that she had a ruptured appendix… She is a tough lady because this can turn septic and in a matter of days you can be dead, so she was lucky she survived.”

Dr Amechi said, “I don’t want to disparage my colleagues in St Vincent; acute appendicitis is not that easy to diagnose. 50% of the time we get the diagnosis wrong and the other 50% you are right… Imaging using ultrasound, CT scans are not as accurate as we would like it to be, because sometimes the little appendix has tucked itself underneath something, so you don’t see it and it is more clinical intuition and experience that will guide you.” Dr Amechi encourages people to pay attention to the signs their bodies are showing and to have regular clinical examinations to ensure that they remain healthy.

Life has a whole new meaning for Daniel Bult and Jody Whalen, as they are continually grateful for God’s mercies.

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