Thursday, March 15, 2012
7 News Features: Jessica's Journey
It's an unbelievable story. A Florida girl chooses to be put in a coma as part of an experimental treatment for pain. And tonight, two years later, she is a new person. 7's Lynn Martinez has the story of Jessica's Journey.
WSVN -- The last time we saw Jessica Stevens, the young woman's skin was plagued with sores, and her frail body constantly burned with pain.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "I describe it sometimes as having acid being thrown onto my legs."
The 21-year-old couldn't even be touched and had to wear sunglasses and headphones to block out light and sound.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "I hear things probably 30 times louder than they really are. Lights have thrown me into seizures. I live in a hospital bed. I do not get to do anything. It's just not a life."
Jessica lived a normal life until she got a tick bite at summer camp, which triggered what's called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, or RSD.
RSD is a neurological disorder which causes the nerves to send constant pain signals to the brain.
Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, Jessica's Doctor: "There was very little hope that she was going to survive."
So Jessica made a dramatic decision to undergo an experimental treatment.
Jessica flew to Monterrey, Mexico, where doctors put her into coma using a drug called ketamine, which is a anesthetic and hallucinogenic drug.
While the patient is unconscious, doctors believe the brain shuts down, and then, like a computer, reboots itself.
Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, Jessica's Doctor: "By shutting the brain down and letting it come back online, there can be healing that takes place."
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "It is scary, but the thought of remaining in this condition for the rest of my life is a hell of a lot scarier."
But what was expected to be only a few months of treatment...
Sarah Stevens, Jessica's Mom: "Sweet dreams, Jessica. You're going to make it out of this, honey."
...turned into a two-and-a-half-year rollercoaster.
Jessica awoke from her coma with hallucinations.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "There would be some that were terrifying, like a civil war battle, and you see things being thrown around your room."
But that was nothing compared to other complications.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "I had memory loss, I lost my eye sight, I had numerous infections, needing 11 months of antibiotics to clear."
Jessica almost died several times.
As a last resort to save her life, her doctor, Fernando Cantu, put her into another coma.
This time, it worked. She awoke completely healed and able to see.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "We call it the miracle coma. I woke up singing. It was waking up with a new body, a body that could do all the things I could never do before that."
And now, Jessica is finally home in Florida.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "Hey!"
We hardly recognized the beautiful, healthy woman who greeted us.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "Eighty-five percent of the symptoms I had when I went to Mexico are completely gone now."
Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick, Jessica's Doctor: "It was just a totally different person, and sharp as a whip. It's a medical miracle."
The pain, along with the sores on her body, have disappeared.
Because she was bed-ridden for so many years, she can't walk yet, but she can easily move her arms and legs.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "I can be touched and moved. I get to eat with my family, hug them, kiss them."
Sarah Stevens, Jessica's Mom: "I thank God I get to have Jessica back."
And Jessica is grateful to her doctors.
Jessica Stevens, Has RSD: "I'm feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. The breeze on my skin, the sun on my face, all these little things in life you take for granted I don't anymore, because I had them all taken away for five years."
Lynn Martinez: "The Stevens family is pushing to get coma therapy approved in the U.S. so others with chronic pain can benefit. Jessica will be going to Washington D.C. soon to tell her story and show that ketamine comas do work."
To follow Jessica's journey, visit: hopeforjessica.blogspot.com