Far Rockaway woman triumphs over life-threatening disease to become healthcare professional

Northwell Dominique Strickland Daughter Media
Photo courtesy of Northwell Health

A mother from Far Rockaway recently thanked the medical staff who not only saved her life but provided the incentive for a new career in healthcare.

During an emotional ceremony held at Long Island Jewish Forest Hill, Dominique Strickland, 34, praised the medical professionals at Northwell Health as she completed her first year of service with the health system. It was the same team of doctors and nurses who treated her when she was brought to LIJ Forest Hills in 2017 with a rare, life-threatening condition.

An injection of amoxicillin for a sore throat at a local healthcare facility plunged Strickland into the medical odyssey. Within hours the young mom had a rash over most of her body and was spiking with a high fever.

Her reaction would land her in the intensive care unit at the hospital. Strickland was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare and sometimes fatal condition that can be triggered by an infection or a reaction to medication causing serious and painful rashes, blisters and sores on mucous membranes.

In Strickland’s case, rashes covered 80 percent of her body causing her genitals, mouth and eyes to repeatedly glue shut. Blisters caused the top layer of her skin to die and shed, falling off in sheets. Before she was transferred to the burn unit of Staten Island University Hospital, Strickland spent a week in the intensive care unit of LIF Forest Hills, where one of the bright spots were musical renditions delivered by ICU nurse Starr Lentz.

“When I couldn’t see, I didn’t know who was touching and caring for me,” Strickland said. “But when every night when I would hear the ICU door open and her singing ‘Twinkle twinkle little star,’ I knew exactly who was in the room with me and how well I was being taken care of.”

With her face and body mangled with blisters and bandages, Strickland worried that her 4-year-old daughter would not recognize her but Lentz quelled those fears.

“Starr kept telling me a child sees nothing but love,” Strickland said. “She has no idea the impact she’s had on me.”

When she felt like giving up because the pain was so unbearable, Lentz prayed and talked with Strickland and encouraged her to eat so that she could keep fighting her condition.

“She needed someone to hug her and tell her everything was going to be OK,” Lentz said. “I treated Dominique like I treat all of my patients, like I’d like if I was the patient in the hospital bed.”

Joining the celebration was Nariss Joyner, MD, an emergency medicine physician in the LIJFH emergency department who was the first doctor to treat Strickland.

“Allergic reactions don’t always get to that point, but this was an example of a severe and life-threatening reaction,” Joyner said. “I’m so glad to be here today and see how well Dominique has healed and to know that the quality of care she received with us played a role in her deciding to join Northwell.”

During her weeklong stay, Strickland received local wound care, antibiotics and pain management. She also had hydrotherapy treatment, which involves using a pressurized water system to wash away dead skin and bacteria to minimize her risk of infection. Strickland’s ordeal has left her with lingering effects. Her bottom eyelashes now grow upward instead of downward requiring her to have them removed by laser every six months to prevent scratches to her eyes.

She no longer has tear ducts; she has developed astigmatism in both eyes and must wear sunglasses whenever she’s outdoors.

Strickland has extensive tissue scarring. She lost her fingernails and toenails, only her fingernails have grown back.

She was so impressed with the care she received at both Northwell hospitals Strickland took a job as an administrative supervisor with medical Specialties at Glen Oaks, a Northwell internal medical practice.

“At first, I was turned away from another facility because they didn’t know what to do with me. But, when I came here they took me under their wing and they actually took care of me,” Strickland said. “Because everyone did such an amazing job taking care of me so well, I knew I wanted to be part of such an amazing team. And that’s exactly why I’m here today.”

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