When Daphne Simmons climbs on stage this month to accept her master's degree, she might be thinking back 25 years to her last semester at Northwest Classen High School, when she learned to walk again.
Since those days when her life was in jeopardy, Simmons has raised a family, found meaningful work and received a couple of degrees. But she never would have made it, she said, without the support of her family and friends, care from her nurses and a promise she made to herself to get an education and use it to help others.
Simmons stopped breathing on Jan. 28, 1987. She had been admitted to the hospital two days earlier, in labor prematurely. A reaction to medication caused her lungs to fill with fluid, and shortly after telling her mother she felt like she was drowning, she lost consciousness.
She survived, and so did her son, but for six months she remained in the hospital, regaining consciousness and then her motor skills. The doctors gave her a tracheotomy, and over the course of her stay she received seven chest tubes and a central line.
“When I give my testimony and give praise to God, it's real. It's truly real,” she said.
Six months in hospital
Simmons needed only a few more credits to round out her final semester as a senior at Northwest Classen in Oklahoma City. It seemed manageable even after she learned of her pregnancy.
But when she was admitted to the ICU, she had a much bigger challenge than memorizing Oklahoma history. There were nine other occupied hospital beds when she arrived. Each of those patients died.
Even as she began to recover, living off machines in a hospital was tough.
“Come April and May, you can see the sun out, but you're confined to this room, this glass room,” she said.
Val Henderson remembers the pain as she watched her daughter and young grandson, William, cling to life.
Henderson had moved to Oklahoma from Kansas a few years earlier, and her two daughters were her world. She stayed in the hospital day and night.
“I quit my job. I didn't have two pennies to rub together,” Henderson said. “I made a bed out of two plastic chairs.”
Friends would drop by to sit with Simmons. Her best friend, Felicia Jones, was there almost daily. Jones said she skipped class and caught a city bus to the hospital.
Simply having a friend from school in the room was comforting, Simmons said.
“I couldn't talk because of my tracheotomy, so she would just watch television with me or rub my arms and legs with lotion.”
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