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H1N1 gave Oxford man fight of life



Anhel
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Bill Anhel (click for larger version)
January 13, 2010 - Anyone who still doesn't think it's necessary to get a 2009 H1N1 flu vaccination should have a chat with Bill Anhel.

The 55-year-old Oxford resident spent the first half of December in a drug-induced coma, breathing with the aid of a ventilator, as he fought for his life against the virus.

Anhel was one of those people who didn't think the shot was necessary.

"I really didn't believe in it myself. I thought it was a lot of media hype about the H1N1 flu," he admitted. "After going through what I did, I'd tell anybody you're better off getting it."

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Some people don't want to get the shot because of the possible side effects, which range from having a sore arm to enduring a mild fever, headache, chills or muscle aches for two days.

But to Anhel, that's a small price to pay to avoid what he went through.

"It's worth it," he said. "One day or two days of not feeling up to par is a lot better than three weeks in the hospital in a drug-induced coma."

The 2009 H1N1 virus (commonly known as swine flu) is a new type of flu that was first seen in humans in April 2009. Because it's new, more people are expected to become ill with it than the seasonal flu due to a lack of immunity.

Symptoms are very similar to the seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes vomiting. It should be noted some people with the flu will not have a fever.

Anhel's ordeal with the 2009 H1N1 virus began on Nov. 28, when he visited an urgent care medical facility in Lake Orion.

"I was coughing for about three days before that," he said, noting it was a "dry, hard" cough. "I was coughing so hard, so much that my chest was actually sore."

Anhel's wife of 33 years, Diane, finally convinced him to see a doctor. She said he was running a 103-degree fever when they visited urgent care.

The staff at the urgent care facility convinced Anhel he needed to be transported by ambulance to the Beaumont Hospital in Troy, where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit the next day.

"My oxygen level was really low," he said.

At the hospital, Anhel was diagnosed with pneumonia and treated for it.

He was tested for H1N1 twice based on samples taken from swabbing his nose, but the results were negative for the virus both times.

Anhel was later told by a doctor at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor that "it's not uncommon to have multiple false negatives with H1N1. That's why they kept retesting."

Beaumont continued to treat him for pneumonia, but it didn't work.

"I just kept getting worse," Anhel said. "Everything they treated me with only made things worse."

During his third day at Beaumont, a blood test finally revealed that he did in fact have the H1N1 virus.

"He was in the hospital three days before they treated him (for H1N1). That's the scary part," Diane said.

As his condition worsened, Beaumont doctors decided on Dec. 1 to put Anhel on a ventilator and place him in a drug-induced coma.

"I don't remember anything after that," Anhel said. "I was totally out of it."

That afternoon he was flown by the Survival Flight helicopter to U-M Hospital in Ann Arbor. Diane was very concerned her husband wouldn't survive the 20-minute fight because "any time they moved him, his (vital signs) dropped."

"To me, that was the hardest time," she said.

Fortunately, the Survival Flight took amazing care of Anhel and safely transported him to the university hospital.

"The helicopter team told me they had transported 70 people (to U-M hospital) in two weeks with his symptoms," Diane noted. "They're the Number One facility in the world treating H1N1. We were just blessed to be there."

U-M doctors told Anhel's family his chances of survival were 50/50.

"But they also told me he arrived in better condition than a lot of (H1N1 patients)," Diane noted.

On Dec. 11, Anhel was taken off the sedatives, came out of his coma and opened his eyes for the first time in 10 days.

"He blinked his eyes and squeezed our hands," Diane said.

Three days later, they took him off the ventilator and put him on an oxygen mask. On Dec. 17, he was be flown by helicopter to the Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, where he stayed until his release Dec. 23 Ė just in time for Christmas.

"After being in the hospital all that time, I was begging to come home," he said.

"He was our Christmas miracle and the best Christmas present I have ever received," wrote his daughter, Jessica Anhel, a 2005 Oxford High School graduate who now attends Saginaw Valley State University. "We are just so happy everything turned out for the better."

Today, Anhel's still on oxygen and doesn't leave the house, except for doctor's appointments.

"I feel pretty good right now," he said. "The nurse said I'm recovering a lot faster than expected."

Three times a week, a physical therapist visits him to help build his muscles back up and get his motor skills back to normal. Spending more than three weeks on his back left his muscles in a weakened state.

"When I left the hospital, I could barely walk," Anhel said. "I'm getting around pretty good now."

He also has to continue to take blood thinners for the next three to six months.

"The doctor said it's common for H1N1 patients to end up with blood clots," Anhel explained. "When they took me off them at Beaumont, they did an ultrasound and found clots in my legs and in my arm. Then they put me back on them."

Anhel's hoping to return to his job as an engineer at the Charlotte-based Spartan Motors by the end of the month.

But before that, he plans to visit the nursing staff at U-M Hospital to thank them.

"The U-M medical care was A+," Anhel said. "It was basically one-on-one care. There was a nurse almost 24-7 with me while I was there."

He was also very complimentary of the U-M Survival Flight team.

"They were pretty awesome," said Anhel, noting one of the team members, Mary Autenrieth, a Registered Nurse who lives in Lake Orion, visited him on almost a daily basis, checked on his condition and offered comfort to his wife.

"She was an angel," Diane said.

Diane is extremely grateful for all the support she received from family and friends while watching over her husband.

"They stood by me and I didn't leave his side," she said,

She's particularly grateful to her co-workers at ReGina Paul Salons in downtown Oxford, who continue to care for the Anhels.

"They have brought us dinner every day since we've been home," she said. "They have been wonderful."

As with her husband, Diane now knows the seriousness of the H1N1 flu.

While at U-M, she saw "young people in terrible shape, dying."

"Not 80-year-old people with pneumonia, but 30-year-old wives and 27-year-old boys fighting for their life against H1N1," Diane said. "This disease is killing really young people and they don't know why. The scary thing is people just don't know how to treat it yet because it's still new."

"So many people have it and don't even know it," she noted.

Diane believes she had the virus prior to her husband's illness. "I coughed and laid in bed for three days," she said. "The doctors told me I probably had it."

Prior to all this happening, Diane said she too was "one of those people" who didn't believe in getting the H1N1 shot.

Now, she believes those people "should take a walk down the hall at U-M Hospital."

"It's not what you think," Diane said.

The whole family's now been vaccinated and even though she's probably already had it, Diane plans to get vaccinated because "there's so many different strains" of the virus.

But first she wants to finish taking care of her husband.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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