Marty Hartigan thought he had the flu. After his typical Sunday night red-eye from his home in Coto de Caza, Calif., to Chicago, the Deloitte consultant felt unusually tired. Then, during a client meeting on Monday, Hartigan, ’89, felt chills and tried to keep from shaking. On Tuesday, he stayed in his apartment, drinking Gatorade and taking Tylenol. The next morning, July 17, 2019, his daughter, Kayleigh, then a rising junior at the University of Virginia who was visiting on a layover, noticed her dad struggling to talk. She refused to leave for the airport until he saw a doctor. She googled the closest emergency room and called an Uber to go to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Hartigan, wearing flip-flops, shorts and his Winston Churchill “We Shall Never Surrender” T-shirt, couldn’t even stand on the elevator ride down from the 35th floor. When he arrived at the ER with Kayleigh, he remembers someone asking if he had a do-not-resuscitate order. His answer: “No! I want to be resuscitated!” Then, he says, “I blacked out for 10 days.”
When he regained consciousness, Hartigan learned he had nearly died. A strep A bacterial infection, possibly from strep throat, and his body’s unusually strong inflammatory response to it, had dramatically lowered his blood pressure, causing septic shock and multiorgan failure. A rare hyperclotting condition called purpura fulminans led to blocked arteries throughout his body and, ultimately, to amputations of both lower legs, one forearm and most of his opposite hand. “Anyone who needs the intensive care unit could die,” says Clara Schroedl, the assistant professor of medicine and medical education at Northwestern University who was Hartigan’s critical-care doctor during the first few days. “Even within our intensive care unit, we have severity of illness that varies. He was way on the side of severe.”
After his release from Northwestern Memorial in November, Hartigan moved to the nearby Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, where he worked daily for six weeks with physical and occupational therapists to regain strength and learn how to slide out of bed into a wheelchair. Then he moved back to his Chicago apartment, returning to AbilityLab twice a week for three hours of PT and OT. “He’s really had a great attitude about the whole thing and a lot of gratitude,” says Mark Huang, an AbilityLab physician and a professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s a long road.”
A year after his near-death experience, the former Stanford rugby player who ran 1,000 miles in 2018 is coming to terms with a different life and body. “Life as a quad amputee is the new normal,” Hartigan says. A fit 185 pounds before he entered the hospital, he weighed just 125 pounds four months later, when he transferred to AbilityLab. (He is now back up to 165, which, minus an estimated 20 pounds for the amputated limbs, is the full Marty.)
Read more at Stanford Magazine.