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Clarenville woman recovering after frightening bout of Legionaries’ disease

Cy and Berdina McGettigan.
Cy and Berdina McGettigan. - Mark Squibb

Couple appreciative of hospital workers

Normal life came to a screeching halt for Cy and Berdina McGettigan Oct. 14, when Cy rushed his wife to Dr. G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital with what he thought at the time were severe flu symptoms.

She started to develop symptoms the around Oct. 9 or 10.

On Thursday, Oct.11, Berdina and Cy went to a dinner, and she says she could not taste her food. Her condition worsened over the weekend— she became weak, had severe vomiting and diarrhea, and would reach for an object that wasn’t there.

Cy says a doctor at the hospital recognized that she was in serious trouble, and saw to her right away, ordering a chest x-ray and CAT scan.

After spending the day with his wife at the hospital, Cy went home to get some rest, intending to head back to the hospital in the morning.

At 4 a.m., his phone rang.

“It was the nurse in the ICU, saying ‘come up to the hospital, we need to see you right away.’”

The doctors had discovered Berdina had severe infections in her lungs and kidney, and had fallen into septic shock, a potentially fatally condition. She needed further treatment they could not provide.

Berdina was air lifted from the landing strip near Lethbridge, and arrived at the ICU of the Health Science Centre in St. John’s around 1:30 p.m., where Cy had been waiting since around 9 a.m. that morning.

“I counted different pieces of equipment she was hooked up to.”

On the Tuesday, Oct. 16, he was told that she was being treated for legionellosis, or Legionnaires’ disease.

Berdina remained unconscious for 13 days.

“It was brutal,” recalls Cy.

“I would go in and sit with her, and read to her… a couple days after she could squeeze my hand.”

“But between the jigs and the reels, she came out of it,” says Cy.

Berdina was then transferred back to Clarenville on Nov. 6, but was still extremely weak.

“I couldn’t even get out of bed,” she says.

“I went to the washroom and when I was coming back, the nurse said to me, ‘get back in bed and don’t move for the rest of the day.’”

Her pulse had shot up to 160 beats per minutes (roughly double of the 60-100 beats classified as normal by the Mayo Clinic for a resting heart rate.)

Berdina is home now, and doing well. She is on medication and continues undergoing tests, but is happy to be back. During her ordeal, she lost 28 pounds.

The couple wish to applaud hospital staff.

“All I had to do was ring that buzzer and there could be two or three nurses come the one time,” Berdina remembers.

Cy says an old song by Tina Turner says it best.

“The nursing staff at the Health Science and Clarenville hospital are ‘Simply the Best,’ period.

“Whatever they are paid, it isn’t enough. I don't care where you go, the care and attention they give to their patients, can’t be any better than the treatment my wife received.”

And though it’s an experience the couple never wishes to have to endure again, they say that some good has come of it; Berdina has decided to quit smoking.

Mysterious illness

Legionnaires’ disease is not a common illness in the province.

In fact, Eastern Health told The Packet they have only diagnosed two cases of it in the 2018 thus far.

Eastern Health explained that it is contracted by inhaling droplets of water that contain the bacteria Legionella.

It is spread through aerosolized water droplets from hot tubs, whirlpools, HVAC systems, fountains and shower heads. It can be spread through any equipment or device that contains water which allows it to stagnate at warm temperatures (below 60C) before being aerosolized (such as a showerhead that has not been used for a period of time).

The McGettigans cannot say for certain where Berdina caught the bacteria, but they believe it may have been from contaminated soil, as they had been picking partridge berries near Champney’s West about a week before Berdina became ill.

The soil may have held water droplets containing the bacteria.

The couple say they received a phone call from an Eastern Health doctor to discuss where they may have come in contact with the bacteria, who agreed with them that she may have contracted it through the soil.

Eastern Health said elderly, lifelong smokers who have other medical complications and/or conditions are the most susceptible to the disease.

The Government of Canada recommends proper cleaning, maintenance, and disinfection of all mist-producing devices, such as shower heads, hot tubs, whirlpool bathtubs, and humidifiers, to help reduce the risk of catching the bacteria.

They also recommend keeping your home water heater at a minimum of 60°C to help prevent the growth of Legionella.

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