As an executive with a humanitarian organization, Donni Pitzl of Newport traveled frequently across the globe, mostly throughout Africa, honoring world leaders who embodied the Golden Rule. This is a rule of ethical conduct that embraces treating others with the same respect and dignity one wants in return.
“I met so many amazing people, and learned so much about other cultures,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience.”
With the persistent travel, however, came loads of stress. Pitzl, age 69, knew she didn’t handle that stress well, but she thought she would get better at it eventually.
“Eventually” came abruptly on the evening of July 3, 2018. At home with her husband, Pitzl had what she thought was an anxiety attack. As her heart raced and her breathing grew labored, she knew something was wrong. Her husband called 9-1-1 for help.
Upon arrival, paramedics needed to restart her heart — an act they would repeat three more times during the short, two-mile trip to the hospital.
At Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital, Emergency Department staff picked up where the paramedics had left off, fighting to save Pitzl’s life.
“When they turned me over to hospital staff, the ambulance crew thought I was dead,” said Pitzl. “But the hospital staff went to work on me and brought me back.”
A CT scan revealed a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in Pitzl’s lung, likely caused by a deep vein thrombosis in her leg. Because her situation required specialized cardiovascular care, Pitzl was stabilized and then transferred by Life Flight to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis, where she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. A week later she was back home.
“It’s amazing to me that the medical community can give you an opportunity to live if you can and want to,” she said.
“I had the very best of care in both places. I can’t say enough for the staff,” said Pitzl. “My husband, too. Of course, he was under a lot of stress and worry, and they cared for him as well. It’s a credit to the staff both in Newport and Corvallis for how good a job they did.”
But Pitzl’s journey did not end there.
Four weeks later, feeling recovered, Pitzl shampooed her carpet, prompting her heart to race again. “Evidently, I had exerted myself too much, and I had to do it all over again: back to the Emergency Department in Newport and then over to Corvallis,” she said.
This time her stay was less intensive. After overnight monitoring, Pitzl’s clinician discharged her home, prescribing cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at the Newport hospital. Through a specially tailored program of exercising on gym equipment while wearing a heart monitor and being closely observed by clinical staff, Pitzl learned to know her body’s limits.
“The staff there helped me know how much I could do,” she said. “They were great.”
Pitzl now exercises three times a week and is working to rebuild her body and stamina.
“I’m in better shape than I’ve been in years,” she said. “Nothing is holding me back now.”
Having stepped down from her career, she can now resume hobbies she rarely had time for, such as enjoying a book club with friends, or drawing sketches of her grandchildren. Mostly, Donni is rebuilding her life’s purpose.
“My husband and I have discussed what happened to me multiple times, trying to understand it,” she said. “I don’t know why I am alive today, but I do know that life is precious, and I don’t want to miss any opportunity to find the good in it.”
With this philosophy of positivity, she is committed to continuing the mission behind her career, to encourage and lift up others.
“While my work came to an abrupt halt, I still have that desire in me,” she said. “Any time I can encourage people to do better and to be better, I do that.”
Pitzl said she has immense gratitude for the medical community who didn’t give up on her.
“They worked so hard to keep me alive, how can I express my gratefulness for that? When I hear negative talk in the community about medical care here, I tell them they are wrong. I wouldn’t be here today without this medical community,” she said.
“I think it’s important to know that our words create good and bad, and I want to encourage good things in the community whenever I have the opportunity,” said Pitzl. “I feel so appreciative, and if my story can encourage anyone else, I want it to do that.”