When Lizzie was little, getting sick was never a good thing.  We worried about fevers and seizures.  We gave medicine and fluids through her g-tube, and nebulizer (breathing) treatments multiple times a day.  We thought we were getting pretty good at managing those bumps in the road, and then she got really sick.  Nothing could have prepared us for this.

It was the spring of 2006, and Lizzie wasn’t even 2-years-old.  Lizzie had been irritable that day, but nothing out of the ordinary, and no fever.  We had all gone to bed as usual, when I woke up feeling like something was wrong.  I could hear strangled, choking noises coming from the other room, and I asked my husband to check on Lizzie.  My arthritis was acting up, and I knew he’d get there faster than I would.  It was about 4 am, and Lizzie was in the middle of a full-blown seizure in her crib.  She burned my skin when I touched her.  I told my husband to call 911.  Her temperature was over 103 and must have spiked in the middle of the night.  That’s what triggered the seizure.

The ambulance took us to the ER, and it was at least 45 minutes from the time we found her to the time the ER staff finally stopped her seizure(s).  She had to be put on a ventilator and went straight from the ER to the ICU.  This hospitalization would last nearly a month from beginning to end, and would be our worst by far.

Lizzie had been in the hospital for five days and we knew by then that she had a nasty bought of the flu (Influenza A), which then went into pneumonia.  I sat with Lizzie for a while that day and left the hospital in the evening to go pick up her brother at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  I was planning on going home to sleep, then going back the next day.  We had just finished dinner at Grandma’s, and the phone rang.  It was my husband.  The hospital had just called and said we needed to be there, NOW.  It was around 10 o’clock in the evening.  I was shaking.  My dad told me he’d drive, and my mom said she’d take care of Michael.  I remember he looked at me with these big, sad, four-year-old eyes, and said, “But, I thought you were coming to get me?”  It nearly broke my heart.  I had to explain to him that I had, but that Lizzie was really sick and I had to go back to the hospital.

When we got there, there were several ICU staff in the room with Lizzie, and they asked us to wait in a room down the hall.  A few minutes later a man came in and introduced himself as the chaplain.  Believe me, you never want them to put you in the room with a chaplain.  It can never mean anything good.

It turned out that Lizzie’s lungs were not healing.  Being on the ventilator wasn’t helping, and they wanted to try her on something called an oscilating vent.  Unfortunately, Lizzie did not tolerate this machine.  They tried at least two separate times to hook her up to it, and she tanked each time.  That’s my daughter for you, if she doesn’t like something, she’s not going to cooperate, and she lets you know.

I spent that horrible night crying; afraid we were losing her.  My husband kicked the chaplain out of the room after a while.  It was hard to discuss what we had to and feel what we were feeling with a stranger in the room.  I know he meant well, but to us he was more of a bad omen than a comfort.  We weren’t quite ready to close up shop.  I think I prayed harder that night than I ever have.

Finally, a doctor came into the room.  He was not very optimistic looking, and he told us that there was one more option they could try.  It was something called ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).  Basically, the way they explained it was that they would remove the blood from Lizzie’s body, add oxygen to it, and replace it.  In other words, they would bi-pass her lungs, and hopefully give them time to heal.  Then he explained the odds to us.  ECMO was only suggested if there was or less than a 10% chance of survival, and if she responded well to it, there was a 90% chance of survival.  With odds like that, there was really no choice to make.

The room was so quiet that you could hear the machines whirring and hissing.  The machine looked like something out of a Sci-Fi movie.  It was so huge it had its own cart, and came with a set of technicians who monitored 24 hours around the clock.  The tubes coming out of Lizzie’s neck and going into the machine looked too huge to be real.  She spent 14 days on ECMO, and 3 weeks on a ventilator.  They gave her numerous blood transfusions during this time, because the red blood cells get pretty beat up as they go through the process (one tech described them as shredded).  I sat quietly by her side, and waited for her to improve.  After two weeks, she finally had oxygen saturations high enough to get off of the ECMO.  A little over a week later she came home.

She’s thriving now.  Every year as her birthday approaches, I think about how we almost lost her before she was two.  It amazes me how far she’s come and how much she’s done since then.  I thank God for helping her survive that awful time, for making sure I heard her the night it all started, and that she’s still here.

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