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Joyce Bendavid

Getting on with Life

Holy Name Patient Stories - Joyce Bendavid

As Joyce Bendavid celebrates the miracle of Hanukkah this week, she can’t help but think of her own health miracle 11 years ago.

"She was the sickest patient I've ever taken care of in the Intensive Care Unit who survived," said Dr. Selwyn Levine, an internist at Holy Name.

Over the course of four days in 2011, Joyce went from having a life rich with family and friends and a rewarding career as an occupational therapist to being confined to her couch, too weak to pick up a glass.

Joyce, 55 at the time, had just returned from a trip visiting family in Israel when she started feeling poorly. Her health quickly declined, warranting a visit to Holy Name’s Emergency Department. For the first several days, Dr. Levine and her other doctors didn't know if Joyce was going to live. She was quickly brought to the ICU and slipped in and out of consciousness. Tests showed she had pneumonia, group A strep and septic shock.

As she fought to live, she was surrounded by a tightknit group of family and friends, including Dr. Levine, who stayed by her side for days. Joyce has only a few memories of that time: the wall of monitors that tracked her body's battle against the illnesses, and being flipped upside down repeatedly to help raise her plummeting blood pressure.

"The nurses in the ICU were great – they gave me and my family so much attention," Joyce said. More than 10 years later, she is still grateful to the staff, not only for their expertise and skill but for the compassion they showed to her and her loved ones.

During her five weeks in Holy Name, Joyce was on a respirator, had a feeding tube and dialysis, and placed in a medically-induced coma. Her doctors didn't know how much brain function would return.

At the same time, her fingers and toes turned black. Dr. Levine explained that this is a natural life-saving process; blood flow concentrates on the essential organs, leaving little to none for the extremities. Joyce's life was saved, but she required the amputation of all 10 toes, five fingers on her right hand down to the knuckle and one finger on her left.

Joyce's recovery included learning how to sit and stand, and then how to walk again. But before that, she needed to overcome her disorientation. After weeks of looking up at the ceiling, her perception of forward was up. She had to relearn moving horizontally, all without toes and much of the use of her right hand.

She braved looking ahead, both physically and emotionally, in the same manner she's always faced hardships: appreciating the support of loved ones and relying heavily on her faith. "You just get on with life. I didn't really get depressed or angry. This is just what I had to do."

When the amputations forced her to quit her job as an occupational therapist, she decided to use her own experience to help others. She completed a four-year program to become a Feldenkrais practitioner, which focuses on learning about your posture and how to mobilize yourself to move through the day. She now helps others to look forward, incorporating their postural habits, breathing style and relationship to gravity.

"When you move better you feel better, and when you feel better about yourself you can deal with things much easier," Joyce said. "This has helped me revitalize my life and I want others to experience this, no matter what they're going through. Little by little, each day, you and your life can get better and better."