Frueauff Foundation Stories

Arkansas Children’s Hospital: Kari

“It was the worst nightmare ever,” says Jill. “I kept thinking, ‘This is not happening.'” But it was. Just a couple of days earlier, Jill had delivered her first child, Kari, a beautiful 6 pound, 2 ounce girl. Now the doctor was telling Jill and her husband, Lance, that Kari was not going to live.

One hour after Kari’s birth, one of her lungs collapsed. The staff at a northwest Arkansas hospital told Jill they would put Kari under an oxygen hood, watch her over night and that Kari would be back in the room with Jill the next day. Spotlight on Giving

Unfortunately, Kari was worse the next day. During the night, her condition had deteriorated, prompting the physician to put the newborn on a ventilator.

After two days, Jill had been released from the hospital, but she and Lance kept vigil, waiting for some good news regarding Kari’s condition.

“The doctor told us that her condition was so bad that he did not think anyone would come to help her,” Jill recalls. “He just said it was a matter of hours, that Kari would die within the day.”

Shortly after the devastating news, the family caught a glimmer of hope. Kari’s oxygen levels miraculously returned to 100 percent. “The doctor told us that if we were going to call for help, we needed to call now.”

The call was made to Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH). Kari needed ECMO, Extra-Corporeal Membrance Oxygenation, a high-tech machine that provides a sustained heart-lung bypass. ACH is one of only two hospitals in the country able to perform ECMO in transit, a service that would save Kari’s life.

In mobile ECMO cases, a specially trained staff travels to a referring hospital and connects the patient to an ECMO machine adapted for the cramped quarters of a transport vehicle. In Kari’s case, the staff arrived via Angel One, the hospital’s helicopter.

Mobile ECMO is only taken to Level III hospitals, those that have the most advanced patient care and have already tried everything they can do to save a patient’s life. This was the first time mobile ECMO had been performed in Northwest Arkansas. Nurses stood on boxes to peer through the window of the hospital’s small Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to watch the ECMO team in action. Spotlight on Giving

It was indeed something to watch. Kari had to be resuscitated even as she was hooked up to the machine, but the team got her stabilized for the short flight to Little Rock.

At ACH, Kari stayed on ECMO for five more days. The special equipment sustained her breathing and allowed her lungs to heal.

The equipment is not cheap. This year, ACH purchased two new pumps for its ECMO service. Manufactured in Germany, the pumps cost $56,000 each. They are the latest generation of available equipment, and they are wonderful, says Lorrie Baker, ECMO coordinator. They were purchased with donated funds.

The ECMO center at ACH is one of more than 50 such centers in the United States. Only five or six of those, like ACH, can support all types of patients including adults, children and heart patients. The centers closest to Arkansas have one or two beds. ACH can support six patients at a time. Just a one-hour helicopter flight from Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Kari was in the right place at the right time.

After Kari’s stay in the ECMO unit, she went to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where she stayed on a ventilator for a few more days.

Finally, after a scary month for the young family, Kari got to go home. Today, at almost nine months old, Kari is doing well. Her lungs have recovered, and tests indicate that she is right on track developmentally.

“She would not be here if it were not for ECMO,” Jill says. “We just enjoy her every day.”

“Thank you doesn’t even sound adequate to express how we feel about the generous donors who made ECMO available for Kari,” says Jill.