WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) - Nikki Spearman asked the medical staff not to trim too much of her husband’s beard. Lee Spearman had grown his red beard to Santa Claus length for the holidays, and if she had to bury him, she thought, she wanted to be able to recognize him at the funeral.
The doctors at New Hanover Regional Medical Center were removing Lee from the mechanical ventilator and planned to insert a tracheostomy tube into his neck. Lee had been in a medically induced coma for 11 days, and about a week earlier a doctor delicately told Nikki to gather the family. She understood what that meant.
A bacterial infection had spread throughout Lee’s body, shutting down his organs. By Dec. 24, not much had changed.
Doctors were prepared to remove the ventilator and quickly cut through Lee’s neck to establish a direct connection to his windpipe. When the ventilator shut off, Lee made an audible sigh - a single breath of hope.
Nikki and the doctors expressed their disbelief.
“Did I just hear that?” the doctor asked Nikki.
The trach was never installed. Hours later, doctors decided to cut off his dialysis machine. His kidneys started functioning, too.
Lee was on his way to recovery.
That Lee was suddenly battling for his life surprised the Spearmans. Lee, 54, had some arm pain and was feeling lethargic after some long days helping out at a Christmas tree lot in Wilmington. He showered at his mother-in-law’s nearby home and couldn’t muster the strength to dry off, so his mother-in-law put him in his vehicle and Lee drove himself the few miles to the NHRMC Orthopedic Hospital, formerly known as Cape Fear Hospital, for what he thought was a broken arm and the flu.
Nikki and their son, Tom, drove to Wilmington from the family home in Ingold. After a short time at Cape Fear, doctors determined that Lee needed critical care. So they loaded him up for a frantic ride to NHRMC.
When Lee was being rushed from Cape Fear Hospital to NHRMC, he pleaded with his wife of 28 years - “Don’t leave me.”
For more than 40 days, she visited Lee’s room when she could, talking, praying and singing in his ears.