Wilmington man rallies from bacterial infection

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Nikki explained that Lee would be losing his legs and fingers. She worried that the children would have a hard time accepting that their father would lose his legs.

But Levi, a 5-year-old with long, dark curls and lively eyes, found some perspective.

“It’s like in ‘Soul Surfer,’” Levi said. The movie tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, the professional surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack. “At first, she wanted a fake arm, but then she decided she could surf without her arm.”

After 40 days of dedicated vigilance, Nikki, stricken by the flu, returned to Ingold. In her place, the couple’s oldest adopted son, Tom, took a second leave from work and moved into the hospital, helping Lee when needed and insisting that he do for himself what he could.

At first, that wasn’t much. Lee’s muscles had atrophied, so any movement was a challenge for the 6-foot-1, 260-pound man. A month after that first breath, his movement was limited to a slight rotation of his head.

Tom, who was adopted when Nikki and Lee were still in their 20s, would help his dad with the simplest tasks - from bathing to shaving to scratching that spot … right … there.

In his eyes, Tom said, his dad hasn’t changed. But there was a moment when he felt the gravity of the situation.

After the amputation, Lee was wheeled back up to his room, and Tom was struck by something he saw - his dad’s bed was shorter.

Lee has shown an indomitable spirit, visiting the nurses from his foggy days in the ICU, thanking each one for their role in saving his life.

During a recent rehabilitation treatment, physical therapist Mike Stine lowered Lee mechanically onto a rehab table. Cradled like a newborn being dropped from a stork’s bill, Lee suggests that others might want to take a ride in the contraption. Soon, the smile was replaced by a grimace as Lee tipped himself to the side and pushed himself back up with his elbow. The move is designed to rebuild the core strength that Lee lost during that month of inactivity. Tom provided encouragement and Lee strained to do one last repetition . and then one more. Lee followed with a series of butt lifts - a move designed to help Lee build the strength to move himself from a wheelchair to a different seat.

“If you ask him to do five repetitions, he’ll do 15,” said Dr. John Liguori, medical director of the NHRMC rehabilitation hospital. “He’s always upbeat and positive.”

“He’s a pleasure to work with,” Stine said. “He has an awesome attitude. He’s the kind of patient that makes you want to come to work.”

Lee doesn’t dwell on his lost limbs. He has been brought back to life, and he will cherish it. His perseverance is rooted in love for his family.

“My main concern is that I don’t want to be a burden on my wife. Her plate’s full,” Lee said. “I want to be at full capacity as soon as I can.”

Nikki wants Lee to do what he can. But she no longer needs him to do everything. When Lee was in the hospital on the verge of death, Nikki realized how unprepared she was to lose him.

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