'I’m still shocked that I’m here': Windsor Paralympian back at home five weeks after being on life support
Danielle Campo-McLeod is recovering from “crazy infection” that nearly claimed her life.
“Any medical professional I talk to about the level of infection, nobody can believe I fought back,” says Campo-McLeod. “I just kept saying in my head ‘failure is not an option. I got a lot of life left to do.’”
On Aug. 16, the 36-year-old went to Windsor Regional Hospital to give birth to her third child, a healthy little girl she and her husband Denny named Morgan.
“Having two other babies before this it was never the same,” says Campo-McLeod. “Hour by hour you get stronger and it was like minute by minute I was feeling worse.”
Campo-McLeod was eventually allowed to go home, but within 12 hours she was on her way back to the hospital in an ambulance.
“I have a memory of leaving on the stretcher and just being terrified that I wasn’t coming back (home). It was awful. I locked eyes with my father in law and he knew what I was feeling, and we kinda shared a moment of, ‘I think this is it,’” reflects Campo-McLeod.
“It was just a crazy infection that started, and grew into some abscesses and that exploded and led into septic shock,”she said.
Campo-McLeod had four bowel surgeries in one week and was placed on heavy antibiotics to rid her body of the infection.
Much of that time, she has no memory of.
“I woke up (in ICU) and I knew I was on life support but I had no idea how that happened,” she said.
“It was a nightmare,” explains her husband Denny McLeod.
“I just went day by day, minute by minute, trying to make the right decisions,” says McLeod. “She said do everything possible, I don’t want to go anywhere and I just kept saying that to the doctors, she wants everything done.”
McLeod says so many friends and family were asking for updates via text messages, he decided to post their journey on Facebook, not knowing the outpouring of support they would receive.
“I can’t express my gratitude for all these people that reached out, and to be able to bring the news to Danielle when she woke up, it helped her get better.”
The community was asked by the Campo and McLeod families, to light a candle in the evenings, and to pray for Danielle.
“I’d close my eyes and there would be all of these flickering lights,” says Campo-McLeod. “It had to be the candles you know what I mean?”
A two-time Paralympic medalist, Campo-McLeod says she approached her recovery just like a strenuous training session.
“I noticed in the (ventilator) that there’s a valve that goes up and down when you breath, so I thought okay I can use this as breathing training. If I can hold the valve up longer, I know my lungs are getting stronger.”
Campo-McLeod says she is no stranger to living with pain, having been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a child and she admits she had some “dark moments”.
“I’d ask myself why? I just wanted to have a baby,” says Campo-McLeod. “Everybody has two boys and wants that third one to get the girl and I got the girl and then this happened. Why does it have to be so hard?”
She says she would then think about those children, and find the strength to carry on.
“I don’t want my children’s story to be ‘my mom died when we were little’. And that kept me going,” she said.
Campo-McLeod was in the ICU for 15 days, nine of which spent on life support.
When she left the ICU, Campo-McLeod was faced with a daunting recovery to strengthen everything from her lung capacity to the muscles in her body.
“Every small exercise feels like a three hour Olympic workout,” she says.
After being in hospital for nearly eight weeks, Campo-McLeod was allowed to come home on Halloween, just in time to surprise her two young sons, who were ready to go trick-or-treating.
“To get into the car with Denny to leave the hospital, we cried the whole way home,” says Campo-McLeod.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to a quote un quote normal life with us,” says McLeod.
McLeod says he’s getting recognized by strangers on the street, asking for updates and offering support.
“I don’t know how I can repay you (the community) but thank you very much.”
Danielle for her part is grateful to the community she has always loved.
“It just shows how great Windsor-Essex is and the miracles we can make happen all together.”
As the young family tries to put their life back on track, Campo-McLeod says she appreciates the little things.
“This morning it was chaos in here. Getting one (of her sons) ready for school and the babies crying and the toddlers grabbing things and I thought old Danielle would have been like ‘oh my god it’s not organized’. Now, I’m like loving the chaos.”
And, she is learning to be okay with “the little slide backs”.
“When I wanna run after one of the kids and I can’t, its like ‘its okay, just five weeks ago I was on life support’. It’s okay that today I just managed to make breakfast.”