March 15, 2023 | 7:06 p.m
dr Haadi Shuaib had a bizarre encounter with death: his sore throat quickly progressed to toxic shock syndrome.
Northwell Health (2)
dr Haadi Shuaib was an extremely fit 20-year-old who developed an annoying sore throat. Less than a week later he was in a coma.
Last March, Shuaib, now 30, had been working long hours at Staten Island University Hospital in Northwell amid an omicron surge. He developed laryngitis, which turned into severe streptococcal pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome.
On March 18, 2022, he decided he needed to go to his hospital’s emergency room, but he barely made it.
“It’s literally two blocks from me, but I had to stop and catch my breath. I have this tunnel vision,” Shuaib, a very active outdoorsman and traveler known for rowing four miles in his spare time, told The Post.
“I knew then that it was serious. This is not normal,” Shuaib added.
The next morning, Shuaib was taken by ambulance to Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park and put on mechanical ventilation.
The doctors tried very hard to help him, but he was not getting any better.
“He was on maximum settings on the ventilator, he was on 100% oxygen, and his oxygen levels were still low and deteriorating,” said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, medical director of the LIJ acute lung injury program, told The Post.
“There was really no support left that we could only provide on a ventilator, so we knew it was time to do something different.”
So they turned to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine that would pump blood out of his body and oxygenate it before pumping it back into him.
It was a last resort to keep Shuaib alive.
“Inserting large tubes into your main blood vessels, we don’t do that unless we really think there’s no other option,” Narasimhan said.
Treatment with ECMO required Shuaib to be intubated and placed in a coma. At first he was vehemently opposed. (He was initially on a mechanical ventilator, which did not require intubation.)
He was well aware that there was a chance he wouldn’t wake up.
“I forced [the team] In order to return my phone to look for other options, I kept researching and trying to look up articles and case studies since my peripheral vision was deteriorating with the disease,” Shuaib said
He screamed for “more morphine!”
Ultimately, he accepted that aggressive treatment was his only option.
“I’ve told my colleagues if I don’t come to my place in two weeks to unplug,” Shuaib said, noting that staying longer would likely mean he would be on life support for an extremely long time.
Shuaib’s parents were out of the country and couldn’t make it to the hospital in time to see him before he fell into a coma.
But two old friends stood by him when he went into hiding.
“Last thing I remember [before going under] were my friends holding my hands, one friend on one side and one on the other. Just completely surrounded by people I know and trust,” he said.
Miraculously Shuaib got stronger every day.
After nine days, he was withdrawn from ECMO.
He was removed from medical ventilation three days later. He didn’t even know at first how long he was out.
“I remember coming to this trauma of choking on a hose and trying to let people know I just want that hose out of me,” Shuaib recalled of his first memories from the coma.
Exactly what triggered the condition is still unknown to Shuaib’s colleagues and caregivers.
“It’s a coincidence. We do not know it [what brought this on still]. It’s a big mystery,” said Dr. Frank Rosell, Vice Chair of Cardiac Surgery at SIUH.
He added that Shuaib’s high level of fitness ultimately changed the game in terms of his survival.
“He has the heart of an Olympic athlete. A very strong heart…this was a very useful feature to rely on. I think that made the difference.”
After learning from his care team that PTSD and post-coma depression were very real possibilities, Shuaib was determined to return to work a month later – something Narasimhan said is a miracle in itself.
The harrowing ordeal has made him a better doctor, Shuaib believes.
“Just being able to say [patients and families] that I went through that too, it makes a huge difference to them,” he said.
“It really does.”