By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Jeanne and Dean Peterson and their son, Matt, left Upsala about midnight Oct. 18, 2012 for a Road America road racing event near Sheboygan, Wis. Jeanne hadn’t wanted to go, but planned to take fall photos by herself in the woods that afternoon.
When her driving shift was done, Jeanne stopped for gas and she and Dean switched places.
“We had just started back on the road and for the third time, she said, ‘I don’t know why I’m with you guys; there are probably not 15 women within five miles of that race track,’” Dean said. “Then she said she had a headache and I pulled over.”
Jean opened the car door and collapsed. “It was 20 seconds from headache to unconscious,” said Dean.
Matt couldn’t find his mom’s pulse and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
The first responders were there within two minutes, and the ambulance soon after. “They said her pupils were ‘blown,’” Dean said. “Her eyes were wide open but she wasn’t blinking, and her breathing was just gurgling.”
Once the emergency medical technicians got electrodes on Jeanne’s chest, they were able to detect a pulse, so no shock was administered. She was put in an ambulance.
“My assumption then was that she was dead. We got in our vehicle and saw that the ambulance just sat there,” said Dean. “I told Matt, ‘Let’s pray.’”
A deputy came jogging over from the ambulance to tell them that Jeanne was talking. The ambulance hadn’t left yet because her status had changed, Dean said.
When Dean and Matt made it to the hospital 20 miles away, after promising the ambulance driver they would not try to keep up, they were told that Chaplain Marty wanted to see them.
“I thought she was gone,” Dean said. “But he let us know Jeanne was having brain scans done. The chaplain was a gift to us. He sat and visited with us.”
Soon, Jeanne was transported to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, Wis., which turned out to be one of the three medical centers in the United States that excel in the type of problem that Jeanne had. The others are in Boston and Southern California.
“Dr. John Lynch was there in Milwaukee, and had worked on a three-year fellowship in the specific problem Jeanne had,” Dean said.
Jeanne does not remember anything until midnight that night, when she woke up in a Milwaukee hospital room.
“On my right were Dean and my mom and dad. At the foot of my bed were my five brothers and sisters. On my left were two of our four children. I thought, ‘This can’t be good,’” Jeanne said.
“All day she’d been answering questions, but she didn’t remember any of that,” Dean said.
Doctors were still not sure at that point if Jeanne had had an aneurysm. There was too much blood in her brain to see clearly. Another angiogram was scheduled for a week later, giving time for the blood to be absorbed by the body.
“Doctors knew the bleeding had stopped, but couldn’t find the source,” Dean said.
The excess blood in her brain caused extreme pain, but giving her enough pain medication to stop the pain would have caused other problems.
“With so much narcotics, her vitals would drop,” said Dean. “The nurses told me to shake her and make her breathe if the rates went too low. They used to put people in a coma for this, but then couldn’t wake them every hour for checks.”
The difficult part for Dean was watching the interaction between doctors and nurses. “The nurses wanted to make her more comfortable by giving more pain meds, but the doctors were more concerned with her survival,” he said.
After receiving the narcotic medication at first, Jeanne was weaned off them and onto ibuprofen and Tylenol. These were alternated, which made her headaches more tolerable.
Her sense of humor was still present, no matter the challenges of her condition.
“One of the questions I was always asked was where I was. So when the night nurse, Bill, came in one time and asked me that, I gave him the GPS coordinates for the hospital,” Jeanne said. “It really threw him off.”
After a week in the hospital, a highlight for Jeanne came when one of the nurses came in to wash her hair.
Jeanne was diagnosed with an aneurysm and surgery was scheduled.
During surgery Nov. 2, 2012, stents were put in each of the arteries at the base of Jeanne’s brain stem to support the arteries for good blood flow. The aneurysm was filled with platinum balls “like Brillo pads” to make the blood clot there and prevent it from bursting.
Jeanne was prescribed Plavix and aspirin to keep the stents open. She returned home Nov. 5, 2012.
“I tell people I’m not lucky — I’m blessed,” Jeanne said. “I was in the right place at the right time. My son knew CPR.”
Jeanne has no physical side effects of her experience. After an appointment in Milwaukee in mid-January, she was given a clean bill of health and told she just needs to take one aspirin every day for life.
“It could have happened any time, anywhere — if she’d been home alone, or out in the woods taking pictures alone, she would be gone,” Dean said. “As bad a situation as it was, the timing couldn’t have been better.”
The Petersons know now that only half the people who experience a subarachnoid hemorrhage like Jeanne did, survive to make it to the hospital.
“Of those, not very many avoid having other strokes while recovering in the hospital,” Jeanne said.
“We’ve been so blessed by our community and our friends,” Jeanne said. “I received more than 100 cards while in the hospital. Dean’s brothers, Tim and Mike, took care of our kids’ car needs and the business in our absence. Neighbors came with two pickups and trailers and cleaned all one and one-half acres of our yard. There was food waiting when we returned.”
“Benefitting from a miracle has a way of strengthening your faith,” Dean said. “Going through all that explains part of the reason I see older people with such strong faith — they’ve experienced things that younger people have not. “I had the privilege of walking with Dean, Jeanne and family during this crisis,” said their pastor, Craig Johnson of Covenant Community Church in Upsala. “There were so many miracles. There was the miraculous response of Matt and Dean who did all the right things even when they weren’t sure what was wrong. I watched the miraculous love of a husband who didn’t leave his wife’s side and slept in a not-so-comfortable chair for two weeks so someone was there to help Jeanne when she woke up. I saw the miraculous love of their kids and close family who dropped everything to be at her side. I also saw a miraculous response from a church and community who prayed and supported Jeanne and Dean in many ways.”
The Peterson children are Curt, 29; Matt, 26; Christy, 23 and Anna, 21. They have one grandson, Jack, 3.
“Someone asked me about the misfortune we had in Wisconsin,” Dean said. “I told him it was not a misfortune — it was a misadventure.”
Just a week before leaving for Wisconsin, Jeanne had told Dean that she wished they could go on a vacation somewhere and get bored by staying away too long.
“Two weeks in Milwaukee was not the vacation I had in mind,” said Jeanne in a Facebook post, “but God is good and has cared for us and our family.”
“Even though we attend church regularly and the kids have grown up involved at church, I’d never prayed like that with my son,” said Dean. “But God brought us to that moment in time where we did that together.”
At the Petersons’ groom’s dinner many years ago, Jeanne’s father, Gene Waldorf, had said to Dean and Jeanne that they would come to a point in life where they will pray together.
“We’ve done a lot of praying,” Dean said.
“God even sent people in advance,” said Johnson. “Pastor John Benson who once served Word of Life Church in Upsala is now serving a church an hour from the hospital in Milwaukee. He was able to go and give pastoral care too. I also watched and listened to a miraculous faith that kept the whole family with a peace and hope in Jesus Christ. Jeanne’s dad led us in the doxology in the waiting room after her first delicate surgery. Some may say that these expressions of love are not miraculous, but I’ve been in situations when there was no support and love. To me, this kind of love expressed from a husband, family and community in Christ Jesus is miraculous.”
“We know that God is good and that no matter what the circumstances, he doesn’t change,” Jeanne said. “I learned through this experience that life is short and you need to wake up grateful for each day.”