Woman fights to visit husband in ICU despite COVID-19 restrictions

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 7:41 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For the last several days, Lisa Butler has only been able to speak to her husband through a screen as his chest rises and falls with the help of machines inside Providence Alaska Medical Center’s ICU.

“He is not breathing on his own. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

Kyle Butler rolled his ATV down a steep mountainside trail near Jim Creek in Palmer on Sept. 3. The ATV landed on his head, shattering almost every bone in his face and fracturing his skull, according to his wife. Kyle Butler was airlifted to Anchorage, rushed into emergency surgery and placed in a medically induced coma.

Now, as doctors are weaning him off of sedation, Lisa Butler is desperately advocating for herself to be allowed to visit him once.

“His neurosurgeon specifically said that it is so important for people that are in the position that my husband is in to have family support there," she said. "It’s significantly important for his recovery.”

Lisa Butler says she talks to her husband, Kyle, three times a day via Facetime.
Lisa Butler says she talks to her husband, Kyle, three times a day via Facetime.(Lisa Butler)

Providence’s current policy restricts visitation, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to patients and staff. Exceptions are made for women in labor, patients under the age of 18, patients at the end of life and some patients entering the emergency room.

Lisa Butler said she has gone as far as to reach out to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, asking for help.

“Somebody somewhere has the power to make an exception,” she said. “Somebody has the power to change the policies so not only me but other families can get in there to see their loved ones and follow certain safety protocols.”

Kyle Butler (right) was involved in a serious ATV rollover accident on Sept. 3, 2020.
Kyle Butler (right) was involved in a serious ATV rollover accident on Sept. 3, 2020.(Courtesy: Lisa Butler)

Kyle Butler is a 35-year-old father of three and an active-duty soldier stationed at JBER. Lisa Butler said they met on a deployment almost 14 years ago when they were both active duty.

Now, Lisa Butler is a teacher but says she’s been isolating at home in the hopes that the hospital will let her visit her husband after taking a rapid COVID-19 test.

“I understand that there is a pandemic and I understand that we need to take precautions, but we also need to balance what’s right for families, and I don’t think that Providence is doing that,” she said.

Providence’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Bernstein, said restricting visitors is not a choice made lightly.

“Believe me, it’s stressful on us to limit visitors too. A lot of people, myself included, lose sleep and sometimes shed tears because we can’t let everyone in,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein said a multidisciplinary team reviews the visitation policy weekly, and sometimes grants exceptions in rare and unique circumstances.

“We’ve had to prioritize the safety of the patients as well as our workers and gradually reintroduce visitation, as it appears safe and, and I realize to an affected individual that can seem unfair, but remember that anytime we make a change to a, you know, the definition of what is acceptable in visitation, that may mean an additional hundred people a day and so it can impact areas of the hospital where we’re just being ultra careful to avoid people contracting COVID," he said.

He said the hospital will remove the restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so.

Lisa Butler continues to talk to her husband every day, via FaceTime.

“I tell him how hard I am fighting to get in there to be able to see him at least once," she said. “That’s all I’m asking for is a one time visit."

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