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Sam Macdonald photo
Réal Corbiere and his wife Laurette are thankful to everyone who supported them during Réal's struggle with H1N1 this winter.
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Local man shares H1N1 experience, thanks community for support

Apr 15, 2014 12:00 pm | Sam Macdonald

Throughout his life, Réal Corbiere has faced a number of battles with his health, but the most challenging of those battles was his struggle with H1N1 this winter.

“It started a couple of days before Christmas. I didn’t feel like myself,” said Réal, describing how he had a fever and what felt like the beginning of a case of pneumonia. He and his wife Laurette went to the St. Therese-St. Paul Healthcare Centre on Boxing Day, only to find it too busy. They decided against staying to see a doctor that day.

“I couldn’t get up the next day,” said Réal.

Laurette took Réal back to the emergency room, to get him tested for pneumonia. After numerous tests, it was determined that he did have pneumonia, and congested lungs.

“We talked to Doctor Wong at the hospital, and told him that Réal had prior health problems, having fought off cancer, and heart problems before,” said Laurette.

Wong sent Réal to the hospital in Cold Lake where he got an ultrasound to test for what was thought to be a blood clot in his lungs. Réal’s condition began to worsen, with an intensifying fever, an entirely infected lung on one side, and a half-infected lung on the other side.

Réal was transported to the intensive care unit at Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton, where it was confirmed he had H1N1. At the time, the hospital already had nine H1N1 patients, and was at full capacity.

Laurette recalled that medical specialists and doctors worried about Réal’s oxygen intake with the infection taking over his lungs, so they had him intubated to assist his breathing, when admitted to Misericordia.

“We never thought it would be the last time we spoke to each other for 14 days. He went in on the 31 of December, but did not wake up until January 13, 2014,” said Laurette.

Tests revealed that Réal had two different types of pneumonia, a viral type, and a bacterial type. Doctors at Misericordia gave him antibacterial drugs in the hope that he would be able to fight off the bacterial pneumonia, and build immunity to the viral pneumonia.

“I can’t remember any of this,” said Réal of his ordeal in Misericordia. “I was sedated and put into a coma.” The sedation was meant to help his body fight the strains of pneumonia, and to prevent him from struggling against the breathing tube in his throat.

“The body is a very intricate thing. It takes care of the organs it needs to in order to survive. Réal’s kidneys were no longer functioning, and his body was becoming very toxic. He also was having some heart issues since he has had radiation for a battle with cancer when he was 25 years old,” said Laurette.

Throughout his struggle with the infections, doctors at Misericordia monitored his vitals and hemoglobin levels, constantly watching his state. During that time, Réal suffered three heart arrhythmias, and a great deal of bodily swelling due to the shutdown of his kidneys.

In response to the increasing toxicity of Réal’s body, doctors began to perform dialysis on him. As Réal continued to fight the pneumonia, the doctor taking care of him told Laurette that he had a 50 per cent chance of survival.

“As a wife and mother of a young family, it was the scariest time of my life,” said Laurette. “I told the doctor that Réal is a strong and determined man, a fighter. He had survived this challenge once before in his life, so I stayed hopeful and positive that he would fight his way back to us.”

Réal was put into an isolated room with glass doors, and people couldn’t visit him without wearing protective gloves, masks, and visors.

“For a few days, I didn’t know whether I was going to wake up or not,” admits Réal.”

“Every four hours, they’d do assessments on him and ask him if they could hear him,” said Laurette. She recalled the first time Réal was responsive to nurses was during an assessment.

“The nurse said ‘Can you look at me?’ and he shifted his eyes to her. Once he was able to open his eyes and respond to people, and see us, his vitals changed, and they took him off sedation,” she explained.

“I woke up on Jan. 13, but I hardly remember anything for the next two weeks after that. I couldn’t talk until they removed the tube. At first when I woke up, all I could do was open my eyes,” said Réal, who was paralyzed from being sedated and ill for so long, with damage to his muscles and nerves.

“I had to start from scratch. My body had no strength, and it didn’t take much to tire me out,” he added.

After waking up and recovering from the infections, Réal had to go through extensive rehabilitation. He started in increments, beginning with tasks as simple as moving his hands and sitting up in a chair.

Eventually, he was transferred to the seventh floor of Misericordia, where he worked his way up to walking with the help of a walker. From there, Réal was transferred to the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital for more therapy. After two weeks at Glenrose, Réal returned to St. Paul where he continues to recover.

“Even now, I’m not a hundred per cent recovered. I still have some issues with my strength and balance. Getting that back could take up to a year,” said Réal. “Right now I’m just doing basic therapy.”

One of the things Réal recalled most vividly about his recovery was the insistence of the nurses that he get vaccinated for influenza next year.

“When I woke up, they kept telling me to take my flu shot next year, because all of this wouldn’t have happened to me if I did in the first place.”

Laurette agreed that she also learned the importance of getting vaccinated after watching her husband get so sick.

“If we could save anyone else from going through this, we’d tell them to take their flu shot,” she said.

Throughout Réal’s battle with his illness, there were many people including friends, family, churches, and schools, praying for him to recover.

“We felt like it was important for us to tell our story and tell everyone of our appreciation, and that yes, miracles do happen. God is good, and Réal is a miracle, but so are each and every one of our supporters,” said Laurette. She added, “People come together in times like this and we are connected spiritually. I want to give a special thank you to our families.

Réal’s sisters and brother never left his side. His father and mother Edgar and Cecile were there for him, it’s never easy to see your kids suffer. Our 4-H family was helpful, and my family as well with their meals and background work. Our children have experienced this miracle with us and they have seen the power of our prayers. We live in a beautiful community.”

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