It has been more than five months since Robin Durila landed in the hospital with a near-fatal bout of sepsis.
“Every day I feel a little stronger. I feel I’m conquering things that two months ago I couldn’t do, like lift my arms or hold my cellphone,” said Durila, a vocational agriculture teacher at Trinity High School. “I’m really anxious to get my stamina back and get on with things.”
On Nov. 7, Durila, who was insulin-resistant, underwent gastric bypass surgery to manage type 2 diabetes.
Following the surgery, Durila returned to work, but she developed ulcers – a common complication – and in December she contracted the flu.
“I had different issues, and I wasn’t feeling well at all,” said Durila.
On Dec. 21, however, Durila’s condition worsened, and she telephoned her 20-year-old son, Jacob, asleep upstairs in his bedroom, and asked him to call 911.
Durila doesn’t remember anything after that.
She was taken to the emergency room at Washington Hospital, where doctors discovered a burst stomach ulcer had caused her to go into septic shock.
Durila was admitted into the intensive care unit, started on antibiotics, placed in a medically induced coma and connected to a ventilator.
Over the next 22 days, she suffered heart and kidney failure, and doctors warned Jacob, her husband, Paul, and her daughter, Emily, that she might not survive.
The family waited beside her.
“She had a lot of setbacks,” said Jacob. “All we could do was wait to see if Mom was going to pull through.”
Sepsis, which used to be called toxic shock, kills more than 250,000 Americans each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – more than AIDS, breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. If caught early, sepsis, caused by an overwhelming immune response to infection, is treatable. But left to progress, it is often fatal.
As Durila started to improve, she was gradually brought out of her coma and taken off the ventilator.
Durila has lost 92 pounds and patches of hair, which has left her with bald spots.
She undergoes hydration therapy to maintain kidney function, but likely will need a kidney transplant. For the rest of her life, she will take medication to help prevent ulcers.
Sepsis can cause circulatory problems resulting in some patients losing fingers, toes and limbs, but Durila, who now walks with a cane, avoided those complications.
After she was discharged from the hospital, Durila went to long-term acute care at Wheeling Hospital for a month, and then to HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Sewickley.
She received in-home therapy, and undergoes physical therapy at Bradley Physical Therapy Clinic three days a week.
The support of friends and family has played a role in Durila’s healing, and she said she is grateful for the encouragement she’s received.
In her living room are baskets filled with more than 1,000 get well cards, gifts and monetary gifts. McGuffey and Trinity Future Farmers of America clubs organized spaghetti dinner fundraisers; and a GoFundMe page was launched for Durila, who is on unpaid medical leave.
Most recently, Trinity High School Student Council organized a golf outing at Lone Pine Country Club scheduled for Monday.
“Robin is an asset to our school, always making her students and the vocational agriculture program a top priority,” said Amy Frazee, co-sponsor of the student council.
Assistant Superintendent Donald Snoke agreed.
“She has been indispensable to our district program and the district in general. We’re excited about her recovery and look forward to her return,” he said.
Durila said she has relied on her faith during her recovery.
“I figured if God could carry me through those 22 days that he would see me through this,” she said. “My faith has carried me because there’s no good answer as to why I’m still here.”
Durila, who survived a battle with large B-cell lymphoma six years ago, embraces the challenges that come with her recovery.
“I push myself. I never say no to therapy,” said Durila. “If they say do 10 to 15 reps, I’m always doing 15 because I need to get my life back.”
She is eager to watch as many of Emily’s AAU and McGuffey High School basketball games as possible this summer, since she missed her daughter’s most recent scholastic season.
Durila plans to return to school in the fall, in time to help students launch the Leafy Green Machine, a high-tech hydroponic farm built inside a shipping container. The school district will use the transformed shipping container to grow produce for the school campus and the community in a joint venture with the Greater Washington County Food Bank.
“I have to get back. The theme of my recovery has kind of been ‘Believe.’ Anyone who has any doubt that you can’t overcome something, you just have to believe,” said Durila. “You get through it one day at a time and you hope the next day is a little better. I was always multitasking, always busy, and it’s going to take a long time to get back to that, but I’ll get there.”
For information on the Trinity High School Student Council Golf Outing to benefit Robin Durila, please contact Robyn Willis (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Amy Frazee (email@example.com).