Patsy Zobel has a titanium leg, a will of steel, and a heart of gold

MANILA, Philippines — Patsy Zobel has climbed Kilimanjaro, been to the Arctic and Antarctic, dived Tubbataha, Galapagos and Cocos, and walked the entire 800km Camino, by herself, in 28 days.

But as she describes her adventures among all these wonders of the world, I see a living wonder before me.

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In 2012, she beat endometrial cancer. A hip replacement brought about by a bad fall from a horse in 2017 has not stopped her from continuing to pursue a life of adventure. As Patsy speaks, her eyes sparkle; her smile is wide. She brims with infectious joy. Yet just two years ago, she lay in an induced coma at the Makati Medical Center, her life hanging by a thread. She was given a 3% chance to live.

Today, she welcomes me into her home and into three hours of intimate conversation — punctuated by laughter, tears (mostly mine), and hugs. This is her story — as told by Patsy herself,her daughter Sandra, and her lead doctor and longtime friend, Dr. Bernard Cueto.

Patsy and her eldest daughter SandraPatsy Zobel

Me: "Do you know, as you were hanging between worlds, I was on the same floor in MMC as you,also undergoing leg surgery for ACL reconstruction. When I was discharged, I was with your brothers in the elevator. Ever the gentlemen, they were concerned and solicitous about my injury, despite probably being intensely worried about you. How did it happen?"

Patsy: "On February 7, 2020, I was on a remote island offSiargao where not many people go, trying to help this community – it’s beautiful and very undisturbed. Walking out to the boat in low tide, I stepped on a cone snail – a very poisonous creature whose venom has no antidote. It’s very rare; it’s not usually found where people are. It is like a slug that shoots a dart of poison and this poison is extremely deadly.

The shells are quite common, everyone has seen them lying on the beach. But when they are inhabited, the creature is very dangerous. Everyone in that area knows that you have to pick it up with a net, as it will shoot out a dart, with heavy toxins, meant to paralyze its prey. The dart itself is not very painful, so you say 'ouch!,' not realizing what it is that hurt you; and you carry on during the day. But little by little, the toxins start going up, paralyzing your legs, your kidneys, your liver, your lungs, your heart."

Me: "So you didn’t identify the creature that had hurt you at first?"

Patsy: "I thought I had stepped on a sea urchin or something. I had a mark on the bottom of my foot and we figured, something had pierced it. We go to remote places not just here but in other parts of the world --Fiji, Tahiti, and they always say oh, be careful of the cone snail — so we knew about it — but we never knew anyone who hadactually stepped on it."

Me: "What did that feel like?"

Patsy: "Well, I just felt sleepy. I felt like I wanted to sleep and for 24 hours I was telling them, 'Leave me alone, leave me alone, I just want to sleep.'

They brought me back to my house in Siargao. It was just me and my household staff there, and [my partner] Alex just happened to arrive on a last minute trip. When he saw me, he recognized that this was not a common injury, and he called the nurse. My legs had started turning black already. It could have all gone very wrong. Thankfully, Alex made the decision that I must be taken to MMC, as soon as possible.

Things aligned. There happened tobe an ambulance plane in Davao going back to Manila. It picked me up and I was transported to Makati Med.

I have been poisoned so many times, stepped on so many creatures, sea urchins, corals — allI need normally is an IV for dehydration and antibiotics, and in two days I’m up and going. I do so many missions in the islands every year, I go diving, I eat some bad lobster – so every year this happens. So when I entered MMC on February 8, I said just do the usual, antibiotics and I’ll be fine. But I had arrived in a terrible condition – all my organs were failing, and they needed first and foremost to keep me alive.

Poor Dr. Cueto tried to contact my whole family, but because they are used to my misadventures, no one was giving it any importance! It was only when my brother in law Patxi came and saw that I couldn’t breathe by myself anymore that he told my siblings how bad the situation was. His was the last face I remember seeing."

Sandra: "We have grown accustomed to being a little scared for her now and then, but as mum said, she usually just gets some IV antibiotics and is back on the road... or the sea!

