Dori Pettigrew suffered cardiac arrest, organ failure, and a medically induced coma. But she had something in her favor: a Kaiser Permanente care team that never gave up.
“Life is precious and such a wonderful gift.”
This attitude guides Dori Pettigrew’s life. She knows how precious life is because of the cardiac event that almost took it away from her.
Just over 3 and a half years ago life changed dramatically for the Kaiser Permanente member and Solano County resident.
While being treated for another issue at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara, Pettigrew, 57, went into cardiac arrest. Her liver and kidneys had failed. A code blue team worked on her for more than 2 hours. She was put on life support and kidney dialysis. The care team placed her in a medically induced coma. Her family prepared to say goodbye.
A Dramatic Recovery
But that was not the end of her story, one she shared recently at a heart disease awareness event at the Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center.
She talked about the doctors, nurses, and staff who never gave up, even though “time was not on their side.” She later learned that one cardiothoracic surgeon, Hon Lee, MD, opened her chest and massaged her heart to revive her.
“He had my heart in his hand, knowing I was not done fighting,” she said.
Miraculously, Pettigrew started to show improvements.
“When the care team woke me up from the coma, they said, ‘You have tubes down your throat. You will be scared, but we are here for you.’ They told me not to speak. Anyone who knows me knows that is not an easy task.”
Pettigrew spent a month in recovery at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara and was then transferred to Kaiser Permanente Vallejo. She was treated in the intensive care unit and on the cardiac floor for another month.
Once strong enough, she was admitted into the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Hospital in Vallejo for another month. The cardiac arrest cost her feeling in her left leg, and she required a wheelchair. But thanks to the rehabilitation care team and ongoing physical therapy, she learned to walk again.
Her body may have changed. But she said, “my spirit has energy galore.”
Becoming an Advocate
Today, Pettigrew, who is retired from a career in health care, feels she was given a second chance at life. She uses her experience to advocate for increased heart disease awareness and to support those who have a physical disability. She encourages people to own their lifestyle, exercise, know their numbers (i.e., blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI) and if something doesn’t feel right, see a doctor.
Pettigrew volunteers with the American Heart Association and is a Go Red for Women spokesperson volunteer. She also speaks to children in schools about healthy lifestyles.
But Pettigrew is appreciative of all the people who have cared for her and who have even inspired her daughter to enroll in nursing school.
“I will never forget the Kaiser Permanente team of doctors, nurses, therapists, and staff who cared for me during my long journey. They will forever be in my heart,” she said. “I want them to know I am not only surviving, I am thriving.”