Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura
It is a silent killer. It snuck up on me, when I least expected it.
In May 1999, I had to be hospitalized for 1 week with my initial bout of pancreatitis, and was released with the condition being idiopathic (no known cause, although gallstones were suspected). At the time I had no insurance, and could not afford the laparoscopic surgery required for the removal of a gallbladder, nor was I in proper health to receive that treatment at the time. Because of the dangers of food consumption during this time, for the next 12 months I had "attacks" on and off, and went completely on a no-to-extremely-low fat diet, subsequently losing over 75 pounds.
The attacks continued, though, and came to a head in late April/early May of 2000, when I was feeling extremely run-down with what seemed to be a lingering stomach flu. I stupidly let the condition continue without seeking medical attention, thinking it would just run its normal course. Little did I know that I was literally dying by inches...each day, my blood was being systematically destroyed by the condition I had developed.
Finally, in early May when I began throwing up bile on an hourly basis, I finally checked myself into a hospital emergency room, where I was diagnosed as being dehydrated and severely jaundiced. I had no idea I was so jaundiced until I saw my skin under the direct fluorescent lights of the emergency room. Later, after being admitted to the hospital, I was tested positive for gallstones, but what was more alarming was my blood count: my platelets were dangerously low, as were my red blood cells. I received three blood transfusions. Then a doctor at the hospital, a nephrologist, diagnosed my case as being TTP and recommended that I be transferred to a hospital in a nearby city (Lewisville, TX) to receive plasmapheresis treatments, the common method of treating TTP.
Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP) is a rare blood disorder that usually develops as a result of a severe bacterial or viral infection elsewhere in the body, often as a result of an E. Coli infection. It may develop because of HIV, cancer, or in women due to pregnancy. It is characterized by microangiopathic hemolysis (destruction of the red blood cells in the capillaries) and platelet aggregation (clumping) forming thrombi, or clots, in the blood stream. Left to progress unchecked, TTP is often fatal, and it very nearly killed me. Apparently, I was a victim of acute idiopathic (unknown-cause) TTP, although to this day I will swear that it was brought about as a result of a gallbladder inflammation due to cholelithiasis (gallstones) in the common bile duct.
When I was admitted to the ICU in Lewisville, a shunt was placed in my femoral vein and immediate plasmapheresis (plasma exchange) was started. During this treatment, blood is pumped out of the body through an artificial port, the plasma is removed and fresh-frozen donated plasma is put in and returned to the body. This has the effect of severely lowering the body temperature, so thermal blankets are required to keep the body at an acceptable temperature level. Almost immediately upon the first treatment, the capillaries in my lungs began leaking fluid into the lungs and my respiratory system began to shut down. I was subsequently placed on a respirator and on life support for the next five days.
Miraculously, I attempted to cling to consciousness, even though I was drugged to relieve all sensations during this time. Apparently the condition was multisystemic, as it affected my liver, spleen, kidneys, blood, and respiratory system. Later I was to joke, ruefully, that the only things I had still functioning were my heart and my brain. Somehow, they pulled me through, even though at one point I was given a 24 hour window in which I could either live or die. I was very much aware of the sensation of death surrounding me, yet at the same time I was very much aware of Life as well. Being so close to that auspicious Portal, I was able to process things on many deep levels, and I was aware of others in the ICU and was actually reaching out to help them with whatever energies I had.
During my few lucid periods during this time, I would request a pen and paper so I could write questions and receive answers. Thus I was able to communicate, even though I was unable to speak because of being on a respirator. The doctors and nurses marveled at this, that I would even attempt to try to cling to lucidity and consciousness with the pain I was going through, but it was vital to me that my mind be able to comprehend, both consciously and superconsciously, what I was going through.
Also during this time, I was aware of the subtle planes around me, and was aware of beings of Light on those planes. I was shown the Portal, and was given the formula by which I could consciously transition from this physical plane to the others (that is, "die" consciously). Miraculously, I still retain that knowledge to this day. That is what I mean by that I was fully aware consciously, subconsciously, and superconsciously; there was perfect communication between the realms of my mind.
It was touch-and-go for about five days; then, on the fifth day, I had rallied to such an extent that I was able to be removed from the ventilator and de-intubated, and could return to normal consciousness. I was in no pain, miraculously, even though as I later found out that I had been subjected to all sorts of hideous diagnostic tests, including a bone marrow biopsy, in a futile attempt to find out what had caused the TTP. I retain no memory of any of the tests, except to read about them, amazed, in my medical report. It is as if it did not happen to me, and the only explanation I can give is that I was communing on such a high plane of awareness that I was almost completely outside of my body while it was going through these tests and trials.
I'm a tough old fighter, though, and a fighter for sure, because four days later, I walked out of ICU to a semi-private room on the floor. I was eating solid food again, and although I still had to have the plasmapheresis treatments, I was gaining strength daily. Finally, after 9 plasmapheresis treatments, a heart catheterization, a bone marrow biopsy, and numerous other medications and tests, I was allowed to return home after an entire stay of two weeks.
It took me four to five more weeks to fully recover my strength and to guarantee that my blood was finally stable. (My platelet count was back up in the 300,000 range and my LDH was significantly reduced, indicating that the hemolysis was contained). I was finally able to have the gallbladder removed after that, and have had no further recurrences of either pancreatitis nor TTP.
One thing I learned out of this experience was to appreciate my life more fully and richly. I no longer take things for granted. I still have no desire to go climb Mount Everest or any other such challenging activity, but I take pleasure in things now that I normally did not do so in the past. I touched the face of Death, and it was not unfriendly, nor frightening. I know and understand fully now that death is not a cessation of life, but just another movement. It is a process, not an end product.
In many ways, I am blessed, because I did retain full understanding of the experiences I had while largely out of my body. Much of the seed death-fear of our race of Humanity was removed from me during that period. That is not to say that I have become reckless; far from it. But when my time comes to make that great crossing, I will be able to meet it with peace and with anticipation and wonder, not with fear and apprehension. Morbidity is one of the greatest limitations on human consciousness, and it is a needless fear that we would all do well to rid ourselves of as quickly as we can.
I am thankful now for every moment of my life, the good and the bad. I can't say that I'm 100% at peace; I still get stressed like most people do, and I have to remind myself not to let myself get worked up over the little things.
I also continue to support research into TTP and its causes and further treatment possibilities, so that others who suffer from this condition may be helped as I was.
Needless to say, I am glad to be alive, and to still be fighting the good fight. TTP may have knocked me down, but it didn't knock me out. I'm one of the lucky ones.