New meaning of life
After beating a near-fatal illness, Audrey Leishman returned to the course on Thursday to greet her husband Marc.
September 16, 2017
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was initially posted in May 2015.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Audrey Leishman waited for her husband to finish his round, just like she’s done many times on the PGA TOUR. The petite, 31-year-old brunette sat on one of the grassy mounds at the 18th green, happy that Marc had played so well in the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship.
She was full of life – something she couldn’t say five weeks ago when she lay gravely ill, sedated and in a medically induced coma in a Virginia hospital.
Marc didn’t catch a glimpse of her until he tapped in from 19 inches to polish off his 3-under 69. A big smile crossed his face. This was the first time since she came out of her coma that she was there waiting for him to finish.
No post-round reunion would ever be the same.
"From where she came from about a month ago, it didn't look like she was going to be around,” Marc said. “To be seeing her up on the back of the green when I'm playing, that's pretty special.
"I took that for granted a little bit, and definitely not anymore."
Marc Leishman on his wife's health after Round 1 of THE PLAYERS
In her first extended interview since her near-death experience, Audrey spent 30 minutes Thursday discussing her story that nearly turned into a tragedy but has now provided new perspective.
She first began feeling ill on March 29. She was achy and thought it was the flu. Marc stepped in that day, taking care of their two sons, 3-year-old Harvey and Ollie, who is 20 months, while his wife rested.
On Tuesday, he headed to Augusta to practice for the Masters. But Audrey still felt weak so she asked her parents, who live nearby, to help get the boys ready for school. By lunchtime, when there had been no improvement in her condition, Audrey asked her folks to keep the boys overnight.
Meanwhile, her condition continued to deteriorate. Audrey's nose would start to bleed when she walked upstairs. Her temperature was 102, and she started getting short of breath. A friend, Angela Osby, who works in the Social Security disability area, grew concerned.
"She's not a doctor, but she reads medical records all day, you know, poor thing," Audrey said.
Audrey texted her friend throughout the day to update her condition. Angela didn’t like what she was hearing. She thought it might be pneumonia. She wanted to take Audrey to the doctor. Tired and weak and alone, Audrey just wanted to stay home.
Angela finally got her way. “It got to the point where she just wasn't taking no for an answer,” Audrey said.
The doctor at the urgent care facility tried everything; IVs, antibiotics and chest X-rays. But nothing helped. The only thing Audrey tested positive for was strep. Her resting heart rate, though, was 130 and she was hypotensive.
"After a few hours I wasn't improving at all, and the doctor there said, ‘You're very sick, I want you to go to the hospital,’ " Audrey said. "She goes, ‘This is the right decision for your family.’
"She knew I had two little ones, and I think she presented it to me in that way that I wasn't going to argue with her.”
Oh, and the doctor made one last demand, which finally convinced Audrey of the seriousness of the situation.
“She said, ‘I want you to go by ambulance.’ "
With respiratory distress and toxic shock syndrome, doctors said Audrey's survival rate was 5 percent.
By the time she was admitted to intensive care on Tuesday evening, Audrey says she was probably more in shock than she was scared. Her blood pressure was still low, as were her platelets, and "my labs were just a mess." She had been diagnosed with pneumonia, as well.
Marc flew back from Augusta, and he was by her side Wednesday morning. By nightfall, Audrey's condition was deteriorating quickly. She had developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, and her lungs were filled with fluid. She also was diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome.
Audrey was struggling to breathe and struggling to say one word at a time. She was scared and didn’t like what she was hearing – and not just from the doctors.
"I could hear the cracking in my chest,” Audrey said. “I could feel it.”
Then came the news that the doctor wanted to intubate her. It was about 4 a.m. on Thursday, and Audrey kept begging for more time because she wanted to talk to her sons when they woke up that morning.
"I was really afraid I was never going to wake up," she explained.
The last thing Audrey remembers with any certainty is calling her parents and telling them that she loved them. She called her brothers, too. In maybe the hardest conversation, Marc and Audrey essentially said their good-byes, as well.
Audrey, meanwhile, was fading in and out of consciousness, even passing out mid-sentence because she didn’t have enough oxygen. The doctors decided they had to get Audrey on a breathing machine -- and fast.
This is wrong, Audrey told Marc. We can’t do it.
But it was necessary.
“If we didn't do that, she would have died,” Marc said. “It all turned out unbelievably well. “
Audrey was sedated but alert enough that she could be awoken because doctors wanted her to keep coughing to dislodge the fluid in her lungs. Although she doesn't remember doing it, she also was able to communicate with the nurses by writing notes on her cell phone, apologizing for arguing with them the previous night.
