A 31-year-old Michigan man is in a medically induced coma after coming down with sepsis that has led to the removal of his right lung, both legs — and, soon, his hands.
Dale Kompik checked himself into a hospital into Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Nov. 11 after he experienced a backache and trouble breathing. But by Monday, Nov. 13, his health deteriorated significantly, and doctors called Kompik’s parents to tell them their son needed immediate surgery to battle an infection that was spreading throughout his body. As they struggled to grasp the news, Kompik’s parents asked if the medical staff could wait an hour so they could drive to the hospital, but doctors said if they didn’t start the operation within five minutes, Kompik wouldn’t survive.
“That’s the horrifying call you never want to receive as a parent,” his father, Dale Kompik Sr., 58, tells PEOPLE. “The doctor was in such a hurry that we didn’t even have a chance to hardly exchange words.”
Their son was experiencing sepsis brought on by a bout of pneumonia, which led to the collapse of his “completely pulverized” right lung. Each year, more than 1.5 million Americans get sepsis, leading to some 250,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sepsis occurs when chemicals used to right an infection enters the bloodstream and causes inflammation throughout the body, and symptoms include breathing difficulties, low blood pressure, mental confusion and a fast heart rate.
“He couldn’t breathe, but it ended up being a collapsed lung from pneumonia,” Dale Sr. says. “Then that went septic and it went through his whole system. The first couple of days, the doctors were talking one and two percent chance of him even being able to pull through.”
According to the CDC, a lung infection such as pneumonia causes 35 percent of sepsis cases.
Kompik underwent an emergency operation on Nov. 13 to remove the lung and reroute his blood through his heart, and with the outlook grim, doctors told the family that their son—who is often called a “moose” by his sisters because of his fitness and good health—had only days to live.
By the end of the week, with Kompik in a medically induced paralysis, he had both of his legs removed via cryoamputation—a procedure that uses dry ice to freeze the affected limb to stop damage to the body when a patient cannot survive a surgical amputation (doctors went through with the surgical amputation last week). With Kompik unconscious, his family signed off on the amputations—a difficult decision for them since Kompik is an active person who enjoys the outdoors.
“His two sisters, his mother, all four of us—we are just worn out,” Dale Sr. says. “We just keep going. It’s just something we have to do.”
The past few weeks have been strenuous for the family—Kompik is experiencing blood clots that are complicating his treatment and his oxygen levels and white blood cell counts have fluctuated. Much of his body is swollen which is inhibiting his blood from flowing efficiently—and his kidneys, liver and digestive system are on the verge of failing. While doctors have been cautiously optimistic, Kompik has endured despite doctors calling the family twice to come to the hospital to say their goodbyes.
“It’s unbelievable, it is painful, it is shocking. You accept it, but you feel like you’re going to collapse,” Dale Sr. says. “As a father, to hear that about your boy, you just want to hit the floor, but you know you can’t, ’cause you’re all holding each other up.”
Doctors are slowly taking Kompik out of his state of paralysis, which they say could take weeks, and the family has taken “baby steps” to inform Kompik about the changes to his body since he’s been unconscious.
“What we’re afraid of, of course, is him waking up some day and looking down and seeing he has no legs,” Dale Sr. says. “We would rather have told him so he heard it from us, and doesn’t discover it on his own.”
Yet, the family is optimistic that if Kompik makes a full recovery, life without his legs will not hold him back—and because Kompik has worked as a nurse technician helping severely disabled people with prosthetics learn to readjust to society, Dale Sr. anticipates the experience will help his son’s mental and physical healing.
“He just loves that job, and how it helps people who are really struggling without their legs and limbs,” he says. “He’s got the head knowledge, and now he’s gonna have to take everything that he has in his head, that he’s helped other people with, and he’s going to have to apply it in his own life.”
Today, Kompik remains at Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids, and doctors are much more confident about his recovery than they were weeks ago, but admit they are far from the clear. The Kompik family is organizing a nationwide blood drive. Dale Sr. says he hopes people all over the country will give blood and think of his son and the many other people who are in need of blood. He’d like people to go to their local blood bank and tell them “I stand with Dale.” They are also accepting donations to help with medical expenses on their GoFundMe page.
The family has been giving up to the minute updates on his condition on his personal Facebook page. In one post on November 29, many of Kompik’s friends left comments detailing meaningful encounters, which Dale Sr. says has helped them to be reintroduced to their son.
In 2014, Kompik, a graduate of Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, Washington, gave an optimistic speech at graduation luncheon, that relayed a message of persevering when traveling down unexpected paths.
“We must hold our plans with open hands and trust that God knows what he is doing,” Kompik optimistically told the graduating class. “Sometimes, those plans do not happen, and that is okay. It’s been, in my experience, that the greatest lessons in life come from the plans that have fallen apart.”