Health Team

Man spends 80 days in hospital fighting H1N1 flu

Posted December 9, 2009 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated December 9, 2009 7:17 p.m. EST

— Many people with the H1N1 flu spend a few days at home feeling sick, and then they return to work. But one man has been hospitalized at Duke and Durham regional hospitals for 80 days.

“On Sept. 7, something happened,” said Carl Foster. “And all of a sudden, I just dropped off the face of the Earth.”

He developed what he thought was a cold, but it only got worse. Foster was diagnosed with the H1N1 flu and spent more than eight weeks in the intensive care unit.

He suffered every possible complication – blood clots in his legs and lungs, pulmonary hypertension, heart problems, kidney problems and a bleed in his brain. He eventually progressed and is now in a regular hospital bed.

“He came very close to dying,” said Foster’s sister, Dr. Carmen Foster, who is an ophthalmologist. “We've told him that he was one of the sickest people in the world.”

Early on in his sickness, Foster was sedated so a special ventilator could keep him breathing, his sister said. He almost needed the highest level of support, a heart/lung machine, but doctors first tried giving him nitric oxide – a gas in the blood that opens blood vessels so oxygen can reach body tissues like the heart and lungs.

“After he got the nitric oxide, he miraculously improved,” Carmen Foster said.

Foster said he doesn’t remember most of his 80 days in the hospital, but he remembers what's important.

“It's not an always easy fight, but the first rule, you've got to live to fight another day. Don't give up,” he said.

His family, a 17-year-old daughter, and his fiancée, Elizabeth Martinez, gave him the encouragement to fight, he said.

“As soon as he's able, I'm going to marry this man and take him home,” Martinez said.

“I'm going to walk out of here to my family,” Foster said. “I'll be home for Christmas.”

Doctors stress that everyone should get both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu vaccine when it's available.

“That's because you never know if it may trigger life-threatening complications,” said WRAL’s Dr. Allen Mask. “It can happen to anyone, and not just people you might consider being at high risk.”