‘She’s a Walking Miracle’

WellStar North Fulton Hospital Team Helps Roswell Resident Make Complete Recovery

Heidi Bohlmann (front center), with her husband Steve (back center), and Wound Care Center caregivers, from left, Karen Johnstone, RN, CWON; Melissa Conrad, RN; Debra Gonzalez, RN, CWS; and Ricardo Duran, M.D.

Two-time breast cancer survivor Heidi Bohlmann was accustomed to successfully facing health challenges. But when stomach pain brought the Roswell resident to WellStar North Fulton Hospital’s Emergency Department (ED), she faced her ultimate challenge: a torn small intestine, which led to a life-threatening infection.

“I remember being in the ED, then waking up in a hospital room 11 days later with machines all around me,” said Bohlmann, 58. “My family from Wisconsin was there. No one was sure I would pull through.”

Bohlmann underwent surgery to repair her perforated bowel, which included creating a hole in her abdomen so the contents of her small intestine could empty into an external pouch. Called an ileostomy, the procedure allows the intestine to heal.

Because of her serious infection, surgeons did not close her large stomach wound to eliminate the risk that it would become a breeding ground for more bacteria. Unfortunately, an incision related to a recent breast surgery also became infected. The wounds fused into one large wound, which was treated with negative-pressure therapy, a therapeutic technique that suctions fluid and promotes healing.

“Heidi’s negative pressure therapy wound dressing change took up to two hours, three times a week,” explained Debra Gonzalez, program director for WellStar North Fulton Hospital’s Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center, and one of Heidi’s caregivers.

“Heidi spent 48 days at North Fulton, first in the Intensive Care Unit, then in a regular room, then in rehabilitation,” said Gonzalez. “For a while, she was on a breathing machine and dialysis because her kidneys shut down, and she needed multiple infusions to treat the infection. Then she began outpatient therapy. When her wounds healed, she underwent an ileostomy reversal.  Her body was so weak, she had to learn to walk again. Today, a year later, she’s a walking miracle. She was a model patient.”

Bohlmann said she did everything her clinicians recommended so that she could fully recover. “I followed the advice given by Debra and wound care specialists Melissa, Karen and Angela,” she said. “I did not shower for a year so I could keep my wound dry. I ate plenty of protein and took the recommended supplements.”

Though Bohlmann acknowledges she was an active participant in her care, she and her husband Steve, who was constantly by her side, credit North Fulton’s multidisciplinary team with her recovery.

“So many clinicians were involved in my care, including general surgeon Mark Middleton, M.D., infectious disease specialist Manuel Castro-Borobio, M.D., assistant director of rehabilitation Brent Clower, D.O., Phillip Byrd, M.D., interventional radiologist, and cardiologist David Jacoboff, M.D.,” said Bohlmann.

“We were impressed with the doctors’ and nurses’ care and collaboration. They worked together to coordinate my care plan, and always took the time to provide thorough explanations.

“In fact, everyone at North Fulton went above and beyond, from the technicians to the cafeteria staff. Vicky, a cafeteria team member, was impressed with Steve’s dedication to my wellbeing, so she came by to meet me. We felt so cared for, like we were part of the North Fulton family.”

The Bohlmanns recently brought lunch to the Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center staff and the inpatient rehab team to show their appreciation.  “I’m very thankful for the care I received at North Fulton,” said Heidi, who plans to volunteer at the hospital.

“Heidi’s case was very complicated,” said Ricardo Duran, M.D., the Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center’s medical director. “Successful wound care involves a multidisciplinary team guided by a board-certified physician and nurses with extensive training and experience in wound management.” North Fulton Hospital’s nationally accredited Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center offers comprehensive care and management for chronic, non-healing wounds and sores due to diabetes, pressure ulcers, circulatory problems, and open surgical site wounds, such as Heidi’s.  Dr. Duran is a board-certified wound care physician, and the Center’s nurses include certified wound specialists. For more information, contact WellStar North Fulton Hospital’s Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center at
770-751-2830.