Altagracia's Story*

Altagracia posing for a photo in the hospital with her care team.

Known to many as “Mama-Chago,” Altagracia Abreu is the loving mother of five and grandmother of 13. The 64-year-old was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, moved to New York in the early 1980s and settled in South Florida in the 2000s.

Altagracia beat cervical cancer several years ago, but was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Following surgery to remove the organ, complications set in. The incision became inflamed, sending her into septic shock. Altagracia developed pneumonia and fell into respiratory failure. Her son was by her bedside when the monitors suddenly flat-lined. Doctors and nurses rushed in, shocked Altagracia back to life and connected her to a ventilator.

Stabilizing over the next few days, her family was offered information about facilities that could provide ongoing medical management. After conducting research, they chose Select Specialty Hospital – Miami.

Altagracia arrived unable to breath, speak, eat or move independently. In addition, she’d developed a lower back ulcer that required pressurized dressings.

A physician-led interdisciplinary team of nurses, therapists, dietitians and pharmacists created a plan to bring “Mama Chago” back to her family.

Respiratory therapists trialed reduced ventilator settings and short bursts of time off the machine, retraining her lungs and airways. Simultaneously, physical therapists used range of motion exercises to get blood moving once more.

Nurses monitored the special dressing, repositioned Altagracia to avoid further skin breakdown and kept her comfortable.

When weakness persisted, physicians and dietitians re-evaluated the plan and determined a feeding tube placed beneath the abdominal skin would enhance nutrition.

After undergoing the procedure, Altagracia’s daughter Nathalie noted a significant energy level improvement. Her mother was more alert, awake and starting to act like her usual self.

The next goal was to remove Altagracia’s airway support. A month after arriving, she accomplished that goal and was eager to transition to solid food. Increased oxygen and calorie intake meant longer walks and bigger accomplishments – such as standing with assistance – in physical therapy.

Neither she nor the family expected such a complex road to recovery, but they happily celebrated each success along the way.

“Since day one, communication has always been very good,” Nathalie said. “It is very easy to communicate with nurses and social workers, both day and night.”

Nathalie’s advice for families going through a similar situation is to always be by your loved one’s side and don’t lose hope. “Family love and support is the best medicine.”

Altagracia departed for an inpatient rehabilitation hospital to focus on building strength and stamina for independent living. Everyone is looking forward to the day they can have family gatherings, outings and mugs of Mama-Chago’s famous “cafecito” again.

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*Patient success stories from across our hospital network.