A caring nurse and two doctors give a mom her life back

Jan 05, 2014
Samantha and Jo-Ann

During the first five months of 2013, Samantha Larrabee, 27, of Belfast, was hospitalized for three or four days at a time on 13 different occasions. Much of that time was spent in the Intensive Care Unit and there were times when Samantha thought she was going to die.

Since the beginning of June, after teaming up in April with Jo-Ann Whiting, RN, a care manager for the hospital, she’s only been back in the hospital twice and once was for a sinus infection.

So what changed? Samantha was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004 and with Graves’ disease, a disease of the thyroid, in 2009. It often seemed to be a Sunday when she would wake up “not feeling good, would start vomiting, would feel super tired, couldn’t eat and her sugar would keep rising.”

Eventually, she would have to call an ambulance to go to the Emergency Department where they would try to get fluids into her quickly, because they could not start an insulin drip while she was dehydrated. It often took three bags of fluid before they could start the insulin drip and she would also need potassium because her electrolytes would be off.

Then Samantha would be taken upstairs and usually remain in the ICU for three or four days. She had ketoacidosis, a serious condition that can be fatal. While on the insulin drip, she could not eat. Eventually, she would be able to start eating again and her diabetes would be back under control. But even when she got home, there were days when she didn’t want to get out of bed.

Samantha says the ICU nurses were “all kind, always listened to me and were patient with me. They believed me.” But she felt there were other people who were blaming her for her frequent visits to the hospital. “I told everyone that I was doing what I was told to do,” she says, but the looks she got told her she wasn’t being believed. But, she adds, Dr. Matt Wall at the hospital and Dr. Deborah Peabody, her primary care doctor, believed her and even stood up for her. “Dr. Wall is my hero. He is so caring and involved. He is the most patient man and he listens and believes. He’s the one who diagnosed my Graves’ disease,” she says.

But even more than that, he, Dr. Peabody and Jo-Ann got together to try to figure out why they couldn’t keep Samantha’s diabetes under control. Turns out the problem wasn’t the diabetes, it was the Graves’ disease interacting with the diabetes. The Graves’ disease was setting off the diabetes and making it nearly impossible to control. “It was the pink elephant in the room,” says Jo-Ann.

Meanwhile, Samantha’s thyroid was enlarged to three times the normal size and bulging out of her neck. In June, She had surgery to remove it and that made all the difference.

Samantha now meets three days a week with nurse Jo-Ann, who she calls “a wonderful partner.” Since stress can aggravate both diabetes and Graves’ disease, she uses that time not only to discuss medical issues but to vent and laugh about some of the stresses in her life, including the death of her father in February and her lack of transportation. “I love Jo-Ann. She’s the greatest. She’s always listened and helps me work through things. She devotes herself to her patients. I admire her.” And when Samantha can’t get transportation to see Jo-Ann in her office, the nurse travels to her.

Jo-Ann says it is nice to see a new Samantha emerging, with more color on her face, clearer eyes and a weight loss of some 70 pounds.

Samantha is grateful that she had “a good team who believed me” and now that she has a lot more energy on most days, her joy is to be able to play with her two boys, who are 6 and 8. “I’m a stay-at-home Mom, but it’s been a very long time since I could play with Saje and Cayden. It’s great to have energy and be a real Mom again.”

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