It was a trip to a Mobile hospital in 2009 that changed Jackie Richard’s life. She expected to be treated for a stomachache, but instead went into a two-week coma and a two-month fog.
When Jackie woke up, she realized doctors had taken drastic measures to save her from sepsis, a blood infection that caused her vital organs to shut down: They amputated her hands and legs below the knee.
Later, feeling helpless in a nursing home, she pleaded with her sister in Norfolk to come get her.
Nurses and therapists who encourage
Soon after her arrival, blood clots landed Jackie in the emergency room at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
She needed another surgery --her 14th – and a month’s stay in the hospital. Upon her release, the staff recommended the Sentara Day Rehabilitation Program, and Jackie began to rebuild her life.
Dee Judson, one of her rehab coordinators, remembers when Jackie first arrived at the Kempsville Road location: She was the team's first quadruple amputee. She needed assistance sitting upright and moving out of her wheelchair. Jackie’s wounds were so severe that they caused her to feel nausea if she attempted rehab exercises.To help her get through the intensive, six-hour, five-day-a-week rehab sessions, the team made sure she had medication to lessen her queasiness.
The medicine and Jackie’s upbeat outlook made her a standout patient.
Doctors going above and beyond
Dr. Mark Bergsten, a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, worked with insurance administrators to secure myoelectric arms for Jackie. He and the rehab therapists knew she wanted to get back to working as a waitress and a bartender. She dreamed of owning a restaurant.
Jackie has a can-do, upbeat attitude, and the Sentara staff wasn’t the only ones to notice: Learning about Jackie and her determination, the Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics company provided a rotating mechanism for free.
"It tells you something about this woman," Dee said. "She inspires people and makes you want to do more."
Dee learned to walk, even though it felt different.
“It’s like balancing on stilts,” she shared.
She wears her arms when necessary, but has become adept at using her shortened limbs. She's learned how to put on her makeup, brush her teeth, and pour a glass of water.
Before she left the rehab unit on Kempsville Road for a less-intense rehab center in Ghent, she cooked lasagna for everyone. She realized she hadn't lost everything from her former life.
Jackie then spent months fine-tuning her skills. She also joined a power soccer team that plays in motorized wheelchairs.
She knows she still has a long way to go, but she wanted to share her story for people who might be in the same position she once was.
"If it weren't for rehab, I'd still be watching TV," she said. "But there are more options out there; you don't have to be limited. You don't have to do nothing all day."