Warm welcome home: Supporters greet returning Islander
‘I’m the first ever to be cured of this surgically. They’re going to put me in medical journals.’
In a more ordinary time, this event would have been a nonstop hug-a-thon. Marco Islander Kerrie Wallace returned home on Wednesday evening, after undergoing surgery for a debilitating condition that had turned her life into a pain-filled struggle for years.
As her husband drove her across the Jolley Bridge, bringing her back from the hospital in Ocala where the operation was performed, she was greeted by about 20 well-wishers.
The group of supporters gathered at the foot of the bridge, next to the “big flag” by the yacht club. Their presence was a surprise to Kerrie, but Shawn Wallace, driving the car, a Lincoln Town Car provided to the couple for the occasion, was in on the secret, and tipped off the waiting group by flashing his headlights.
Kerrie had her phone out to record the moment as they drove by, so maybe she was tipped off as well. Children held up signs of support, along with helium balloons featuring “Feel better,” “Get well soon,” and an over-sized unicorn. The couple then drove home, and Kerrie, sitting in the garage of the family’s home, greeted many of the group of supporters.
Just out of the intensive care unit, and with her weight severely down, she was nevertheless buoyed by adrenaline, the pleasure of coming home, and gratitude for the outpouring of support and love. The words tumbled out of her as she sat in a folding chair surrounded by friends, loved ones and Bella and Leo, the couple’s two Pomeranians.
“I’m the first ever to be cured of this surgically. They’re going to put me in medical journals. I’ve been thinking, I have friends who have this disease, and now they’re not going to die,” said Kerrie.
“This disease” is superior mesenteric artery syndrome, or SMAS, and she has been dealing with it for five pain-filled years, undiagnosed, with others even questioning her sanity.
“I was locked up in the psych ward by two different doctors” – in Chicago, where she lived before coming to Marco Island – unable to convince the medical professionals her symptoms were real. Finally, she was diagnosed, which she credited to the staff at NCH, and went to Ocala for surgical repair.
According to the National Institutes of Health, SMAS “is a digestive condition that occurs when the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) is compressed between two arteries, the aorta and the superior mesenteric artery. This compression causes partial or complete blockage of the duodenum,” making it virtually impossible and very painful to ingest solid food. The condition, says NIH, “can be severely debilitating.”
Kerrie Wallace gave her personal testimony in a Facebook posting, where along with a GoFundMe page set up by “Kerrie’s Angels,” she described her plight.
“I’ve been home very sick for a long time with a rare life-threatening condition called Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome. My stomach and heart are strangling me to death. I cannot eat or drink by mouth and have two separate feeding tubes in my stomach and intestines and a port in my chest for fluids and medications.”
She lavished praise on Dr. Carlos Portu, as well as the staff at NCH who gave her the first accurate diagnosis, particularly gastroenterologist Dr. Rafael Urbina. But her surgeon in Ocala, Dr. Darwin Ang at Ocala Regional Medical Center, she credits with saving her life, and bestowed on him the nickname “Dr. McDreamy.”
Kerrie also said her dad and her husband had been rocks of support. They are both plumbers, and she used the analogy of a “p-trap” to explain how her internal “plumbing” had been surgically rerouted.
She has focused on remaining positive and enjoying the bliss of being able to eat food – although she had to start out with soft foods.
“I had apple pie ala mode and it was wonderful. I even called down to the hospital kitchen and complimented them on the food” – probably not a call the kitchen workers get often. Kerrie dealt with a pre-cancerous condition along with the SMAS, and contracted COVID-19 on Marco Island this March.
Kerrie thanked Capt. Ron Hagerman, ErinMia Milchman and the Marco Patriots, and Susan Leslie, whom she said has acted as a “surrogate mom. “I can’t wait till I can hug them all,” she said.
Shawn and Kerrie are dealing with “a huge box of medical bills, all of them in collections,” which ran into five figures even before her recent surgery. She hopes in time to resume the singing gigs she was performing around the island, but knows she has a lot of recovery ahead.
If you would like to help Kerrie, go online to www.gofundme.com and search for Kerrie’s Angels.