Survivor Spotlight: Karin Helmeke

I am truly blessed to be here sharing my story with all of you.

My journey started on December 15, 2016 in Minneapolis, MN as we were down there to see my step-children. Before we even left the hotel, I knew something was wrong, as it took me much longer to get ready in the morning than it should have. I was moving at a slow pace all morning and my walk down to our vehicle was brutal. I brushed it off to the cold weather hitting my lungs and that was the reason I was not being able to get much air into my lungs. My husband ran an errand before we left the Twin Cities and I was feeling fine. I was sitting in the vehicle with our 3 month old daughter (at the time) waiting for him. We started our travel back home. My husband asked me a few times if I wanted to stop and go shopping before we left. I told him, “no, let’s just go home”. Once we crossed the border back into North Dakota, my husband said that we needed to get some fuel, so we stopped. I stated to my husband that I would go to the bathroom. He dropped me off at the door. The cold air hit my lungs again and this time it was so painful. I could barely make it into the travel plaza, yet alone to the bathroom. I sent my husband a text saying that I couldn’t make it to the bathroom, as it hurt too much to walk and breathe. He came in and I told him that he needs to call an ambulance, as I told him I was having a hard time breathing. He told me “no, I will drive you”. He escorted me out to the vehicle. During my escort, he had a hold of me and I was also leaning on the cases of pop, just hoping I wouldn’t drop to the floor. The cold air hit my lungs again and that is when the pain was the most extreme. I gave my husband directions to the hospital and he got me there fast. I remember going into the ER ambulance bay and a nurse with a wheelchair met us and asked what was wrong. I told her that I couldn’t breathe. She wheeled me into the ER and put me in a room, where another nurse put oxygen on me and told me to slow my breathing. I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t slow this down”. I was hyperventilating and it hurt to breathe, so I took any air I could get. I also told the nurse that I couldn’t slow down my breathing. She asked me my name and I told her. My husband came in quick and was holding my hand. A doctor came in and said something to me, but then I must have passed out, but I was still breathing at that time.

I don’t remember much after that. I remember slightly cognitive waking up in ICU and everyone telling me it was Christmas (even though I didn’t believe it) how could I miss 9 days and not remember them?? I woke up more on Christmas Day and made a phone call to my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas and they said “This is the best Christmas present we could ever receive”. My husband was right by my side the whole time. The nurses kept coming in and asking their questions of: What’s your name? What day is it? Do you know the year? Do you know why you are here? I didn’t know why I was there. They told me that I had 2 pulmonary embolisms that they got and that is why it was hard for me to breath. 

This is what I have been told after I woke up and was cognitive to understand what was really going on. I was informed that on 12-15-16 I had coded 3 times. The last time I coded I was gone for a little over 10 minutes. No one knew my outcome and how it would affect my brain. I also bled out and received all new blood. My mom told me that they saw at least 3 ½ trays of blood being brought to me and then given to me. I was told that the heparin wasn’t dissolving my clots and that’s why I coded the first time. I ended up with emergency open heart surgery to get to the blood clots. I ended up in ICU and was hooked up to 5 IV trees with every branch full of antibiotics, fluids, etc..flowing through my body.  I made it out of surgery fine. I went to the ICU and I was recovering. There was a respiratory therapist that came in checking up on my breathing and I was doing ok. Not even 10 minutes later a nurse came in to check on me and I was coding again (the last of the 3 times) and they were doing everything they could to save me. One of the doctors went to my husband and asked him what he wanted done (surgery or not). The doctor told him if he chose not to have me go through another surgery, I would be gone in about 2 hours. My husband had been crying the  whole day along with my family and his family that came to be with him. He looked at my mom and she told him that this was his decision, she couldn’t make it anymore. He told the doctor to do anything and everything to save me. So back up to emergency open heart surgery to get more clots dissolved. I went back to ICU for the next 13 days and then moved to another room down the hall out of ICU. I spent 16 days total in the hospital.

It was a pretty scary experience to say the least. Not only for me, but my husband and my entire family. My daughter came one to two times, but I wasn’t coherent enough to hold her, talk to her or even touch her. I still have memory issues and I repeat myself from time to time, because there are times I have forgotten that I had already told my husband 4 times already. Every day I don’t know if I am going to have a good day or not with my breathing or even the pain of my incision, but I go into each day with the thought that my lungs are getting stronger with every breath I take. I’ve come to the realization that I just need to take things slower now and that this slow movement is ok. I don’t have to have everything done right now. I’m no longer in a hurry. I’m enjoying my life so much more and have turned more towards my faith. When my daughter asks me why I have all these scars on my chest, I’m going to tell her what happened. I know she won’t understand at first, but I know she’ll continue to ask until she understands. 

I am here today and I don’t take anything for granted. I embrace and love my life to my fullest ability. I have a beautiful 7& month old daughter who I get to watch grow up and explore the world around her, to mold her into the woman she will become through determination, hard work, faith and love; my husband who is the love of my life, my best friend and soul mate who looks at me with amazement every day and loves me unconditionally; and a loving immediate family/ extended family that I love with everything I have. 

Thank you for allowing me to share my story with all of you.



One comment

  1. Barbara Turkdal · April 8, 2017

    I have goosebumps after refine this story! What a strong woman you are to have survived the odeal.
    Yes, take your days a bit slower and enjoy motherhood and wifehood, too.
    God certainly has his reasons for you to be with your family.


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