Just over a year ago, Chief Pharmacy Officer Lee Golden thought he had a sinus infection. The weekend before, the competitive marathoner and father of two had just completed a 20-mile training run. But something wasn’t right. Within just a few days, he was admitted to the hospital with suspected meningitis. But other than a severe headache and some blurred vision, everything looked normal. They were ready to discharge him.
“I said no – something is happening,” says Lee. “Even though a spinal tap had come back clear, my gait was off. Thankfully, they listened, and a neurologist ordered an MRI, which showed nerve damage.”
The MRI results showed the myelin sheath, which insulates nerve cells and allows electrical impulses to be transmitted from the nervous system to the rest of the body, were damaged through the upper two-thirds of Golden’s spinal cord. It was as if he had developed ALS – commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease – overnight. Things moved swiftly – and dramatically – after that. From St. Thomas Rutherford in Murfreesboro, Golden was transferred to St. Thomas Midtown in Nashville. He wasn’t able to walk or move his arms very well, and from the neck down, he could only move his fingers and toes. To make matters worse, Golden’s second child was about to be delivered in Murfreesboro while he struggled to breath in Nashville.
Five Months in Atlanta
The mystery of his illness deepened. Neurologists ruled out Guillain Barre Syndrome, and then settled on transverse myelitis, which was also eliminated as a cause. He continued to decline. After a month, a neurologist at St. Thomas arranged for him to transfer to Shepherd Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord injuries. For five months, Golden had a ventilator to breathe, a tube to feed him, was catheterized and had a jugular central line. “I found myself using every service available from TwelveStone — it was a very strange place to be.”
With no diagnosis and no clarity on what the future held, Lee was at a low point. But there was one bright spot, and perhaps the first sign that things were changing for the better. Lee’s wife Diana delivered a healthy baby boy, Jacob, just four days after Lee was admitted to St. Thomas Rutherford. Baby Jacob joined 3 year-old Scarlett. “My family was staying with my sister in-law in Atlanta, and it really helped to have them nearby. At that point, my biggest concern was the impact on Scarlett. When I was in the ICU, she couldn’t see me, and at her tender age I didn’t want her to think I had abandoned her,” says Golden.
At Shepherd, Golden’s condition slowly began to improve. “I went from being one of the sickest patients at St. Thomas to being one of the healthiest at Shepherd – it was a crazy transition.”
After three months in-patient and 2 months of outpatient physical therapy, Golden walked out of Shepherd (cautiously) and returned to Murfreesboro.
Back at Work and Moving Forward
Today, Lee is back at work and tackling his professional, athletic and personal goals just as he did before. Bolstered by support from family, friends and his co-workers at TwelveStone Lee has continued with therapy including a rigorous walking regime that is slowly advancing and has
included participation in the Atlanta Peachtree Road Race whose path goes right past Shepherd. Doctors still don’t know the cause of his illness. A Shepherd physician speculates that the combination of the 20-mile run, starting a new job, and baby Jacob’s pending arrival could have triggered some sort of dysfunctional autoimmune response (“a perfect storm”, so to speak). “I have never slept a ton-about 5 hours a night-maybe it all added up,” says Golden.
His odyssey gave him a renewed perspective on a number of fronts:
Healthcare: “There are a crazy amount of bills, as you can imagine. While I knew this as a provider, it was as a healthy, young man. It really opened my eyes as to how things work, especially for chronic care patients. I have a lot of empathy for those that struggle with skyrocketing expenses, and I truly identify with the TwelveStone mission to simplify healthcare delivery and make every patient’s healthcare journey a little bit easier.”
His work family: “I can’t say enough about how much TwelveStone, and especially Shane (Reeves), have stood by me and my family throughout this ordeal. He visited me in Nashville and Atlanta and provided encouragement and support to my wife where he could. But everyone stepped up to help. We’d invested a lot in training our clinical directors,and I really saw that pay off. They stepped up to the plate and made sure everything continued to function smoothly. What’s more, the company stopped operations several times to pray for me. If you’re going to have something like this happen to you, it certainly helps to work for a faith based organization like TwelveStone.
On faith: “I know it’s a cliché to say but there truly is nothing more important than having faith. If you don’t know God, then being at a place like Shepherd, and not knowing what’s wrong with you, could be a very dark time. I recall one caregiver I got to know well there (as a patient and fellow healthcare provider) asking me – ‘Do you think these things happen randomly, or is there a reason?’ My response was, there definitely is a reason. If you start thinking it is random, then you have no Hope.”
Run Again: “Some of my running buddies made regular trips to Atlanta to see me at Shepherd. One of their sons made a card for me, and written on the front was “Run Again”. My sister in-law saw that posted on the wall in my hospital room and she loved it. She created a wristband referencing some scripture and “Run Again” on it to be a constant reminder of at least one of the goals ahead of me. At Thanksgiving, a lot of my TwelveStone colleagues ran the Boro Dash wearing their Run Again shirts. That was certainly inspiring, and it meant a lot to me. Since then I’ve walked a 5K and 10k, and I hope to get back to running soon.”
Lee Golden believes that hard work is a key component for recovery, but you can’t make your own miracles. For that, he has his Faith, and the support of his family, friends, and TwelveStone.