Eric Backlund’s severe abdominal pain led to a grim diagnosis – acute necrotizing pancreatitis caused by a gallstone block. His condition could potentially be fatal. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Eric struggled with weakness and struggled with other complications. Then something like a miracle happened. “My pancreas started to react,” he said. “It surprised everyone.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“It was one of the most severe cases of myopathy – muscle weakness,” said Patrick Mullan, DO, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
“I always thought of my wife, Pam,” said Eric. “And my son Preston. He’s 13. I could see Pam, but I hadn’t seen my boy in three months because of COVID.” (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
Eric worked with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and team members who made sure he could cope with increasing activity levels. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)
In early 2021, Eric Backlund felt a sudden pain somewhere in his stomach. No matter which position he tried, the pain did not go away.
The next few weeks were blurry.
Holland, Michigan resident recalls going to an emergency room at a local hospital followed by moving to a larger hospital –Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital in Grand Rapids.
It was February 2021.
Snow swirled on the other side of the hospital window.
He learned his diagnosis – acute necrotization Pancreatitiscaused by a gallstone block. He later realized that his pancreas had failed. His condition could potentially be fatal.
“I was told I needed dialysis,” said Backlund, 56. “And they started me right away, four times a week.
“My kidneys failed and I was told that I would need insulin for life because that is what the pancreas does – it makes insulin.”
Fluid had built up in his body.
“There were tubes attached to me on either side to drain the fluid,” he said.
When his respiratory function deteriorated, the doctors put him on an oxygen machine. They also inserted a tube into his nose to give him food, but when he had trouble with that they switched to a feeding tube attached directly to his stomach.
Weeks turned into months. Winter gave way to spring.
“Even with a feeding tube, my body did not eat,” said Backlund. “I’m 1.70 m tall, 8 inches tall and have always been an active guy, although I could probably have lost a bit of weight. But not as much as I’ve lost in these months. I’ve lost about 80 pounds. “
Backlund struggled with weakness and struggled with other complications.
Then something like a miracle happened.
“My pancreas started to react,” said Backlund. “It surprised everyone.”
With part of his pancreas still working, his kidneys began to respond too.
“That was maybe two and a half, three months,” he recalls. “At some point I no longer needed the daily insulin. Finally I was able to stop the dialysis. “
But while Backlund’s organs began to recover, his muscles were atrophied from lying in a hospital bed for weeks. His weakness persisted.
Backlund soon met with Patrick Mullan, DO, of the Spectrum Health Inpatient center for acute rehabilitation.
“It was one of the most severe cases of myopathy – muscle weakness,” said Dr. Mullan, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
He recommended increasing physical activity to strengthen Backlund’s muscles.
“When a patient is critically ill, the body focuses its limited resources where it is needed most,” said Dr. Mullan. “Some activities can remind the body to use these atrophied muscles again.”
Movement seemed almost impossible for Backlund. But a strong will remained in his body.
“I always thought of my wife, Pam,” said Backlund. “And my son Preston. He is 13. I could see Pam, but I hadn’t seen my boy in three months because of COVID. “
Rehabilitation would pave his way home.
Backlund moved to the in July Inpatient rehabilitation center at Blodgett Hospital.
“At that point, all he could do was sit on the edge of the bed – and he needed help for that,” said Spectrum Health physiotherapist Linda Rusiecki.
The rehabilitation center has exactly what Backlund needed – a comprehensive, multidisciplinary strategy to rehabilitate patients with serious illness or injury.
Backlund worked with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and team members who made sure he could handle increasing levels of activity.
The team led the way, but the drive to success had to come from Backlund.
“He pushed himself,” said Rusiecki. “When we worked with him, he squeezed until he was drenched in sweat, contracted – and still wanted to continue.”
Backlund got from the edge of the bed into a wheelchair. Then he went to the parallel bars to help him take a few steps. Then to a four-wheeled walker.
“We used an exercise machine with Eric that helped him train all four limbs at the same time,” said physical therapist Joe Ross. “We pushed him beyond his comfort zone, but Eric asked for it. He wanted to get better. “
Occupational therapist Kassie Roon helped Backlund formulate his goals to generate incremental profits.
“Our job in occupational therapy is to help a patient with the daily tasks of daily life – like getting dressed, showering, using the toilet – and then with tasks like cooking and washing clothes,” said Roon. “We use a bogus apartment to simulate a home.”
Backlund consoled himself with the steps forward.
“It felt good to be moving again,” he said. “It was hard work, but in the end I was able to walk 50 steps, then 75, then 300 with the help of a walker. And a few days ago I was able to walk a lap through the training room with a rollator. “
Every day he looked forward to being informed about his blood values. Doctors monitored his potassium levels and looked for signs of problems.
“Moving on to real food after a feeding tube can sometimes shed things like potassium, and that’s important to my kidneys,” Backlund said.
The big day had finally come – Backlund’s doctor nodded to him to return home on July 30th.
He could look forward to the simple joys of camping with the family again.
“I still use the rollator for support, but I can’t wait to be home with Pam and Preston,” Backlund said before going home. “Without her I would not have survived it. Pam was my rock. “
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