TARPON SPRINGS — Alicia Reinbolt thought she was having an allergic reaction to something. Her eyes had begun to swell, her throat was itchy and she had a hard time sleeping.
At 7 a.m. on May 29, Reinbolt, who lives in Palm Harbor, woke up her husband and asked to be taken to the hospital. In addition to her other symptoms, the 42-year-old, who went to the gym about four days a week, had begun to feel tingling in her left arm.
She arrived at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital with a complaint of an allergic reaction. She left more than a week later as the hospital's "miracle."
Vessel spasms caused Reinbolt's heart muscles to not get enough blood. That, in turn, caused her heart to go into deadly arrhythmia. About 90 seconds after she arrived at the emergency room, Reinbolt went into cardiac arrest. The emergency room team revived her. She stopped breathing a second time. She was revived again. There was a third time, and a fourth.
"She died four times," said emergency room medical director Dr. Michael Longley, who worked on Reinbolt. "We shocked her four times, there were all kinds of medications, each time she would come back. It's really a miracle and highly unusual. I've never seen this before."
The entire episode lasted about 20 minutes, Longley said.
But Reinbolt remembers none of it.
"I felt like I was going to sleep and waking up," Reinbolt said Tuesday. "I didn't see the light. I didn't see my mother or my grandmother. I had told them already that I'm not ready, so don't even come get me."
Reinbolt remained at Helen Ellis for eight days, spending time in the emergency room, the intensive care unit and the heart catheterization unit, where an automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator was inserted in her heart to maintain its proper rhythm. Doctors and nurses, amazed at her miraculous survival, checked on her constantly.
Husband Todd Reinbolt called it the scariest moment of his life. He pondered, what if he hadn't been able to find his keys that morning and they were a minute later leaving for the hospital? That could have changed the outcome.
"There are only two things that saved her," said Todd Reinbolt, 48. "It was God and the workers at the hospital. The skills that those people have. And it just wasn't the skills they had, it was the way everybody cared for her from the time we went there until eight days later when we left. They really showed compassion, from food service to the doctors. I think they had a sense of awe of the situation."
The Reinbolts, who have been married nine years, wanted to show their appreciation. So they made T-shirts and gave them to the folks who helped Alicia continue living the life she loves. On the front of the T-shirt is "We saved Alicia," and on the back, "Miracles and Great Medical Care."
"A thank-you card wouldn't have done it," Alicia Reinbolt said. "A pizza party wouldn't have done it, either. I really didn't care if they wore it or not, or if they used it to dust with. But we just wanted them to have something to let them know how grateful we are."
Those who cared for the Reinbolts are thrilled about the T-shirts.
"It's not often that we get a thanks," said Julie Osborne, an emergency room nurse who assisted Reinbolt. "We have a lot of positive outcomes but we don't get this kind of acknowledgement. People usually come to the emergency room, we help them and they leave and never think anything else about it. It's taken for granted."
Reinbolt didn't take it for granted.
The ordeal left her with a device in her chest cavity, a few burn marks from being shocked, and a broken rib from the chest compressions that helped bring her back to life.
"I'll take that," she said.
Now back at work as a medical records coder and slowly making her way back to the gym, the mother of an 18-year-old daughter said she knows death is inevitable for everyone. But how that death happens is what's concerning.
"No one wants a long, prolonged sickness," she said. "But then again, to not be able to get things in order, to not be able to say goodbye to your children, that thought just scares me, too."
For now, Reinbolt will continue living.
"I love life, period," Reinbolt said. "I'm just glad they didn't give up on me."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com and (727) 445-4174.