Thursday night, her doctor decided to turn Audrey on her stomach in a pronate position and she began to improve. Her face was nestled in a cradle, and she has a rectangular spot of what doctors believe to be necrotic tissue a little more than an inch long on the left side of her chin.
Not until Audrey turned the corner did doctors tell Marc her survival rate was 5 percent.
"Just the respiratory distress syndrome alone was a 40 percent mortality rate, and then with the toxic shock syndrome, shutting down my other organs, each organ increases the mortality rate," Audrey said. "So they knew it was bad, but it really wasn't until I was getting better that he then said just how bad it was."
Marc had taken Audrey's photo while she was in the hospital. He did it because he wanted his wife to understand how dire the circumstances had been.
"It took her a good couple of weeks, but she wanted to see it, and I think that was a big step in her … well, I don't want to say her recovery, but I guess her mental recovery, just to see that," Marc said.
"She's spoken to me about it. We've talked, and just not in depth, but she really understands that she's very lucky to be here, which is good from her perspective and mine, too. It's done a lot for me."
Audrey remembers finally waking up on Tuesday morning, April 7, a week after she first went into the hospital. Marc was leaning in close to his wife. All her family was there.
Groggy, Audrey told her husband, “Gosh, you have four eyes.”
She told Marc that she loved him, and he said the same. Together they tried to fill in the gaps in her memory. Mostly, though, they just savored their second chance at life.
Audrey was discharged the following Friday. A bout of pleurisy landed her back in the hospital two days later as doctors made sure the sharp pain in her ribs wasn't a pulmonary embolism. The improvement has been marked ever since.
Harvey and Ollie actually ignored Audrey the first afternoon she was home. Harvey was the first to crack, bringing his ball to his mother, who was laying on the couch, and saying it would make her feel better.
"I think they were punishing me," she said. "But they actually do it to Marc. Every time Marc gets home from a trip they kind of ignore him for the first hour or so. It's not a long time, but I think it's sort of their way of saying how dare you leave me. ...
"It was a little bit hard, though, to be at home and not be able to be mom. It sort of felt like being benched at the big game. I was there but I couldn't really do anything for them. I couldn't pick them up. It was just good to see them. I missed them a lot."
Mom is back, though. Fatigue is still an issue but Audrey knows she will get stronger. She used a walker for about three days, developing confidence, speed and concentrating on the heel-to-toe motion. Now she can even navigate stairs by herself.
When Harvey and Ollie clamor to be picked up now, Audrey can do it. She got the go-ahead to drive a car again last week, so some degree of independence has returned.
Marc Leishman interview after Round 1 of THE PLAYERS
Audrey doesn't know how long it will be before she can walk 18 holes in Marc's gallery. She spent Thursday morning at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse, finally going to the 18th hole just before Marc finished.
She's not putting a timeline on her recovery and calls it a "practice in patience."
Her doctor, though, told her about a former patient who got toxic shock syndrome after cutting herself on a can of soda. She was in a coma for three months and couldn't walk for three years.
"When I hear that, I feel like I actually came out of this really lucky," Audrey said. "I try to focus on that."
She and Marc have been humbled by the outpouring of support since their story became public. While she was still in the hospital, the PGA TOUR Wives Association sent six coolers full of food for the family. So many flowers were delivered, Audrey says their home looks like a floral shop.
"They say it's a big family out here (on TOUR) and it is," Marc said.
She was particularly touched by a friend she hadn't heard from in 10 years. The woman had been diagnosed with Crohn's disease and Audrey delivered a care package that included a Dr. Seuss book so she could read to her child. The friend returned the favor, sending Audrey a copy of the very same book.
A man from Germany named Rudolph, a man Marc had never met, left a message on his Facebook page.
"(He said) I hope this doesn't weird you out that I don't know you and I'm sending you this, but I just want you to know there's prayers coming from all over the world," Marc said. "That was pretty awesome, to get a thing like that. I actually sent that through to Audrey once she got out of the hospital. Just from all around the world, everywhere.
"... I had messages from a lot of friends, but that one really stood out, just how much support we really did have."
Audrey and Marc are renting a condo on the beach this week. It’s a big moment in her recovery. Life is slowly returning to the nomadic normal that is the PGA TOUR.
That first night at the condo, Audrey stood in front of the window, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean. She thought about the past five weeks, how she’s still among the living, still has her family. I’m here, she told herself, and I’m OK.
The Leishmans have always cherished life, but there will never be a day now that they will take for granted.
“Once she recovers, we're going to be different people,” Marc said. “Not that we were bad people beforehand.
“But I feel like we're going to be, yeah, different people."