Woman undergoes three amputations in three months – now faces having her lights cut off and no Christmas for her children
By K. Chandler
It all started the summer of 2010.
Paula Reaves, a single parent raising her nine-year-old grandson, Pharrell began experiencing severe pain and numbness in her left leg and foot. Having always been a hard worker as well as an active person all her life, Reaves, now 43, was forced to eventually quit her job as a retail inventory counter due to the pain which made it extremely difficult for her to walk or stand for long periods of time.
Nevertheless, she decided to pursue a career in cosmetology, having applied earlier to get into the program at Lincoln Cosmetology School in West Palm Beach. Despite the fact that her left leg was getting worse and worse, she managed to graduate in the fall of 2011.
Even as she was attending cosmetology school though, she sought medical treatment at area hospitals to try to figure out what was causing her such debilitating pain and weakness in her leg.
“I went to St. Mary’s, Palm Beach Gardens, and Columbia Hospital (now West Palm Hospital). I went through a whole battery of tests. But all I ever got were pain pills before they’d send me home. No one could tell me what was wrong with my leg. I was even told by St. Mary’s Hospital that my health problems were due to a sprained ankle, despite the fact I tried to tell them that I’d be the first to know if I had sprained my ankle. In the meantime, the pain was getting more and more severe. Later, after a year of dealing with this terrible pain, I noticed that my toes were starting to turn black.”
“Looking back, I believe I contracted MRSA after the second surgery was performed,” said Reaves, “which accounts for the swelling and busting of the stitches that I told my doctor about when I went for the follow up visit a week after being discharged from the hospital.
“Paula Reaves wound up at Columbia Hospital where she was admitted for more tests. Finally they came up with a diagnosis: Peripheral Arterial Disease.
“By the time Columbia found out it was poor blood circulation, gangrene had set into my toes and I had to have my foot amputated. I’ll never forget that day, Feb. 10 for as long as I live because it was my birthday.”
Unfortunately, Reaves was still not out of the woods – not by a long shot.
Instead of going home, Reaves was told by her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Daniel Ro-land Higgins that her blood circulation problems had not been resolved as they’d hoped, and that he’d now have to amputate her leg just below the knee. That surgery took place at the beginning of March, 2013. After spending two weeks in the hospital, Reaves was finally discharged and instructed to follow up with her surgeon in a week.
“I was only home a few days, but I could tell that my leg wasn’t healing right. Plus the stitches were busting loose and filled with pus.”
When she went back to her orthopedic surgeon, she told him she smelled a foul odor coming from where the stitches had broken loose. One look at her amputated leg was enough to convince the doctor that the wound was indeed not healing properly and there was no doubt that her leg was infected, not to mention that her leg had ‘locked up’ from lack of exercise, making it impossible for her to ever be fitted for a prosthesis in the future. She was advised to make an appointment for outpatient surgery in two days.
And so it came to be that two days after seeing her doctor, she went under the knife again – this time to amputate her left leg just above the knee. She wound up staying another week in the hospital. Then, right before she was scheduled to be discharged, she was informed by the hospital that she had contracted MRSA, and she’d have to remain there while they treated her for the potentially lethal infection.
A couple of days later, she was sent home after being put on blood thinners for blood clots she was experiencing in her leg. She was also told that she’d need to inject herself three times a day in the stomach with highly potent antibiotics to get rid of the MRSA.
“Looking back, I believe I contracted MRSA after the second surgery was performed,” said Reaves, “which accounts for the swelling and busting of the stitches that I told my doctor about when I went for the follow up visit a week after being discharged from the hospital.”
It has now been eight months since the third surgery was performed. Paula Reaves appears to finally be on the mend physically and is now getting around with the aid of a walker, however the emotional scars are another matter altogether.
“The hardest part is not being able to move about like I’m used to, and being unable to participate in the after-school sports programs my children are involved in,” noted Reaves.
Then there are the simple everyday tasks that people take for granted, like brushing one’s teeth, sweeping the floor, taking clothes out of the wash machine, or getting in and out of the shower.
“Everything becomes a major chore when you are going through something like this,” Reaves pointed out. “I can’t carry anything for trying to balance my walker at the same time. In the beginning, I was in a very depressed state. I cried all the time. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I dropped 40 lbs. bringing my weight down from 130 lbs. to just 90 lbs.”
And without a car, she has had to rely on her sister, Michelle, or friends to take her places.
“As much as people may care and sympathize with my situation, the reality is that people can’t always be there when I need them – they have their own lives to live and they can’t always cater to my needs, which is understandable. “
Making matters worse, Palm Tran (Palm Beach County’s public transportation system) has bus stops that are often so far apart (some are nearly a quarter of a mile apart), it is difficult for her to walk that far. Plus trying to navigate a walker on a bus is nearly impossible in and of itself.
Piling on an additional hardship, Paula Reaves noted that she has been having problems with her Medicaid due to the fact that she has a share of cost that must be met before Medicaid kicks in each month.
“Every month, I have to go to Walgreens to get a print out to prove that I have met my share of cost before they will release my medications for that month. Sometimes I go without my medicine because Medicaid hasn’t approved my share of cost yet. The bad part about it is that I’m on medications that I’m not supposed to skip dosages on. One time it took over a week for my Medicaid to be approved. And when you’re on blood pressure, thyroid and heart meds, letting any dosages lapse can be very dangerous.”
In Dec., Reaves moved from Riviera Beach to West Palm Beach. The move was prompted by her desire to provide a more stable environment for her kids. “My son Jihaad, 12, was beginning to get into trouble and experiment with drugs, and I felt I had better get out of that negative environment if I wanted to save my son.”
The move was not without consequences, however.
Having forked over the bulk of her monthly check for the first month’s rent plus security deposit, she is now afraid that her electricity will be shut off at any moment because she was unable to pay FPL the $355 utility deposit, let alone provide any type of Christmas for her children.
“They gave me until Dec. 12th to pay the deposit and now it’s Dec. 16th and I have no idea how long the lights will stay on. I’ve contacted 20-30 charitable organizations and churches but everyone told me they were all tapped out. It’s a very stressful time and very depressing to be in this position. How do you tell your children that you have nothing for them for Christmas,” she added, her eyes welling up.
Michelle, who works for the Palm Beach County School District, concurred that her sister’s life has changed dramatically due to her catastrophic health problems.
“She tries so hard to be independent, but I know that it gets to her a lot more than she lets on. Paula was the person everyone came to for advice or help. She’d give anyone the shirt off her back. That’s just how kindhearted she is. Everybody knows Paula and thinks highly of her. She was and still is the backbone of our family, but this has definitely taken a huge toll on her. It has virtually turned her life upside down. I love my sister dearly and hate to see this happening to her. Now she needs the support and help of others, and that’s hard for her to accept.
Note: Anyone wishing to help is encouraged to contact Michelle at: (561) 351-1784.