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Tabitha Schulke returned home on Feb. 13 after a nearly three-month hospital stay in which her legs were amputated to help fight off an infection caused by toxic shock.
March 05, 2013
MONMOUTH -- Donna Schulke said it "looked like time had stood still" at their house when she and her family pulled into the driveway on Feb. 13.
She hadn't set foot inside their Monmouth residence since her daughter, Tabitha, was hospitalized with a life-threatening infection in late November.
The turkey purchased for the Thanksgiving dinner they never ate was still in the refrigerator. It had to go, as did the "green deviled eggs," Donna recalled.
Except for weeds, the house hadn't changed.
But they had.
After enduring multiple operations -- including the amputation of her legs -- Tabitha Schulke is now doing outpatient rehabilitation and has a long road to recovery ahead of her.
"We're trying to figure stuff out because it's a whole new situation," Tabitha Schulke, 18, said last week. "I feel pretty good ... some days are better than others when I'm in a lot of pain.
"I'm just happy to be home."
There's no average day for the Schulkes yet, though plenty of busy ones. Tabitha visits an interventional radiologist every two days to get blood levels checked. She takes 18 different medications daily on a schedule for her heart, seizures and other issues.
She'll need another surgery on her left leg to have exposed bone removed for a prosthesis. She has very limited use of her right arm and was due to meet with a physical therapist this week. With a weakened immune system, she often wears a mask out in public.
"It's a very detailed life, Donna said.
What exactly caused Tabitha to fall ill just before Thanksgiving and develop the toxic shock that damaged her brain and vital organs is still unknown, said Dr. Andrew Michaels, a trauma surgeon who treated her at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.
Donna Schulke refused to leave her daughter's side while at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.
"She probably had staph-related toxic shock, I would say that fits best with her case," Michaels said, adding that he was told by a fellow doctor that "he had never seen anybody sicker than Tabitha was."
Tabitha doesn't remember much about her ordeal at Legacy until the last two weeks, though her mom has described to her the newspaper and television stories about her fight for survival.
"It's kind of weird," Tabitha said. "I'm not used to getting so much attention."
It's still vivid for Donna. She refused to leave Portland while Tabitha was in critical condition and let her friends and family handle most of the communication with the outside world.
She slept in a chair or a cot at Tabitha's bedside and bathed her. Despite being away from Monmouth, she continued to handle her other kids' home-schooling.
Donna said she was told by doctors 12 times that Tabitha would not survive, dating back to Nov. 23 when Tabitha was rushed to Salem Hospital with flu-like symptoms.
"Having to say goodbye to your daughter over and over ...," Donna said, shaking her head. "Nothing was working ... we prayed and our prayers were always answered, doctors were baffled.
"The experience has made my faith a lot stronger. I realize what is needed to survive and what really matters in the world and in life."
The Schulkes are still waiting on a day to celebrate the Christmas holiday they missed -- an artificial tree still sits in the living room. Tabitha has been listening to a lot of audiobooks. With her feeding tube now out, she's back to eating on her own.
"I miss any food," she said. "They gave me protein Jello at the hospital and it was gross -- I'm done with Jello."
The family is searching for a van with a lift for Tabitha's wheelchair and preparing for a homecoming event at First Baptist Church, where Tabitha taught Sunday school.
She also has a return visit to Legacy Emanuel in a few weeks to speak with doctors and specialists who treated her.
"I think she reminded us of why we do what we do," Michaels said, noting the emotional toll Tabitha's case took on staff. "It reminded us of the uncertainty ... we want her to come back and help us."
Tabitha said she doesn't have a speech planned.
"Hopefully, I'll know what to say when I get up there," she said with a laugh.
You Can Help
* Community members can help the Schulkes with medical expenses by contributing to the Tabitha Schulke Fund at US Bank. Donations can also be made through PayPal at email@example.com. Cards and letters can be mailed to P.O. Box 565, Monmouth, OR 97361.