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Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

To the brink and back

Seattle Times Eastside bureau


Rayna Whitright gets a farewell hug from critical-care nurse Margie Huff yesterday before being released from Bellevue's Overlake Hospital after five months of battling the effects of near-fatal blood clots. At right is Rayna's husband, Scott.

Rayna Whitright sat in her bed at Overlake Hospital Medical Center yesterday and reached for her husband's hand. Scott Whitright hesitated over his words, still emotional over how close he came to losing his wife.

Rayna Whitright should be dead.

Less than three weeks after outpatient knee surgery for a skiing injury to repair a torn ligament, two blood clots the size of Rayna's little fingers lodged in her pulmonary artery. She collapsed at work.

That was July 19.

When she left the Bellevue hospital yesterday, she held the record for the longest patient stay in its 44-year history. She was unconscious for her fourth wedding anniversary and her 32nd birthday. She now needs to use a walker and wears braces on her legs.

She faces months of recovery — and a $1 million hospital bill.

The Redmond resident's hospital records of the past five months fill four file-cabinet drawers. She survived two cardiac arrests, a lacerated liver, more than 150 blood transfusions (100 in the first 24 hours), dialysis for more than 30 days due to kidney failure, serious infections, 90 days in the critical-care unit and 12 surgeries.

One medical case, by the numbers

2 blood clots

2 cardiac arrests

2-plus organs removed

3 major infections

4 file drawers of records

12 surgeries

18 tubes/catheters/IVs in her body at one time

30 days of dialysis

60-plus days on a ventilator

90 days in the critical-care unit

150 blood transfusions

151 consecutive days in the hospital

$1,059,551.61 in hospital bills

But the doctors call her lucky.

"Rayna should buy a Lotto ticket," said Roy Graves, the 53-year-old emergency-room physician who was the first doctor to see her at Overlake. "She had two lethal problems, the embolism and cardiac arrest from the embolism."

Whitright's luck began with the call to Medic One from her co-workers at the Redmond Office Depot, where she is the store manager. A medic noticed her leg brace from the knee surgery, heard her symptoms of dizziness and chest pain, and alerted Graves that they were probably looking at a case of pulmonary thrombosis, or blood clots.

Although the knee surgery is common — called ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament repair — Graves said that 15 percent of people who have it develop some kind of thrombosis, and half of those are pulmonary. With the message from the field, Graves started preparation in the hospital. A heart-bypass machine that requires 35 minutes to get primed was switched on in an operating room. He called James O'Brien, a lung specialist.

When Whitright arrived at Overlake, already turning blue and without a pulse, the emergency team went into action. Tests showed blood was not getting to her lungs, that there was a blockage near the right side of the heart. Whitright's luck held. O'Brien had just been in a staff meeting with Dr. Vu Hoang, a chest surgeon.

"I knew Dr. Hoang was in the hospital and after discussing how to manage Rayna — with clot-busting drugs or surgery — we decided on the latter," O'Brien said.

During the operation, the anesthesiologist observed a pool of blood in Whitright's abdomen. A common side effect of extensive CPR is liver damage or laceration. Again, Rayna's luck held. A specialist who could repair her liver was prepping for another surgery.

"Three different doctors told me she wouldn't make it through the first 24 hours," Scott said. "They told us it would be a roller-coaster ride, and it was. There were ramifications to everything they did. It seemed like everything required another extreme measure."

Surgery followed surgery. It would be weeks before Scott and other family members would know if the athletic young woman who loved to ski and inline skate would survive.

"We were in the CCU (critical-care unit) so long, other patients thought I was a resident or doctor," Scott said.

Scott took three months of medical leave from his job as a marketing-development manager at Microsoft, designed a Web site — — to share Rayna's progress with friends and family, and consulted with the medical staff daily.

He quietly sat beside Rayna's bedside for their fourth wedding anniversary Aug. 26 and her birthday Aug. 28.

"I couldn't look at a Hallmark card because they didn't apply when Rayna was lying here in bed fighting for her life," Scott said.

She doesn't remember either day.

"And when I started remembering, my time frame was way off. Three months? I thought it had been years," Rayna said.

What she does recall isn't pleasant. At one point, her body held 18 drainage tubes and IV lines.

"I'm terrified of snakes," she said. "I thought the tubing in me was snakes, and any time I moved and a tube pinched, I would think snakes were biting me."

She wasn't able to speak until mid-September. The ventilator tube was removed Oct. 1. She took her first bite of solid food — mashed potatoes — on Oct. 6. Three days later she beat her husband at their favorite game, Scrabble.

Her recovery moved faster then. The tracheotomy tube was removed Oct. 18. She left critical care two days later, and began occupational and physical therapy Oct. 29.

Rayna's journey is far from over. Her family anticipates she'll need a couple more surgeries to repair the damage her body has suffered.

Damage to the couple's bank account and assets is still being measured. She has maxed out her medical insurance's lifetime allowance.

"We don't know how much of the bills are our responsibility," Scott said. "We don't know if we're going to have to sell our house. We're talking about having an auction to raise money."

As Rayna waited to be discharged yesterday, staff members came to her room to wish her well. Nurse Tia Cusick hugged her goodbye. Paul Hyatt, one of the two medics who brought her to Overlake, came in on his day off to say farewell.

The couple will move to a nearby hotel where therapists will visit Rayna daily until she's able to return to their split-level home in Redmond.

"I used to do advanced aerobics. I worked 10-12 hours a day, would come home and go hiking, biking or Rollerblading," she said.

Now she has different priorities.

"My long-term goal is to walk alone by the second quarter of next year," she said. "My short-term goal is to be home for Christmas."

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or

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