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Stories of the Heart- Marina Snipes

Stories of the Heart- Marina Snipes

February is Heart Health Month and PSA is sharing Stories of the Heart to honor those team members who have been through difficult moments in their lives as a result of a cardiovascular event.  We hope these stories bring awareness to the topic of heart health and we are humbled to share the brave experiences of our fellow colleagues.

Marina Snipes, an Airport Operations and Corporate Security Assistant, suffered from a  stroke and heart failure when she was just 23 years old on Oct. 6, 2017. We had the privilege to talk with Marina about all she has endured and the road she is still on to fight for her health. Her testimony is truly inspiring and we are grateful to have her share her story with the PSA family. Here is her story:

My cardiovascular journey began with an unknown skin rash that had me in and out of the hospital for sweating, headaches, stomach pain and weakness. The night before my stroke and heart failure, I was rushed to the hospital because I had an excruciating, unbearable headache - one like I’ve never experienced. I could hear ringing noises in my head that sounded like sirens. When I got to the hospital, my stomach pain continued to worsen and I had extremely high blood pressure and couldn’t stop vomiting.

While at the hospital, I was in and out of consciousness and we were rushing against time. The doctors told my mom that I only had 60 minutes of air left. For the best chance of survival I had to be transported to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, which was about 30 miles away from where I was in Troy, Ohio. The nurse who accompanied me in the ambulance (because the weather was too extreme to be taken by medical helicopter) wrote in her notes that she “doesn’t even understand how this girl is alive. All of her organs were shut down.”

When I arrived at Miami Valley Hospital, the doctors and nurses weren’t giving up on me. The doctor who was part of the Pulmonary Unit called a team from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center to transfer me because they were better suited for the treatment I needed. The last thing I said to my mom was I was afraid to shut my eyes because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up. The last thing I recall from that night was shutting my eyes and feeling my body literally slipping away. I had no control over what was happening.

I was transferred to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where they put me on Cardiac ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, also known as extracorporeal life support) with my heart only working at 5 percent. ECMO is a technique that provides prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to a person whose heart and lungs are no longer able to provide an adequate amount of gas exchange or perfusion to sustain life. At this point, my family was not ready to say goodbye, but knew that this was the last hope for me.

I was on life support for four days and a breathing tube for seven days. When I finally woke up seven days after initially being admitted, my vision was completely gone. I was told I may never see again due to the extensive CPR and stroke I had suffered. I was in the Cardiac ICU at The University of Cincinnati Medical Center for 16 days. During my stay, they did a heart biopsy that determined that I had a virus in my heart. I was sent back to Miami Valley Hospital for inpatient rehabilitation for nine days where I did speech, occupational and physical therapy. I couldn’t walk, talk or feed myself. I also went through outpatient therapy for five months and vision therapy for a year.

The doctors also identified that there was a tumor on my adrenal gland that might need to be removed, but after further testing, decided that surgery was not necessary at this stage of recovery. The tumor was almost 6 cm when I was in the hospital. A hematoma developed behind it, due to the Cardiac ECMO causing it to “bleed out.” My most recent MRI showed it is now 1.9 cm. While they were calling it a tumor at one point, they are now calling it a nodule. In the meantime, I will receive MRIs to keep an eye on it to prevent any future problems.

While doctors believed I could never see again and my future was questionable, within a month of starting vision therapy in December 2017, my vision started improving immediately. In January 2018, I could finally make out letters and numbers. I knew I had a long road ahead of me, but when I saw even a slight change in my vision, I knew there was hope. I am so thankful I was an athlete my whole life because the “athletic mentality” kept me fighting. It was never in my mind to give up because the medical staff worked too hard to save my life.

In the months following my recovery, they did a heart MRI to see how well my heart was recovering and it was almost back to normal with some scar tissue. Today, it is back to normal, given everything I went through. While doctors may never know what caused all of this, they did everything they could to keep me here. It is definitely a medical mystery and miracle that I am alive to share this story.

Without the support from my medical staff, family and friends, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am so grateful for every person who has helped me throughout this crazy journey. They say in every positive there is a negative, but in every negative there is always a positive. Well, I found the positives even in the most negative situations. I truly believe that where there is a will, there is ALWAYS a way.