February 22, 2014

Murray family works to build new life after flu complications

Rachel Brown

— CHATSWORTH — Philip Martin just wants to be able to eat and drink normally again.

Since suffering from a stroke on New Year’s Eve that left his right side paralyzed, Martin, 46, has battled through nearly two months of struggles to help him reach a new normal. Supporters have organized an online fundraiser (search YouCaring.com for “Through the Storm: ‘Stroke Survivor’”) that they hope will allow them to renovate the family’s mobile home to be wheelchair-accessible for Philip as he works to regain at least some of his former mobility.

His wife, Patti Martin, a nurse, said her husband has lived mostly in the family’s living room, which has been set up with a bed, since the narrow corridors and his dizziness and limited mobility make it nearly impossible for him to reach their bedroom and bathroom at the back of the home. She said she rarely cooks anymore because the smell of food bothers him. Because he still can’t swallow, he hasn’t been able to eat or drink on his own. Patti and other caregivers make sure he is nourished through a feeding tube attached to his body.

Despite his ongoing struggles, Philip has made incredible strides since the episode. Patti and the couple’s two teenage daughters had taken their flu shots as usual that year, she said, but Philip was skeptical of the shot’s effectiveness and decided against getting one. On Dec. 22, doctors diagnosed him with the flu after Patti took him to see a doctor because he was running a 104-degree fever.

The doctor prescribed Tamiflu and prednisone. Philip made it through Christmas, but on New Year’s Eve, he coughed so hard that he severed an artery to his brain. The stroke paralyzed him.

For days, he stayed at Hamilton Medical Center on life support in intensive care. Doctors told Patti they weren’t just taking it day to day — they were taking it hour to hour. They didn’t know if Philip would live.

Gradually, he did begin to improve. On Jan. 22, he was sent to Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation in Chattanooga where he stayed until Feb. 11. Today, he is able to move around some with the aid of a walker or nearby supporters, and he is able to speak, although his voice is raspy and sometimes difficult to understand. A physical therapist sees him several times a week to help him regain as much control as he can. He does throat exercises aimed at helping him learn to swallow again.

The vision in in his right eye was damaged. Through his left eye, the world spins. He struggles with dizziness and must learn to distinguish between what’s real and what’s just a trick his vision is playing on him. Doctors have said they won’t know how much of the damage is permanent for close to a year, but they believe he’ll always have some disabilities because of the stroke.

Before he got the flu this year, he was rarely sick, according to family members. He was on a small amount of medication to control high blood pressure, Patti said, but was otherwise perfectly healthy.

The Martins’ lives were filled with four-wheeler rides with their daughters, ages 13 and 15, and motorcycle rides on pretty days. They loved the outdoors. Patti loves taking pictures, and she dreamed of one day traveling the country with Philip visiting covered bridges to photograph.

A few months before the stroke, Philip built a large, covered porch for the family’s home, complete with a ramp he had no idea he would be needing so soon. One day he surprised Patti with a well house he built in their yard that looks like a miniature gazebo. He didn’t need blueprints or instructions to do it. He was able to see the vision in his head and, with help from his daughters, built the well house in a day.

Patti and Philip knew each other when they were teens — in fact, she dated his cousin for a while — but their lives weren’t to become so closely joined together until many years later. Patti married someone else, but he died eight years ago from a stroke. Then one day Philip came to the medical center where Patti works, they began talking again, and the rest is history.

While the family hopes Philip will continue to improve, Patti said they’re also facing the reality that nothing will ever be the same again. She said the family is struggling with financial issues because of the situation, including having to pay for extra care for Philip while she works and looking for ways to pay his medical bills once his insurance runs out.

They hope the YouCaring page will help and that people will read their story and offer support. The experience has also made a flu shot believer out of Philip, who worked at adhesives company Mapei Corp. before his stroke. Now, when someone mentions whether he’ll skip the shot as in past years, Philip responds with an emphatic “no.”

“I won’t take any chances,” he said.