Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital helps patients recover from serious health issues

(photo) John Bierne nearly died from kidney failure, liver failure and congestive heart failure. He spent several months at Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital in Post Falls, recovering and rehabilitating. Photo by Marc Stewart.

John Bierne looks and feels like a new man.

The Twin Lakes Village resident nearly died from kidney failure, liver failure and congestive heart failure — at 39 years of age.

“I was 456 pounds,” said Bierne. “I kept gaining weight and I wasn’t feeling right. My breathing was off. I had sleep apnea. I should have gone to the doctor months earlier and gotten some simple blood work done.”

Instead, Bierne continued to make poor health choices and worked long hours as a project manager for a local construction company to help provide for his wife, Theresa, and their 3-year-old daughter, Kylie.

It all caught up with him March 19, 2015. Bierne collapsed while visiting his mother’s house. When paramedics arrived he wasn’t breathing. They managed to resuscitate him and get him to the hospital — where he hovered near death in the intensive care unit for weeks.

“The doctors told my family that I had about a 1 percent chance of living,” he said. “I’ve been told I coded several times, but I didn’t die. I don’t remember any of it. I don’t remember collapsing or being in the hospital.”

Doctors drained 131 pounds of uid from Bierne’s body, much of it around his lungs. They also discovered he had an enlarged heart and that his kidneys weren’t getting enough oxygen.

“I was prepared to be on dialysis the rest of my life,” he said. “I knew my life was going to be different from that point on.”

Bierne spent a month in the hospital, then was transferred to Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital in Post Falls to begin a long and difficult road of recovery.

Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital provides long-term acute and critical care services to patients throughout the Inland Northwest who are recovering from serious illnesses or injuries. Bierne had severe problems to contend with, given his weight and organs in severe distress.

“When I first saw John, he looked pretty rough,” said Kate Smead, lead therapist at Northern Advanced Care. “He was a big guy and he was hooked up to a ventilator with all kinds of tubes going in and out of his body. I wasn’t sure what he was going to be able to do.”

Diane Joralmon, respiratory therapy manager at Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital, said Bierne’s breathing quickly improved, but he faced long-term health challenges.

“He had trouble sitting up and he was on oxygen,” said Joralmon. “He did well with the lung therapy and responded to it. He’s feisty.”

John was weaned off the ventilator and began breathing on his own. However, one of his most pressing health issues was a nasty bedsore. Despite steadily increasing his mobility and strength once he reached Northern Idaho Advanced Care, months of lying in bed had taken its toll and his skin and muscles had deteriorated into a horrific state.

“John had a stage 4 pressure ulcer,” said Morgan Pitschka, wound management specialist at the hospital. “He was so sick, he couldn’t be moved. This led to a substantial bedsore. He basically had a gaping wound that would eventually require plastic surgery. ”

Treating his wound was delicate and required using negative pressure with a device that vacuums the injured area and treats it with medical foam. In addition, he was given a matrix of protein supplements to help his body build new tissue.

Bierne healed quickly with continuous supervision and care from his medical team. In short order, he was up and out of bed, ready for the next challenge. The medical team picked up on his macho attitude and used it as a motivator.

“I treated him like I was his drill sergeant and his friend,” said Smead, who designed his physical therapy sessions. “I gave him a hard time. I pushed him. Whereas other patients need to be treated with kid gloves, John needed somebody who wouldn’t back down when he got down or didn’t want to do something.”

Bierne spent about three months in Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital.

Despite the grim prognosis, he never believed he would die and tackled his rehabilitation with a vengeance. If he was asked to take 60 steps on the first day, he went for 180 steps. If he was told to go 10 minutes on the treadmill, he went 20…

Today, the 6-foot-1 man is 255 pounds and his caregivers at Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital describe him as looking “fantastic” and “amazing.” His kidneys are now functioning normally and his liver has bounced back. He exercises regularly and eats nutritiously. He was even able to go elk hunting in the fall — something that surprised his caregivers.

“I’ve been an athlete all of my life,” he said. “Death never entered my mind. I just took it day by day. I wanted to do more every day and keep improving. I am so grateful to everyone at Northern Advanced Care Hospital. They really saved my life.”

By MARC STEWART – Coeur d’Alene Press