Geniene Dillon's Story

Geniene Dillon

“I had an incredible support system…my family, my husband, my friends, and my neighbors. Everyone came together in a way that I never would have expected.”

Back Home Where She Belongs

Geniene Dillon was an energetic 36-year-old fitness trainer the epicenter for her husband, Mike, six-year-old Jack, three-year-old Emma, and nine-month-old Eli.

One Friday night, Geniene started feeling weak and by Sunday she lacked the strength to even walk to the bathroom. A friend who is a physician came over to check on her. “He told me I needed to go to the emergency room right away,” she recalls. “He felt that I was dehydrated and needed fluids.” 

In the ER of the local hospital, Geniene’s condition quickly deteriorated. Her doctors knew she was fighting a major infection and diagnosed her with toxic shock syndrome – a potentially fatal illness that causes multiple organ failure – brought on by an aggressive bacteria. She was rushed to the intensive care unit in complete respiratory failure and septic shock, requiring a mechanical ventilator to support her breathing and vasopressors to maintain a normal blood pressure. Given the rapid progression of her disease, Geniene’s physicians decided she should be transferred to NewYork-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Medical Center for further treatment. 

Once transferred to the ICU at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, Geniene’s condition started to improve. This improvement was short-lived, however, as she suddenly took a turn for the worse when her oxygen level plummeted. Geniene had developed a severe form of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), brought on by her infection and toxic shock syndrome. She was unable to obtain the oxygen her body needed despite maximal support from the mechanical ventilator. With low blood oxygen levels, she could die. At that time, the ICU team suggested extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

ECMO functions as a temporary, artificial lung by circulating the patient’s blood through a device that removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen, then returning that blood back into the patient’s body. The goal was to return Geniene’s oxygen level to normal and minimize the ventilator pressure, thereby allowing her injured lungs to heal. The multidisciplinary ECMO team at Columbia helped make the process easier for her husband Mike by explaining how ECMO worked.

“What Mike was facing was frightening,” says Geniene, “but he didn’t have much of a choice because there wasn’t one.” Geniene remained on ECMO for nearly three weeks, allowing her infection to be treated and her lungs to recover. Soon after, she was well enough to be transferred to Columbia’s acute rehabilitation center, where she worked to regain her strength.

“I had to learn everything all over again,” Geniene says, “from picking something up with my hands, to sitting up, to walking, to eating. I had an incredible support system. Everyone came together in a way I never expected.

“I take pride in caring for my family,” Geniene adds. “The fact that I couldn’t do that, as well as realizing that they had been without me for so long, plus the emotional trauma that it must have been for them, was really painful. I wanted to get better so I could go back home.”

And thanks to NewYork-Presbyterian, she did.