Surviving the unexpected: The Stoltz family story

Stoltz 2

On June 19-20, the Children's Hospital Association will be holding its ninth annual Family Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. The Stoltz family will be attending on behalf of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Imagine yourself boarding an airplane, excited for the destination that lies ahead. Despite what promises to be a simple trip, during the course of the flight things start to go wrong.

An engine fails, a fire breaks out, a wing falls off and you have intermittent guidance from the control tower. You cling to your seat and hope against hope that somehow you’ll make it to the ground safely. You are filled with anxiety and paralyzing fear. Your well-being is in jeopardy and you are virtually powerless to do anything about it.

An early arrival

That’s how my husband and I felt when we were expecting our daughter, Katie. We set out on a journey to a highly-desirable destination. We got the news that our family was going to be blessed with a little girl. Her expected date of arrival:  April 14, 2009. However, during the course of our pregnancy, things took dramatic and frightening twists and turns.

Our daughter was born by emergency C-section 15 weeks ahead of schedule; not on April 14, but January 3 at 3:00 a.m.!

Everything about her underdeveloped and unprepared body screamed that she was not ready to meet the world. She weighed one teeny-tiny pound and measured a mere 11 inches in length. She was ventilator-dependent and needed paralytics with sedation to keep her from using her energy for anything other than sustaining life. It was almost inconceivable that the intelligence and capabilities needed to live a full and productive life could possibly exist inside that frail little frame.

A talented care team

Stoltz 1Most gratefully, we had an experienced and unflappable pilot in charge of our daughter’s care, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Katie was cared for by an incredibly talented, dedicated and compassionate team of professionals: nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, radiologists, surgeons and environmental specialists. People who know and love children. They expertly stepped into the situation and took control. They calmly and adeptly guided our daughter through her 99 days of intense hospitalization in the Children’s NICU.

They saw her through bronchopulmonary dysplasia, pulmonary hypertension and chronic lung disease. They performed 21 blood transfusions and helped her triumph over a blood-stream infection. They saved her vision through laser eye surgery and pulled her back from the cusp of death on more than one occasion.   

Children’s helped to keep our family airborne when we felt like the world was crashing in. They sustained us and counseled us through the trauma of our daughter’s frightening start to life. They delivered us to a safe place, from which we could journey forward. This is what they do every day. They step in to the chaos. They create order and game plans for families who are not equipped with what they need, when undesirable and unexpected changes are made to their itineraries.

An extraordinary daughter

Stoltz 3Amazingly enough, despite all the complications associated with her birth, our beautiful daughter was delivered to our arms on April 12, 2009 — two days before her original due date!  She came home on oxygen and with an apnea monitor, weighing just five pounds. She was discharged on Easter Sunday, which felt incredibly symbolic for our family.

Katie is now a vibrant and healthy 4 ½ year-old, who is doing wonderfully!  It takes a trained-eye to detect the minor challenges she is working to overcome.  She is a smiley preschooler who loves to sing, jump on the trampoline, and wrestle with her 3 big brothers.

It may seem like an exaggeration to say that the work performed by Children’s is miraculous. But to us, it’s nothing short of that. They saved our daughter, and in so doing they saved our family.