“I was probably still in denial about how bad it was, and I didn’t want to be dramatic about it. I remember that I was covered in dirt and wanted to shower and change before going to the hospital,” says Denise. “By then I had figured I needed to be evaluated, but still thought it would just be for soreness.”
When she headed to the shower, Denise felt the faintness return and folded herself back onto the floor, thinking how good the cold tile felt beneath her. She realized then that she was in serious trouble, bleeding from something, but she couldn’t reach her phone and was afraid to get upright.
“I knew I had to get outside to get help. When I felt I had a good enough blood pressure to make it outside, I went straight for my front door and headed across my yard, trying to get to the home of my neighbor, a county firefighter. I made it to the middle of my front lawn and collapsed on the ground.
“Fortunately it was a Sunday afternoon and my neighbors spotted me there,” says Denise.
Soon she was surrounded by worried neighbors who called 911.
Denise understood the gravity of her situation. She needed to get stabilized, and she urgently needed blood to survive. The paramedics took her directly to Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital.
“I arrived with a pressure of 50! My friends there had no idea it was me until we rolled into the ED [emergency department],” remembers Denise.
Nurses Debbie Eckles and Jean Aasted met the ambulance when Denise arrived. “We have you,” they told her.
“They were fabulous,” says Denise. “I thought I might be dying as my blood pressure dropped lower. They were right there, one on each side, and never stopped caring for me...and I do mean caring. I will never forget those minutes I spent with them and the incredible mark they left on my soul.”
A bedside ultrasound revealed that Denise’s spleen was shattered. The team at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital worked flawlessly to get Denise stabilized and ready for transport. She could hear the doctors consulting on the phone and she called out for them to warn SBCH that she was coming. She didn’t want her colleagues there to be surprised like they were in the Valley.
“I was a Tier 1 trauma patient in my own ED,” Denise still can’t fathom the odds.
“I’ll never forget what I saw when the ambulance doors opened in Santa Barbara...there was the team lined up outside in the trauma bay, waiting for me. The nurses, techs, doctors. I looked at them and felt like there was nothing they couldn’t fix.”
After an emergency surgery to remove her ruptured spleen and stop the bleeding, she spent eight days in the hospital and then went home to continue the process of recovery.
Before the surgery, intensive care nurse Susan Mozako asked Denise about contacting family. “Sue called my mom and dad back in the Midwest to give them updates on my progress. My mom sent a special thank-you note to Sue afterward. She still remembers Sue’s kindness that meant so much.”
As Denise learned, sometimes actually putting gratitude into words isn’t easy: “I’m so thankful to all the people who helped me at both hospitals. It’s really hard to thank those who saved your life. I just don’t know what to say. All the patients and families who write the hospital beautiful letters of thanks — I appreciate those even more now, knowing how difficult that is.
“Having Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital nearby truly saved my life,” says Denise, reflecting on the consistent protocols and outstanding clinical skills she sees throughout the Cottage system. “Its ability to care for patients is superb.”
“A near-death experience definitely changes things. That day I had no idea how events would unfold, that I’d be in shock at 5:30 that night.
“I am so proud of being a nurse. I learned so much about the patient side and believe I am a better nurse now because of that. The path to full recovery really makes you appreciate your health and your healthcare providers. The surgical residents, surgeon, nurses, and my neighbors played a huge role in my experience. I will never forget that.”