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The Chance to Pay It Forward

The Chance to Pay It Forward
Dr. Roger Baim and his wife, Jill, celebrate his hard-fought recovery.
Written by J. Ryne Danielson

Even two and a half years later, retired physician Roger Baim, M.D., can still remember the nightmares. Critically ill and unconscious when he was transferred to MUSC Health's Medical Intensive Care Unit during a bout of pneumonia and kidney failure, it was unclear if he would ever leave again, let alone have the chance to repay the care he received, which he plans to do by donating more than $250,000 to MUSC.

The pneumonia had progressed to acute respiratory distress syndrome, also known as ARDS. Triggered by fluid leaking from blood vessels in air sacs called alveoli, ARDS deprives the body of oxygen, causing labored breathing, confusion and fatigue. Victims essentially drown on dry land.

"I was not expected to survive," Baim said. Doctors told his wife on three separate occasions that the end was imminent. Luckily, that wasn't the case. Today, despite mild residual scarring of his lungs, he leads a full and active life, though the emotional scars have not been as quick to fade.

"The emotions were incredibly powerful," he said.

Like many acutely ill patients in intensive care, Baim experienced a type of cognitive impairment called ICU delirium, an often terrifying disruption of consciousness that greatly decreases a patient's chance of survival and can persist months or even years after being discharged.

"I can still remember much of what was, frankly, terrifying," he said. "There were several ongoing nightmarish dream sequences, one involving my being restrained by hostile staff members who were experimenting on me and another about fighting against 'The Black Pirate,' a ghoul whose ship had sunk in Baltimore Harbor. There were other, shorter sequences, too, several of which concerned my apparent belief that there was a struggle for my soul between forces of light and darkness that were manifested by various MUSC employees."

Jill Baim, Roger's wife, said that the constant whir of machinery keeping her husband alive and other background noise contributed to the sleep deprivation and general stress he experienced in the ICU. "The staff became like our family, and their voices were comforting, but every time an alarm went off, it was agitating."

Jill and MICU staff played classical music to comfort Baim and drown out the bad sounds, as she called them.

But very little of it broke through, and the little that did sometimes fed into his nightmares.

"ICU delirium is a very big area of focus right now," said Janet Byrne, RN, nurse manager of the MICU. "And we need to get better about how we assess for it and manage it, both in terms of prevention and treatment."

Though the experience was far from positive, Baim credits MUSC's doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and other staff for his survival. "I was here for sixty-seven days, and my needs were overwhelmingly attended to," he said.

He especially credited the Division of Infectious Diseases' Evgenia Kagan, M.D., with reaching out to physicians all over the world to find ways to treat his antibiotic resistant strain of pneumonia.

The fact that he is alive today is evidence of MUSC Health's outstanding care, he said.

To repay that care, the Baims have already donated $25,000 to the MICU for renovations and are endowing two funds, one honoring the Division of Infection Diseases' late J. Michael Kilby, and another, which bears their name, to support MICU staff in pursing professional development. The latter commitments were made through a planned gift of a bequest.