Noelle’s story: Overcoming a food allergy scare, one year later

 

Ask Noelle Dilley for her favorite song, and she’ll tell you it’s “The Climb.” It’s a song about struggle and overcoming. About never giving up in the face of adversity.

Noelle knows an uphill battle. A year ago, she experienced her own when she suffered a major allergic reaction and walked the line between life and death.

She was at a church picnic when the 11-year-old licked the frosting of a safe-looking cupcake. But it contained peanut butter – the one ingredient she can’t have. She’s severely allergic. Just one lick landed Noelle at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota where she spent 31 harrowing days fighting for her life. She ultimately recovered, thanks to the excellent care she received, a community of staff, friends and family who never left her side and the power of prayer.

“She is a miracle,” said her mom, Renae Zaeska.

Noelle went into cardiac arrest and CPR was performed. Her heart started pumping again, but her lungs were so inflamed and full of mucous that she was unable to use them. During her first night, her lungs moved less air than a premature baby’s would. She was ultimately put on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a technique that provides cardiac and lung support to patients whose heart and lungs are severely distressed.

She underwent surgery, endured numerous procedures including a bronchoscopy and was tested time and time again as she recovered.

But, recover she did. After a month in the hospital, she went home, where she continued physical, occupational and speech therapy. Within months, Noelle was playing basketball again.

While she continues to go to therapy for neurological damage – she has short-term memory loss – she is almost 100 percent recovered.

“She progressed so fast,” said her dad, Dewy Zaeska.

Noelle returned home to a school and community that have taken several measures to help her avoid another allergic reaction.  She eats at a peanut-free table and has her own computer at school. Her classroom is wiped down every day. Her school has also implemented a grab-and-go plan should the unthinkable happen.

Earlier this month, the president signed a bill that offers a financial incentive to states if schools stockpile epinephrine, considered the first-line treatment those with severe allergies.

Noelle’s parents have taken measures of their own. Last year, they avoided family gatherings during the holidays, unwilling to take any risks around food. They seldom go to restaurants. Noelle also takes Xolair, a treatment to reduce the sensitivity to allergens, every two weeks.

Though Noelle may seem back to normal, her family will never recover from the scare.

 “They told us you will probably never get over this, and I see why,” Dewy said.

When Renae has a bad day, she goes home and immediately hugs her daughter.

Noelle created a photo journal from her hospitalization to help understand what happened to her. While she was sedated most of the time at Children’s, she remembers aspects, some more vividly than others. She worked closely with a music therapist while she regained strength and would like to become a music therapist one day.

The family continues to make the 90-minute trek to Children’s for follow-up care. Every time, they want to thank Noelle’s team of doctors.

“How we feel about that whole system…it’s out of this world,” Renae said. “It’s an A+ team.”

Read the original story we published last year about Noelle.

Noelle is just one of the many brave kids that Children’s is proud to care for each year, and we couldn’t do it without your support. Your donation helps us provide Minnesota’s kids with some of the best medical care in the world. From surgeries big and small, to cancer care, to innovative pain management techniques, nobody treats kids like we do. Thank you for your support today, and helping kids just like Noelle.

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