Tuesday, April 6, 2010 2:50 PM

Family gets Christmas miracle in March

When he got sick, Marty Nunes didn’t expect anything more than the flu. When his wife Kimberly decorated the tree, she didn’t expect to celebrate Christmas in March. Their 7-year-old son Matthew didn’t expect a daily visit to the hospital to be part of his after-school routine. And the entire Nunes family didn’t expect to spend almost three months praying for a miracle – but they did.

After a week and half of cold medication and antibiotics, his headaches and fevers did not subside. Marty Nunes, 45, knew something wasn’t right. It was Christmas Eve when Kimberly Nunes called for an ambulance for her husband. He was taken to Clovis Community Medical Center. 

“They ran several tests and found an infection – strep,” Kimberly said. “It had spread through his blood and to his heart.”

If not properly treated, strep throat can develop into a much more serious condition known as rheumatic fever, which can cause serious damage to heart valves. Proteins in the Group A streptococcus bacteria resemble proteins of human heart valves and sometimes in trying to attack the strep bacteria, the body will attack the heart valves.

According to Kimberly, Marty’s heart was worsening and he began to have trouble breathing. After two days, he was transferred to Community Regional Medical Center for an aortic valve replacement. 

Community Regional provides more than 100 beds dedicated to cardiovascular care and is the leader in cardiac services in the Central Valley. As the Valley’s only Level I trauma center, it provides the highest level of care between Los Angeles and Sacramento.

“His surgery seemed so long,” Kimberly said. “And when they came out, I found out why.”

Kimberly said that 15 minutes before his surgery was to start, Marty underwent cardiac arrest.

The cardiac team gave him cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and lowered his body temperature to 19 degrees Celsius, which is 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Lowering the body temperature helps to protect the brain and body,” said Dr. Pervaiz Chaudhry, medical director of cardiothoracic surgical services at Community Regional.

It took 30 minutes of CPR for him to become stable enough to be put on a bypass machine to begin surgery.

Following surgery, Marty was in a coma. Brain scans showed a poor prognosis, but the family continued to hold on to hope and prayers. Kimberly said she felt very confident that Dr. Chaudhry and his team had given enough support to her husband.

“His wife had hope. She never lost hope,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “And I knew he would make it.”

“Statistics are just statistics,” Kimberly said. “We knew his brain waves were very slow, but we just took it day by day. Dr. Chaudhry told us to keep praying and told Marty to keep fighting.”

Throughout his recovery, Marty was surrounded by family.

Proudly, his mother Caroline said, “He was very brave. We prayed the doctor and nurses could do the right thing – and they did.”

Two weeks later, Marty slowly began to move his fingers and toes. Kimberly says the biggest miracle was when she kissed him and he kissed her back. She asked him if he wanted another kiss, and his first word was, “Yes.”

Now, Marty is at the Leon S. Peters Rehabilitation Center at Community Regional. He is beginning to walk, speak in full sentences and work on his short-term memory.

“The other day I came out of the elevator on the first floor and saw him walking,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “After everyone doubted that he would ever wake up, he was there walking. I took him into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). I interrupted their lecture and walked him in. I said, this is the guy you said would never walk again, and he’s walking today.”

Marty says Dr. Chaudhry is his “savior.”

In mid-March, Marty was granted a one-day pass to go back home where the Nunes family finally celebrated Christmas.

Kimberly laughed, “It was the longest we’d ever had our tree and lights up.”

“It was late, but it was the best Christmas we ever had,” Matthew said.

When asked what he looks forward to most, Marty said, “Coming home for good.”

For more information on Community Regional’s cardiac services, please visit CommunityRegional.org.

This story was reported by Millie Tang. She can be reached at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.