An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Had to face death to learn to live

  • Published
  • By Ms. LaDona Beevers
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
It seems like resiliency has been a major focus in the wing recently. Many Air Commandos have stepped up and shared their knowledge, stories and experiences of what this concept means to them. As I prepare to retire after 29 years of service at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., I would like to share my story of resiliency and how through very challenging times I was able to endure and bounce back with the help of my Airmen, family, friends and faith.

By the age of 28, my daughter had already suffered two major strokes. She lost control over the left side of her body and being left-handed, she had to give up her pet grooming business she had started 3 years prior to the strokes.

After the strokes, she was confined to a wheelchair, her speech was slurred, her eyesight was impaired and letters and numbers were beyond her understanding.

She could not write or comprehend dollar figures, phone numbers and day-to-day tasks. Then, shortly after her 29th birthday, she had emergency gall bladder surgery.

One week after her gallbladder surgery, I woke up on a Sunday morning and went into her room to check on her. She was slumped forward in her recliner where she often relaxed at night when she was in pain. She was not breathing and had no pulse.

My daughter had accidentally taken double the amount of her pain medication. The additional narcotics on top of her other medications caused her to overdose.

I immediately dialed 911 and started CPR. I could not get any response from her at all. When the emergency medical technicians arrived, one of the young men went white. I remember thinking "Oh no, he knows her!"

They immediately ventilated her by hand and injected her with adrenaline. She had no vital signs at that time and since she was sitting up, the blood had pooled when her circulation ceased.

My 29-year-old baby girl was technically dead. When I arrived at the hospital, the family was ushered into a room inside the emergency room - the room where the families of patients who were not expected to live were placed.

I was called back to the cubicle where she lay on the stretcher hooked up to life support. As I approached the room, her vitals crashed and the nurse began prepping her for resuscitation. I heard a buzzing sound as I slumped against the doorframe and I realized it was a medical drill being used to open a hole in her shin bone to attach a life-line in an attempt to jump-start blood circulation.

The ER provider glanced up and saw me, but did not stop his attempts to save my daughter. I could see the remorse in his eyes.

Once the doctor was able to stabilize her, he came over and told me that her vitals had dropped once in the ambulance and twice in the ER. He gently asked if I would sign a form releasing the hospital and staff from any liability in case of her death.

I asked him what her chances were for survival. He was very honest and told me there were only two options: I could leave her in Clovis and they would try to make her as comfortable as possible, or he could call for a helicopter airlift to Lubbock, Texas.

I asked him what he would do if it were his child. He looked me straight in the eyes and told me that he would risk the airlift to Lubbock due to the better life-support facilities, equipment and trained personnel. He said he did not believe she would live through the next 12 hours. I am still grateful to that ER doctor for the advice he gave me.

When the medical helicopter arrived, I again had to sign another medical release statement absolving the medical team from legal responsibility if she did not reach the Lubbock hospital alive.

The helicopter crew was absolutely wonderful. They took my cell phone number and promised to keep me informed while they were transporting her as I traveled by car.

It was the longest trip I have ever taken. About half way to Lubbock, the air medic called to tell me that she was in the intensive care unit at Covenant Medical Center. He told me that she was a fighter and they had to sedate her due to the fact that she was fighting against the life support tubes.

When I arrived, I again had to sign medical release paperwork absolving the hospital in the event of her death. Three times in less than four hours I signed away blame in the possibility of my child's death.

After extensive tests and evaluations, my daughter's liver and kidneys were found to be non-functional; her lungs and heart were not sustaining her. She was completely reliant on life support. After three long days, the doctors called my son and me into her room and asked that we attempt to remove the life-support system. We agreed and she rapidly began to fail.

I placed her back on life support but asked if she had brain activity. The doctors told me that she was so heavily sedated that they did not know if there was any actual brain functioning. They told me that if they reduced the sedation she was going to be in extreme pain.

I had to know if her brain was active or not. My decision to keep her on life support or not would be based on this information.

Three days later, the doctors called me in to tell me she had brain activity. Later that week, I sat in the waiting room with my grandchildren as my son came running in from the ICU to tell me my daughter was finally awake.

My office leadership assisted me from the beginning with full support. The civilians on base donated enough leave that I did not have to worry about leave without pay which was a big concern due to the extensive time I spent with my daughter at hospitals, surgeries and home care.

When I was stricken with a severe case of the flu and my daughter was still in the hospital, my supervisor went to visit her every day after she got off work and at lunch would check on me. My office even remembered my daughter's birthday and brought up a cake and gifts for her.

They brought us home-cooked meals even after we were released from the hospital so when we got home all I had to do was warm it up. They dropped by and visited with her, brought flowers and treats trying to encourage her low appetite.

Over the next year and a half, my daughter would undergo four months of dialysis, which led to a pressure ulcer where blood had pooled and broke open into a massive lesion leaving her tail bone exposed.

I had to use a bleach solution and pack the wound 3 times a day. I literally had to reach into the wound past my wrist. When I would pull the tape off holding the gauze wound coverings, the skin would peel away leaving the outer edges of the lesion raw and bleeding.

My daughter would cry and ask me why I hadn't just let her die in the hospital. Her social life had become non-existent.

She couldn't go out anywhere due to the wound being so painful. Her immune system was completely compromised. We fought wound infections and made numerous trips to the hospital. Her veins were completely blown and getting an intravenous started was a horrible process.

She was later diagnosed with osteoporosis. Continuously through the exhaustion, pain and depression, she would ask me why I hadn't let her die. I had no answer as I was battling exhaustion and self-doubt myself. I had no faith in why I had not taken her off life-support. The constant care-giving was beginning to take a toll on me just as the illness was weakening her.

Not all people have strong faith, but I do, and I witnessed miracle after miracle as my daughter's health improved and liver healed completely.

After four months, her kidneys began functioning again and the weekly dialysis ended. A home-care nurse was assigned that convinced her surgeon to try a wound vac. Once this piece of equipment was attached, the bandage changes were lowered to three times a week.

I had to learn how to maintain and change the dressings as insurance only covered 26 visits for home health care. Phone calls from co-workers and friends helped strengthen me. Prayers, packages and flowers arrived from long-distance friends.

These little things brought her joy and brightened our lives. The doctors were amazed by the progress she was making. Against all medical odds, she was beginning to heal physically, mentally and socially.

Some might ask how I was able to overcome all of this with my daughter. I cried when I needed to cry, I laughed and I prayed without ceasing. I had a great support system in my supervisor and my office. I had wonderful doctors and nurses that were honest with me but willing to try new procedures. I had friends that I could vent to and let out my fears and doubts with.

Bad things happen in life. Nobody is exempt from troubles, illnesses, loneliness or loss of loved ones - sometimes things just plain happen. Nobody is always strong or consistently does the right thing. Asking for help is the hardest thing to do when you feel like there is no way out. It takes courage to admit that you can't do it all alone.

I finally have an answer for my daughter's question of why I didn't just let her die. My daughter was told by several specialists that she would never be able to have children. Against all odds, she got pregnant!

She courageously faced three months of specialists telling her she needed to abort her baby, and delivered a beautiful son. He was five and a half weeks premature. She risked her life to carry this beautiful child and I cried the first trimester in absolute fear of kidney failure, another stroke or even the very real possibility of losing her and the baby.

But out of all the fears and tears now I see her face light up with love as she holds the sweetest and happiest baby I have ever seen. Through all of the pain and long hours of fear, I would still go back and make the same decision and will always be thankful for the wonderful people in my life.