In 2007, David Ling was stung by a bee for the first time in his life. Within minutes, he displayed one of the classic symptoms of an allergic reaction – difficulty breathing – and was soon diagnosed with an allergy to bee stings.
But, he never realized just how serious his allergy was – until July 24, 2011. On that day, David, along with his friend, J.D. Kaufmann, was preparing for an annual canoeing trip in the Gaylord area, which was supposed to occur the following weekend.
To prepare for the trip, David and J.D. were outside, exploring the beauty of the northern Lower Peninsula, when they discovered a bee’s nest. Familiar with his diagnosis, J.D. decided to destroy the nest, while David ran about 20 yards away from it, which he believed was a safe distance.
Unfortunately, it was not. As he ran away, one bee still managed to follow him, eventually stinging his nose. Luckily, in the midst of the chaos, David was prepared. He immediately injected himself with an EpiPen, which contains epinephrine, a chemical used to treat allergic reactions.
Despite his preparations, the EpiPen did not alleviate his allergic reaction, as he began to suffer respiratory arrest. J.D. attempted to dial 9-1-1, but, since they were in the middle of the woods, they had limited cell phone access. By the time J.D. was able to drive David to Gaylord to meet up with an ambulance, he had been without oxygen for 17 minutes.
David’s situation was urgent. Soon after being admitted to Otsego Memorial Hospital, he was transferred to Kalamazoo’s Bronson Methodist Hospital, where he spent the next ten days in the intensive care unit. During the first four days of his hospitalization, he slowly recovered from the heavy sedation he had been given during his flight to Bronson.
When his doctors were unsatisfied with his progress, they decided to consult a neurologist, who conducted a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of his brain. The neurologist’s discovery was heartbreaking not only for J.D., but for David’s wife, Katrina, who had asked doctors to transfer him to Bronson in the first place. According to the MRI, David had sustained severe anoxic brain injury.
“The neurologist’s prediction, at best, was a 75 percent recovery with some significant disabilities,” Katrina said. “Doctors were worried that he may never walk, talk, or even be able to care for himself again, which was pretty scary to think about since he had always been an active, on-the-go kind of guy.”
She continued, “I immediately wanted him to go to Mary Free Bed, since I had heard so many good things about the facility in the past.”
Katrina’s wishes were granted, as David was soon transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, where he would spend the next seven weeks.
For nearly two months, he received physical, occupational, and speech therapies, as he had to relearn basic skills, from counting money and brushing his teeth, to walking, eating, and climbing stairs.
As he relearned such tasks, Katrina was overwhelmed by the way in which the hospital’s staff supported him throughout his stay.
“David is not the easiest man to care for, as he is a big guy,” Katrina said. “It took several staff members to care for him at the beginning, including two to three just to transfer him in and out of bed, but they did a great job.”
Throughout the next seven weeks, Katrina watched her husband steadily improve, as he began to walk behind a walker, guided by Mary Free Bed staff members. As time passed, he was able to walk with standby assistance only, until he finally had enough strength to walk around the hospital’s halls completely by himself.
“I had anticipated having to spend the holidays at Mary Free Bed, but they released him on September 24th,” Katrina stated. “It was nothing short of a miracle.”
Since being released, David has established a variety of goals for himself – from being rehired as a police officer, to going back to Eastern Michigan University to complete his “Staff and Command” courses and earn a master’s degree in public relations. And there is no reason to believe such goals will not be achieved. After all, he already accomplished a significant milestone in May – by passing his driver’s test and receiving his license back.
“While he was at Mary Free Bed, his main motivation was to get back home so that he could spend time with our two boys, Jackson and Jace,” Katrina said. “The fact that he is home, taking care of himself, our boys, and our home is more than enough for me. There was a time that I feared that may never happen again.”
Although David still has some complications from his brain injury, including comprehension, multi-tasking, and speech issues, his recovery is currently estimated to be around 90 percent.
“I am realistic in knowing he may never fully recover, but he has come so far already and I would love to see him continue to improve,” Katrina said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him and his improvements.”
She added, “David and I have had a motto throughout this entire adventure – ‘Have faith…expect miracles!’ And David Ling is a miracle!”
Chris Lewis is a writer and editor for several national online publications. He’s been writing patient stories for the Stories That Move You blog for about a year.