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Still Lisa: Strep infection turned childbirth into battle to survive

Photos by Laura Seitz
Deseret Morning News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 28 2007 3:06 p.m. MST

Tom Andrew makes adjustments to the silicone liners on Lisa's stubbies at Ability Prosthetics in January. Nanny Sammie Bickmore tends to Lily and Hannah during the appointment.

Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News

The morning of the trip, the wind blew like crazy and the forecast called for rain mixed with snow. So what? Lisa Speckman couldn't wait for the adventure to begin. She had packed what she needed: her medicines, a parka, a single glove, a pair of fleece pants to cover her stumps.

Now she is sitting in her wheelchair, waiting for her friends to load the Jeep. This will be her first outing since getting sick a year ago, the first time back in the mountains, just like old times. They will snowmobile up to Lily Lake and spend the night.

The timing of the trip and the name of the lake are just coincidences, but they're hard to ignore: March 1, the anniversary of the day she nearly died; Lily, the name of her youngest daughter. A year ago, Lisa went to the hospital to have a baby. Within weeks she had lost three limbs, multiple organs and her career.

She needs this trip, the chance to journey to a setting that is so much a part of her own nature, to get weary in a good way, to listen to what she calls the deafening silence of winter. She needs to know what is possible. Yes, the weather is unpredictable, she decides. But then, so is everything else.

· · · · ·

When you work in the emergency room you quickly learn how unexpected life can be, altered forever by a fever, a gun, a driver who changed lanes without looking. Still, the news — traveling quickly from Intensive Care down to the ER at LDS Hospital — blindsided her co-workers: "Lisa Speckman is dying."

Lisa was the kind of ER nurse who could handle anything, the one you could count on to take a shift no one else wanted, the one who could take the edge off a bad night with her quirky sense of humor. She was strong and healthy. She had delivered a healthy baby. She was going home today, wasn't she?

Her pregnancy had been effortless. In her eighth month, on January afternoons, Lisa took 2-year-old Hannah to Alta to ski, sheltering her daughter between her legs as they headed downhill. The day before her due date, Feb. 25, 2005, Lisa pulled a 12-hour shift in the emergency room at LDS Hospital.

Before dawn the next morning, right on schedule, her water broke. Lillian Marrakesh Speckman, bald, breech and 19 inches long, was delivered at sunrise by C-section. By late morning, her husband, Steve, a reporter at the Deseret Morning News, was back in the newsroom showing off photos of the new baby. In her room at LDS Hospital, Lisa was tired but happy. "She's perfect," she told an ER co-worker who came by to see Lily the next day. Lisa also showed off her own toenails, painted by Hannah — a little messy but festive.

Life is full of tiny details that flit by mostly unnoticed, except perhaps in retrospect. Lisa's list would later include toenails and taste buds and the pale blue wool socks she bought for herself with some birthday cash.

Lisa was so sure she was leaving the hospital on March 1 that she asked a friend to dinner that night. Still, says her mother, when she talked to Lisa by phone, the conversation was off. At times, Lisa seemed to make no sense.

By the time Lisa should have been gathering up her flowers and wrapping Lily for the trip home, there was no question something was wrong. In pain and frightened, she had called Steve early in the morning to tell him she was having trouble breathing and her stomach was swollen and sore. Probably a kinked bowel, doctors reassured Steve as they wheeled her in for exploratory surgery early in the afternoon.

Friends waited with Steve as the hours dragged on. Finally, doctors brought news that turned his world on its head. "Your wife is as sick as a human being can be and still be alive," is how friend Susan Heiner remembers it. What doctors had assumed was a routine problem turned out to be a massive infection; they had removed her uterus, which was oozing pus.

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