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Tabitha Schulke, 18, developed flu-like symptoms on Thanksgiving morning and is now at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland in serious condition.
December 11, 2012
MONMOUTH -- A Monmouth woman is fighting for survival after coming down with a mysterious illness in late November that's rapidly deteriorated her health and forced doctors to remove her legs to save her life.
Tabitha Schulke, 18, first exhibited flu-like symptoms on Thanksgiving morning. In the days that followed, a swift-moving infection left her body swollen with fluid and sent her into shock.
Surgeons at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland amputated both legs - the right one above the knee, the left near the knee - to allow for proper blood flow to vital organs on Dec. 1.
Schulke has undergone additional procedures and skin grafts since. She had been in critical condition, but was responding to commands through this past weekend.
Her last surgery was on Sunday, when doctors removed more of her right leg to halt bleeding. An update posted by Schulke's family on CaringBridge.com stated a tracheostomy was needed.
Schulke has suffered damage to her brain, liver and spleen and only has use of her left arm, the family said.
Schulke was listed in serious condition as of press time.
"They're trying to keep their spirits up," said Christina Bunnell, a family friend acting as a spokeswoman on Friday. "That's why I'm acting as the contact ... so they can spend as much time as possible with Tabitha."
Exactly what the illness is or what caused it is unknown, even three weeks after it started.
"The doctors haven't figured out what's happening or where the infection started," Bunnell said. "The prognosis has been day-to-day."
Schulke was home-schooled and worked as a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church in Independence. The congregation has been serving as a dropsite for donations for the Schulkes.
The saga began on a wet and frigid Nov. 21., when Schulke had been delivering Thanksgiving food boxes to the needy with members of her church. She came home feeling ill and woke up the next morning with a temperature of 104.5 degrees, Bunnell said.
Schulke exhibited flu-like symptoms that became more severe. She was transported by ambulance to Salem Hospital on Nov. 24, went into cardiac arrest during the ride, and had to be revived.
Doctors determined that Schulke needed to go to Legacy Emanuel to see specialists, but was too unstable to move.
Legacy personnel came to Salem to implant an "extracorporeal membrane oxygenation" device in Schulke to cycle oxygenated blood throughout her body.
At Legacy, an infection materialized and filled her body with fluid. She went into septic shock, according to her family.
Doctors performed surgery on Nov. 26 to correct a blood flow problem and placed Schulke on a ventilator and dialysis machine. Her legs were amputated on Dec. 1 and she's had a second surgery that's taken all but the last 4 inches of her right leg. There was a fear she might not survive the procedure, according to a family CaringBridge post.
The cause of the infection has been a mystery.
"Suggested causes have been Staph, MRSA, strep, or any number of germs," the family said in a CaringBridge post.
Schulke's family was coping with tragedy even before her illness; her 10-year-old brother has terminal brain cancer.
"They're going through a lot of stress right now," Bunnell said. "But they're trying to stay positive.
"And they're very thankful for all the prayers, help and donations they've been getting."
You Can Help
* The Schulke family has been traveling back and forth to Legacy Emanuel in Portland. Those interested in helping with living expenses can make a donation through http://tabithaschulke.chipin.com/tabitha-schulke.
* Messages and well wishes to the family can be sent through www.caringbridge.org/visit/tabithaschulke.
* Community members can also make donations through First Baptist Church in Independence. For more information: 503-838-1001.