Nearly three decades ago, David Teverbaugh stood on a beach in Belize with his sun-kissed new bride and made one more vow: For the rest of their lives together, he would celebrate their marriage by dancing with her on beaches around the world.
Over the years, Christina and David Teverbaugh have slow-danced on the sands in Connecticut and sashayed along exotic coastlines of Central America. But their most memorable dance happened right here at home, on the unassuming shores of Freeport, Texas; and it was a dance that almost didn’t happen.
After years of managing her multiple sclerosis without a problem, Christina suddenly fell ill in July 2015. She couldn’t stop coughing. She couldn’t catch her breath. She was so deprived of oxygen, she started hallucinating.
David rushed his wife to an urgent care clinic but she was so sick, the staff sent her to the emergency room at Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital, where she was diagnosed with severe bacterial pneumonia. She was placed in the intensive care unit (ICU) but when her condition deteriorated and she could not be oxygenated, the doctors called Dr. Biswajit Kar, chief and program director of the Medical Division at the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Texas Medical Center (HVI) and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. She was then flown by Memorial Hermann Life Flight® to HVI. Waiting to receive the patient were Dr. Bindu Akkanti, a critical care physician with McGovern Medical School, Dr. Kar and the very specialized nurses and perfusionists of the ICU team.
The team knew that patients in Christina’s condition may respond to treatment from an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which uses an oxygenator to work for the lungs with the help of a pump. Patients with multiple sclerosis aren’t typically considered candidates for ECMO treatment because of their chronic illness. But, as sick as Christina was, the team considered her fully functional status prior to the ECMO a good predictor for success. “With our highly specialized, interdisciplinary team, we were able to devise a comprehensive plan so she could improve and resume her functional status,” Dr. Akkanti said.
They placed Christina on the ECMO machine and went to meet David to share the news. “I had to wait what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 45 minutes to an hour, and then they came out and got me and took me down to a room to talk to our doctors,” David said. “It was intense.”
Given the severity of Christina’s illness, the ICU team – which also included Dr. Rahat Hussain, Dr. Sriram Nathan, Dr. Indranee Rajapreyar and Dr. Pranav Loyalka – braced David for the possibility that his wife could require ECMO treatment for a long time. But David knew his wife. She was a tough, determined woman, who was not to be second-guessed. “I kept telling them: she’s a fighter, she’s a champ,” he said. “The team was always so positive. They just kept pushing us forward.”
Christina’s pneumonia responded well to the treatment. She bounced back so rapidly that the team was able to remove her from the machine by the 11th day.
“We were very fortunate to witness her improvement and are grateful to the team of physicians, nurses, perfusionists, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, dietitians and other team members who contributed to her recovery,” said Dr. Igor Gregoric, chief and program director of the Center’s Medical Division.
David, a retired firefighter, was in awe of the way Dr. Akkanti and the rest of the team managed Christina’s care. As a longtime paramedic, he had worked with many doctors in the past, but none impressed as much as Dr. Akkanti, with her compassion, her strength, and her calm under pressure. “I told her, ‘You’d make an awesome firefighter,’” David said.
Despite Christina’s success with the ECMO treatment, there remained one more hurdle for her to overcome. The damaging pneumonia had exacted a heavy toll on a woman who was already struggling with a chronic neurological illness. The infection left her unable to walk, stand, or really even move. For two weeks, Christina was only able to communicate by blinking. The HVI physical therapists continued to work with her multiple times a day. David feared she might be paralyzed, and that their days of dancing on beaches were over.
But Christina, in typical fashion, was determined to get better. When she was healthy enough to leave HVI, she moved first to a transitional care facility and then completed her rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann, where she slowly regained her ability to walk. In a matter of months, Christina was making laps around TIRR all by herself, no cane necessary.
“She’s a strong woman,” David said.
As their anniversary approached in February, Christina proposed a small celebration to mark 29 years of marriage and to rejoice in her recovery. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, she and David made a short trek to the closest beach. They’ve lived in the Houston area for years, and while they’ve traveled all over the world to beaches in far-flung areas, they’d never traveled to Freeport before.
It was a perfect day for a beach trip. Not too windy. Not too cold. David took his wife’s hand and, together, they walked toward the water. Their daughter waited off to the side, camera ready to capture the moment. There were no other spectators. There was no music. Only the gentle rustle of the sea breeze and the rhythm of the waves slapping against the shore, as David and Christina slow-danced in the sand, just like they did exactly 29 years earlier on a beach in Belize.
“Twenty-nine wonderful years of marriage,” David said. “Thanks to Memorial Hermann, we were able to mark the occasion: another year, another memory.”