Scott Fisher, a training instructor for a major automobile manufacturer, was in New York on business in April 2015. After a dinner meeting, Scott experienced flu-like symptoms that lasted for a week. Assuming it was food poisoning, he tried over-the-counter medications to help eliminate the symptoms. Two weeks later, the symptoms persisted.
Back home in Naperville, he was weak and still experiencing chronic diarrhea. After a visit to urgent care and to his primary care physician, he was diagnosed with Girardia, a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea. The medication that was prescribed did nothing to control it, and he was now vomiting whenever he ate.
Little did Scott know this was just the beginning of a life-changing event.
Scott returned to work, despite extreme fatigue and the inability to keep food down. While teaching, he suddenly found himself sitting at his desk surrounded by his students. “I don’t remember anything,” he explains. “They told me I was rambling and not making sense. They called my wife, Terry, who took me to the hospital. I was so dehydrated that they couldn’t find my pulse.”
Scott was admitted to the hospital and underwent a series of tests, including two colonoscopies and an endoscopy. The gastroenterologist prescribed a series of steroids, sent him home, and encouraged him to try to eat and drink. His situation worsened. He was again hospitalized, but this time, the doctor diagnosed his condition as Chrohn’s disease, an illness that causes the lining of the digestive tract to become inflamed, leading to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss.
By August, Scott grew weaker as his symptoms continued. He was referred to a physician who specialized in Chrohn’s disease, and he was again hospitalized. The doctor discontinued all of the previously prescribed medications, as he determined they were eliminating Scott’s red blood cells.
After a series of blood tests, a diagnosis was confirmed: acute gastric autoimmune enterocolitis, a condition impacting only 1 in 25,000 people. The food poisoning had triggered an autoimmune response, and Scott’s gut flora, the natural microorganisms occurring in the stomach and small intestine that help with proper food digestion, had been destroyed. Without the flora, his intestines could not absorb the protein and nutrients he needed to function. While normal protein levels are measured on a scale of 1–4, Scott’s levels were at .032.
Scott was suffering other serious complications as well, including a blood and heart valve infection and blood clots in his left leg. Severe edema, or swelling, in his legs left his body so full of fluid that the skin of his legs constantly “wept.” A combination of this severe swelling and extreme weakness from his prolonged hospitalizations resulted in his seeming to be paralyzed from the chest down. He couldn’t move any part of his body other than his hands and head. He was unable to walk, roll over in bed, or take care of himself. For his survival, a feeding tube and port were surgically placed to give him nutrients and to administer antibiotics intravenously.
On October 3, 2015, he arrived at Marianjoy to regain his strength, function, and endurance.
Within days, Scott started to see improvement. He acknowledges that there were good days and better days, with some difficult ones in between. “They knew when to push me, and they knew when not to. That’s the one thing I can say about the staff at Marianjoy: they take time to talk to you. When they ask you how you are doing, they truly care and want to know. They were concerned about me, and they wanted to see me recover.”
From the moment he came through the door, Scott worked closely with his Marianjoy dietician, Angela Daniels, who helped him make the transition from a feeding tube to a more normal diet. “When Scott arrived, he had a nasojejunal feeding tube and was receiving a special formula with higher protein that was easy to digest and absorb,” explains Angela. “Scott was motivated to restart oral nutrition and stop his IV nutrition. He tolerated full nasojejunal feedings within the first week, and in working with his speech therapist here, he then began eating small amounts of soft textured foods. We have since been able to wean him from the tube feedings, while helping him tolerate a regular diet supplemented with additional protein to maintain his good nutritional health.”
The goal of Scott’s occupational therapy was to make him as independent as possible in his self-care, such as transferring and dressing. “There was a point that Scott felt like we were asking him to give us more than he thought he could,” explains Andrea Davis, Scott’s occupational therapist. “There was a moment when he realized he had to recover for himself and not for anyone else. That was a turning point. He began to tell us to push him harder because he was here to work. Our goal was to get him walking and to return home. With his motivation and our drive as a team, we helped him achieve that goal.”
Scott’s physical therapist, Kyle Butzine, used aquatic therapy as part of this treatment plan. “In the beginning, Scott needed several clinical staff members and a lot of special equipment in order to stand and take steps,” explains Kyle. “In the pool, he was able to practice standing up and walking without the need for a walker or multiple people helping him stand upright. He could practice more normal movements without requiring compensatory strategies, which translated into being able to be more mobile during land-based activities.”
In the warm-water pool, Kyle worked with Scott to stand from a sitting position. Sitting on one of the pool steps, and without using his arms to push himself up off the step, Scott was forced to use the correct body mechanics while activating the key muscle groups to stand. After practicing the correct technique, assisted by the buoyancy of the water, he was able to do these same movements in the therapy gym on his own.
“I feel like the pool was the one thing that helped me the most. It allowed me to relearn the mechanics of walking,” Scott explains. Being able to go from a sitting to standing position independently led to another milestone: walking 25 feet without assistance.
“I’m at a point where I’m realizing that I can now push myself to get better and do anything that my therapists ask me to do,” says Scott. “I’m also eating now, and my flora is coming back. Also, my team is telling me that with outpatient therapy at Marianjoy, and with time and practice, I can make a full physical recovery.”
When asked about his 14 weeks at Marianjoy, Scott doesn’t hesitate. “I keep using the term ‘home run,’” he states. “I don’t know how to thank these people for everything they’ve done for me. I want to become a volunteer here and give back for all that I was given.”
Scott’s physicians will continue to treat his autoimmune disease for the rest of his life. It will require that he stay on medication to control it, watch what he eats, and have an IV infusion several times a year.
“My uncle, who is a priest, called me every day to give me support,” says Scott. “He said when you go through this type of a life-altering experience, your soul is modified for good.
“I am just happy to be alive, and once I’m home, I plan on spending more time with my wife, kids, and grandkids,” Scott states. “I owe my wife, Terry, a lot. Our marriage vows, ‘for better or worse, in sickness and in health,’ we lived that. She was by my side through all of it. I will never be able to repay her for everything she did for me. Other than marrying my wife, coming to Marianjoy was the best decision I have ever made.”