Barbara "Bonne" Jones doesn't take anything for granted, especially being able to walk. Over just a few weeks last year, the St. Augustine, Florida, realtor went from being active to being paralyzed from the waist down.
The onset of her illness was sudden and mysterious. She fell ill, landed in the Emergency Department, and ended up on a ventilator. Then she learned she was paralyzed. In the wake of a hurricane, Bonne's life was turned upside down.
With assistance and care from her Mayo Clinic team, however, along with intense rehabilitation and a can-do spirit, today Bonne is on her feet again.
In November 2016, Bonne headed to South Florida with friends for a getaway after dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Unfortunately, on arrival, Bonne felt so ill that she stayed in bed for two days, unable to enjoy the time with her friends. When Bonne returned home, her husband, Greg, took her to a local emergency room.
Bonne was diagnosed with meningitis and sepsis, an immune response triggered by a bacterial infection that gets into the bloodstream. If left untreated, sepsis can lead to organ injury or failure. The likely source of the infection was a piece of wood that got stuck in her toe while surveying a property damaged by the hurricane.
Bonne also developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs' air sacs. The fluid keeps the lungs from filling with air, so less oxygen reaches the bloodstream, depriving organs of oxygen they need. As a result, Bonne was placed on a ventilator to help her breathe.
When she was able to be taken off the ventilator, doctors discovered she was paralyzed from the waist down. Scans of her lower back found that Bonne had severe compression of the spinal cord.
Thanksgiving weekend, after a week in the hospital, Bonne was transferred to Mayo Clinic hospital in Florida.
"When the ambulance pulled up to Mayo, I felt relief," Bonne says. "I felt everything was finally going to be OK."
Neurosurgeon Ronald Reimer, M.D., confirmed the severe infection had caused compression of Bonne's spinal cord and paralysis. The next day, Dr. Reimer performed an upper thoracic laminectomy to drain abscesses that had formed along her spine and relieve the pressure on her spinal cord.
The procedure involved removing the bony lamina at the upper four levels of the thoracic spine. Antibiotics were also administered directly into the site. Though the surgery was successful, Dr. Reimer cautioned that because Bonne had spent more than a week with spinal cord compression and paralysis, her recovery might be limited.
"Dr. Reimer told my husband, Greg, that I was going to be OK, but I may never walk again," Bonne says. "I remember thinking, 'That's not going to work for me.' The whole time I was hospitalized, I never felt a disconnect from my legs. If someone touched my legs with a feather, I could feel the feather. So I was hopeful that I would be able to walk."
That optimism came, in large part, from the excellent care and support she received from the medical team at Mayo.
"Dr. Reimer's expertise and care was wonderful. He was right there every day," she says. "He's a very caring human being and an incredible surgeon."
Bonne was discharged from Mayo Clinic on Dec. 14, 2016, and then spent several weeks at an inpatient rehabilitation facility. Within three weeks, she was able to take some steps while supporting herself on parallel bars.
"I used to play golf and walk a lot. I could do anything I wanted to do," Bonne says. "I never gave in before, and I wasn't going to give in now."
The persistence paid off. In early January, Bonne began walking with a walker and a cane, or by holding onto countertops in her home. A month later, she was able to take steps on her own without any assistance. The next milestone: to go up the stairs in her home.
"It was a big moment for me and everyone in my family to see me go up the steps," she says. "It felt wonderful. It's just a miracle. There's no other explanation other than Dr. Reimer's expertise and my determination."
Bonne is grateful for the care she received at Mayo Clinic and looks forward to enjoying her two grandchildren.
"The overall care I received was phenomenal," she says. "I look forward to enjoying each and every day, and taking time to stop to smell the roses."
Watch the video below to learn more about Bonne's story and her extraordinary recovery.