A two-year-old girl from Steinbach has been fighting for her life in the hospital for more than 40 days after contracting COVID-19 near the end of 2020.
Young Hallie's battle with her health did not begin when she picked up the deadly virus, nor is it expected to end anytime soon; chronic problems in her gastrointestinal tract have necessitated hospital visits for her entire life. The rare condition, eosinophilic gastrointestinal disease, has only become worse since it was joined by COVID-19.
The girl's mother, Cari-Lynn Thiessen, explained the reasons for this latest extended hospital stay. "She tested positive for COVID in November. Since then, it's been a downward spiral. She developed what they call post-COVID inflammatory syndrome, specific to her GI tract. That went on for weeks and weeks and weeks after her COVID. She was scheduled for surgery on December 23rd and we talked to every doctor asking if it was still okay to go through with it and they all said they didn't know. The whole COVID thing is new and especially with kids like Hallie, there is no data on what it does to their bodies. The whole post-COVID thing could last a few months or the rest of her life, we don't know."
Thiessen and the doctors made the decision to go forward with the planned surgery. "We couldn't put the rest of her healthcare on hold forever because of this thing we don't know too much about," she explains. "We went ahead with the surgery that would give her a feeding tube into her tummy so she could get rid of the tube on her face. Surgery went great... until that night when they tried to feed her formula. She started throwing up and it lasted for 24 hours. Every five minutes or so, she would throw up."
There was an answer to what was happening to Hallie. She had developed a postoperative ileus, which essentially means that her intestine went to sleep during the surgery and did not wake up afterward.
"They're acting like they are paralyzed" Thiessen states. "Ever since then, we've been stuck in hospital. It's been over six weeks now."
Following that complication, doctors decided to give Hallie her nutrition through an intravenous PICC line, a procedure that resulted in several more untimely infections.
In her few years of motherhood, Thiessen says she has grown accustomed to coping with her child's daily health challenges, but this one was different. This one made her very afraid.
"It was quite scary," she comments. "There were days where she would just lay in bed, you couldn't wake her up, she was completely out. Doctors would tell me they were concerned that her body was shutting down and they didn't know what would happen next. As that's going on, those infections spread throughout her blood so she had sepsis which caused anemia. Her hemoglobin count went down so she needed a blood transfusion. As it turns out, blood transfusions don't go smoothly with Hallie; she had a full-on anaphylactic response. It's just been one thing after another."
Very often it feels to Thiessen that the unceasing battery of tests and surgeries are only bringing to light more problems rather than solutions. As Hallie battles in the hospital, the family battles to remain emotionally stable.
"It's incredibly draining" admits Thiessen. "She's just two and a half so she's at an age where they are typically very busy and want to be into everything... and she hasn't been able to walk most of the time we've been in here due to lack of nutrition or blood loss... she gets frustrated because she can't do what she wants. It's hard to deal with this little girl who's bored and doesn't want to be here. Meanwhile, my husband is at home with our other daughter and he's doing the solo parenting thing which he's not used to doing so long term. We've had long hospital stays but they max out at seven or eight days but not like this, it's six weeks with no hope of going home any time soon."
Many of Hallie's current problems stem from COVID-19 and, for Thiessen, it is difficult not to be angry when she sees some not adhering to guidelines that are in place to keep vulnerable people safe. "It is absolutely infuriating at this point," she fumes. "We are almost a year into this whole experience and by now and yet, to see people still acting like it's nothing is so insulting. We should be fighting for her and others like her. It should be common sense, really."
Despite being hooked up to large pieces of machinery for the past couple of months, Hallie has maintained a remarkable attitude. "I sometimes think that if I was in that position, I wouldn't even get out of bed yet here she is still fighting," laughs Thiessen. "The doctors come in and ask 'how does she look so good when she's so sick?' She just gives so much inspiration to our family and even to others."
Moved by the countless stories of challenge and tragedy, Thiessen says many people have reached out to offer encouragement or financial donations. Anyone still looking to support the Thiessen family can do so by visiting their GoFundMe page or perusing Thiessen's Mama To A Superhero blog on Facebook. Furthermore, Thiessen says a birthday parade for her eldest daughter, Addy, has been planned for this morning. Addy often gets overshadowed by her sister's health complications, so Thiessen is really hoping her day can be special. If you do not already have morning plans you are invited to join the procession and meet in the old Mid-Canada Milworks parking lot at 9:45 AM. " If you'd like to drive by her daycare and wave, she would be thrilled," says Thiessen.
With files from Dave Anthony