In March of 2021, Ashley Martin suffered cardiac arrest, which kills about 90% of people when it happens outside of a hospital. Thankfully, she was already at Wellstar Kennestone Regional Medical Center receiving the compassionate care she’d been seeking to address a long list of symptoms.

Everything began at a hectic time in Ashley’s life. She was 30 and had just gotten engaged. Wedding planning had started with the help of her fiancé and their two young boys. The hope had been to have the wedding toward the end of 2021. But the unexpected happened.

“I was always healthy,” she said. “I grew up playing sports. I was a runner. I used to get headaches, but that was the extent of my medical history.”

Finding the right care when there is more than one symptom

Symptoms of what would ultimately be diagnosed as Guillain-Barré syndrome began in February of 2021. This rare neurological disorder causes the body’s immune system to attack the nerves.

Ashley started experiencing tingling in the tips of her hands and feet, which moved up her legs and arms as days passed. When intermittent numbness became a symptom, Ashley went to a hospital near her Peachtree City home. A clean CT and MRI meant she went home with plans to see a rheumatologist.

As she waited for her first appointment, she started feeling numbness in her feet.

“At one point, I took a step down the stairs and went tumbling down to the concrete floor,” Ashley said.

On another trip to the hospital near her home, Ashley was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, but treatment was unsuccessful. The numbness continued, spreading to her face. She began using a walker and, soon after, a wheelchair.

“The paralysis had moved to my abdomen,” Ashley said. “I went to sleep one night and woke up abruptly gasping for air.”

Compassionate medical care at a pivotal point

Later that night, an ambulance brought Ashley to Wellstar Kennestone, where she would finally get the specialized neuro care she desperately needed. She was admitted to the Neurocritical Care unit, staffed by physicians, nurses and a medical team with specialized training in neurological conditions.

Upon arrival, she underwent respiratory failure due to paralysis spreading to her diaphragm. She was stabilized, but shortly after that, she experienced sudden cardiac arrest — the abrupt loss of heart function that stops blood flow to the body.

After a critical care nurse administered CPR, Ashley’s heart started beating again. Life support medications were given to keep her heart pumping.

“The neuro ICU nurses and doctors saved my life,” she said.

Later, her attending neurologist explained that the stress of her nervous system and immune system fighting, paired with respiratory failure, caused such high stress that she had a cardiac arrest.

Thankfully, the doctors and nurses at Wellstar are why I’m here. To have two of the ladies who saved my life be at my wedding was the most amazing experience.

– Ashley Martin

Nurses who go above and beyond

Ashley was placed in a coma for two days but has no memories of the next 10 days. But today, she remembers that, even while unconscious, several nurses made a huge, lasting impact throughout her stay.

“Every nurse who walked into that room was just amazing, caring and kind,” Ashley remembered.

The first she remembered was Neuro ICU nurse Emily Haytas.

“Emily’s was one of the first faces I remember when waking up,” said Ashley. “I always knew she was smiling even though she had a mask over her mouth.”

The cheerful nurse had cared for her much of the time she was unconscious. Ashley will never forget the kindness of Emily, who bought one of her first meals once she was off the ventilator — it was Zaxby’s and it was a big deal to be able to eat again.

“I treat all of my patients as if they were my mom or dad and how I would want them to be treated and cared for,” Emily said.

Tayla Lee, another compassionate nurse, often played Taylor Swift music to lift her spirits. She even painted her nails once when Ashley still didn’t have use of her hands.

“I wanted Ashley to get the best care so that she could have her fairytale wedding and get back home to her beautiful sons,” Tayla said. “While some of the patients in ICU may not be here long, they can be in the most vulnerable state of health. It is important to me to make a difference, even a small one, in their process of healing.”

Quick and positive results — and a wedding day

While there’s no cure for Guillain-Barré, the right treatment can put the disease into a dormant state. That happened when Ashley began plasmapheresis treatments that separated the plasma from the blood and replaced it. Ashley’s ability to move her body was restored, and she began to recover faster than expected.
“The day I went home, I was able to walk to the toilet without a walker, change my clothes and brush my teeth,” Ashley said. “I had to show the doctors I could care for myself.”
With the support of outpatient rehabilitation, Ashley continued to improve. As soon as she could drive herself, she reached out to all the extraordinary nurses who provided such a high level of care for her and planned a coffee date.

“Seeing Ashley’s recovery and getting to be a part of her continuing journey makes our hard job more than worth it,” Emily said. “When we all met up for coffee, we were waiting in line inside while Ashley was outside moving chairs for all of us to sit together. We were all almost moved to tears because the same Ashley who couldn’t lift her head off the pillow a few months before was out moving chairs and tables — and would go home that day to ride bikes with her boys.”

The conversation eventually shifted to Ashley’s wedding and continued through texts. Emily and Tayla were able to join Ashley as wedding guests when, on Oct. 8, 2022, she walked down the aisle to say, “I do.”

“Thankfully, the doctors and nurses at Wellstar are why I’m here,” Ashley said. “To have two of the ladies who saved my life be at my wedding was the most amazing experience.”

Today, Ashley continues to find beauty in the little things. Keeping a positive attitude, she looks back on her experience and knows that the expert care she received gave her a second chance at life.