This time was different. My uncle Patxi was with her when she arrived in the hospital. My Tito Fernando, my brother Eduardo and her partner Alex soon became her first responders. When they called me and said to fly over ASAP, I was a bit worried but knowing her I thought I would only be there for a week tops. I asked my Tito if I should fly over first, see what was going on and then decide of we should take Toby out of school as he was in the UK and we knew my mum wouldn't want him skipping school because we were overreacting!

When my Tito told me not to wait and to bring Toby with me, I got scared. When we arrived, my mum was sedated already. Seeing her so still, weak and vulnerable is what shocked all of us the most because that just wasn't the Patsy we knew. Dr. Cueto headed her case personally, coordinating brilliantly with all the doctors who became part of my mum's recovery team."

Me: "What did the medical team need to do?"

Patsy: "In MMC, by pure coincidence, they had just learned to use the ECMO machine — a very complicated machine that is plugged into your heart, lungs and vital organs to keep them working, taking over their functions.

The medical team told my family, we don’t know what’s going on, because all her organs are failing. We only normally use the ECMO machine with people who have 20% chance of living or above. It’s a huge process to do it for somebody who might not make it.What do you want to do? Thank God, my family all said YES! Give it a try!

They strapped me down, put me in a coma, put the tubes in me, to buy time while they were figuring out what was going on. This was on February 10."

Sandra: "Luckily, two brilliant doctors, Dr. Tabora and Dr. Castro, had just returned from France from completing their training with ECMO equipment. Had they not reacted as fast, we would have lost my mother that very same day. The ECMO machine needs two specialized doctors, one for the heart and one for the lungs so it was a true example of perfect teamwork that we were able to witness. Because of the severity of my mum's case and because day after day she kept fighting through and surprising everyone by surviving another day, the team of doctors took it as a sign that if she was fighting, they would have to fight just as much by her side.

The dedication and professionalism was breathtaking. She had a team with her on constant rotation 24/7, taking vitals and readings from the ECMO machine. The clock was ticking as usually a patient can't be on ECMO for more than 14 days because the body becomes prone to infection because of all the tubes."

Dr. Cueto:"We only normally use the ECMO (ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine with people who have at least a 20% chance of surviving. Our assessment in her condition was that Patsy only had a 3% chance. It’s a huge process to do for somebody who might not make it. It was a big risk — but we had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Every day, the medical team had to wake her out of her coma for one hour toasses her neurological condition — was she improving or getting worse? Then we had to return her to coma state. We had difficulty clearing her lungs of phlegm, so we performed a tracheostomy (opening her neck, inserting a tube) for her to breathe easily and for us to remove the phlegm. We also noted the swelling of the whole body, with blisters, due to the poison."

Me: "What was going on with your family? How did they manage, having to make these difficult decisions for you?"

Patsy: "They were protecting my parents, so they didn’t deliver the difficult news at first. [In the meantime, my children — Sandra in Madrid, Eddie who is based here, Toby in boarding school in England, Bellie, 16 years old, the youngest, all came to be at my side.]"

Sandra: "When my mum's body reacted to the poison caused by the cone snail, her body started shutting down. Because her immune system got so low, a streptococcus pyogene virus she was carrying without even knowing (any of us can be carriers at any point) decided to take advantage and attack. It lay in her lungs and contributed to the shutdown of all her vital organs, going after her heart, lungs, liver, kidneys... It became a monster in her ready to destroy everything in her.

This is when Dr. Ruth Divinagracia joined the team. Dr. Divinagracia was my mum's perfect match as she pushed her unconscious body, like my mum would have wanted if she were awake. Mum doesn't react well to hand-holding; she needs challenges to overcome and even on an unconscious level, her doctora was giving her that, and my mother never once let her down!"

Me: "Did they decide to amputate immediately?"

Dr. Cueto: "Days after, we noted discoloration of the left leg and also of the right toes; the sacral area was becoming discolored as well. It eventually became a decubitus ulcer also because of the effect of the poison.. We warned the family: 'If you want her to live, we have to amputate the left leg below the knee and the trans metatarsal digits of her right foot.' It was not an easy decision to make. But they did give their consent, and the amputation was done by Dr. Victor Gisbert in two surgeries: Patsy’s left leg on February 17 and the portion of her right foot on February 27."

