A Medical Mystery Abroad

Creative thinking saves a life

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A dream vacation in Jamaica in February turned nightmarish for Boston residents Sylvia and Mitchell Haber and their family when Sylvia fell seriously ill within a few days of arrival on the island.

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The couple suspected mild food poisoning but became alarmed as Sylvia’s health rapidly deteriorated. Medical treatments proved unsuccessful. Within a week, doctors in Jamaica said she was so gravely ill that they could not help her. Fearing that he would lose his wife, Mitchell, an executive with a large Web-hosting company, contacted his employer for help.

Mitchell’s employer arranged for Sylvia’s airlift to Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston on Feb. 29, seven days after their trip began. She arrived in septic shock with multiple organ failure. Her chances of survival were slim.

An experimental approach

Twice during her first few days at Cleveland Clinic, Sylvia went into cardiac arrest, and then she developed profuse bleeding in her lungs. Attending ICU physician and pulmonologist Gustavo Ferrer, MD, knew that her situation was dire. He requested Mitchell’s permission to try an experimental approach: injecting a coagulant called factor VII into her lungs. The treatment was not yet approved for this purpose by the FDA.

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Ten minutes after the medication was administered, Mitchell heard a cheer from the room. “Dr. Ferrer came back smiling and saying, ‘We stopped it. She’s stabilized,’ ” he recalls. “From that point on, every single day, there was improvement. Her recovery accelerated faster than they anticipated. A week later, she was eating, sitting up and talking. The doctors were stunned that she recuperated as quickly as she did. They were calling her the miracle patient.”

Medical tests showed that she had experienced a severe reaction to medication she received in Jamaica. The cause of her original illness remains unknown.

Today, Sylvia is recovering at home and taking care of her children.

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“Had it not been for the incredible team of doctors and ICU nurses at Cleveland Clinic Florida, I would not have survived,” Sylvia says. “I feel great, happy and amazed.”

By guest contributor Elaine DeRosa Lea

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