BIRMINGHAM, AL (WSFA) - A Pike Road woman is recovering after a near-death experience.
Jami Golden, 22, came down with an infection while working at a summer camp, and her family says it's a miracle she pulled through.
On Thursday near her hospital room, her parents and sister discussed her ordeal, and her unbelievable road to recovery, which they say has been fueled by prayers and kind words from thousands of people following Jami's journey.
Jami graduated from Samford University in May and went to work at WinShape Camp for Girls in Rome, GA.
She wasn't feeling well and doctors thought she might have a urinary tract infection or an ovarian cyst, but her condition started to deteriorate.
When her family traveled from Pike Road to visit her over Fourth of July weekend, they found her sick in her cabin and took her to another hospital, Redmond Regional Medical Center. Jami suddenly found herself on the brink of death.
"We were really just expecting to go and spend the day together, take her out to eat and have some time with her. Once we got there, we realized she was seriously ill, much more so than we even imagined ourselves," said her father, Mickey. "Her body was starting to shut down. It was in the end stages. We were in shock. We didn't know what to do, what to say."
The Goldens almost didn't make the 3.5-hour trip to Rome because they got back late from a mission trip the night before, and Mickey, a Montgomery veterinarian, needed to find someone to fill in for him over the holiday weekend.
But their timing ended up being very critical. Jami's blood pressure was 46, and doctors say she would not have lived another hour without medical help.
A bacterial infection was causing septic shock and kidney failure. Jami had double pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (a life-threatening lung condition that prevents enough oxygen from getting to the lungs and into the blood) and Disseminated intravascular coagulation (which results in the formation of blood clots in the small blood vessels throughout the body and leads to compromise of tissue blood flow).
As doctors at Redmond Regional fought to save her life, family and friends from Alabama filled the waiting room and her family prayed over her. All of Jami's organs began to fail, except for her brain. But she made it through surgery and the first 12 crucial hours.
After 11 days of treatment, Jami was stable enough to be flown UAB Hospital in Birmingham so she could continue her recovery closer to home. She was weaned off a respirator and has come a long way, growing stronger every day with loved ones at her bedside. Visits from friends and even those who helped care for her during her stay at Redmond Regional Medical Center have brightened her hospital stay.
Blood pressure medicine caused circulation problems and impacted the blood flow to her fingertips and toes, causing some concern, but Jami continues to defy the odds.
"Because of a lot of prayers and such good medical care, she's been steps ahead of where they thought she might be with recovery so that's been such an encouragement," said her mother, Terri.
Mickey Golden, a vet whose Golden Animal Hospitals are located on Atlanta Highway and on EastChase Parkway, started a Facebook group called "Praying for Jami Golden" posting updates from the hospital. The group has more than 2500 members who post encouraging comments and well wishes for Jami, her parents and her three siblings.
"It's just been a great support system," said Sarah Golden, Jami's younger sister. "When it was so critical, I was worried that I was going to lose her and we were pleading for her life. So just to see all these prayers answered and to get on Facebook and see "Praying for Jami Golden," and see her name on my Facebook page whenever I open it, that has just been so uplifting."
"So many people love Jami, support Jami and are praying so hard for her so I felt the need to try to let them know as much as we could share with them," Mickey added.
Over the past several days, Jami has not had to be on sedation and her family has been filling her in on the severity of her health situation and the outpouring of support from the community.
She will need long term therapy because of the toll the infection took on her body.
"She wants to get up and walk and be able to walk out of this hospital. Rehab is next, in house rehab. That way, she'll be able to be a lot more aggressive but she's looking forward to that challenge," Terri Golden said. "She wants to be able to regain everything she had before, or at least as much as possible and really the doctors are so amazed at her determination and her positive spirit. They said they don't see anything medically holding her back from being able to recover. We're still really praying about those kidneys but they're doing better."
Sarah Golden has enjoyed connecting with her sister during her healing process, watching movies in Jami's hospital bed together and helping do her hair.
"She's given so much to me and I've just given a little back to her," she said. "I know that it's going to be so hard on her not being able to do everything to the fullest just like she loves to do. She loves life and she's a go-getter so having to relearn how to do things is going to break her heart but I know that the Lord has a big plan for her and that He's going to lead her through this. He led her this far and He's going to keep going no matter how long it takes her to recover."
The cause of Jami's infection is still unknown, but her parents say it was possibly related to a tick bite. She spent a lot of time outdoors working at the camp.
"They've run so many tests," her mother added. "We still don't have a definitive answer on a real cause."
Tick-borne diseases are a very serious public health concern in the United States and studies through the Alabama Department of Public Health show that there is an increase in Lyme Disease in at least seven counties.
At Southern Research, a not-for-profit institute headquartered in Birmingham, work is underway to discover how ticks migrate to new areas and how the increase in tick population translates into an increase in the bacteria and viruses that can be transmitted to humans, leading to increased incidents of Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
"We're trying to understand how best to develop diagnostic tools that can identify what bacterial or viral agents is causing disease in an individual," said Dr. Timothy Sellati, a senior research fellow and the chair of Southern Research's Infectious Diseases Department.
"We are taking research in the direction of not just developing better diagnostic tools or developing vaccines for individuals but actually trying to prevent the black-legged tick from transmitting bacteria or viruses to individuals," he added.
Researchers want to find a way of targeting the virus or bacteria within the tick itself and keep the tick from infecting anyone, instead of trying to treat someone after they're already infected.
As for Jami and her family, Mickey Golden says the traumatic experience has made their faith stronger and brought them closer. He also voiced his appreciation of all the kind words, calls and gestures from friends and relatives.
Members of a Sunday school class reserved the family a hotel room near UAB for several nights and the board of directors for the Montgomery Humane Society covered the cost of the next eight days of their stay.
"The prayers have done more than anything. I tell people I'm a believer. I have lived through and witnessed a miracle. From what I saw and what I know, it's only by God's grace. God has given my daughter to me for a second time," he said. "I thank everybody for the prayers and that support. We've had strength that you wouldn't necessarily see and peace you wouldn't have thought we would have had."