Sandra: "My mum's feet and hands became black. Thankfully her hands recovered blood flow but her legs weren't as lucky. This was due to two major factors: the first being the fact that she had been poisoned and had an active infection moving up one of her legs; the second was that the ECMO machine was keeping her alive but also taking out a lot of blood from her arteries in her legs, oxygenating it and putting it right back into her heart which meant that all that blood was unable to reach her extremities properly which cause the other foot to suffer from gangrene.

Dr. Gisbert was very careful not to get our hopes up and give us realistic information for us to mentally prepare for an amputation. He informed us that he would only allow the active infection to go so far and explained that my mum's quality of life with a below-the-knee amputation would be much better than if she had to live with an ankle amputation or hip amputation. The doctors decided to give my mum some blood thinners, hoping it would facilitate blood flow to the feet, but there was just nothing they could do.

It was either her feet or her life — which was not even an option. The doctor had to 'wake up' my mum for a few minutes a day to do a neuro test where she was asked to follow a flashlight and squeeze the doctor's hand. Taking advantage of this, we asked the doctors to inform her about the amputation and film the conversation in case she ever asked to see what had happened. Even if she doesn't remember it and has never asked to see the video, she blinked, understanding the severity and need of what was happening.

The other foot didn't vary, so they waited for her to be awake and conscious to make that decision for herself. When she saw the foot, she agreed immediately and in this case because there was no active infection she got a TMA (trans-metatarsal amputation) where they removed the fingers so in this case, she would only need a foot filler instead of a prosthetic leg and she could still lean and walk on her heel."

First prosthetic leg fittingPatsy Zobel

Me: "And you fought to stay alive for that week…"

Patsy: "It was a strong will to fight and to come back.

And the minute they made the decision to amputate my infected leg, my whole body kicked back. I did not have to spend energy fighting infection; immediately, my heart started pumping on its own, the lungs came back. So the doctors were very happy because some people are so exhausted already, that the heart doesn’t come back — but mine did, so little by little, they started taking out the tubes, and then it was the fight to recover — the most exhausting part."

Me: "Do you remember anything about being in a coma? From the little I heard, you were in and out the whole time and heavily drugged — I would be surprised if you remembered anything."

Patsy: "I have no conscious recollection whatsoever of anything that was happening around me.

[In coma, in my state of survival] there was a feeling of being drained — your energy is draining from you. There was a feeling that there was something wrong, and that I had to really fight.

One memory that I have was that a Mass was going on, I remember candles, and in my dream was a Pink Sister who I was very close to, and my cousin, Maria. They had both passed away, and so I asked them later on — and there was a mass kind of saying goodbye to me!At this point, nobody thought I was going to make it!

[But it was a blessing that] this had all happened [to us] before the Covid lockdown. We had the ER to ourselves, doctors and our families could come and go.[And that was critical.] If I hadn’t had my family talking to me, touching me the whole time — it might have turned out different — because when you’re in coma, it’s a very strange thing, it’s not a happy place. If there’s anyone in a coma keep talking, and touching, the legs, the hands… I could hear them encouraging me. And it was lucky that they were taking turns — Alex, my children, my siblings — it calms you down.You’re in a state that – it’s like a bad dream — wellI don’t know if some people have happy comas (laughs), maybe they do – but the medication they give you for the heart gives you a lot of nightmares. One vivid one was that I was locked in a circular room I couldn’t getout of. I felt alone, abandoned. Very strange, very uneasy, very uncomfortable, very despairing.

So it’s important to have someone talking to you and grounding you… it’s important to know that there’s somebody there – if not, it’s a very lonely place. The patient in a coma has to hear you, has to (feel connected)."

Sandra: "My mum spent two weeks in an OR because she wouldn't fit in a recovery room surrounded by and plugged into so many machines. All of them beeping and showing different numbers on each screen. It was terrifying.

