Written by Karen Mahoney, Special to your Catholic HeraldThursday, 06 June 2013 09:25
Nita Heath wasn’t expected to live past March. Today, the 41-year-old mother of two is recovering at Grand Prairie Rehabilitation Center in Pleasant Prairie, thanks to what many are calling a “miracle.”
Heath, who attends St. Anne Parish, Pleasant Prairie, was diagnosed with eosinophilia, a rare blood disorder that causes a higher number of eosinophils, one of the five major types of disease-fighting white blood cells.
According to her husband, Brian, Nita had pain in her hips and legs in January and saw an orthopedic doctor who ordered three MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), the last one with contrast.
“The doctor went through the MRI with us and told us to look at the insides of the bones. The bone marrow was not the right color. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he sent us to Froedtert Hospital to see an orthopedic oncologist in February,” Brian said.
The doctor explained that Nita’s bone marrow was abnormal and suggested leukemia and other possible causes for her pain and leg weakness. Additional X-rays determined whether her legs were weight bearing or not, as by then, Nita used crutches to walk. Before they left the hospital, the doctor ordered blood work. Just a few hours later, the doctor called and told Nita to get to the nearest hospital for a transfusion.
“He said that she was anemic, but she got a couple of units of blood and stayed there for a couple of days,” said Brian. “After consulting with Kenosha hematologist, Dr. Raymond Knight, Nita returned home, but began to go downward with a lot of other symptoms, and at the end of the week, I called, Dr. Knight at home and told him what was going on. He insisted she return to the hospital, that she was probably anemic again.”
|If you want to help:
A Night Out for Nita
Saturday, June 8, 6 to 10 p.m.
Children welcome until 8 p.m. St. Therese, 2020 – 91st St., Kenosha tickets $25 for adults, $15 for children 12 & under. inner, music, silent auction, raffles For more information, visit
To donate, firstname.lastname@example.org
Checks payable to St. Anne Catholic Church
In the emergency department, doctors determined Nita was not anemic, but it was evident she had a blood disorder, and she was admitted to the hospital. During that time, she had several mini-strokes and was transferred to Froedtert Hospital.
Coded four times
While in the hospital, she spent three weeks in the MICU (medical intensive care unit) in a vegetative state. One night her eosinophils thickened her blood and damaged her heart. That evening she “coded” four times, and Sunday it happened again, but each time, doctors resuscitated her.
“Because of what was going on, her doctor, Dr. Ross, put in a defibrillator, and after that, they just didn’t know what else to do; they couldn’t pinpoint what was causing all of her problems, so they began talking about hospice,” explained Brian. “She had not been conscious since she left the hospital in Kenosha, so, since I knew from her power of attorney that she did not want to be on life support or anything, we decided to unhook her from everything.”
Nita was moved to a smaller room in a quiet part of the hospital so Brian could bring their sons, Connor, 9, and Brett, 6, to say goodbye to their mother. The next day, doctors from hospice spoke with Brian, and because of her young age, and small children, bypassed the waiting list and allowed Nita to spend her last days in more comfortable surroundings.
A couple of days later, Brian sat with Nita after family and friends left, and Brian noticed that Nita opened her eyes and moved around a bit. He thought little of it other than spontaneous muscle movements, that is, until she spoke.
“It had been a long day, and it was late on a Friday night; I was talking to her and after I said ‘good night’ to her, she whispered ‘good night’ back to me,” he said. “The last time I heard her talk was when she left for Froedtert on Feb. 18, and this was almost exactly a month later. She began eating ice cream, drinking water and recognizing people right away.”
Miraculous improvement stuns family
Calling it a “miracle,” the doctors scrambled to run additional blood tests and learned her eosinophil count was greatly improved. On Good Friday, Nita moved to Grand Prairie where she continues to improve, yet doctors are puzzled as to how she contracted this disease and why it suddenly left her.
Despite trying to hold on to his job at Com Ed in Libertyville, Ill., caring for his boys and worrying about Nita, Brian never struggled with faith issues; instead, he said, his grew stronger.
