Daniel Fickle opened his eyes in late February with no memory of what landed him at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup.
Doctors and family stood at his bedside and held up an article in The News Tribune that detailed the Puyallup resident’s bout with the flu that left him fighting for his life for more than a month.
“That’s how I learned a lot about what happened to me,” Fickle, 51, said last week. “When I came out of the coma, I had no idea why I was there.”
Fickle tested positive for influenza A in January. Within days, his breath shortened and he was admitted to the intensive care unit at Good Samaritan with double pneumonia.
Eventually, he was put on a ventilator.
“He was deteriorating quickly,” Fickle’s wife, Tammy, told The News Tribune in February. “The doctors prepared us for the worst. They didn’t think he was going to make it.”
After extensive treatment, use of special equipment, and speech, occupational and physical therapy, Daniel Fickle made a recovery that doctors could only describe as miraculous.
“They called me the miracle man at the hospital,” he said. “Other than a miracle from God, there’s no explanation for it.”
Still, the miracle didn’t happen overnight.
Before he got better, Fickle fought through weeks of induced paralysis, dialysis treatments for failed kidneys and eating and breathing through tubes.
Once Fickle opened his eyes more than a month later, doctors prepared him for the worst — a long recovery and possible brain damage.
But Fickle said he was never afraid of permanent paralysis or death. He said he maintained his sense of humor and approached his recovery with curiosity, not fear.
“Every single day, there was a noticeable difference,” Fickle said.
At first, he struggled. He tried as hard as he could to move his pinky fingers and his feet. They didn’t budge.
Then the milestones piled up. They included getting his finger on the button of the television remote control and moving his hand from underneath the blanket.
On March 6, Fickle was admitted for outpatient treatment. Doctors told him to prepare for a late-summer release and possible in-home care after that.
“Then things started progressing really fast,” Fickle said.
He tested negative for brain damage, shocking doctors. He was determined to make it to the April home opener for the Seattle Mariners — something his family never missed.
This year was no different. Contrary to doctors’ predictions, Fickle healed rapidly and walked out of the hospital with nothing but a cane, just in time to fulfill the family tradition.
“I progressed so fast, I got out of the hospital a week before the game,” Fickle said.
Despite his good health, Fickle said he still faces challenges.
Physical effects are relatively minimal, given the severity of his original prognosis. He experiences constant pain in his feet. His hair, which fell out while he was sick, has grown back curly and mostly gray — a change that’s a visual reminder of his illness. Aside from that, he said, “I can’t tell I was ever sick.”
The financial and emotional toll on his family is the biggest struggle, Fickle said.
He lost his job as a manager at the Cheesecake Factory while hospital bills mounted. He struggled to find work after starting the job search in the spring — just as his family was more than a million dollars in debt.
“The money ran out before I was working,” he said.
Now, Fickle has finished training with BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse and is transferring to the Puyallup location this month.
But Fickle said he still owes about $200,000 and the family is planning a modest Christmas this year.
Still, he remains optimistic.
“We’ll get back on our feet,” Fickle said.
The most important lesson learned from his experience, Fickle said, is a simple one — always get a flu shot.
“I’ll never miss one again,” he said.
He stressed that everyone should do their part to keep themselves and their peers healthy, even the critics who contend they “feel lousy” after getting the vaccine.
“It’s better than being in the hospital for three months,” Fickle said. “I was in great shape. It can hit anybody.”
Tammy Fickle said she’s grateful for her husband’s miraculous recovery. The harrowing experience has given her a new appreciation for life, she said.
“It makes you more aware of things,” she said. “More thankful.”