When my mum woke up from the coma, she didn't remember anything, but she did like the feeling of knowing she wasn't alone which is why she mentioned the value of hearing our voices, touching her arm. We also played music for her... and she remembered prayers (when she was awake before an operation once, we told her the Pink Sisters were praying for her which we knew would help her). Two very important people appeared to her while she was in a coma (one of them her cousin who passed away, apparently told her it was not her time!) and we had a mass. Not to say goodbye like she says, but to give us strength. For her to keep fighting, for her doctors to keep going and for us to be able to face whatever came with hope. None of us were ready to say goodbye and clearly neither was she!"

Dr. Cueto: "After about 10 days, we removed her from the ECMO machine. She was transferred to a regular intensive care unit, then a few days, in a regular room."

Me: What was your first thought when you woke up?

Patsy: "When I finally woke up, my family was standing around me. When I saw them, all I thought – 'Hmmmm, not a good thing! This isn’t going the way I thought it would happen!'

They were looking at me, relieved, and so was I! Then somebody pushed the doctor forward to deliver the news. I remember him saying that they had to amputate, and I said, 'Just do it!' But it had happened already, and surprisingly, it didn’t come as a shock. I knew just by looking at them that I had come very close to losing my life, and all I wanted to do was live...

So the minute I woke up and I saw everybody there I said, 'Oh my God, thank the Lord!'."

Sandra: "We had all been anxiously waiting for that moment for two weeks. To see her out of sedation allowed us all to take a deep breath for the first time. I remember Dr. Gisbert saying, 'the worst is over' and my inner dark sense of humor kicked in thinking, 'You have no idea what you're saying!' Now the tough part starts because she is going to start taking charge of everything, she will not follow the expected road to recovery, she will probably tell doctors how to do their jobs better and not allow them to keep her in the hospital a second longer than what she feels she needs to stay! But of course, bring it on! That just meant she was back and stronger than ever."

Me: "You are a fighter!"

Patsy: "Clearly, and my next thought was – you have to get me out of here; I have to get my son to college!"

Sandra: "When she woke up, she couldn't talk because she had needed a tracheostomy. It was scary but still not her scariest moment. The next day, they unplugged enough machines to be able to move to an ICU recovery room. This for her was unfortunately the worst part of her recovery. Aside from not being able to talk or move because all her muscles had completely lost their strength and ability to react, her body was also in shock after all the poison and medication had started to subside.

This room had no window that allowed her to look outside to have a reference to the time of day, or a watch or TV on the wall, nothing. All she could do was stare at the ceiling and see all these doctors come and go and of course, we all had to suit up with hats, masks, robes, gloves, shoes... it must have been horrible not to see a friendly face in a time like that. She started hallucinating and having horrible dreams which meant she would avoid falling asleep. She told the doctors about this. Three days later, she was moved up to a normal recovery room with a team of private ICU nurses who could give her the care she needed and just being able to look out of the window made such a difference. She still had nightmares and paranoia but her attitude was totally different."

Me: "So you have nine lives, like a cat? What number are you on?"

Patsy: "(Laughs) Well, my parents would say that!

When you go on extreme adventures, you assume that there are risks involved. When I went up Kilimanjaro, they told me there was a risk, a possibility, that I would get altitude sickness, that I might succumb to frostbite in my extremities. There are constant dangers involved and I always understood that amputation is one of them. That it might be necessary to save a life."

Patsy when she was welcomed home by family and friendsPatsy Zobel

Me: "What were the challenges of recovery – especially during a pandemic?"

Patsy: "[Whether or not there is a pandemic,] the therapy after is so very hard. They [amputated] my toes on the right foot and my left leg from under the knee. I had a lot of phantom pain, it felt like I was getting electric shocks [in my leg and foot even though it was no longer there.] I had sores all over my body, which was still trying to eliminate the remaining toxins, and it was so hard to stay in one position. But my nurses were so patient, they kept turning me every 20 minutes. I had to move because I was so uncomfortable.

While in coma, I had just been lying down. My muscles had wasted away, and I couldn’t lift even a finger – I thought I was paralyzed. I mean literally, I couldn’t talk, my brain was going a mile a minute so I was trying to express so many things. They put a pencil in my hand, telling me to write it down, and literally (holds her hand limp and lets an imaginary pencil drop to the floor).

I was sent home on March 1, three weeks after I had been admitted, with six nurses. Covid had started and it was dangerous to stay in the hospital. We made a mini barracks at home and they put my bed in sitting room. My therapist Jeff was the only one who was allowed to come in daily.

