In October 2000, nine days after her second baby was born, Laura Snell became very ill. Doctors at a Houston emergency center diagnosed a urinary tract infection and treated and released her. As she walked to the car, she collapsed.
My doctor finally arrived and had me rushed to the ICU," Laura says. "The last thing I remember was the doctor putting in a central line. They expected to give me IV antibiotics overnight and release me in the morning. But in the middle of the night they called my husband to tell him they didn't think I was going to make it."
Laura went into septic shock and lapsed into a coma for several days, during which she was on life support. Her critical care medical team administered vasopressors, drugs that increase the output of the heart and raise blood pressure as a treatment for shock. They also move oxygen from the extremities to the vital organs. Deprived of oxygen for nearly a month, her hands and feet began to die.
"I was heavily sedated and in and out of consciousness during my stay in the ICU, but when I woke up, I knew that my legs had been amputated," she says. "One of my thumbs was so black and hard that I thought it was going to break off."
Laura was treated in the hyperbaric medicine program at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center to save as much tissue as possible on her arms and hands. She spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in the hospital, and at the end of December, surgeons amputated the thumb and tips of four fingers on her right hand and all but half of three fingers on her left hand. Following her surgeries, she underwent seven weeks of rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Under the care of the clinical treatment team of TIRR Memorial Hermann's Amputee Program, Laura gradually regained her strength. The treatment team worked closely with Laura's prosthetist to ensure optimal fit and function of her prosthetic legs. "I've always been very athletic, and I expected to be up and around in the gym on my first day at TIRR. I was surprised when that didn't happen! Learning to walk again was one of the hardest things I've ever done."
The day after she was discharged to home, Laura started walking. "I could take a few steps and from then on I just kept getting better. It became a challenge to me to make my family and friends proud of my accomplishments. My goal was to get back to as normal a life as possible for my husband and kids." She continued outpatient therapy at home and at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation at the Kirby Glen Center.
Today, Laura, her husband and her two sons raise miniature horses at their country home in Chappell Hill, Texas. The family recently bought a historic horse farm in Kentucky that they plan to renovate.
"It's miraculous that I lived," she says. "I remember lying in the hospital bed for four months, thinking that if I ever got out, I wouldn't care about anything but living my life, loving my family, taking care of my children and being the best mother I can be. The experience really made me appreciate what I have, and TIRR made me realize that I wasn't alone."
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For the 33rd consecutive year, TIRR Memorial Hermann is recognized as the best rehabilitation hospital in Texas and No. 2 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report's "Best Rehabilitation Hospitals" in America.Learn More