Moments after Karl De Leeuw took his near brain-dead wife, Michele, 57, off life support, she started breathing. Now, four months later, she is home and healthy.
Michele suffered a heart attack at home in August. By the time she got to the hospital, doctors thought she only had five percent brain function.
But, seconds after the machines were turned off, Michele started breathing on her own, NBC reports.
It was remarkable, for sure, but she still wasn’t conscious. She wasn’t back, and doctors had to again assure the De Leeuws with heavy hearts that she wouldn’t be.
Yet days later, in hospice care, Michele’s eyes were open. Days after that, she spoke, asking for food. Another two days and she was upright and feeding herself.
For their 26th wedding anniversary, Karl got his wife back from the brink of death – almost fully recovered, and back home with him.
The last four months have been an emotional and medical roller coaster for the De Leeuw family.
Michele’s heart attack was a shock to them all.
At just 57, her heart gave out while she was at home with Karl in August.
She stopped breathing, and it was 15 minutes before paramedics from Sterling Heights, near their Michigan hometown, were able to reach the De Leeuw’s home and resuscitate Michele.
Even 15 minutes is far too long for the brain to be without oxygen.
It takes just six minutes after the heart stops pumping blood to it for the brain to begin to die.
Beyond the 10 minute mark, irreversible damage is all but inevitable.
So by the time Michele arrived at St John Macomb Hospital, Karl, the paramedics, and the doctors knew Michele’s odds of survival were desperately slim.
It was time to call the De Leeuw children, daughter, Myles, 24, and son, Jake, 21 – most likely to say their goodbyes.
‘When my father called me after she was rushed to the hospital … he felt that she was dead,’ Myles told NBC.
‘It was the most earth-shattering phone call of my young life.’
Seeing her mother was as bad as hearing the news.
‘It was horrible to see my mother on more IVs and tubes than you can ever imagine,’ Myles says.
The family spent a few days simply waiting for any change. But at this point, even Michele’s doctors were losing hope.
They estimated that Michele’s brain was down to five percent of its normal function. Her heart had only about a quarter its previous capacity.
Doctors told Karl: ‘The woman that you know as your wife is not there anymore,’ he recalls.
‘I took her off the ventilator. I unplugged her,’ he said.
‘When we pulled the plug, it was just so sad to start living with the reality that my mom is dead,’ Myles said.
They no sooner started to accept their Michele’s death than she showed signs of life. Minutes later, she was breathing.
It was so unlikely as to be almost impossible. Michele was moved to hospice to be kept comfortable for her final hours or days.
But they weren’t. Within a week, Michele was sitting up, speaking and feeding herself, on the road to recovery, though she remained disoriented and her speech was mostly nonsense.
After open heart surgery and lots of speech and physical therapy, Michele is herself once more.
‘You wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t know what she’s gone through.’ Karl says.
He calls her his ‘miracle lady.’
Karl says he and Michele already knew they could get through rich and poor, sickness and health, sickness and health, and now they know without a shadow of doubt that they meant it when they said ’til death do us part.’
‘For me … I don’t think there are a lot of couples who can pass that last one,’ Karl told NBC.