Michelle Clemens graced the air here at Action 2 News for three years as a reporter before a heart infection sidelined her. That infection led to a series of health issues that nearly killed her.
"I am determined," Michelle says.
That has been Michelle's mantra ever since May 11, 2017, when a debilitating headache led her father to rush her to the hospital. "She said, 'Daddy, I'm really scared. I don't want to die,'" Vince Clemens recalls. In the emergency room, a scan showed Michelle suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm -- her condition so critical, she was airlifted to ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah.
"Things were really bad," Dr. Sumon Bhattacharjee of Neuroscience Group says. "She had a pretty substantial hemorrhage. She had a lot of underlying medical issues that kind of led to that, so she was ill prior to that, and things kind of deteriorated, so she was very critically ill."
Dr. Bhattacharjee and nurse practitioner Christine Munson performed two emergency brain surgeries on Michelle. The Clemens family credits Munson for pushing for the second surgery. "Between her first and second surgeries, I had learned certain things about Michelle, like that she was a marathon runner and she actually had a trip planned that summer to go on an African safari, and I thought, this girl is not done, she's just not done, and I just wanted to go," Munson said.
But even after that second surgery there were questions. "It wasn't even day to day, it was hour to hour at that point," mom Laura Clemens says. "Did not know survivability, and if Michelle survived what her life would look like at that point, either, the deficits, had no idea. Absolutely, total uncertainty." Michelle couldn't breathe on her own. She was on a ventilator and in a drug-induced coma for almost a week.
"Some days she'd respond to some things, other days she wouldn't," her mom says. There was so much uncertainty. But as the days went on, Michelle started to show signs of recovery. "She is a definite, definite miracle. There is no, no doubt," Laura says.
After almost a month at ThedaCare, she was released and headed home to the Chicago area to begin intense inpatient rehab at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab for another four weeks. Then, from inpatient rehab, Michelle went back to school, as she called it, for eight months of outpatient therapy. Five days a week she received a combination of speech, physical and occupational therapy.
When it's pointed out to her how well she can pinch with just two fingers, Michelle happily exclaims, "I know!"
She graduated from the program in March.