Patsy Zobel has a titanium leg, a will of steel, and a heart of gold

We started with simple tasks like holding things in my hand, then learning how to turn myself, then sit up by myself. In the beginning, they had to bathe me and carry me onto the wheelchair. Jeff taught me how to slide myself onto the wheelchair, then bathe myself. Then he put me on the floor and say, 'Now you have to get up off the floor,' and I would wail – 'No, I can’t!'

But there are tricks! You have to roll, and he taught me all the tricks, and the body remembers! But honestly, the kindness of the doctors and nurses and the hope that they gave me played a big part in my recovery, too. And of course, the encouragement of my family."

Sandra: "She had to make peace with two amputations. She would beg us to get her out of the hospital, we would explain she couldn't walk and she would answer, 'Of course I can, get the car!.'

Getting her voice back, which they warned us might have changed, getting her muscles moving again because she couldn't even lift a finger on her own and recover from a huge bed-sore they warned us might never close because she had had to lay so still because of the ECMO machine. She started working on a daily basis with Jeff, her PT, to adjust to her new leg situation, she got talking, she started writing and she powered through all the medical stuff she needed to get home.

She proved to us again and again there was nothing she couldn't do. My mum is the living example of never seeing problems, just solutions. She moves forward and no matter what always comes out stronger. On our end, we had to keep up with her recovery and quickly adapt our home to her new needs because we found ourselves in an ambulance headed home much sooner than any of us expected. The doctors kept saying to take it easy... words she will never live by!

As soon as we left, the hospital filled with Covid patients just three days later... everything that happened since she stepped on that assassin-slug was about perfect timing. Alex finding her, the plane taking her to MMC, the ECMO team having just arrived from training, leaving just before Covid... Her immune system was still extremely low, it was made very clear to us that if she went home she couldn't catch so much as a cold."

Recovery, water therapy, and learning to move (and swim!) againPatsy Zobel

Me: "When you came out of the hospital, did you already have your artificial leg?"

Patsy: "No…that didn’t come for a long time! Number one, you have to let the stump heal — all the scars have to heal.

Then, it was Covid, so I went to Ottobock (one of the world’s leading prosthetics companies) and they said the office in Germany is closed down. We can’t get any parts and we can’t go to see you — so it took four months before I could start the fitting. But waiting made me stronger, it gave me more time, it made me really strengthen my whole body to be able to accept [the prosthetic]. Because, I thought I would just put it on and I would come out walking – but it’s really hard.

The first time you fit [the prosthetic leg], if the socket doesn’t fit properly, the pain is unbearable. The Ottobock team told me: 'Don’t give up, you have to complain, you have to say where it hurts, so we can keep adjusting, keep adjusting.' There’s silicon and a lot of padding so you think, there’s no way it can hurt! See? (She removes her leg and shows me). But there’s a lot of nerves, and they are super sensitive, and the bone would also hit the socket, so the prosthetist has to keep readjusting.

So I had tokeep going back, until finally one day – it fit perfectly! And to think, some people get tired of fitting at one point, and then they end up not wearing their prosthetic leg, because it is so painful. Now it feels like I’m not wearing anything. I also wear this silicone sleeve on top of it so it doesn’t slip out when I walk.

I have a special prosthetic leg with a fin for diving. I tried diving with my everyday leg once and I said, 'Whee, I’m diving!,' and then my leg floated off!

So I asked for a diving leg. My poor prosthetist said, 'Can we just get you walking with the regular leg first?' But I said, 'No, you don’t understand, I need to be able to swim again! Without a fin, I just float, and I can’t direct myself in the water!'

Riota, themeticulous Japanese orthopedic doctor at Ottobock, thinks I’m totally crazy! I don’t stop bugging him — What if I want to play golf? What if I want to go skiing? He was horrified!

So of course, he made me a hiking leg which I use for both these activities,and for paddleboarding, too. This kind of foot has more ankle mobility, so I can now play nine holes of golf pretty much the same as before my accident.

