Living life second by second
It is often said in the medical community that “seconds count.” Following more than a month of living second by second, the Griffin family of Ramona realize what this means.
On Tuesday, Aug.18, Mark Griffin, 41, returned home from work completely exhausted. Blaming the tiredness on a hard day, Griffin simply went to bed and returned to work the next day.
By Wednesday evening, Griffin was worse and began vomiting. When this continued into Thursday, he ended up in the Pomerado Hospital emergency room in Poway, where doctors said Griffin had suffered a heart attack. Griffin was transferred to the Palomar Medical Center Trauma Center in Escondido.
After trauma doctors at Palomar evaluated Griffin, it was determined that Griffin had not suffered a heart attack, but that “something was wrong.” So Palomar Trauma kept Griffin for the night.
Further tests revealed Griffin had contracted an unknown virus that had attacked the heart muscle. By Friday, Griffin’s condition began to deteriorate further. Suffering three flatlines when his heart stopped beating, Griffen required an external pacemaker, yet he continued to worsen.
On Saturday, Aug. 22, a catheter was placed into Griffin’s heart to further monitor any progress. Griffin continued to get worse and was placed on a ventilator. After two hours on the ventilator, doctors determined this was not working, either, so by 1 p.m. a balloon was placed into Griffin’s aorta.
The cardiologist at Palomar decided Griffin needed to be transferred to the trauma center at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.
The ambulance arrived at 7 p.m. for the transport, but Griffin again flatlined. According to Gerrie Griffin, Mark’s father, the doctor told Mark’s wife Michela that, if Griffin remained at Palomar, “he would surely die”—but to transport Griffin to Sharp was very risky and it was possible Griffin would not survive the transfer.
“He died four times,” said Gerrie Griffin “and they brought him back.”
He said his son’s condition was so grave that two ambulances came with 12 specialists in them—each for a different organ system that had begun to shut down. There were six specialists in each ambulance to help Griffin survive the transfer.
The caravan arrived at Sharps Memorial Hospital at 9:20 p.m. and the trauma team immediately went to work. Assigned an entire team of specialists (three cardiologists, two registered nurses and a specialist for every major organ in his body, his father said a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs would haunt the family as Griffin clung to life for the next two weeks, an hour at a time.
There were catheters placed, multiple drainage tubes, wires extending from the chest cavity, dialysis procedures, pacemaker replacements, uncontrolled bleeding, multiple surgeries, a ventilator and a drip of 22 drugs keeping Griffin’s systems from shutting down. The only glimmer of assurance coming from the team of doctors for more than two weeks was that Griffin was “gravely critical,” his family said, and hope was the only consolation offered. Through high fevers, body system shutdowns and not knowing what was wrong, family and friends turned to prayer chains and the Grace Community Church congregation for support.
Throughout the ordeal, the family held onto a poem a relative had given them: “When you come to the end of everything you know and are faced with the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen. Either there will be something solid for you to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”
Mark Griffin stands 6’2” and normally tips the scale at 205 pounds. He and Michela have four daughters: Remington, 10, Shylee, 7, Laurelai, 3, and Ember, 1. The Griffin family lives in Ramona, and Griffin works for Tomahawk U.S.A., a company that specializes in pressure water systems.
“Mark has always been a healthy person,” said his father. “He never even took a ‘worker stay home’ day in his life. Mark is just a common, next door kind of guy.”
The outpouring of love, support, meals and prayer vigils has been a humbling experience for the family.
This “common, next door kind of guy” suffered a very uncommon medical problem. A serious heart condition due to an attacking virus has caused the need for many surgeries, multiple blood transfusions and the ultimate placement of a medical device called a heart pump in Griffin.
In days where progress is measured by dropping the amount of drugs from 22 to 16 that are keeping one alive, it is difficult to appreciate the life-saving drugs that are in turn shutting down other vital organ systems (kidney and liver) in the body. When a loved one is on multiple life support systems, it becomes an immense relief to hear a doctor upgrade the condition from “extremely critical” to “very critical,” said Griffin’s father.
As innumerable lab tests began to return results, the culprit threatening Griffin’s life proved to be Coxsackie virus. Coxsackie viruses are part of the enterovirus family of viruses, which also include polio virus and hepatitis A virus. This childhood virus has severe and harmful effects on adults, leading to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle in which the heart loses its ability to properly pump blood throughout the body.
The heart pump L-VAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) works with the heart to assure continued blood flow through the body. The pump weighs about 2-1/2 pounds and is placed on top of the stomach with feeds to the heart. The L-VAD is the bridge to the next phase of this illness.
The next step is the heart will heal or Griffin will need a transplant. It is too early to tell which route Griffin will take. The Heartmate II pump takes blood from the left ventricle and pumps it into the aorta, “kind of like a bridge,” explained Griffin’s father.
Griffin’s doctor, Dr. Robert Adamson, is a cardiac surgeon at Sharp Memorial who is scheduled to be on the program The Doctors Friday, Oct. 9, at 5 p.m. on KUSI television, performing a transplant on another patient the program is following.
Highlights in Griffin’s progress:
• Aug. 31, Griffin’s pacemaker was turned off and his heart began working on its own, keeping a steady rhythm. Griffin’s liver began functioning again and his lungs looked good, so the ventilator system was removed.
• Sept. 10, Griffin treated to a visit from his daughters.
• Sept. 12, Griffin walked—with the aid of a nurse, therapist and his father—about 60 feet.
•Sept. 15, Griffin was diagnosed with Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).
•Sept. 16, he was upgraded from critical to serious.
•Sept. 29, Griffin, who entered the hospital weighing 205 pounds, left the hospital after 41 days weighing 174 pounds. Returning home with a heart pump, batteries and a supply of 14 new medications, Griffin is overwhelmed by the loving support received from the community during this trying time.
With a long recovery road ahead as well as a possible heart transplant, the Griffins are enjoying each and every day together.
On Oct. 18, a San Diego Blood Bankd bloodmobile will be at Grace Community Church at 1234 Barger Place 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Anyone interested in donating blood for Griffin are encouraged to participate. Walk-ins are welcome, but appointments may be scheduled by calling Rene Nolan at 760-789-3770 or by going online to mysdbb.org and click on Schedule at Bloodmobile, then enter GCC1 in the Sponsor Code prompt.
For any questions, call the church office or Nolan. For updates on Griffin, or to read about the entire ordeal, the family has set up a Web site page at www.caringbridge.org/visit/markgriffin1.
Caring Bridge is a Web site dedicated to families and friends who have a loved one dealing with a life-threatening medical situation.
“I’m glad my daddy’s home,” said Laurelai Griffin. “I can’t squeeze him too hard. I missed him.”
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