It was the late summer of 2015 and I really wanted to get away and go somewhere on a mini trip with my family. My husband, at the time, was really swamped at work and suggested that I go and take Hayden to visit my extended family in Ontario. It worked out well as my parents were already going so I could go with them so I wouldn’t be traveling alone.
At this point Hayden had only just had the one seizure event at the Stollery Children’s Hospital a few months earlier, but since then it had been nothing suspicious. I was naive to the full extent of her condition at this point, as doctors had told us only bits and pieces of what to expect for her future. I didn’t really have any concerns of her health at this point. So off I went with Hayden in tow. The trip started out great to be honest. She ended up being an excellent little traveler. She loved exploring the airport and didn’t make a peep during the flight there. We spent the first couple of days exploring the local town we were staying in and she got to experience her first boat ride. Everything was going great, until it wasn’t.
It was getting close to Hayden’s bedtime on the second night in where I remember telling my Mom that Hayden felt a little bit warm. My Mom felt her and agreed that she did, so I gave her some Tylenol and my mom suggested giving her a nice cool bath as she is still to this day quite the water bug. So I proceeded to give her a bath which she seemed to enjoy and shortly after I took her out and took her over to the couch to dry her off and start dressing her in her pajamas her arms flailed outwards and quickly trembled. My Mom who had witnessed this same behavior before she had had her very first seizure, yelled, “That’s what she did last time! You need to take her in to the hospital right now!”
The town that we were staying in was small, so it was only a matter of minutes before we made it to the local care center. Once inside we were quickly sent into triage and while I was explaining the situation to the nurse, thats when Hayden started seizing. Her whole body went rigid, her eyes rolled back and she started drooling profusely. Because the center we took her to was very small, there were no beds at the time for me to lay Hayden in, so as per the seizure training I received, I began to lay Hayden down into the recovery position on the floor. The nurse at the time must have either never learned about seizure management in her training, or had panicked because she tried to grab Hayden out of my arms and tried to tell me to hold her up. After arguing with the nurse I finally literally screamed for her to get me a bed right this second because I need to do what I was trained to do. During this period of argument Hayden had thrown up a little bit and at the time I wasn’t aware that she had aspirated some of it.
They quickly found a bed for her and her condition deteriorated very quickly. They had a hard time getting an IV started as she was very tiny and the center we were at was just simply ill equip at dealing with small children. Hayden’s body went into such a stressed state that her seizures weren’t stopping even with emergency medications that they were trying to administer. Her fever had spiked so high and wasn’t breaking. Her blood oxygen levels started to decline rapidly and I can recall watching her try to breathe and every time her tiny body would try to take a breath in, the entire middle of her chest would cave in to the point that I could see her spine. It looked as though you could set a soda can into the concavity. While all of this was going on, the doctor had called for an airlift.
The paramedics from the airlift arrived and started collecting information about what happened. The main paramedic came over to Hayden and started directing everyone on what needed to happen. He took one look at her and I will never forget the way his expression changed. I then remember him turning around and talking into his radio, “We need to get this girl in the air now because I don’t know if she’s going to make it.” I, at this point, was already a wreck, but hearing that your baby might die, is something nightmares are made of. When he turned back around to manage the situation before him, I asked, “Is she going to die?” He looked at her and then at me and said, “I don’t know. She needs to be stable enough to transport and she currently is not, and I think she is just too small for me to intubate.”
I will never forget having to make that phone call to my Husband, telling him out of the blue that he needed to come right away because our previously seemingly healthy child might not live to see another day.
After about ten minutes or so had passed, while Hayden was slowly deteriorating, the Paramedic looked at me and said, “f*** it, we’re going to just take her and run. She needs to get to the hospital now, so we need to go fast.” From there him and the other paramedic bundled her up and strapped her down securely and told me to follow. We literally ran to the helicopter waiting outside, They told me to buckle up and put on the headphones they gave me. They said it was going to take 17 minutes to get to the hospital and that they were going to do everything in their power to save her.
