Ruth Pohl, Miracle Patient
My wife Ruth Pohl is considered a miracle patient by the doctors and staff at New York University Hospital. During her period of illness, she cheated death on at least three different occasions. Dr. Teperman, the head of NYU’s Transplant Unit, has referred to her as “my best mistake.”
Ruth suffered for years from the degenerative illness Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC), a disease characterized by inflammatory destruction of the small bile ducts within the liver. It was discovered accidentally from a regular blood test. After a few more years, the illness began to take a toll and, as the disease worsened, her medications became increasingly ineffective. She became weakened and virtually bedridden. One day, when I returned from work in March 2003, she was unable to get out of bed, even to the bathroom.
Her liver specialist at the time sent her immediately to North Shore Hospital where she had her first near-death experience. Her potassium level was measured at 8.9 – any measurement over 9 is considered deadly. She cheated death the first time by improving slightly. She was transferred after a week to NYU’s Transplant Unit where, after a few days, she developed an infection and entered into an encephalitic hepatic coma. Uninformed about these things, I thought she was merely weak and needed to sleep continuously in order to recover. I received a call at work that Dr. Teperman wished to talk to me upon my visit to the hospital that evening.
Upon my arrival at the hospital, I knew things were not right and when the social worker came out to see me; she did not have to tell me the bad news. Ruth was not expected to last the weekend. I sat in a small room with a desk and a telephone and called our children, her friends and other family members to tell them that the end was at hand.
That was April 8 2003. On April 11, she had apparently had enough of the coma, woke up, and started chatting with my sister-in-law. Teperman told me that it was only the second time in his career that he had made that mistake but we were all thrilled that he had erred. Death had lost out for a second time.
Despite her revival, Ruth’s health continued to decline. We had nervously considered a live donor transplant with our daughter but the window in which a live donor transplant could take place had closed when Ruth’s health deteriorated further. She dropped to a svelte 84 pounds, accompanied by jaundiced skin, dangerously low blood pressure, and extreme weakness.
Ruth spent the next three months at the hospital. We watched her MELD scores increase and her place on the transplant list rise almost daily. During this time, she managed to explore the social lives of the entire nursing staff and offer her counseling services on their choice of boyfriends, whether to have children and whatever else was pressing on the minds of nurses, staff, janitors, and whoever else might be passing by.
On May 31 around 10:00 PM, I returned home via the LIRR after another visit to the hospital. She called me near 11:00 PM and told me that she was not permitted to eat after midnight. I thought she had to prepare for yet another test the following day. She then told her dense husband that she was going to receive a transplant the next day. Her blood pressure that evening was 70/21, on the threshold between life and death. She lived through that evening, cheating death for a third time.
On June 1, her liver transplant was performed by Dr. Glyn Morgan, a member of the NYU Transplant team. A 20-year-old had been murdered in upstate New York and her liver was to be donated. Ruth was discharged from the hospital ten days later and has not looked back since. She is the corresponding secretary for Long Island TRIO, a creator of beautiful knitted items, many of which she donates to poor families, a great mom to our daughter, soon to make her professional opera debut at the Boston Lyric Opera, and our son, a communication design major at Syracuse University. She is a friend and solver of problems for a host of friends, and the best wife.
Something inside of her defied death many times over, and we are all the better for it.