Eddie tells of being given just 48 hours to live
A Norwich man, who was given only 48 hours to live by doctors after suffering a stroke during a flight back from Australia, has spoken of his experience publicly for the first time, after making a remarkable recovery during an eight-month battle. Keith Morris reports.
Former Housing Services Manager Eddie Pleban
made a joyful return to his home on Colman Road
on Wednesday September 28 after eight months in hospitals in Dubai
and Norwich, thanks to the support of family and friends and his strong Christian faith.
Eddie suffered the devastating stroke while on the plane with wife Jeannie, coming back from Australia where he was visiting his daughter Sarah and her family.
They flew into Dubai, where Eddie was rushed into hospital, but not before Jeannie was asked to go to a cash machine to pay for the ambulance.
As Eddie was whisked away he whispered: “I love you” to Jeannie – the last words he uttered for over five months.
The couple’s nephew Stephen King works in Dubai and was able to comfort Jeannie as she met the consultant at 4.30am after an MRI and CAT scan on Eddie. As a former nurse she was prepared for the worst.
“The consultant sat me down and, after looking at the scans, said: ‘Your husband has had a stroke on his brain stem. He has 48 hours to live - barring a miracle.’
“I said to him, well, we believe in miracles.”
One of the first things Jeannie did was start contacting family and friends, asking them to pray for Eddie who was in ICU on a ventilator. He was paralysed below the neck and could not breathe for himself, swallow or talk. But, as his family found out later, Eddie’s mind was totally alert and he knew everything that was going on – he just couldn’t let anybody know.
Because of the desperate situation - and very poor prognosis - the couple’s children decided to fly directly to Dubai. Sarah flew in from Australia, her sister Lila
flew from England
and the Navy flew brother John
Louise stayed in Norwich to co-ordinate everything and set up a Facebook group called “I Love Eddie Pleban
” to keep everyone in touch.
“The people of Dubai whom we met were just wonderful,” said Jeannie. “Many offered to pray for Eddie and one nurse regularly used to sing hymns to him. People all over the world were praying for us and it was very comforting when people of other faiths said that they would pray for Eddie. It seemed like any barriers just disappeared.”
The insurance company eventually agreed to pay for an air ambulance to fly Eddie home, despite doctors not being at all sure if he would survive the trip. He was flown home nine days later in a tiny jet with two pilots and two medical staff.
Jeannie, Sarah and John flew back on a regular flight not knowing whether Eddie was alive or dead
Eddie said: “They would not let the family fly back with me because it was a very small plane and if I had died there would have been nowhere for them to go.”
Eddie arrived back at Norwich Airport and was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. He was off the ventilator by now but contracted both the norovirus and pneumonia to add to his problems. By this time he had lost three-and-a-half stone
Eddie said: “The tracheostomy in my throat was like breathing through a straw. I felt like a pin cushion with all the needles they stuck in me and eventually they could not get blood out of my arms so they went to my feet. That was so painful, but I could not scream.
“I could hear everything and feel everything they did to me. I knew everything that was going on but could not tell anybody – it was like a living nightmare. All I could do was blink my eyelids.
"Eventually a speech therapist gave me a speech board which helped me to communicate by looking at letters and colours.
“The doctors told me I could end up with a tracheostomy for the rest of my life. I tell you I prayed like Billio for eight weeks – nobody knows how much I prayed. I tried to stay positive but there were a couple of times I felt that I could not go on and would be better off dead.”
Jeannie said: “Eddie could not speak or even smile but his eyes said everything – everyone said that his personality shone through and he kept his sense of humour all the way through.
Eddie gradually regained his movement, starting first with a thumb, and then his left hand side. After four months in Norwich a speaking valve was connected to the tracheostomy for increasing periods each day and after five months the tracheostomy was finally removed and Eddie began to speak and eat again.
“There was so much I wanted to say and at times I cried with frustration because I just couldn’t say it,” said Eddie. And the first words he uttered to Jeannie were exactly the same as the last ones he had said five months before - ‘I love you’.
“The doctors told us that the statistics are that there are very few people who even survive the type of stroke that Eddie had and a miniscule number who make any sort of progress,” said Jeannie. “About three-quarters of Eddie’s brain stem was killed by the stroke. There is a little piece which is still alive and the nerves are re-rooting themselves. They told us it was a remarkable recovery and in such a short time.”
Eddie’s birthday on June 3rd was a real milestone. A whole entourage of staff accompanied him in a wheelchair just outside the hospital door for the first time.
By the end of June Eddie was moved for rehabilitation to Caroline House at the Colman Hospital. Then he had his first shower for nearly five months.
By this stage, Eddie was amazing his medical team and making much more rapid progress that they thought possible. He moved from an electric wheelchair to a self-propelled one and that really helped with the rehab giving him the chance to move himself around.
First he managed to stand up by himself and soon he was inching himself along a set of parallel bars. Tying his own shoelace was a real accomplishment and he was able to use a treadmill with support.
The doctors said they were flabbergasted at Eddie’s rapid progress.
“I said to them that when I leave the hospital, I am going to walk out of the door by myself,” said Eddie. And so, on September 28, the staff on duty at Caroline House lined up to watch him walk out by himself.
Speaking in the conservatory of his Colman Road house, days after he returned home, former sailor Eddie said: “It may seem like a strange thing to say, but I felt like I was just clinging onto Jesus’ robes – sometimes I could even feel them. I believe that if it wasn’t for my faith I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“I want to thank my entire family for the way they have supported me and Jeannie is the top of the lot - she has stood by me every step of the way.”
Jeannie said: “People had faith for us and we never doubted that God was with us – but at times it felt very lonely. I always had an inner peace – but it’s been a very, very hard journey – the worst one we have ever been on. The worst nightmare you could imagine. But we are both so grateful for all the medical and nursing care Eddie has received.
“In the Bible in Isaiah it says: ‘Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ I firmly believe that God keeps his promises.”
As to the future, Eddie is unable to return to work but has been invited to talk about his experience to speech therapy students at the UEA and is keen to find out if there are any other voluntary roles he can do.
Jeannie will continue her work as an independent reviewing officer for Norfolk Children’s Services until she retires in a couple of years’ time.
“There is a new life – but I have accepted that the future is going to be different,” said Eddie.
Jeannie said: “In those first 48 hours we were planning a thanksgiving service for Eddie as we did not know if he would even survive. But now the future looks bright – we have got Eddie with us and able and what else could we want but that. It’s an absolute miracle - you just can’t explain it in any other way."
Pictured top is Eddie Pleban with wife Jeannie in their Colman Road home in Norwich.