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January 14, 2014

Survival saga: Becky Budai finding normalcy after nearly losing her life

NEW CASTLE — At Christmas, Becky Budai cooked dinner for her family.

Ordinary?

For most people, it is. But Becky was home for the holidays for the first time in two years.

She had spent three months on life support. Her heart stopped at one point. An infection resulted in part of her hand being amputated.

The phrase “simple operation” will never again be taken lightly by Becky or her family. Now, though, where once there were tears every day, is laughter —  lots of it.

And during her ordeal, her son, Jordan, learned to take on responsibilities most 21-year-olds never have to deal with.

In November 2011, Becky, a resident of the North Hill, was scheduled to undergo the removal of her gall bladder and an ovarian cyst — procedures that she had been told were very low risk.

Even though she had had several prior abdominal surgeries, this one created apprehension, so she canceled it the morning on which it was scheduled. Still feeling leery, she nonetheless rescheduled the operation at a Pittsburgh hospital.

Becky’s husband, Jim, Jordan and other family members waited during what was to be a three-hour surgery. Eleven hours later, her family was informed that there had been complications.

“That’s when all hell broke loose,” she said, adding that when she was taken to her room, she was in such severe pain that even the morphine drip could not lessen.

Further blood tests showed there was an infection and Becky needed additional surgery. But unfortunate circumstances were about to change the lives of her entire family.

LIVING A NIGHTMARE

During that second surgery, Becky — then 53 — sustained a perforated bowel, and sepsis had already set in. She had gone into respiratory and cardiac failure, and was later told she had died on the operating room table on Nov. 13.

Her husband, son and family, including brothers Dave Sobzcak and Joe Sobczak, mother-in-law and friends, were called into a private room.

“The doctor crossed his arms and said he had distressing news,” Jordan said. “He said my mother wouldn’t make it through the night on her own.”

The news sent everyone reeling.

But Jim asked that his wife be placed on life support. Becky remained in a coma through February 2012.

So began the watching and waiting.

Lopressors had been given to keep the circulation flowing to her heart and vital organs and to help save her life, but doctors explained that those medications can cause problems to the extremities. The cost was ultimately losing part of her hands. Her kidneys also started shutting down and she began dialysis.

At one point, medical professionals suggested that Becky be removed from life support because she would never recover.

That is a decision no family ever wants to face.

“I was overwhelmed and like a zombie,” Jordan, now 23, said. “In my then 21 years of existence, I never thought I would face something like this and be motherless.”

For those three months, the family went to the hospital every day. Often, Jordan’s friends would accompany him for support. At the time, he was reporting to two jobs and taking care of the house while his dad was at work.

FAITH BUILDS MOUNTAINS

There was always hope for a miracle.

And then one came.

In February 2012, Becky opened her eyes for the first time. Because she was on a ventilator, she couldn’t speak but was alert.

In the same way that the physicians could offer no explanation for why Becky went into the coma to begin with, they were again perplexed when she woke up.

For the Budais, the explanation was the grace of God at work.

“We are a Christ-valued family,” Becky said, adding her name was placed on dozens of prayer lists.

Faith and persistence were the guideposts.

“We put everything in God’s hands,” Jordan explained.

Little by little, Becky improved. Dialysis stopped and she was transferred to another hospital in March, where she was fed through an IV for nine months. That summer, she was transferred to a nursing and rehabilitation center.

But Becky’s road to recovery was far from over.

BATTLING BACK

In September, she was transferred to another hospital where her bowel was reconnected. In addition, she lost all the fingers on her right hand, and all the fingers on her left hand except the thumb were removed to the first joint.

After she was discharged, Becky went to another rehab facility, where she ended up having severe pain in her left knee. Again, she was admitted to the hospital to treat a staph infection that had developed in the knee and traveled through the bloodstream where it vegetated on her heart valves. This time, she was flown to yet another Pittsburgh hospital to have the infection scraped from the knee, and remained there for five weeks.

“I was told this is a rare occurrence,” Becky said.

She went back to a nursing home but in January 2013 was hospitalized for pneumonia.

HOME AGAIN

Life for the Budais was finally about to change again — this time for the better.

In February 2013, Becky came home.

She still required 24-hour care, though. A hospital bed was set up in the living room. Visiting nurses, aides and therapists were in and out.

With Jim working long hours at Koppel Steel, Jordan became her caregiver, which also involved taking his mother to therapy three days a week. Becky said her brothers were invaluable at helping every way they could. Her mother-in-law cooked meals every day.

Becky learned to walk again. And she was challenged to learn to drive with the partial use of one hand.

But she persevered.

“I always  knew she was a fighter and she never gave up,” Jordan explained.

She also had to learn how to dress herself, brush her teeth and do her hair. Eventually, she was back in the kitchen.

“I had to learn how to navigate without hands. I cut myself with knives and dropped a lot of dishes.”

Meanwhile, a sense of normalcy is returning for the Budais.

Jordan, who had put his education on hold, plans to attend radiography school.

And Becky has a new appreciation of everything that surrounds her. Eventually, she hopes to return to the things she loves — traveling, scuba diving and sky diving.

“I’ve managed to accomplish so much already. I’m amazed by how much I can do coming back from death.”

The mother-son bond has never been stronger, and Becky said Jordan has “a heart as big as you can imagine.”

Ecstatic about her second chance, Becky said she knows God has a purpose for her here on Earth.

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