When Brian Hong was transferred from another hospital to St. Jude Medical
Center’s Critical Care Unit, he was completely paralyzed, unable
to speak or breath on his own, and declining. The 45-year-old father of
two had a more severe case of Guillain-Barre syndrome than most clinicians
see in a lifetime and with multiple organs affected, Brian’s prognosis was poor.
Guillain-Barre is a rare and progressive autoimmune disorder in which
the body’s immune system attacks and shuts down the nervous system,
in Brian’s case, moving to every muscle group in the body—eventually
reaching his diaphragm and lungs. The Amazon marketing executive had felt
tingling in his hands and feet on Christmas Eve and within 36 hours was
at his local hospital’s emergency department unable to walk or function.
As his condition continued to deteriorate, he was transferred to St. Jude’s
Critical Care Unit (CCU), recently recognized as one of the nation’s best.
A team of St. Jude specialists quickly became involved: board-certified
intensivists, present 24/7 within the CCU; neurologists were brought in
to monitor and address his paralysis; a nephrologist supervised plasma
exchange treatments; pain management experts focused on gaining control
of his debilitating
and overwhelming neuropathic pain, while infectious disease specialists
concentrated on his fever and severe pneumonia. Soon, highly-respected
rehabilitation medicine physicians and board-certified hospitalists joined
the team. At any given time, five or six different specialists could be
found surrounding his bed.
Brian’s best friend, Yosh, flew in from Singapore to spend nights
sleeping next to his bed, while his wife Enya spent each day.
Kimberly Gonzalez, BSN, RN-BC, CCU, was one of his critical care nurses
beginning the day he arrived, and despite almost 20 years of experience
caring for the sickest and most fragile patients, Brian’s condition
shocked her. “His body was shutting down and the fluid retention
was so severe he was unrecognizable,” explains Kimberly, whose credentials
include certification in pain management. “He had a tracheotomy,
a feeding tube, a ventilator that was breathing for him, and his only
form of communication was blinking his eyes.” Each letter of the
alphabet would be called out and Brian would
blink at the correct letter, allowing him to slowly spell out the unbearable
pain he was in—and later, the relief he felt.
After a month in the CCU came a month in St. Jude’s Step-Down Unit
followed by a month in the hospital’s Rehabilitation Unit, where
the former workaholic underwent hundreds of hours of intensive therapy
from physical, occupational, respiratory and speech therapists. Throughout
it all, 1,000 origami
cranes hung in his room, created by Yosh’s young daughters in Singapore—
Japanese tradition to earn the makers a wish.
When he moved his fingers, there was celebrating. And the day he was able
to use a speaking valve on his tracheotomy to say “thank you”
to Kimberly, there were tears. Kimberly calls Brian “ superman”
for fighting his way back. But Brian says the credit belongs elsewhere:
“Without St. Jude, I would have died. There is no doubt in my mind
if I had not been transferred, I would not have survived.”
Today, one year later, Brian is telecommuting to his marketing job at
Amazon, as well as preparing his boys’ lunches, picking them up
from school, and taking them to football practice—tasks which a
year ago would not have appeared on his to-do list.
“I see the value and joy in small tasks,” explains Brian, who
says his illness changed him in important ways. “I care about my
job, but nothing at work will compare to the love of my family or the
importance of my role as a husband and father.”
The Cypress resident says he is humbled by the care he received at St.
Jude, not just the expertise, but the compassion. “The doctors and
nurses didn’t simply watch me fight, they fought with me and their
emotional investment in my recovery was amazing,” he says. Brian
continues to push himself a little more each day with pushups and light
weights—and his next goal is actually jogging a short
distance. But he says it’s ok if it takes awhile. “I’m
happier today than at almost any point in my life.”
To find a St. Jude physician, please call (800) 459-DOCS (3627).