LAFAYETTE — At six months pregnant, Lisa Mallet walked into a community hospital with flulike symptoms.
Within four days, she developed pneumonia and her body began rejecting her pregnancy.
On Aug. 21, 2009, her baby boy, Carson, was born in an emergency C-section. But it was another two months before Mallet saw or held him.
It was two months that saw her teetering between life and death while battling the H1N1 virus and complications that followed: acute respiratory disease syndrome and a multi-drug resistant bacteria settled in her lungs.
While her H1N1 diagnosis was dire, the diagnosis of Acinetobactir baumannii, an “awful mutant bacteria” in her lungs made the situation worse, Mallet said.
“They told my husband there are few survivors,” he said.
Because she became one of those few, her battle with the bacteria will be featured in an episode of “Killer Outbreaks” at 7 p.m. Monday on the Animal Planet cable channel. Mallet and the two Lafayette General Medical Center doctors who treated her infection, Drs. Fadi Malek and Elizabeth Borrero, were interviewed in November 2010 for the episode.
Mallet is now 22 and lives in New Iberia with her husband, Cody, and their two boys, Keith, 5, and Carson, 2.
What she remembers from the two-month fight for her life is spotty and reconstructed from her family’s own memories, including entries from her mom’s journal.
After her son’s birth, she was diagnosed with H1N1, and her health worsened.
“They told my husband I wouldn’t make it,” Mallet said.
Her husband, Cody made the decision on Aug. 27 to transfer her to Lafayette General.
When she was unloaded from the AirMed helicopter, her oxygen saturation was at about 20 percent, while a healthy, normal level is about 98 percent, said Malek, Mallet’s pulmonologist.
“From then on, it was two or three weeks of all the complications you could think of,” Malek said.
She developed ventilator-associated pneumonia and both of her lungs collapsed. She continued to run a fever. Tests to find the fever’s cause led to the bacterial infection diagnosis.
Doctors told her husband her chance of survival after the bacterial infection was found was about 20 percent, but they continued to try to find a way to beat the odds.
“Never did they say, ‘There’s nothing more we can do,’ ” Mallet said. “They’d say, ‘We’ll try this and see if it works.’ They never stopped trying.”
What finally helped was a combination of lung washings and polymoxin B.
The antibiotic had been used rarely because of its severe side effects, including seizures, kidney damage and eye damage, said Borrero, an infectious disease specialist at Lafayette General.
Borrero and Malek had both seen patients with a combination of H1N1 and the bacterial strain die that summer. The risky treatment was a “last resort,” Borrero said.
“In her case, we had to be a little creative in using an old drug not used before to see if the bacteria would not recognize it and kill it,” Borrero said.
After about seven days of the lung washings and polymoxin B, no more signs of bacteria reproduction was found in the lungs. The antibiotic treatment continued for about a month.
“We already had a high percentage of patients that had died from the flu and she was dealing with other complications,” Borrerro said. “In her case, she’s incredible to be here.”
Because doctors told Cody Mallet his wife faced severe side effects, including vision impairment or loss, he enlarged family photographs and posted them in her ICU room.
“When I woke up the first picture I saw was a picture of my son, Keith on the football field in his teal football uniform,” she said.
She missed the start of 5-year-old Keith’s football season and his first day of kindergarten.
She also had her first glimpse of a precious, tiny baby who looked so “strong.”
“I had to learn that my baby was 2-months-old and had been born three months early,” she said.
Keith was able to visit her in the hospital, but she didn’t meet Carson until Oct. 9, 2009, the day she was able to go home.
She still has lung capacity issues and sometimes has to use an inhaler.
“I’m immuno-compromised,” she said. A cold for me can be very dangerous.”
She sees Malek for regular check-ups and also visits a cardiologist to monitor residual heart damage caused by the ARDS.
“I live a good life. I take the good with the bad. I’m here,” she said. “I’m just tremendously thankful.”