Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lake Elmo woman makes miracle recovery from "brain dead"

St. Paul, MN -- How many people get a second chance at life? Rae Kupferschmidt has. In mid-January, the 65-year-old former medical secretary suffered a devasting cerebral hemorrhage, a massive bleeding on the brain.

"They thought I was dead," she says.

In fact, on January 17th, doctors declared her "brain dead." One word, "dead," is handwritten on that date on the calendar in Rae's room at United Hospital in Saint Paul. In that same hospital room where Rae fielded questions from reporters on Tuesday.

Clearly, Rae did not die, but even now, her family is not second-guessing the decision to disconnect life support. Medically, Rae was gone. Daughter Lisa Sturm is an operating room nurse at Regions Hospital in Saint Paul.

"So, I've seen many, many CT's and I never, ever saw one that looked like my mother's. Ever. It was black, meaning there was just so much blood in the head that you couldn't even see any anatomy of the brain," says Sturm.

In grief, Alan Kupferschmidt took his wife of 45 years back to Lake Elmo so she could take her last breath in her own bed. The house was soon full of friends and family who came to say goodbye. Rae says she is glad she was unconscious while everyone was mourning what they thought was her inevitable death.

"If I had seen all the tears and the gnashing of teeth and all that stuff, I'd have felt bad," she says.

As it was, the family began planning Rae's funeral, believing the end was just hours away. Then, Lisa tried to wet her mother's lips.

"When I touched her mouth with the ice cube and then a second time and then I asked if she was in there and she shook her head, yes and mouthed the word, yes," Sturm says.

At first, Lisa did not believe her mother was waking from her coma. She knew that terminal patients can seem to waken for a moment before death, but Rae began talking. Alan's roller-coaster of emotions suddenly sped upwards on a hill.

"For her to start talking to us and everything working, she wasn't paralyzed. She just kept climbing the ladder," he says.

It was a ladder back to awareness after being given up for dead. Rae sat up in her room. A prayer shawl covered her legs. She knitted many such shawls for others in distress but never thought she would need one herself. Rae says she does not remember anything that occurred during the coma.

"I remember my daughter, Lisa, asking me questions about angels," says Rae.

Lisa wondered what her mother was seeing in the room at home. Rae says she did see angels, but no one she recognized. "I said these angels are not here to take me home to my father. They're here to help me, to help me get over this," says Rae.

Doctors at United Hospital, including Physical Medicine physician Brad Helms are amazed by Rae's recovery.

"This is extremely unusual. It's virtually never heard of. You have some people who get better after a bleed, but in Rae's case, she was essentially brain dead and when she was in the intensive care unit, just was not responding to any sort of stimuli or any sort of activity. I've been here since 1999 and this is the first case like this I've seen," says Dr. Helms.

Rae has been undergoing physical therapy twice a day for three weeks. Dr. Helms expects her to be able to walk unaided in a few months. He says she has the possibility of a full recovery.

Rae and Alan have a zest for life that has carried them across the globe. They are continuing plans for a "roadtrip" to Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg, Virginia in May. Then, they plan to tour Greece in October. Rae Kupferschmidt intends to make good use of her second chance at life.

Others may call her survival a "miracle." She does not.

"I'm not a miracle lady. I am just a very blessed lady that God chose not to be done with," says Rae.

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