Brunswick couple finds blessings in recent spate of health challenges

"Just about the only thing Bob does recall is that sometime during his coma he "saw the angels" ­ his mother, her parents and many relatives on his father's side."

 

Bob and Marcia Ingram

 

February 6, 2003 - Brunswick, Maryland. Reported in the [Gazette.net] - Seated in their home, Bob and Marcia Ingram of Brunswick reflect on the last year, which was full of health challenges for the couple. Bob and Marcia Ingram moved from Germantown to their apartment on Brunswick's West Potomac Street three years ago so they could watch the trains chug in and out of the Maryland Rail Commuter Station -- a favorite hobby of theirs since they met on a blind date five years ago.

The place was small, but the rent was cheaper than in Montgomery County and the people were friendlier, they said. So the Ingrams, now married four years, hung around, Bob commuting to his job at the Germantown PetsMart, Marcia to her position with a mental health advocacy council in Rockville. For a while, life seemed blissful, as 49-year-old Bob and 53-year-old Marcia settled into the second halves of their lives. That was until this fall, when in rapid-fire succession, Marcia was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer, her father passed away and Bob suffered a heart attack.

Despite these health crises that might have conquered others, Marcia has remained upbeat, and Bob has vanquished a condition that should have killed him. "You gotta be positive," she says now. "You have to." The Ingrams' experiences of last fall and winter have uncovered several blessings for them. For one thing, they feel fortunate to live in the same county as Frederick Memorial Hospital's Regional Cancer Therapy Center, where Marcia receives her radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

For another, Marcia feels thankful, at least in part, that her health condition has kept her at home since October ­ otherwise she would have been at work the December afternoon that Bob had his heart attack. Now that life has opened their eyes, the Ingrams take every opportunity to look closer at life. "We never used to pray before. This totally turned our attitudes around," Marcia said one recent afternoon in the Ingrams' living room, subtly decorated as a mini-shrine to the railroad. "You get so busy working ... and you never really see anything. Then all of the sudden, something smacks you in the face. Boy, your view changes!"

Tragedy first struck the Ingrams on Oct. 20, when a Sunday morning seizure sent Marcia to the emergency room. She had been having muscle spasms in her left arm, but doctors were unable to discover the cause. A scan at the emergency room revealed tumors on Marcia's brain and one in her lungs. "Both tumors were small, and we caught it before they spread to the rest of the body," Marcia said.

Still, Marcia had to cope with the fact that in the span of two days, her earning power had been eliminated. Marcia has been on temporary disability since the seizure and hopes to return to work someday. She has also had to cope with weeks of radiation aimed at eradicating the tumors. Marcia likened the radiation machine to "a big X-ray machine" and insisted the treatment is not frightening. Marcia also has daily chemotherapy treatments. Drugs are pumped into her body intravenously for several hours as she reclines in a chair with a room full of other chemo patients. To pass the time, she sleeps, watches television or plays an electronic Solitaire game.

The American Cancer Society gives Marcia free rides to and from the cancer center for her treatments. However, she has limited driving ability for getting to the grocery store and laundromat (the apartment has no washer or dryer). As for Bob, his ordeal happened Dec. 19, shortly after Marcia had returned home from treatment. He said he wasn't feeling well and went to lie down in their bedroom.

As Marcia was talking to him, Bob's eyes went blank and he fell backward onto the bed. Marcia quickly called 911 and had enough presence of mind to perform CPR on him. Bob's doctor, cardiologist Shawn Buki, later said that combined with the quick ambulance arrival and the work of the ER staff, this action likely saved his life; Bob had actually suffered sudden cardiac death.

Bob was taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital and then ­ by ambulance, as conditions were too icy for a helicopter landing ­ to Washington Hospital Center.There he lay in a coma for a week, with significant blockages in all three arteries. He eventually had both an angioplasty and quadruple bypass surgery. It wasn't until Christmas Day ­ "a day of miracles," Marcia said ­ that Bob recovered consciousness, and Marcia finds no small coincidence in the date. Her father, long ill, had passed away on Christmas Eve.

"He passed away the day before and all of the sudden Bob has life again," she said. Bob, now on permanent disability, finally returned home after the first of the year, with little memory of the previous two weeks.

Just about the only thing Bob does recall is that sometime during his coma he "saw the angels" ­ his mother, her parents and many relatives on his father's side. As much as he longed for a reunion with his mother, Bob turned down the invitation.

"I kept pushing her away," he said. "I refused to go. ... I was enjoying life. It was not my time."

"He wasn't going to leave me yet," Marcia said. "It hadn't been enough years yet."

Bob said he now thinks of his near-death experience constantly. It has renewed both his and his wife's appreciation for the people in their life ­ relatives, the doctors and nurses who have helped them, and colleagues.

"We could not do it without the support that we've had from friends, family and especially my work," Marcia said. "My work has just been phenomenal with helping us. Without them I don't know where we'd be."

The Ingrams have fallen on hard times, and each day they awaken with a little anxiety at what may happen next. But they also awaken with their newfound identities.

" If anything else," Marcia said, "I guess (this experience) has made us better, huh?" "Yeah," Bob softly replied.