Healing power of gratitude

Luis Fábregas
| Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, 12:43 p.m.

The doctor gave Donna Faulk no more than 10 minutes to make a decision about her seriously ill husband, Bill.

He was diagnosed with toxic megacolon, a sometimes fatal complication from C. Diff bacterial infection. His swollen colon was pushing up his lungs, and he couldn't breathe. His organs were shutting down.

In those few frantic minutes, Donna agreed to a life-changing, four-hour surgery that left her husband of 51 years weak, unable to walk or talk, and wearing a colostomy bag. Yet for all those setbacks, Bill Faulk was alive.

“You gotta fight, Bill,” she would tell him during one of her faithful, daily visits to the long-term care facility where he recovered over three months.

The retired foreman from Allegheny Ludlum never gave up. He made it home, even though doctors told his wife that he hovered on the verge of death.

“It's a miracle he's alive,” one doctor told the couple.

In a few weeks, Bill and Donna, both 69, will mark the second anniversary of his life-threatening ordeal. When I spoke to the Harrison couple, it struck me that their story is perfect to kick off autumn, which starts today.

Not to get overly sentimental, but it's the harvest season — a time of contemplating the past and realizing that gratitude is healthier than ingratitude. Every once in a while, it's eye-opening to hear what others go through and discover that, despite being hit with setbacks and misfortunes, they remain grateful. How refreshing to see that in the face of adversity, some people focus on the positives.

“You take everything day by day, and you're thankful that you have the next day,” Donna Faulk told me. “I don't know how to express it, really. You shouldn't take anybody or anything for granted.”

Bill doesn't know where he picked up the C. Diff, a bacteria that is becoming prevalent in hospitals and nursing homes. It resides in the gut and can cause painful intestinal infections. He suspects he had pneumonia because his breathing became so labored.

Until becoming sick, he was the family's decision-maker and breadwinner. He worked as a mechanic and part-time police officer before becoming a foreman at Allegheny Ludlum. He retired 13 years ago and remained relatively healthy despite his emphysema. The couple have a son, Todd, and daughter, Tammy.

The illness meant he no longer could make decisions. The surgery, in October 2010, led to medical problems, including an aortic aneurysm that ballooned to 7 centimeters in diameter. He spent three months in a coma and woke up to the reality of a colostomy bag.

“I can live with a small handicap,” he said. “I had to accept it.”

Doctors walked into his room and described what happened to him, in detail. Surprisingly, he didn't fret. He was happy to be alive and relieved that it wasn't his time to leave Earth. As he saw it, even though he didn't go to church, somehow God looked after him and didn't want him to die.

He didn't break down until the moment he was able to touch his wife for the first time after awakening from his coma.

“I was able to put my arms around my wife, hug her and kiss her and thank her,” he said. “I told her a hundred times: You saved my life.”

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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