As many of you know by now, my husband, Joe Frank, became ill in mid-December. Many have asked “What exactly is wrong? What illness does he have?” As this time, it’s impossible to answer that question conclusively.
Throughout his life Joe has suffered from multiple health problems, including kidney failure, cancer (testicular, bladder and colon, with attendant major surgeries and chemo and radiation), and intestinal blockages and serial infections that required hospitalizations. During Joe’s latest hospitalization a heart problem was discovered and we’ve been told that Joe might have experienced a heart attack.
Joe’s health has been under siege for as long as I’ve known him. And because his immune system is suppressed due to the anti-rejection medications he takes for his kidney transplant, Joe is even more vulnerable to illness.
What on Monday, December 14, appeared to be a slight yellow cast to his skin became by Friday, a disturbing deep mustard color.
After several blood and other tests administered throughout the week, on Friday December 18, Joe was admitted to the hospital. We were told that it was the only way to accelerate additional tests required in order to identify the cause of the jaundice.
After several days, the doctors disclosed their concern: pancreatic cancer. A tumor could be closing off at least one liver bile duct, which caused the jaundice. To definitively determine whether a pancreatic tumor was present required placing a camera scope down into the duodenum to examine the pancreas. During the procedure, however, the scope flipped and tore the duodenum. The doctor quickly aborted the procedure and clamped the tear.
Over the next eight days, Joe was not allowed to take anything by mouth in order to allow the tear to heal and the swelling to subside. After a few more days, soft foods were introduced. Joe was discharged from the hospital and asked to return on December 29th for an outpatient procedure to take a final look at the pancreas and surrounding area and hopefully rule out pancreatic cancer. Doctors provided no explanation for the bile duct blockage other than a tumor. (We were told there could be a tumor adjacent to the liver.)
Two hours after the procedure, I was called into the recovery room. From my prior experience with Joe’s procedures and surgeries, when I was called into the recovery room, I would rejoin Joe as he was waking up. Then the doctor would come in and talk to both of us about what the results were.
This time, the nurse guided me to an empty room where I was told the doctors would see me shortly. After 15 very long minutes, the doctors came in and were jubilant. No cancer – no tumors found anywhere! In fact, the cause of the bile duct obstruction was likely due to a stone that had lodged there – and had been present possibly for years. Once they opened the duct, sludge poured out. That, they determined, had been the cause of the jaundice.
The doctors said they’d never seen anything like it and added, “Happy New Year!”
Joe spent that evening in the hospital to ensure his blood and other tests remained normal, and he returned home the following day, December 30th.
That night, Joe was not feeling well but had only a slightly elevated temperature so we did not call the doctors. In the early morning hours of December 31st, however, Joe started to feel abnormally weak, and later that day began to exhibit alarming symptoms (vomiting and losing consciousness), which left no choice but to return to the ER. We arrived in the early evening of New Year’s Eve.
At the Emergency Room, Joe’s heart was racing, he had a fever, and a blockage that caused his stomach to retain the fluids he’d been drinking all day. He could not sit up without passing out. Nurses hooked him to IVs, his stomach was pumped and we heard several times that he’d had a “major heart attack,” or “major heart event.”
Hours later, with results of numerous tests in hand, the ER doctor declared to Joe: “You are very, very, very sick – and likely have sepsis.” Joe was admitted to the ICU at about 1:00 am, where he was closely monitored.
After several days of treatment and discussions of various types of surgery for a possible obstruction, and an angiogram to place a stent in the heart, the doctors made it clear that Joe’s recovery would take months and that he would remain on clear liquids for a minimum of a week after returning home. We would be able to introduce non-residue fibrous, overcooked and pureed foods (with liquids added) only as Joe was able to tolerate them. He returned home on January 15th, unable to walk, unable to eat and feeling extremely weak. He had not had a normal meal since December 17th.
I started the Go Fund Me campaign for Joe when I learned that he would be sent home on what is called TPN. (Total Parenteral Nutrition – that involves administering through a PICC line the nutrients he needs from a bag I prepare daily consisting of vitamins, minerals and fats. I hook Joe up to the bag and its contents are pumped into his catheter for 12 hours while he sleeps. This process will continue until Joe is completely well and able to eat normal foods.)
After a week of the clear liquids, we pureed some spinach and carrots and added them to a light vegetable broth. We were hoping that as he was fully able to tolerate these types of foods, we would be able to introduce soft foods – creamier soups, banana smoothies, jello, and even rice. The idea is to slowly and gradually move off of the TPN, while simultaneously return to having food orally. This process generally takes a month to six weeks. However, Joe is not tolerating even the slightest pureed food.
Our present concern is a blockage in the bowel. The GI doctor will talk with us Monday, February 1st. If there is no improvement, Joe will need another examination and procedure to possibly expand the area where the blockage appears. The worst case scenario is that Joe will require surgery to address what may be a permanent obstruction in his duodenum. (A feeding tube has even been discussed as a future possibility.)
Regarding his heart: The angiogram showed no blockage, so a stent was not required. The cardiologist and other doctors involved in Joe’s case theorized that the tachycardia and other indicators of heart attack may have been due to the stress placed on the heart because of the infections and the blockage he had on New Year’s Eve. However, they put him on two new medications for his heart and will monitor him closely over the next six months.
Physically, Joe is just starting to walk once or twice a day in our apartment with a walker. A physical therapist will start coming twice a week to help Joe with exercises to regain his strength. We’ve bought a portable wheelchair (to fit into the car for doctors’ appointments which start next week) and ordered a new full-sized wheelchair for around the house.
Please consider helping Joe with his medical bills and recovery costs at
We are facing expensive medications, equipment, supplies and home healthcare not covered by Medicare, the costs of which are beginning to mount up. (You can find more details about the expenses in the “Description” section of the Go Fund Me page.)
We have emailed people who contributed to the campaign between January 12 through January 27th regarding their rewards – please check your spam folder if you have not received our email, or contact us.
We email reward information on a weekly basis. Those who have contributed from the Jan 28th through Feb 4th should receive an email on Feb 5th.