Melissa’s story: Finding hope

Success stories

The last few years of Melissa Durning’s life had not been the easiest. In a short span of time she lost her father, navigated a divorce and her children moved out of the house. In February 2020, Durning faced a new challenge as complications from the flu left her fighting for her life at age 47.

On Feb. 14, Durning went to the emergency room feeling generally unwell. She was discharged with no diagnosis. Within two days, Durning’s condition declined, and a friend was driving her to back to the hospital when Durning became unresponsive and her lips turned blue.

Doctors diagnosed Durning with severe influenza A, double pneumonia and sepsis. She was soon in a coma, intubated and fighting kidney failure. She also had a tracheotomy feeding tube and chest tube inserted. Durning’s clinical team told her family she had a 30% chance of survival.

 “I saw God,” Durning said. “I was floating peacefully towards a beautiful light and an old friend sent me back saying I wasn’t ready.”

It took nearly two months for Durning to regain full consciousness. Because of low blood pressure, her foot had to be amputated. In July, Durning underwent revision surgery that resulted in a further amputation of her left leg, just below her knee. Post-surgery, Melissa was admitted to Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Toms River to help regain her independence after her leg amputation and extended intubation.

Beginning her recovery

Durning spent 13 days at Encompass Health Toms River receiving inpatient therapy. Activities included strengthening, balance training, coordination, edema management, energy conservation training, equipment training, focused breathing, activities of daily living and caregiver training.

Durning’s care team also included registered nurses who were available 24/7, physiatrists and respiratory therapists to help with pain management and treatments to further heal and strengthen her lungs.

After her discharge from Encompass Health Toms River, Melissa spent a week at the beach with a friend. She was able to put her foot in the salt water and feel the sand between her toes and she even swam in a pool.

“It was so freeing,” she said.

A few months later, in September 2020, Durning finally received her prosthetic leg; she had chosen one with sunflower designs on it. She was able to use her prosthesis for a bit at home but soon realized her wound hadn’t healed as expected. On Oct. 8, Durning went back to the hospital for a debridement procedure to help heal her wound on her left leg.

Moving forward

Later that month, Durning returned to Encompass Health Toms River for prosthesis training. Her therapy program consisted of some training that she had done in July, with the addition of gait training to help her improve her stride, group therapy, orthotic interventions, orthotic training, posture and body mechanics training, stair training, stretching and a home assessment to make modifications to better suit her needs.

“Everybody at Encompass Health Toms River makes you feel you can do it,” Durning said. “It’s like you are handed the keys to the kingdom or the way out of the maze. The tools they gave me are irreplaceable. I love it so much at Encompass Health, I want to come back and work here.”

Although she has completed her inpatient rehabilitation stay, Durning isn’t done with her recovery. She has high hopes for her future, and wants to live her life to the fullest every day.

“I want to do things that scare the hell out of me,” Durning said.” God kept me here for a reason.”

Durning is looking forward to returning to Encompass Health not as a patient, but to show her therapists what she continues to accomplish after her rehabilitation stay.  She also plans to join the hospital’s support group to show other amputees that with positivity and determination, you can overcome the challenges in front of you.

“My stay at Encompass Health gave me strength and confidence,” she said. “I feel I won’t give up.”