Central Texas woman gets life back after bacterial meningitis battle

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by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on January 27, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 27 at 1:40 PM

AUSTIN -- Bacterial meningitis is a mysterious illness. While other forms -- viral and fungal -- can make you very sick, bacterial meningitis can kill you or maim you. One Central Texas woman is battling to get her life back after succumbing to the illness that attacks the brain and spinal cord.

"It's nice to be able to brush my hair with my right hand," said 31-year-old Amy Aiken of Buda. The truth is she's just happy to brush her hair at all since nearly all her fingers on both hands are now gone; so are both legs below the knees. They were all lost not as the result of any accident but because of bacterial meningitis.

"I had no idea what it was," said Aiken.

But she knew something was up back on October 25, 2011. She had been diagnosed with the flu.  But late that night.

"I was seeing spots, and I knew that something was not right," she said.

She called 911. Shortly before she lost consciousness, she remembers one of the EMT's telling the other, "If this is what I think it is, I haven't seen this in a long time."

Her legs, arms, kidneys and adrenal glands stated to fail. Less than a week after calling 911, surgeons amputated part of Aiken's legs. Her mother Jean remembers signing the papers.

"They told us it was her legs or her life and that made up my mind," said Jean. "And I signed."

About two months later Amy lost most of her fingers. She spent 154 days in intensive care at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

"They gave me less than a two percent chance to live," said Aiken. "Yeah, against all odds."

"I didn't want look down," said Aiken about losing her legs. "I didn't want to look down at them for about two weeks."

About that time the Aiken's' pastor asked Amy to make a decision.

"He asked her, 'Do you want to go be with Jesus or do you want to stay?'" said Jean. "She said very emphatically, 'I want to stay.'"

"I just told myself I'll work through this," said Amy. "I'll get prosthetics. I will walk again."

At St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital she learned not only be able to walk again but to exercise and even drive.

St. David's Rehab put her through four sessions. She now drives with no adaptations.

"It was a lot easier than learning to walk," said Aiken with a laugh.

"The main goal of rehabilitation is to allow the patients to return to a maximum level of functional improvement, meaning that getting their life back," said Juan Latorre, M.D., the medical director of the Spinal Cord Injury and Amputee Program at St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital and affiliate member of NeuroTexas Institute. "Some patients are not able to get back to that maximum level of improvement.  Amy's proven she's a very strong woman, and we're seeing very nice improvements in her case."

"Being able to go where I want to, and do what I want to, and getting back to normal life is all I ever wanted," said Aiken. "Every day I put my prosthetics on, and I stand up for the first time, it just feels so good, like I'm walking again. That moment is just, like, so special to me."

Doctors still don't know how Aiken contracted bacterial meningitis. Besides her physicians and therapists at St. David's and Brooke Army, Aiken is also thankful to her mother Jean. She donated a kidney after both of Amy's failed. That gift allowed her daughter to ultimately win her battle with the potentially deadly illness.

Go here for more information on St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital.

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