On New Year’s Eve 2016, Judy Hastings, 77, was just finishing up her job assisting Mike Davis, an Elvis Presley tribute artist, at the Dearborn County Country Club. The show had ended, and Hastings headed out to her car to load up Davis’ wardrobe and props when she came back inside clutching at her head. Friends saw her collapse to the floor in pain and called 911. She was rushed to the Dearborn County Hospital near her home in Aurora, Indiana.
When she arrived, she was comatose and required a breathing machine. Hastings was immediately transferred to University of Cincinnati (UC) Medical Center’s Neurocritical Care Unit where further testing revealed that the cause of her brain bleed was a ruptured arteriovenous malformation, or AVM. An AVM is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain. Though it only occurs in one percent of the population, AVMs can cause weakened blood vessels to burst and bleed into the brain.
Hastings underwent emergent brain surgery to stop the bleeding and relieve the pressure on her brain. While the surgery was successful, Hastings would be in and out of the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit (NSICU) at UC Medical Center for nine weeks, much of that time in a coma.
Hastings eventually left UC’s NSICU in February, spent a short time at the Drake Center and then received care at Waters Nursing Home in Rising Sun, Indiana, near the Hastings’ home. Her husband Rodney says that the Waters home was really key in helping Judy get back to a normal life. Now, she is back at home and starting to get back into regular routines, seeing friends and family who were at her side throughout those nine long weeks.
In August, the Hastings returned to UC Medical Center to visit doctors and staff who treated her. While Judy didn’t remember any of her time in the NSICU, she was nonetheless moved to tears to be greeted by the nurses, technicians and therapists who had provided her round-the-clock care.
"You look great!” exclaims one her previous nurses.
"I’m sorry I don’t remember you,” chuckles Judy.
"It is such a joy for us all to see you now,” says Simona Ferioli, MD, a UC Health neurointensivist in the Neurocritical Care Program of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.
Hastings’s sister, Jeanie Liggett, sister-in-law Karen Gibbons, and longtime friend Patti Koons, all accompanied her for the reunion as they, along with Rodney’s other sister Jackie Jackson, had spent many nights in the NSICU at Judy’s side. They joked that Ferioli was the one who always pinched her hard to try to wake her up.
"Judy had a long and challenging ICU stay,” says Ferioli, who is also an assistant professor of neurology in the UC College of Medicine. "It is not uncommon for people suffering from a severe brain bleed to take time to regain brain functions, and often they have to face several medical complications. She didn’t wake up right away, had seizures, lung complications and infections and required a tracheostomy and a feeding tube for nutrition.”
Ferioli says as Hastings kept facing medical issues and remained comatose, she became more worried about her overall prognosis. "Supporting the body while waiting for the brain to heal is one of the great challenges we face in neurocritical care,” she says. "We often cannot predict exactly when and how much the brain will recover, and this time can be very stressful on both care providers and families. This is when working in a team of expert neurointensivists makes a difference. I knocked on Dr. Kanter’s door more than once to discuss her case and review her imaging.”
Daniel Kanter, MD, is director of the Neurocritical Care Program and a professor of neurology and rehabilitation medicine at the UC College of Medicine. He agreed that this was a case that had the team worried about for some time.
"We had a lot of discussions with Rodney, and I kept telling him there was nothing that could prove she wouldn’t get better. Since we know this area of the body pretty well, we just had to wait it out. Things may not be looking good; the battle wasn’t going well, and you start feeling like it’s never going to turn around, but it did,” says Kanter.
Ferioli adds, "I followed Mrs. Hastings at [Daniel Drake Center for Post-Acute Care] once she finally became strong enough to leave our intensive care unit. Knowing her clinical course helped me guide all her other providers and keep them fighting for her recovery. There, I saw her first signs of improvement, although her body needed more time to heal.”
Judy says she is getting out with Rodney and doing more. Rodney says back at home she can take the stairs, her breathing is good, and she’s starting to get back into social activities.
"And she didn’t lose her gift of gab!” exclaims her sister.
Hastings admits that she sometimes still gets words confused when she’s talking, "I was talking to someone about a pillow and I could not remember the word, I could only think of ‘cushion’… it just takes me a while to think what I’m trying to say, either that or I’ll spell it or something,” but it’s not slowing her down from catching up with friends and family.
In August, the Hastings also attended a Reds game when it was Elvis night. For nearly 20 years, Judy assisted entertainer Mike Davis with costumes and on stage, where he is a regular at the Indiana casinos as well as country clubs and private events. Judy hand washes all of his Elvis suits and capes and has a special wardrobe at home that Rodney built for her to store them.
Kanter said her road to recovery had been a bumpy one but, "to see her now, makes all those months of heartache worthwhile.”
Her sister agreed. "[We weren’t] going to give up on you Judy.”