So when I travel, I plan which legs to take with me. Everything has to be done slower, I need more time to plan... if I bring two legs, that’s a lot of weight added to my luggage." (Laughter)

Getting stronger with her new leg!Patsy Zobel

Me: "Do you have prosthetics for your toe, too?"

Patsy: "Nothing, just this (she shows me a slip-on prosthetic that looks like the top part of the foot).

So I can wear regular shoes, with a steel plate at the bottom, and sandals that strap onto my feet. It’s very rare to lose part of a leg and part of a foot on the other leg. So these are two different problems. Finding a pair that fits is a challenge!

I had to take three legs for this past Christmas holiday because skiing became a part of the vacation, and my kids encouraged me to try. So we had to force my prosthetic leg into my old ski boot!"

Sandra: "Once again, another doctor was not prepared for the patient that was going to walk through his door and change all his past ideas of what a recovery should look like. First, he got her walking which was fine, (but) obviously, not enough.

The second request was a prosthetic to dive and already his hands went to his head and said looking at her like, 'Lady, be thankful I got you walking! Now you want to dive... during a pandemic?.' He was in shock. Just this Christmas, she also asked him to stuff her second emergency prosthetic into her ski boot... and ski she did!

The last request was another leg that could allow her to climb a mountain — I'm extremely sad I was there to see his face this time!"

Back to divingPatsy ZobelBack to paddle boardingPatsy Zobel

Patsy: "My kids were there cheering for me as I went up the baby slopes. The feeling of going up the mountain again was amazing! But in the beginning, one leg was going one way and the other leg was going the other way. After a while, I managed to control it.

When I reached the bottom, we were all crying and hugging! Because I had to control the ski from your knee, so it’s very hard – instead of controlling from the ankle which is what is supposed to happen."

And back to skiing!Patsy Zobel

Me: "Were you ever depressed?Did you need mental health support?"

Patsy: "The psychiatrist was very worried, because there are cases of depression, and she said it’s okay to be depressed. But I told her, 'I have never been happier in my life – I am alive!'

It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to function without my leg. I was just so grateful that I was still alive. When I felt that my life was ebbing away, I thought — I am this close to crossing over to the other side. And I just remember thinking, 'I want to fight, I have got to fight.' There is so much I want to do and see with Alex and my kids. Toby and Bellie are still so young, I haven’t done what I have to do as a parent.

So just the fact that every day, I could do a little bit more motivated me enormously. There was never a moment of despair. I was just so grateful that I had been given another chance to be alive. I knew I was so close to losing everything. But with the people who surrounded me, we were laughing every day. That was such a big part – the love and care of my family and support system, all dedicated to my healing.

I don’t think I have cried — there is a frustration, which is different. For example , in the shower — you can’t just take off your leg and take a shower – everything has to be planned to be in arms reach – the nozzle, the towel – stupid things like that! I am very impulsive, which is not a good thing, so this makes me slow down which is good. So I have to make sure, do I have everything before I start? Otherwise, I have to crawl on the floor all the way to get it!"

Sandra: "There's a good trick to avoid falling into a dark depression... there are so many superhumans out there already that every time my mum thinks of trying to face a new challenge, we just head over to the Internet and there's always someone who found a way to do whatever with a prosthetic, and even two full leg prosthetics. So when we see anyone doing anything, we all think the same... if this person can do it, well OBVIOUSLY Patsy can do it and better.

My mum always goes through a minute of nervousness right before trying something new but it doesn't last very long! The ski teacher actually told her she was skiing better on her bad leg than the good one! We guessed because the body now protects it more and makes sure the position is perfect. She didn't lose her styles or moves, she was fabulous! For the first time in her life, her children are able to go just a bit faster than her but something tells me that won't last as soon as she hits the slopes two more times!

The only change we had noticed is that for the first time in her life, she couldn't stop talking and telling her story to any nurse who walked in her room! We guessed that after not being able to talk for so long and because she couldn't rush off anywhere to do a million things a day like she normally does, she was just happy to share with anyone who listened!

We were actually in hysterics! We explained to the psychiatrist we knew what signs to look for and would call her at the very first sign of a depression, but to please not provoke it just because it was something she had come to expect in all other amputee patients! She was not dealing with a normal human. Of course, mum struggled through many things and we as her family have to remind ourselves many times that just because she makes everything look easy doesn't mean it is.

