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

She also talked to a woman who had lost part of one leg to an infection similar to hers. The woman was bitter, even a year later, and Lisa decided she didn't want to be that woman.

Lisa had lost three limbs, but they hadn't amputated her sense of humor. Even back in the burn unit, not long after she finally grasped what had happened to her, she called her co-workers in the ER at LDS Hospital. "Hi, this is Lisa," she said. "Do you know anybody who needs some shoes?"

· · · · ·

Just before Thanksgiving, she came home to Utah. Before she'd gotten sick, they lived in a cozy cottage near East High. But when it became clear that the house, with its stairs and small nooks, wouldn't work for a wheelchair, Steve had tried to think of a way to hold onto their home — the one constant in their lives. One afternoon in early June he showed up at a Utah audition for the TV reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." He mailed in an application and never heard back. Lisa's story apparently wasn't TV-worthy.

So that fall, as he was trying to figure out how to pay the premium on Lisa's health insurance — she had been unemployed for six months now and the benefit was running out — Steve scrambled to sell the house and find an acceptable replacement. He moved the girls to Bountiful, into a house that had been retrofitted years ago with wider doorways and an elevator.

Returning home from therapy in Chicago, Lisa opened the door to find all her old things — the furniture, the masks they collected on their travels, her pots and pans — had taken up residence in a house she had never seen before in a suburb she didn't know.

Two months later, on a chilly morning in early 2006, Lisa and Hannah sit on the sofa in the front room, looking out the window, past the snow in the front yard toward a vista of houses and lake and gray sky. It's a nice day to be inside, if you're someone who likes that sort of thing. Lisa shifts her torso on the sofa, hugging the arm of her sweatshirt, trying to find a comfortable position.

After Hannah leaves the room, Lisa slides further into the cushions to talk about her life. She and Steve had had a perfect life: good jobs, frequent trips to the backcountry and far-off places. They had been so committed to the idea of the open road that they had embedded it in their daughters' names: Lillian Marrakesh, after the Moroccan city they loved, and Hannah Moorea, for an island in Tahiti. Now she will be what she calls a "soft mom," reading books to the girls, helping them with homework, giving lots of hugs and cuddles. That's a good mom role, she says, but she had wanted to show them how to be rugged in the world.

She worries that she will burden Hannah with constant requests to "open this" and "pick up that." With Lily, Lisa needs what she wryly calls "adult supervision," because in an emergency she won't be able to rescue the baby, unthinkable to an emergency room nurse. A nanny, 21-year-old Sammie Bickmore, has helped care for the baby since Lisa was in the hospital, and even now, when Steve or Sammie leaves the room and only Lisa is left, Lily cries.

"I didn't wait this long to have children to have someone else get up with my kid in the middle of the night or someone else watch my kids five days a week because I don't have the stamina," Lisa says.

But little by little there is a new normal. Lily likes to snuggle with Lisa now. Hannah likes to lie next to what she calls Lisa's "baby arm" and uses Lisa's hook hand — the one Lisa has named "Alfred" — as a carry-all for gum wrappers and hairbands. Not long ago, when the children in Hannah's preschool class were asked what makes them happy, Hannah's response, later tacked to the classroom door, was "I'm happy because my mom gives me hugs and kisses."

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Lisa and Lily are learning to walk at the same time, Lily at home on pudgy baby legs, propelled by instinct, Lisa in the rehab room at University Hospital, on legs made of titanium and acrylic.

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