“Where There is a Will, There is a Way: The Story of Bernice Robinson”

By: Heather Tatum, ARNP

The human will to live is an amazing thing! We have recently witnessed a miraculous example of this in Bernice Robinson. Mrs. Robinson is a 91-year-old lady that has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve rehabilitation and recovery. On September 23, 2013, Mrs. Robinson walked into Dr. Joe Gay’s office in Marianna, Florida as a new patient for evaluation of a dry, bothersome cough.

She was at this time living on her own and not taking any medications. Four days later, on September 27, she was admitted to Jackson Hospital with severe pneumonia that was found to be secondary to tuberculosis. Mrs. Robinson suffered from respiratory failure shortly after her admission and required ventilator support.

During her stay at Jackson Hospital, she had a heart attack, congestive heart failure, and required placement of a feeding tube to maintain nutrition due to her need for prolonged ventilation. After vigorous treatment with multiple antibiotics, she eventually improved and was discharged on November 1, 2013 to the long-term acute care facility, Nolan Hospital, in Dothan, Alabama for rehab.

While at Nolan Hospital, Mrs. Robinson battled pneumonia, kidney failure, severe malnutrition, and a very large sacral decubitus ulcer. She had several procedures to include placement of a tracheostomy tube and a breast biopsy with resultant new diagnosis of breast cancer. She was eventually transferred to the Courtyard in Marianna, Florida for continued rehab and wound care on February 12, 2014.

Upon admission to the Courtyard, multiple conversations were held with Mrs. Robinson’s son attempting to explain the very poor prognosis and great possibility that she would not survive given her numerous life threatening illnesses. Her son was adamant that his mother not be classified as “Do Not Resuscitate.” He firmly believed that she would have a full recovery, despite the overwhelmingly negative odds that she would even survive, much less achieve full recovery. He stated over and over: “You guys just don’t know my mother.She is a fighter.”

During her extended stay at the Courtyard, Mrs. Robinson endured numerous urinary tract infections, anemia, recurrent pneumonia, severe diarrhea, and a gastrointestinal bleed requiring multiple blood transfusions. In fact, she was re-admitted to Jackson Hospital several times for treatment. Her massive sacral wound was so extensive and infected that it alone should have claimed her frail life.

In spite of all this, Bernice Robinson was determined to get better. In early 2014, she started talking and then taking very small portions of nourishment by mouth. Mrs. Robinson was insistent in getting out of bed and participating in therapy so that she could learn how to walk again. The Courtyard’s rehab, wound care, and vast nursing team were very meticulous in Mrs. Robinson’s daily care. She began to improve, slowly at first, but before long, she was achieving rehab milestones on a weekly basis.

She was getting out of bed and feeding herself. Her enormous sacral wound completely healed! She was able to use a wheelchair on her own and even take steps with assistance. In early June 2014, her trach was removed and she was finally able to talk and eat without constant irritation in her throat. After this monumental achievement, Mrs. Robinson really focused on rehab and getting herself ready to return to her home. 

At long last, on June 30, 2014 Bernice Robinson was discharged home with her son. She is continuing therapy on an outpatient basis and has many obstacles yet to overcome, although it seems the greatest of these now lay behind her. Mrs. Robinson is a remarkable woman of courage with great faith and determination. She is an encouragement to us all and a living, breathing example that indeed “where there is a will, there is a way!”

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