The helicopter taking off was very loud and frightening, and it was in the middle of the night so it was hard to see much. It felt like time stood still in those moments. Minutes felt like hours. By the time we landed in front of the hospital, mentally I wasn’t present. It felt like I was outside of my body looking in onto this traumatic situation. A team of doctors were waiting for us on the helipad and they immediately ran her up to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. They told me that they needed to stabilize her breathing and that I wasn’t allowed to watch as it could be fairly traumatic to watch. My parents had to drive to the hospital, so I was alone and was told to wait and see essentially. I called my Husband who was already at the airport waiting to board his flight. I tried my best to explain to him what was going on but we both just cried and told each other how much we loved each other and just tried to reassure one another that she was going to get through this. Awhile had passed, and no sign of any doctors coming to talk to me. My parents arrived and sat with me and we all cried. A hour had passed and finally two doctors came in. They sat us down and calmly explained that they were able to get a breathing tube in, but that it was hard and her airways were quite swollen. They told me that she had developed an aspiration pneumonia and that the breathing tube was put in place to give her body a rest by breathing for her. They didn’t know what was making her so sick with such a high fever so they had to place her on ice packs and a cooling pad to hopefully help bring her body temperature down. They told me that they had inserted a PIC line through her carotid artery and had given her enough medication that they felt her seizure activity had stopped. They also told me that they needed to have a few IV access points on her and that because she had swollen up so much, they had to insert an IV into each of her leg bones. Finally, they told me to prepare myself for what I was about to see. They reassured me that although I was going to see a lot of swelling, and a lot of tubes and wires, that they were all helping Hayden to recover. She wasn’t out of the woods yet they said, but she was stable.
I finally got to go in and see her, and I remember how lifeless and swollen her little body looked from all of the fluids that had gotten pumped into her. She had IVs on every limb and there was a tube breathing for her. The Nurse assigned to her that evening told me that, she had been given medications that was keeping her in a sleep like state and reassured me that she was comfortable. I sat at her bedside that whole night praying that she would pull through. When my Husband finally got there, he just collapsed into me and we both cried. We held each other the rest of the night and the following morning praying. It took seven excruciatingly long days, and no answers as to what had made her so sick to begin with, but she was finally extubated and breathing well on her own. She finally awoke and I was able to hold her. I will never forget thanking God for allowing me to hold my baby in my arms again. I held her the entire day quietly sobbing.
From there she slowly improved. After about a week we were able to take her home and it took her another couple of weeks to fully recover. To this day we still don’t know what had made her so sick, we are thinking she may have picked up something on the plane. We learned about our daughters incredible strength during this trip, and saw her overcome an life altering challenge. This is one of the first times we saw her fight for her life.
Every time she gets sick now though, it nearly always ends up in a hospital visit. We as parents have become very guarded when it comes to common illness. Usually in the fall/winter months we stay close to home, and we try our best to keep her away from others that are sick. Sadly, nothing is guaranteed in this life, and in a blink of an eye your whole world can come crashing down. For many, this is a daily reality. When a cold or flu becomes a fight for life. The decision to go somewhere, do something, or just take a chance on wanting your child to experience something new, may present consequences that no one is prepared to deal with. This was and sometimes still is our reality. This is many families realities.
Emotionally, that was the first very traumatic incident not only for Hayden, but for myself. It was one of the darkest times in our families life. I have found that I developed a bit of post traumatic stress due to this event. A few occasions we have been to our local hospital for routine appointments and the STARS helicopter will land or take off from the roof helipad. In those moments I find that my heart starts to race, and I start to panic. The first couple times it happened I immediately started bawling. Over time it has gotten a bit better, I no longer break into tears, but my heart still races and I do start to panic. I find that movies with helicopter scenes also trigger the same emotions. Going through a traumatic experience like that is very emotionally draining on a parent. I wish I could tell other parents under similar circumstances that you will eventually get over it, but I know for me personally, that hasn’t happened. My heart heals a little bit every day, but I don’t think it will ever be what is was. And while my heart may never completely heal, the experience has taught me treasure the little moments a little more.
I’m so very thankful that God gave me my daughter back and that I still get to see her grow and flourish another day. My daughter is by far the strongest girl I know. She has been through hell and back and still wakes up in the morning with a bright little smile on her face. She is the definition of strength, and it has been her journey that has helped me get through mine.