She's just a fighter who powers through the unthinkable and a survivor like no other, so best to stand in her way and just admire the way she thrives and grows stronger from everything she lives through. It also helped that we have a family, who under pressure, always finds a way to support each other through a bit of dark humor! We all have our roles as each other's support system but when that dark humor hits at the perfect moment, it just heals in a different way!

Depression and mental healing is really very personal and it's important to adapt to the patient's needs and ways of dealing with hard situations instead of putting them in a general box. Having something to look forward to, which in my mum's case was dropping my youngest brother off in university, did the trick. Our role was literally to accompany her through this journey and help when she allowed us (which was not very often!)."

Taking Toby to college in August 2020Patsy Zobel

Me: "What role has faith played in your journey?"

Patsy: "My faith has always been strong, and through my life, I have had conversations with God; we have a real relationship. He has heard me beg, complain, rant, wail, and give thanks.

I have very good friends that are priests and nuns and we have long discussions about life!"

Sandra:"Aside from walking the entire Camino de Santiago, my mum has actually revisited parts of it many times! Always motivated by spiritual help to someone close who is sick. For her, it becomes a last push and effort she is willing to do for others when they reach an 'all is lost' moment and she feels there's nothing else to do but pray. The Camino has a very healing and spiritual power, people come all over the world to experience it. This is a big difference from her other adventure trips!

My mum has gone through a lot in one lifetime. I believe, without faith, she could never be the person she is today. When she asks, 'Why me?,' to me, the answer is easy... 'Who else would face this like you?'

I don't know many people, anyone actually, who could do what she does. If you're lucky enough to have someone close go through life like her, every day is a lesson to a spectator such as myself. She doesn't even like to be admired or even complimented about how much of an inspiration she is to everyone who meets her because it just comes so naturally to her. To her, there is just no other way to live life than to push yourself, help others, and be grateful for the life you get to live."

Me: "Your life is a life of miracles!"

Patsy: "I know, so how can I not believe in God? So I always ask God, 'What do You want me to do today?' And something comes up!

My bucket list has been pretty much ticked off, I am super content with my life, and I am very happy."

Sandra: "So many people kept telling us, 'Hopefully your mum will learn to take things a bit easier from now on.' We just smile and thank everyone for the support, but the truth is her way of living is what saved her and what gave her heart the strength to keep pumping when even the doctors thought it was time to say goodbye. So we as her closest family know not to stand in her way if she decides to take on new adventures. Actually, we just look at her intensely hoping for an invitation to ride along!

[Having this happen] gave me the chance to live in the Philippines with her for almost two years, which I hadn't done since I was young. I enjoyed every second of it. We kept each other company, I was able to do so much with her in person instead of through a phone screen... It's the silver lining to a situation that could have ended up very differently and all we did was enjoy. It also 'helped' that the world was on lockdown so she didn't have the feeling she was missing out on anything during her recovery. I actually think we were the two people who traveled most during Covid! Coming back to Madrid when she didn't need me anymore was actually the hardest part but nonetheless the happiest of endings."

Me: "It shows in your photos — you radiate joy.And to see someone who maybe to other eyes, has every reason to be miserable, is such a testimony to the human heart and the workings of God’s grace.

What would you like to say to women who are facing intense challenges in their lives?"

Patsy: "The truth is I can’t say my accident was an easy challenge to overcome, and I’m sure other women will feel the same about their personal situations. I believe as women, mothers, professionals, wives, daughters… we learn how to power through many situations in life and it’s important to remind ourselves that it’s okay to be vulnerable and allow ourselves to feel what our minds and bodies need to feel when facing an extreme situation.

I remember feeling powerless… an absolute lack of control over my body in the ICU where I totally depended on a group of nurses to do anything and everything. The team of doctors, nurses and my PT Jeff assured me they would do everything in their power to help — but I had to find a personal motivation that would help me do my part. Taking my son to college six months later and being present in that new stage of his life was it for me.

Letting everyone know about my goal, the team motivated me by setting short-term daily goals starting off with something as small as lifting my hand (which for me was extremely challenging).

