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Neurosurgeons discovered a grapefruit-sized abscess in Sandy's brain. Learn why Sandy says St. Mark's not only cared for her, but her entire family.

April 20, 2022
Sandy Crawford smiling as she holds her dog outside.

Take me to St. Mark’s Hospital: From trauma to triumph, they care for the whole family

While driving to St. Mark’s Hospital for her husband’s surgery, a dark wave of brain fog clouded Sandy Crawford’s mind. Even though she had driven from her home to the hospital many times before, she made a wrong turn and ended up in a residential neighborhood. Then, just a few seconds later, everything went black. 

“When I woke up from passing out, my car hit a curb. My airbags didn’t deploy, but I felt my head snap back and forth really hard. Then, before I got my car to stop, I crashed into a tree,” Sandy said.

Sandy shook off the scary, unexplained situation and focused on getting to her husband, who was having his fourth reconstructive foot surgery after a freak accident on an electric scooter. But during the next week, Sandy just couldn’t head off a piercing migraine that had begun soon after her car accident.

“She’s not breathing!” — from caregiver to patient

Sandy Crawford smiling, on the road to recovery.

While caring for her recovering husband, Sandy walked to the kitchen counter to grab herself some over-the-counter migraine medication. That’s when she collapsed to the floor, stopped breathing and began foaming at the mouth. Her husband screamed for help, and neighbors who were walking by the front of the house, ran to the rescue. They called 911 as Sandy’s husband began CPR.

Within a few minutes the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) teams arrived and rushed Sandy to St. Mark’s Hospital; during the ride her body began having seizures. 

“All the symptoms mimicked a stroke, so that’s what they initially thought. I even ended up paralyzed on the left side of my body. Once at the hospital they did a CT scan and could see something really wrong with my brain,” Sandy said.

Inside Sandy’s skull sat a grapefruit-sized abscess filled with fluid. The abscess developed on the right side, squishing Sandy’s entire brain to the left. But before neurosurgeons could remove the fluid, Sandy needed a blood transfusion.

“I have a condition where my blood levels run very low on a regular basis, so I typically don’t have enough white blood cells to fight off infections. At that time, I was low on platelets, and there was a nationwide shortage. I tell anyone I can to donate blood. It’s so important!” Sandy said.

St. Mark’s experts knew it would be detrimental to perform brain surgery on Sandy without stable blood levels, but her body’s severe condition couldn’t patiently wait for a transfusion. To buy time and keep Sandy alive, physicians put Sandy’s body in a medically induced coma for about two weeks.

Brain surgery and a frightening discovery

After receiving the needed blood, it was time for brain surgery. Dr. Sandeep Teja, a board-certified neurosurgeon with more than 20 years experience, performed the complex procedure. Dr. Teja made small holes, called burr holes, in the skull to relieve pressure on the brain and drain the fluid. The laboratory then tested the fluid, revealing a nasty virus: Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli.

“From what I understand, it was pretty big and pretty bad,” Sandy said. “Dr. Teja said it was one of the worst infections you could have around your brain.”

Sandy remained at St. Mark’s Hospital for the next month and a half, with the first three weeks in the Intensive Care Unit. She needed 24/7 care, the strongest antibiotics and a miracle. At first, Sandy couldn’t even lift her head up.

“My husband told me he resigned that I could be in vegetable state in a wheelchair for the rest of my life,” Sandy said.

Healing for the entire family

Though this was one of the most difficult times in Sandy’s life, she says the St. Mark’s hospital team made a positive impact.

“The hospital staff and doctors are amazing. They went above and beyond. I really appreciate how they incorporated my entire family in the healing process,” Sandy said. “For example, they always helped my 10-year-old son, Heston, when he came to see me. The nurses went out of their way to involve him and become his friend. Everyone got to know him. And he had so much fun playing in the wheelchairs, that he asked for one for Christmas.”

Slowly, Sandy made progress. She began talking and gained enough strength to lift her head up. Eventually, she graduated from St. Mark’s Hospital to an acute rehabilitation facility, where she dedicated her days to cognitive, occupational and physical therapy. Over the next few months, she relearned how to hold a toothbrush, how to feed herself and how to walk.

“I was easily the youngest patient in there, but I watched 80- and 90-year-olds every day. Seeing them try and work inspired me. If they could get up and keep trying, then I certainly could too,” Sandy said. “Plus, my son would come into my therapy sessions and help choose exercises for me. He thought he had the official ‘assistant therapist job.' Mentally, having him involved was wonderful for me too, and I know it was a point of his healing as well.”

Personalized care and healing continue after St. Mark’s

Today, Sandy is home and grateful for every moment with her family. She maintains a heavy regimen of antibiotics and occupational, physical and cognitive therapy; and she continues healing. While no longer a fulltime patient at St. Mark’s, she says the personalized care lives on.

“Even today, when we go for a follow-up at the hospital, the valet guys are like, “Crawfords! How are you?’ It’s like we’re rockstars to them. They don’t stop when you’re not the patient anymore. They’re still involved. I’ve had doctors call me and send cards — there are so many personal touches,” Sandy said. “And it’s not just me getting lucky with the people who work there. I think everyone who’s a patient gets lucky when they’re treated by someone at St. Mark’s.”

That’s why Sandy has chosen (and will continue to choose) St. Mark’s Hospital every time.

“That line — ‘Take me to St. Mark’s’ — I’ve used that exact line! It started out simple being the closest hospital to my house, but now it’s because of the people there. They care and that they always have my best interest in mind – and not just mine but my family’s as well. That type of support around me is so key and so important,” Sandy said.

To learn more visit Wasatch Neurosurgery and Spine Associates, or call (801) 261-8507.

For more information about our inpatient rehabilitation services, please visit Acute Rehabilitation Center or call (801) 293-6800.

St. Mark’s Hospital is proud to serve the community as a Comprehensive Stroke Eligible center. If you or a loved one is experiencing a stroke, please call 911 immediately.

April 20, 2022
St. Mark's Hospital

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