“There was so much bad news, and hardly any good news during that month, but all throughout it, I never got down and actually felt as if I had been lifted and helped,” he said. “I know it was all of the prayers that kept me going and it was what strengthened my faith. I also know that it has strengthened the faith of a lot of other friends and coworkers as well.”
Prayers aid in recovery
Immersed in the prayers, support, love and compassion of friends, co-workers, relatives, and parishioners, Brian believes Nita’s recovery and his strength stemmed from the intercessions.
“My bosses were great and gave me time off, and Fr. Bob Weighner (pastor) from St. Anne’s came up and prayed with us,” he said. “Our friends and family were amazing and supportive. My Aunt Jeannie gave me a little cross that says, ‘Miracles Happen,’ and I carry it around wherever I go. Now and then, I take it out of my pocket, rub it between my fingers and hold it. I never leave the house without it.”
Friends plan fundraiser
The cost for Nita’s care hovers around $600,000 and while the couple has insurance, it is not enough to offset the medical fees. Friends are sponsoring “A Night out for Nita,” a fundraiser to help with their medical bills.
Paula West and Kelly Forster hope to raise $25,000 at “A Night out for Nita” on Saturday, June 8 at St. Therese the Little Flower Parish in Kenosha. The evening will include a catered dinner by Luisa’s restaurant, dancing, a silent auction, and a 50/50 raffle, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to the Heath family and the remainder broken into three prizes.
“We have had wonderful items donated for the silent auction, including four Brewers box seat tickets, four Cubs dugout box seats, a week at a condo in Florida, Shed Aquarium passes, a Packer signed football and much more,” said West.
Helping the Heath family is important to both women, as they have grown close after West met Nita three years ago, and Forster met her through preschool five years ago at St. Therese
“Kelly and Nita became even closer when they did Ministry of Mothers Sharing (MOMS) together in Lake Geneva. Nita and Kelly co-facilitated two MOMS groups at St. Therese,” said West. “I met Nita three years ago at the kindergarten round up picnic. Her oldest and my middle son are the same age. Over the past few years, we have become family friends through school, Scouting and scrapbooking.”
Forster credits Nita for discovering her strengths through their MOMS group.
“As a strong believer in Christ and his holy Word, I was led to teach second grade religious education, which was something I never thought I was capable of doing,” she said. “Nita was always there for, not only me, but the other participants in our MOMS group and among her many friends with words of love and encouragement.”
Not ready to say goodbye
Nita’s illness and prognosis was a blow to both women, and Forster remembers coming to the hospice center to say goodbye to her dear friend.
“I went there on her fourth day in hospice after hearing she had been without any life support measures,” said Forster. “I prayed many nights that God would protect Nita and bless me with my friend back. So, when I got to the hospice facility, I was very scared to go inside. Brian and his mom, Bev, were there in the waiting area. I knew I was facing a wonderful husband on the verge of losing his wife. He asked me to sit down. I knew it wasn’t good. But he told me he had just spoken with the doctors from Froedtert and they wanted to readmit Nita back into the hospital. He said that there was still a chance, and that she was coming out of her coma and possibly recovering. I knew then that God had lovingly, graciously heard my prayers and performed a miracle.”
Illness strengthens faith
Through this “miracle,” not only was Forster’s faith strengthened, but her children’s as well.
“I am more committed than ever to living the best Christian life I can,” she said. “Also, my eldest daughter and her family have joined St. Anne and have gone back to church, and my oldest son has now begun to pray.”
Nita remembers nothing from the time she was transferred to Froedtert until she woke up from her coma, but she believes she experienced a miracle.
“My faith is very important to me, and it is awesome, so awesome that I am here and was able to achieve my goal to get to church to see Connor make his first holy Communion,” she said. “God is so good; I knew that I just had to be there for the first time he received Our Lord, and I got there and sat in my wheelchair to watch him. It was such a wonderful day.”
While she is not walking, Nita has taken a few steps, and hopes for a complete recovery. She has anemia and blurred vision, but is optimistic she will be home in fall.
She looks forward to catching up with friends and the many people who offered prayerful support to her and her family at the fundraiser.
“People have been coming out of the woodwork with donations and stuff to help us,” she said. “They are so organized. I can’t believe that there are so many people out there who care about us and don’t even know who I am. I am so blessed.”