May 27, 2018 is seared into Steve Wierenga’s memory. That was the day he lost consciousness as EMT personnel carried him down the stairs of his home in Hillsborough. Home alone, in pain, and too weak to sit up or get out of bed, Steve had managed to reach a phone to call 911. The next few days he doesn’t remember, but after a three-and-a-half-week stay in the intensive care unit at Mills-Peninsula Medical Center, he knows he is lucky to be alive.
Steve’s case was exceptionally complex.
“I woke up connected to dozens of wires and tubes, and had surgical dressings covering my abdomen,” Steve recalls. “I blame myself for not going to a doctor or the emergency department sooner, because I ended up with sepsis from an intestinal perforation.”
Sepsis and septic shock are potentially deadly conditions that kill more than 258,000 people each year nationwide. Fortunately for Steve, he got to MPMC in time. Just as important, the staff at MPMC has been working the last several years to fine-tune processes to identify and treat sepsis, putting into place a multidisciplinary team approach that allows front-line staff to recognize the problem and take immediate steps toward intervention.
“Steve was in septic shock and we followed our sepsis protocols immediately,” hospitalist Rodica Lascar, M.D., says. “But Steve’s case was exceptionally complex—he had more complications than I have ever seen in a patient. He was rushed into emergency colon surgery, because his diverticulitis and perforated colon posed an immediate danger. Then, other complications prompted ongoing consultation with specialists in infectious disease, general surgery, vascular surgery, nephrology, hematology and more.”
Steve had been sick for months. He was battling what he thought was bronchitis and a severe cough. He had lost 20 pounds and had been suffering from severe stomach pains, loss of appetite and lack of sleep. All the while, Steve had been traveling for work and had also accompanied his youngest son on three trips to the East Coast to visit colleges.
“I really want people to know how important it is not to ignore serious symptoms that persist for a long time,” Steve urges. “If you are sick for a prolonged period, go to the doctor. If you are too weak to get up, call 911. Don’t wait like I did.”
Steve’s “A” Team
Steve credits the staff and physicians at MPMC for his remarkable recovery. Dr. Lascar and another hospitalist, Shamsuddin Alamgir, M.D., evaluated his case from all angles. A hospitalist is an internal medicine physician whose primary focus is caring for acutely ill hospitalized patients.
“I had never even heard of a hospitalist before this, but they were such an important part of my team,” Steve says. “Mills-Peninsula is my first choice for my healthcare these days. I’m so impressed by all the people and the incredible technologies that were of such great benefit to me.
”Vascular surgeon Edouard Aboian, M.D., and gastrointestinal surgeon Kimberly Moore Dalal, M.D., also played vital roles in helping Steve through a number of serious complications. These included multiple pulmonary embolisms, deep vein thrombosis, two splenic artery aneurisms and internal bleeding.
“Dr. Dalal is on my list of my top five favorite people in my life,” Steve says. “She also suggested I have a colostomy reversal surgery this year, too. While I was nervous to have another surgery, there were no complications and I’m so happy to be back to normal function.”
“Steve is a remarkable gentleman who made an incredible recovery, and I am personally thrilled to see how he has survived and healed,” Dr. Dalal says. “During my care of him after surgery, I was struck by how thoughtful and kind he is, and how much he loves his four sons. I’m so grateful that he can enjoy a normal healthy life with them.”
A Long Road to Recovery
Nearly a month in the ICU was followed by another month in acute rehabilitation. Steve was stunned to see how weak he had become, but was determined to put in the hard work needed to recover.
“The first time I tried to stand up in ICU, I realized I couldn’t even shift my weight using my elbows. That was a wake-up call,” Steve says. “I was determined to work hard through the rest of my stay, push myself through rehab and do everything I could to recover.”
Relaxation and Retirement
Steve eventually returned to his job in the tech industry, creating and optimizing hardware security modules that support electronic payment networks. But after 48 years in the industry, focusing on high availability computing at companies such as Hewlett Packard, Tandem, Compaq Computers and Atalla Security Products, Steve decided a few months ago it was time to retire and relax.
“I’m using my passion for designing solutions to rebuild a deck at my house,” Steve says. “Hauling lumber helps keep me in shape and every design challenge I uncover keeps me busy solving problems.”
A graduate of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Steve holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Stanford University. He credits his fix-it mentality to his father, Warren Wierenga, who didn’t go to college but could fix anything and inspired his son to tinker and build things, too.
“I loved chemistry and science as a kid and remember using my mom’s laundry room as my lab,” Steve says. “She was fully supportive as long as I didn’t leave soot on her laundry, since my interests expanded to fireworks and electro-chemistry.”
When he’s not working on his deck, Steve continues to work on rebuilding his physical strength with morning walks, while also fine-tuning his mind with a passion for Sudoku and reading non-fiction books. He also delights in spending time with his four sons and two grandchildren.
More time with family has also given Steve time for reflection. “Death is not something you typically plan for, but my experience was an eye-opener,” Steve says. “I want to make sure I take care of my children and grandchildren. But I’m also looking at ways to give back to institutions that are important to me and I certainly include Mills-Peninsula on that list.”