LEAVENWORTH — This winter, Tom Guthrie hopes to go snowshoeing.
And this spring, he hopes to snorkel in Hawaii.
These things will be a challenge. Earlier this year, Guthrie lost both of his legs below the knee, along with his right hand below the wrist. But Guthrie is a determined man.
“I still have some living to do,” he said.
On Jan. 23, the 68-year-old Leavenworth man was hit by sepsis, commonly known as blood poisoning. The cause of infection was never determined.
He spent seven months recovering in hospitals and a nursing facility, and returned home Sept. 13. The next morning, he fulfilled a wish that had driven him for months.
“I was looking forward to sitting on the deck and looking at the birds flying around the pond,” he said.
His wife, Mary, sat with him.
“We really did not believe he would survive this,” she said. “They said it would take a miracle for him to pull through.”
Guthrie’s trials began on that January night when he woke with acute pain in his right shoulder. He also couldn’t sit up or stand. Mary called 911 and an ambulance took him to Cascade Medical Center in Leavenworth where his doctor suspected sepsis. Within several hours, he was rushed to Central Washington Hospital.
From there, Mary says, “it was like a freight train. All his organs shut down.”
With his blood pressure plummeting, his body tried to shunt most of its blood supply to those vital organs. That left his extremities without nutrients, and they began to wither. Later last winter, doctors would amputate his legs and right hand. His left hand recovered.
Dr. Randal Moseley at Confluence Health in Wenatchee said a person’s risk of dying from severe sepsis is about 50 percent. Moseley did not treat Tom but, as an internist, he is familiar with the condition.
“Sepsis is an infection that has gone from local effects to system-wide effects,” he said. “It affects your breathing, your heart rate, the blood flow to the kidneys and other organs in the extreme.”
Tom was unconscious, but his family rallied.
“We began to fight like crazy,” Mary said. “I saw it as a battle to be won.”
Tom regained consciousness nine days later, but he remembers little. He was not aware that his wife had made a very difficult decision: that he would want to live, even if it was without his limbs.
Today, he said, he agrees with that decision.
“I’m not that old and I love my grandchildren and want to see them,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting back to work, even if it’s part time. I’m not ready for the grave yet.”
Tom is learning to be left-handed.
“I’ve always been a little bit ambidextrous,” he said. “Writing is a challenge, though. I print, and it’s messy.”
But late this winter, Tom was not out of the woods yet. The sepsis, knocked down by antibiotics, roared back to life twice while he was at Harborview.
The ordeals left him weak.
“I lost 50 pounds,” Tom said.
He was on kidney dialysis for almost three months.
“We had been told by a doctor that he would never come off dialysis so, when it did, that was huge,” Mary said.
He was also on a feeding tube for four months and had to go through therapy to learn to swallow again.
In late July, things really began to look up for Tom when he got his two leg prostheses.
“The first day, he walked a couple of feet, then the next day he went a lot further and then, the next day, a lot further,” Mary said. “It was amazing to us, that determination.”
Tom was at Harborview until mid May, when he went into a nursing facility. There, he got physical and occupational therapy. Lastly, for two weeks, he was back at Harborview for more walking therapy.
He came home using a walker and has since advanced to using a four-pronged cane.
Between home and physical therapy, he practices walking several times a day. Among his biggest challenges are getting dressed in the mornings and eating.
“I can’t very easily cut my food,” he said. “And I like to be able to do it myself.”
Mary, along with the Guthries’ daughter, Galen, are optimistic that will happen. Tom, they said, has always been independent.
“He’s the kind of person who wants to help everyone else,” Galen said.
“I don’t want to be a burden to everybody,” Tom said. “Not a big burden, anyway, maybe a little one.”
The Guthries say they are thankful for community help during their ordeal. Among those who have helped are:
The Leavenworth Lions Club built a ramp for him to get in and out of the house through the garage.
Coworkers at the Chelan-Douglas Health District, where Tom was an environmental health specialist, donated some of their sick time.
Members of their church, the Leavenworth United Methodist Church, brought meals the first week Tom came home.
Tom’s union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Employees Local 17, paid for his wheelchair and the hospital bed he uses at home.
Tom said he feels confident that he can walk a lot more and that he can get back to some physical activities that he used to do. Tennis is out, he quipped, but “I may try left-handed bowling.” He’s pretty sure he can fit snowshoes onto his prosthetics, but what about that swimming and snorkeling idea?
He’s already researched that and found special fins, made by a company in Australia, to fit amputees.
“We’re going to Hawaii, I’m sure of it,” he said.