Ray Holst

"I remember getting a call from my doctor's office in Grand Rapids in April 1998. A man named Ray Holst had NF in Grand Rapids' St. Mary's Hospital...he may not live. The doctor wanted to know if I could call the man's wife. Over the next few weeks I got to know Evelyn Holst, (Ray's wife) and family...and I saw Ray, in a coma, but alive. Along with many others, I hoped and prayed for his survival. I left for France in early May and got a happy call just before I left, Ray was starting to awaken. By the time I got home is was much improved! He's doing great now and this is the story written by his wife Evelyn." Donna Batdorff, co-founder of NNFF August 20, 1998 Our family experienced two life-altering events within three weeks. The first was on March 13, 1998 while we were at our winter home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Our son Jeff in Grand Rapids, Michigan called at 1:00 a.m. to tell us his oldest daughter, Melissa had been struck by a train while traveling alone in her car. She was in surgery to repair a crushed skull as we spoke. At 5:00 a.m. the surgery was over. Seven metal plates with twenty-two screws had been put into our grand daughter's head. We started packing for home. We headed for Michigan praying she would survive until we got there. We arrived home and drove immediately to St. Mary's Hospital where Melissa was in a deep coma. Our daily schedule became routine. In the morning we did what we could do to help Melissa's family which included four siblings. In the afternoon we went to the critical care unit to see our dear grand daughter and hope for an encouraging word from her doctors or nurses. On Wednesday evening, April 1st, almost three weeks later, my husband Ray said he really wasn't hungry for the dinner I had prepared. This wasn't like him. I asked if he was feeling all right. "Yes," he replied, "I'm just not hungry." That night I took his temperature. It was a bit elevated but I thought he was just getting a bug. The next day I asked Ray what time he wanted to leave for the hospital. He suggested since he had a little fever, perhaps he shouldn't go. I agreed and visited Melissa by myself. That evening, again, Ray didn't eat dinner. This really bothered me and again I asked if he felt sick. "I'm just not hungry," he said, but I have had some diarrhea today." Before bed that evening Ray said his right hand was a little painul. It was swollen but that wasn't unusual. For years he has been plagued with rheumatoid arthritis. I gave him aspirin and we retirerd. About 6:15 am Friday morning I noticed Ray wasn't in bed. I found him sitting on the couch in the living room. "I just couldn't sleep," he explained. "My hand hurts so much." The hand was still swollen and had turned bright red. I called our doctor's office and was advised to take him to emergency since their office wouldn't be open for at least two more hours. As I tried to help my husband dress, I could tell he was becoming weak and could hardly help me. I called our daughter who arrived in about 5 minutes. Wanda and I managed to get him to her car, and we headed for St. Mary's. I prayed all the way. By the time we reached the hospital, Ray couldn't even get out of the car. The security person helped us get him into a wheel chair and into the emergency unit. Then followed paperwork, questions and more questions. Could a spider have bitten Ray? Had he injured his hand in his workshop or in the yard? Did something happen to him in Florida? All the answers were negative. He didn't go outside or into a workshop because of the arthritis. We had been home from Florida almost three weeks. By now Ray was writhing with pain. Also, in the emergency room, the nurse had discovered a very strange purple spot under his right arm. It was about two inches by three inchs in size, had definite lines around it like the boundaries of a country, and was dark purple on the inside. This was like nothing I had ever seen before. I'm not clear now about the sequence of events, but it seems the next test would be an ultrasound on the right arm to make sure there were no blood clots. Wanda and I took this break to get some coffee. We returned to the emergency room and waited. When Ray returned, I couldn't believe my eyes! his hand had turned into a round ball and was almost black! Huge brown blisters covered his hand and were oozing! Also, the spot under his arm had doubled in size, was swollen, and also had blisters that were oozing. I became dizzy! Again, it's difficult to be certain about the chain of events, but it seems the next thing we knew Ray was headed for the operating room. We were told he had some terrible infection. As we followed the gurney to the OR a doctor obviously ready for surgery stopped us. He introduced himself as Dr. Dennis Hammond, a plastic surgeon and hand specialist. He looked very sad as he said, "I'll be operating on your husband with Dr. Sherman. I'm sorry to tell you that I don't know if we can save his hand, and I don't know if we can save his life." This wasn't really happening. Last night Ray was only getting a bug and now he may be dying? No way! Two of our sons and our pastor joined us to wait while the surgery was being done. After about an hour Dr. Hammond came to the waiting room and asked us to join him and his nurse, Joanie, in one of the small conference rooms. I was sure he was going to tell us Ray was gone. Instead he told us Ray's right hand was completely dead; it wouldn't even bleed. He said he'd have to take off the hand to save his life. There was no choice. The surgery was completed. The right arm had been amputated about four inches below the elbow and a large section of skin and flesh had been removed from the right side of the chest and under the arm. Ray was put on a ventilator and large doses of antibiotics. I don't know everything he was getting, but I counted twelve bags of fluids hanging around his bed, dripping into his body. All the monitors overwhelmed me. For the next ten days I lived at St. Mary's Hospital. We had been told of the lab reports. Ray had Necrotizing Fasciitis, or the Flesh Eating Bacteria; something I had never heard of. Besides destroying flesh, this disease attacks vital organs; the lungs, liver and kidneys. Ray's kidney's had shut down bit began functioning again. His heart rate shot up dramatically and his blood pressure went way down. Dr. Hammond told me every day we could keep Ray alive was "a point for our side" During the ten days after the first surgery, Ray had a secondary infection, problems with rapid heart rate, a clot in the stump of his right arm, fluid on his lungs and some pressure ulcers. Now Melissa and her grandfather were both in the critical care unit just down the hall; from each other. The staff couldn't believe there were two people from the same family both near death. Indeed there were days we thought we might lose them both on the same day. There were two more surgeries and debridements. Ray was in an induced coma for almost four weeks. After thirty-nine days in the hospital and fifteen more at a rehab center, I brought him home. I don't know how I could have made it through this experience without the support of our children, our extended family, church family, and friends. Ray knows he owes his survival to Dr. Hammond and Stanley Sherman and the power of prayer. Also, Dr. Hammond put us in touch with Donna Batdorff who had been his patient and a victim of the disease in 1996. Donna came to the hospital several times. She brought me so much information on Necrotizing Fasciitis. I read through it all. We are so grateful to Donna for her page on the Internet and the foundation she has helped to organize. Even though this disease is rare, people should be made aware of it; especially doctors! So many people have been misdiagnosed and then died. Now, four months later, Ray is doing great! He's learning (after 67 years) that he really can be left-handed. He drives himself to therapy twice a week and is in very good spirits. He's so thankful to be alive. I'm thankful to God and all the people I've mentioned in my story. Ray and Evelyn Holst may be reached through their daughter, Wanda Cohen at her email address below.