Local woman is thankful for ‘new normal’
Dressler adjusts to life after losing her left arm
THOMPSONTOWN — Shannon Dressler is thankful for a new normal that keeps her humble.
The busy mom of two sat down at her dining room table in Thompsontown revealing hope amidst unexpectedly becoming an amputee earlier this year.
In April, Dressler developed a flesh-eating bacterial infection in her left hand. Besides swelling, she experienced a high fever and was hospitalized at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.
It wasn’t long until her body began to shut down due to the infection.
“My lungs filled with fluid,” Dressler said. “My kidneys and lungs were shutting down.”
The mom of two teenagers was placed on a ventilator and was unconscious.
Initially when the infection was discovered, doctors amputated her pinky finger and ring finger. The area was flushed clean and she was placed on antibiotics. Three days later, however, the infection came back with a roaring force, Dressler said.
This pattern continued as doctors chose to amputate more and more – including her entire left hand, wrist and the lower portion of her arm.
She experienced 14 surgeries between April and June.
Once Dressler made it through the scariest part of the experience – she nearly died more than once as the infection affected her organs – she felt she was going to be fine.
“I felt as long as I could keep my elbow, I was going to be OK,” Dressler said. “I was OK with that.”
But, on Mother’s Day, the
situation once again turned dark.
“The doctor came in to see me that day,” Dressler said. “He was very blatant. He said, ‘We have to take the elbow or the infection will spread to your shoulder and into your chest cavity.'”
Such a situation would ultimately take her life.
There was no other choice.
Dressler said she cried and embraced her mom, Diane Fosselman, pleading with her to not let them take the rest of her arm, even though she knew it had to be.
Her daughter Chloe, 14, said to her through tears, “It’s going to be OK, Mom. God’s got this.”
There is never a good time to go through such a life-changing event. However, spring is an extra busy time for the Dressler family, especially for children Chloe and Lance, East Juniata High School students.
Dressler spent Easter in the hospital. She missed Lance’s prom. It was his senior year, and he chose to drive his date to Danville to see his mom so she could see the pair dressed in their prom attire.
She also missed Chloe’s dance gala with Dance Fever Studios.
“I watched the video … she was just as beautiful without me there,” Dressler said.
There were days of deep depression for Dressler as she went through the two-month process. She said she reached a point where she gave up hope and looked at her husband, Dave, of 18 years and told him, “just let me die.”
Thinking back to that moment as she sat in her Thompsontown home, Dressler said, eyes filling up with tears, “Dave was a true rock. I don’t know that I have ever
met anyone stronger.”
She recalled in their wedding vows, in 1998, the words “for better or worse and in sickness or in health,” were said.
“We meant them,” she said.
Dressler had not only the loving support of her husband, daughter, son and her parents, but something else too.
When Dressler embraced the reality that she was going to lose her elbow after all, she said she turned to prayer.
“That day, I never felt such a presence of Jesus Christ himself,” she said. “He was there telling me it’s going to be OK. And it is. I get to come home and love on my family. This whole experience puts everything into perspective. The massive love God has for you is unreal.”
Before that last surgery, family gathered in her hospital room for prayer. The surgeon entered and Dressler’s hope returned as she said to him, “I don’t know if you’re a praying man, but you’re praying tonight.”
The surgeon then joined in prayer with the family.
Sometimes, she said, she wonders why this has happened and believes she just may learn someday in this life or the next.
Dressler said she has seen the impact. While her doctor agreed to pray with the family, Dressler asked a male nurse if he would pray for her when she was in surgery.
“He said to me, ‘Oh, Shannon, I don’t pray.’ So I said, ‘Would you just pray for me?’ and he said he would try. Later on, he told me he prayed for me and said, ‘I don’t know if I did it right. But I prayed.'”
Dressler’s eyes glistened with tears as she realized her difficult situation brought this man to his very first prayer.
Dressler was released from the hospital in time to see Lance graduate with the rest of the EJHS class of 2016.
She returned to her job at Maple Lawn Associates in McAlisterville in October.
Dressler is able to drive her family vehicle and prepare food. She said she has adjusted to operating with one arm.
And just this week – in time for Thanksgiving – she received her prosthetic arm.
Two weeks ago, Dressler and her family got to see how the device works and it was sent away to be fitted.
“I strive for normal now,” she said. “When I had that prosthetic and I could grab that cup, that was ‘normal’ for me.”
The prosthetic works off electrodes that connect to muscles in the front and back of her upper arm. It is battery operated and has three working fingers so she can grip and grasp objects.
Dressler said she was excited to start life with her new arm and was ready for any obstacles that may come as she transitions into this new normal.
“Hey, I figure I got through without an arm for eight months,” she said. “This is nothing. This is a good obstacle.”
This year Dressler and her family, along with her parents, are having Thanksgiving with friends Ginny and Robert Haubert in McAlisterville.
Dressler is used to having the meal at her home each year, but said she is OK with the new arrangement.
She said she is appreciative to her family, friends and community who have reached out to her in various ways over the last eight months.
“I didn’t know love like this in a community existed,” she said. “I am so thankful. This whole experience keeps me humble.”