In Her Own Words

Emergency Surgery Saves Local Woman’s Life

Lori Willging celebrates her recovery from emergency spleen surgery at home with her husband, Pete, and furry family member, Phoebe.

On the morning of April 11, Lori Willging didn’t know what a splenectomy was. Later that day, she had one -- and it saved her life. Lori, an accountant, had gone to work and was sitting at her desk crunching numbers. She noticed a gurgle high in her stomach, but didn’t think much of it. “An hour later,” she says, “I knew something was wrong. The gurgle had moved to my chest and shoulder, then settled in my rib cage. I felt oddly numb and feared I was having a heart attack.”

‘I Was in Incredible Pain’

Lori called her husband, Pete, to take her to the emergency room. From that point on, her pain escalated quickly. Many tests were swiftly administered to diagnos her. She drifted in and out, passing out from the pain more than once.

Then, Dr. Rafael Castro, a long-time FHN surgeon, came with the startling news. Lori needed emergency surgery to remove a ruptured spleen, and she needed it fast. Almost always caused by an accident or other physical trauma, hers was out of the blue: Unprovoked, unexpected, and unrelentingly painful. Lori was hemorrhaging internally and time was not her ally. She had already lost several pints, making her situation extremely dangerous.

No Time to Waste

The couple looked at the nurse, who was squeezing every last drop of blood out of a transfusion bag, and knew they needed to move forward. Lori shares, “I remember that everyone kept asking me if I had fallen or been in an accident, or if perhaps I had another health condition. I guess it is pretty rare to have your spleen rupture without a known cause. Then I remember my husband saying he loved me and that I was strong. My next memory is waking up in the intensive care unit (ICU) and being grateful to be alive.”

Ultimately, Dr. Castro removed about 80 percent of Lori’s spleen. The spleen filters blood and helps the body fight infections, but it’s not essential for survival. However, people without a spleen are more prone to infections, so Lori will get multiple vaccines to help her body guard against pneumonia, influenza, and other potential illnesses.

After less than a week in the hospital, Lori went home to continue her recovery, happy to have her Papillion, Phoebe, for at-home pet therapy. She looks back on the experience with humility and gratitude.

Staff Went Above and Beyond

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the professional and compassionate care I received from my hometown hospital,” stresses Lori. “I am especially thankful for Dr. Gruber and the ER team; Dr. Castro and the surgery team; my ICU nurse, Dana, who was a wonderful advocate; and Morgan, another nurse who was so sympathetic and comforting. I had at least four staff members from the ER and OR stop by to check up on me. It says a lot about FHN’s people – you just won’t find that everywhere. They went above and beyond, and I will never forget their concern and amazing care.”