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Family Stories

The Vlasman Story

FFF Advocate:
Marty Vlasman
Place of Residence:
Mitchell, South Dakota
46 years old, 2014
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Marty Vlasman

In December 2013, Marty started feeling ill, with a stuffy nose, cough, and fever. By New Year’s, his niece brought him to Urgent Care where they suspected he had bronchitis. When he still wasn’t feeling better on January 5, 2014, his niece took him to the ER. The last thing Marty remembers from that day is feeling delirious and having difficulty breathing. He didn’t regain consciousness again until February 14th.

Shortly after arriving at the first hospital in Mitchell, SD, Marty was flown to another hospital in Sioux Falls where he tested positive for influenza. Since Marty had fluid filling his lungs, he couldn’t get enough oxygen and went into congestive heart failure. Shortly after, he was put into a medically-induced coma and flown to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to be cared for in the cardiac intensive care unit.

During those first few days, doctors drained gallons of fluid from his lungs. Since his heart and lungs were not strong enough to work on their own, Marty was put on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine. The doctors first tried connecting the ECMO through his neck, but when that didn’t work well enough, they had to open up Marty’s chest and connect the ECMO directly to his heart.

Each day doctors had to clean out Marty’s chest wounds to fight off infection. Over the six weeks Marty spent in coma, his heart stopped three times, his kidneys failed, and he lost over 100 pounds. He was finally taken off the ECMO machine on February 14th, but he was so weak that he couldn’t move his hands or legs, and he did not know where he was or what had happened since he lost consciousness on January 5th.

Five days later, on Marty’s 47th birthday, he was finally released from the hospital. His voice was hoarse and raspy from being on a breathing tube for so long, and he had scars where they had to open his stomach and chest to drain out fluid. He was too weak to go home, so he spent weeks in a rehab hospital, building up his strength, re-learning how to walk, and continuing to heal the open wounds in his chest. While he was recovering he got an infection in one of his chest incisions and had to return to the Mayo Clinic for more surgery. He then returned to another rehab hospital and was on IV antibiotics for months to ensure the infection wouldn’t come back.

Marty’s recovery has continued, but he has never returned to complete health. He still suffers with various health restrictions, half of his chest is numb and he will never be able to return to his job as a satellite communications equipment installer due to the fact that he can no longer climb and lift.  

Prior to this experience Marty had never been vaccinated against the flu. Now, he realizes what a mistake that was and never misses getting an annual flu vaccine now.  He still gets upset thinking about all that he put his family through as they stood by his side. 

Today Marty shares his story in hopes that other people will take the proper precautions by get their annual flu vaccine. Through a nonprofit called Cruisin’ For A Cause, Marty raises money to assist people in his local community with medical expenses that were incurred due to illness or death.

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