In her late teens, Gabbie Weis, of Greenfield, struggled with what she thought was sinusitis, which made it hard to breathe, especially at night. She visited a local ear, nose and throat doctor, not part of the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, who recommended sinus surgery. She had surgery with that doctor in July 2015, the summer after her first year of college. But her recovery did not go as expected.

“My parents kept calling the clinic and saying, ‘Something’s wrong,’” Gabbie said.

Life-Threatening Sinus Infection Spreads

In the days after surgery, she bled profusely and developed a severe headache and sensitivity to light. With each passing hour, her symptoms worsened until she could barely walk and began losing her vision. Ultimately, her parents rushed Gabbie to the Emergency Department at Froedtert Hospital, the academic medical center of the Froedtert & MCW health network.

At Froedtert Hospital, experts determined Gabbie had a life-threatening infection and quickly admitted her to the ICU. David Poetker, MD, MA, sinus specialist and MCW faculty member, started her on IV antibiotics to quell the infection, which had spread to her eye sockets and brain.

“It was a serious situation,” Dr. Poetker said. “It was causing tremendous pain and putting her vision at risk.” He then led a series of surgeries to remove infected tissue and open her sinuses.

Gabbie was discharged after about two weeks, with a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line in her arm so she could continue receiving antibiotics at home. But she developed a blood clot in her arm from the PICC line and an allergic reaction to the antibiotic. These setbacks led to her being readmitted to Froedtert Hospital multiple times that summer. Slowly but surely, she began to recover from her ordeal.

Facial Reconstruction Surgery to Repair Nose

The initial surgery and infection were tough on Gabbie’s nose. The cartilage in the bridge of her nose collapsed, creating a deformity known as “saddle nose” that impaired her breathing and made her self-conscious.

“Every time I looked at it, I was reminded what I went through,” she said.

Gabbie met with Sachin Pawar, MD, facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon and MCW faculty member, who considered the best way to restore structure to her nose.

“In a normal reconstructive rhinoplasty, if a patient has never had surgery before, I can use cartilage from their septum to reconstruct the nose,” Dr. Pawar said. “But Gabbie didn’t have any cartilage left.”

When Dr. Pawar did her rhinoplasty in June 2022, he took cartilage from her ribcage to rebuild the bridge of her nose and also reconstructed her nasal septum. She is very pleased with the result.

“Not only is breathing easier, I adore my nose,” Gabbie said.

Turning a Negative Experience into Gratitude

While in the hospital in 2015, Gabbie’s mood had been low “I was extremely depressed and kept telling everyone, ‘I’m going to die,’” she said. But her care team reassured her that she would indeed recover.

Nurses kept Gabbie and her parents, Shannon and Brian, and her brother, Seth, upbeat. Gabbie was unable to shower, but a nurse made time to wash, condition and braid her long hair. This kind act was life changing for Gabbie.

“Everyone at Froedtert Hospital was doing incredible work for me,” she said. “And when the nurse did my hair, it was such a pivotal moment. I was incredibly grateful.”

In college, Gabbie had been studying sports medicine, but after her medical emergency, she switched to nursing — to help others as she had been helped. Weak in the aftermath of her infection and surgeries but eager to start learning, she began taking pre-nursing classes part time and was admitted to UW-Milwaukee’s nursing program in 2017.

Now 28, Gabbie has worked as a registered nurse at Froedtert Hospital for four years, often alongside the same people who took care of her. She is studying for a doctorate degree that will allow her to become a mental health nurse practitioner.

“My experience as a patient led to this career that I’m absolutely in love with,” she said.

Expert Ear, Nose and Throat Team Delivers 

The Froedtert & MCW ear, nose and throat team is well equipped to address complex cases like Gabbie’s, thanks to the collaborative team of specialists who have extra training through fellowships. Team members are also engaged in research to advance their field.

“Our involvement with research leads to a higher level of understanding about the disease processes we deal with,” Dr. Poetker said. “This makes it more likely that patients will receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”

Gabbie is grateful she ultimately found the care she needed. “Everyone deserves a patient experience like I had with Dr. Poetker and Dr. Pawar,” Gabbie said. “My doctors and their staff are an extension of my family at this point.”

Froedtert & MCW ear, nose and throat physicians are fellowship trained and board certified. They are considered among the leading sinus care specialists in the country. Learn more at