“It was the best thing that ever happened. It was basically 532 days to a second chance.”
As Donna Kohler makes her way into her new apartment with the help of her walker, she stops to ask a building worker about her newborn baby — an event Kohler can relate to.
“My son just had a baby — my first grandbaby,” Kohler said with a smile. “It’s nice to hear some good news, finally.”
The good news comes after a string of the opposite. Kohler entered Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 27, 2013, because of a duodenal ulcer and wasn’t released until 532 days later in March 2015.
Today, Kohler looks significantly different than she did while she was bedridden in her hospital room, labeled “Isolation.” Because she was fed intravenously, she weighed 70 pounds during her hospital stay. And because of a broken hip, she wasn’t able to walk or put weight on her feet. Now, she proudly stands up from her wheelchair, where she sits after transferring from her walker and spreads her arms to show how far she’s come.
To help the time pass during those 532 days, Kohler made friends with her doctors and nurses and listened to sermons on Highland Park United Methodist Church’s website. Her faith in God deepened while fighting for her life, she said.
“[The doctors’ and nurses’] lives became my life, and it helped my days. We would tell jokes and we would laugh, and I would hear their stories and they’d cry and I’d cry, and my spiritual life just took off,” the 55-year-old said. “It was amazing. I couldn’t believe that God had kind of saved me, because I had so much shame and I was constantly looking to fill that void.”
It’s a void she’s been looking to fill for years. Battling alcoholism for nearly half her life, going in and out of rehab, and dealing with strained relationships among her family members, it took an 18-month hospital stay to fully transform her life.
“It was the best thing that ever happened,” she said. “It was basically 532 days to a second chance. I mean, it was the best disaster I could have ever had.”
For example, the hospital stay helped to mend the fractured relationship with her daughter, Katie Freeman.
“It’s been night and day, to be honest,” Freeman said. “This experience has completely re-established our relationship as mother and daughter, and I’m thankful for it.”
Upon being admitted to the hospital, the doctors gave Kohler a 20 percent chance of survival.
Once she made it through the first week, however, Freeman realized something bigger was happening.
“I’ve only told a few people this,” she said. “The only thing I remember about ICU was I was floating because at first I didn’t know if it was real, but now I know it was real. It was very, very light blue and then real bright, and it was the most peaceful feeling, and I could kind of barely hear voices around me, and I know I was talking to God. And I was like, ‘I’m not ready to go. I need to see my grandchildren. And I need to see my daughter get married. And I know that I can spread your word and help other alcoholics. I know that I can do good here and I just don’t think I’m ready.’ I just remember it being really peaceful.”
She said she’s hesitant to share that memory because it might sound made-up to those who didn’t experience it.
“It was so different from a dream,” Kohler said. “I don’t have a word for it. There isn’t a word for it. There isn’t a word for the beauty. There isn’t a word for the peace. There isn’t a great word to put there because all of the words sound so cardboard. It was such a feeling.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Park Cities People.