Wendy Ford's Story: To Get Back Home

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Wendy Ford


Wendy Ford has warm memories and deep connections to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that reach back more than twenty years.


Her first experience occurred around the arrival of her first child. Her obstetrician said he wanted to deliver her baby at BIDMC because – in his words – “The nurses there are wonderful.  They’re the best in the world!” By the time she held her baby boy in her arms, Wendy knew he was right and this amazing experience marked the beginning of her relationship with BIDMC. Not only did she return for the birth of her daughter, but she and Bruce, her husband, regularly visited BIDMC for their primary care. However, the most powerful experience this North Shore resident had with BIDMC occurred when she became ill with a mysterious illness that almost took her life.

One Saturday, Wendy told Bruce that she thought she had the flu.  By Monday, she was so weak and confused that Bruce brought her to the nearest hospital for emergency care. In the process he realized that she was unable to move her legs. Wendy’s condition deteriorated rapidly and her symptoms baffled the staff at the community hospital. Wendy was referred to BIDMC and soon after being admitted, Wendy fell into a coma.

A dedicated team of doctors and nurses led by neurologist Thomas E. Scammell, M.D., ran test after test trying to uncover the cause of Wendy’s illness.  In the meantime, they enlisted sophisticated technology and other supportive measures to keep her systems from completely shutting down.

At last the team’s perseverance paid off:  Wendy had acute disseminating encephalomyelitis, a very rare disorder. The good news? The staff of BIDMC knew how to treat it and slowly Wendy began battling back. 

Judy Atterstrom, Wendy’s primary nurse, saw her fighting to open her eyes. Doctors were unsure if she’d ever speak, walk or hug her children again until an occupational therapist saw Wendy mouth the words: “I’m missing my kids.” Once her voice was strong enough, “Nurse Judy” offered to phone her patient’s home and hold the receiver so she could speak to them. An amazing recovery was underway.

And, despite shadowy memories of the experience – Wendy’s short-term memory was temporarily affected by her illness - she says, “I knew deep down that I’d been loved – and my family had been loved.”

A motivated Wendy spent less than six weeks at the rehabilitation hospital and upon leaving walked to Bruce’s car without assistance.

Years later, they returned to BIDMC when Bruce was diagnosed with a fast-moving cancer.  “Bruce and I were in a sort of cocoon of gentle caring at BIDMC,” Wendy said recently.  “I was comforted as much as he was.” Sadly, Bruce lost his battle with cancer. He is missed, but his family is doing well.  

Wendy, piecing together the lost chapter of her life through medical records and many interviews with BIDMC, has published To Get Back Home, a stirring account of her mysterious illness and the role BIDMC played in her incredible survival story. In its epilogue, Wendy shares her gratitude for the work of BIDMC nurses and doctors who are still “the best in the world.” We are grateful to Wendy and her family for choosing BIDMC for their care.   


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