Every morning, my therapist would give me the new goal, 'hold a ball, squeeze the ball, roll over,' and he would say, 'Kaya mo yan!' And it was so frustrating to me. I wanted to kill him!! But hours later, I would achieve the goal of the day and everyone around me would burst into a party of screams and happiness! Every day was a reason to celebrate a small achievement! It was so much fun! I would end the day exhausted, but so happy and so proud!

The importance of a good support system is key. I believe there is true value in understanding each patient as a different person who needs to be treated differently to overcome such obstacles. Because of my personality, this process of dealing with daily goals, although extremely frustrating, was exactly what I needed, because it’s how I’ve been able to deal with other problems I’ve faced in life.

My ultimate message to other women facing intense challenges would be to motivate yourself by setting small goals that can be achieved, and to take joy and celebrate every small victory. Learn to lean on people that love you and ask for their help in the way you need them to. Be grateful. Focus on the good things that surround you and that you can look forward to.

No one goes through life without challenges, so don’t allow them to limit you. Make the choice to make the best of a tough situation and continue to move forward in the most positive way possible. Find the strength and way around your situation and make it happen. Move forward, no matter what, no matter how small the steps.

In August 2020, six months after my accident, and against all odds, I took my son to college!"

Me: "We are truly here to do something more — find meaning and purpose out of suffering — and to help each other heal. Thank you Patsy, for sharing your story!"

Helping out in Siargao — the kids call her Santa CyborgPatsy ZobelHelping out in Siargao — the kids call her Santa CyborgPatsy Zobel

Patsy’s medical journey

Admission: Feb. 8, 2020ECMO Initiation: Feb. 11, 2020ECMO Decannulation: Feb. 19, 2020Discharge: March 1, 2020

Patsy’s Medical Team Dr. Bernardo Cueto, Lead Physician, General Surgery

ECMO Team Dr. Ramon Diaz, Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery Dr. Steve Lacson, Thoracic and Cardiovascular SurgeryDr. Jeffrey Chua, Peripheral Vascular SurgeryDr. Joan Benitez, Thoracic and Cardiovascular SurgeryDr. Jillian Tabora, Pulmonary Medicine, ECMO Management Dr. Rod Castro, Cardiology and Critical Care, ECMO ManagementDr. Abelardo Prodigalidad Jr., Anesthesiology Glaiza Marie Ballester RN, ECMO Coordinator Edsson Moleta, ECMO Perfusionist

Dr. Victor Gisbert, Peripheral Vascular Surgery Dr. Ruth Divinagracia, Pulmonary Medicine Dr. Raul Lapitan, Cardiology Dr. Clarissa Santos, HematologyDr. Jasmin Melissa Bernardo, Cardiology and Vascular MedicineDr. Gregorio Ocampo, Pulmonary Medicine Dr. Daryl De Ramos, Pulmonary Medicine Dr. Ma. Tarcela Gler, Infectious Disease Dr. Maricar Esculto, Clinical Nutrition Dr. Joseph Ray Cedeno, Otorhinolaryngology Dr. Raquel Mallari-Alvarez, NeurologyDr. Jay Dy, GastroenterologyDr. Eric Verano, Nephrology Dr. Maria Jasmin Jamora, Dermatology Dr. Lovie Go-Chu, PsychiatryDr. Edward Uy, OphthalmologyDr. Joselito Pascual, Emergency Medicine Dr. Vincent Reloza, Physical Medicine and RehabilitationDr. Aser Acosta, Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Dr. Benjamin Herbosa, Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic SurgeryDr. Noel Aypa, AnesthesiologistDr. Michael Padlan, General Surgery

ECMO technology and its daily monitoring, as well as Patsy's amazing recovery, rely heavily not only on doctors but also on the excellent care provided by the nursing and support staff of Makati Medical Center.

Nursing Team CV Recovery Room Medical and Surgical ICU 9th Floor

Blood Bank SectionDepartment of Pathology and Laboratories Pulmonary Laboratory Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

The Zobel family extends its deep thanks as well to the Philippine Red Cross unit that immediately went into action to provide Patsy with blood, and all the unknown donors that donated blood.