Amazing Kids, Amazing Stories: Amelia's Story
Matter-of-factly, Kristin Huotari of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin will tell you how her family survived an ordeal few others will experience.
As she recounts the chronology of her little daughter Amelia Newman’s incredible journey from sickness to health, Kristin says that everyone involved emerged as “better people.” The calm, assuring manner in which she speaks seems to belie the emotional roller-coaster that finally seems to be slowing to a normal pace.
In August 2003, Kristin was at Meriter Hospital in Madison having given birth to her third child, Avery. At that same time, Kristin’s husband, Seth Newman was three miles down the road at UW Children’s Hospital (now American Family Children's Hospital) with 15-month-old Amelia, who was undergoing one of many hospitalizations for partial blockage of her intestine.
“It was incredibly difficult,” Kristin says. “Here I am giving birth to our new baby, while my husband is at another hospital with Amelia.”
Amelia’s troubles first surfaced one evening, some nine weeks after she was born in May 2002. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, her breathing became very labored. Moreover, Amelia started vomiting and had great difficulty nursing for no apparent reason.
“We took Amelia to Meriter, where she was diagnosed with a life threatening birth defect known as diaphragmatic hernia,” Kristin recalls. “Essentially, Amelia was born with a hole in her diaphragm that was allowing her small intestine to slide up into her chest. Once we knew this, Amelia was immediately transferred to UW Children’s Hospital.”
Dennis Lund, MD, surgeon-in-chief at UW Children’s Hospital (now American Family Children's Hospital), performed Amelia’s three most recent surgeries to correct the location and function of her small intestine.
“Typically, diaphragmatic hernia presents at birth or is commonly diagnosed on prenatal ultrasound,” Lund says. “Amelia’s case was very unusual in that she did not present with symptoms until she was nine weeks old. Even though it took seven operations to get her diaphragm and small intestine all fixed up, she really went with the flow. Amelia is truly a survivor with a wonderfully patient mom and dad.”
Thinking back on the many long days and nights in the hospital, Kristin had what might be described as an epiphany after seeing so many of the same children during hospital stay after hospital stay.
“I would see the same little faces each time we came back and I realized that this is simply what our lives are going to be like for awhile,” she says. “At that point, it was easier to stop feeling like we were abnormal and just embrace this part of our lives. By minimizing our anger and bitterness, we felt it would help Amelia to recover more effectively.”
Making things even more comfortable for everyone – including big brother Zachary and baby sister Avery – were many family members, especially Amelia’s Aunt Michele and Uncle Michael Martinsen. Kristin also cannot say enough about the children’s hospital physicians, nurses, Child Life staff and others who never wavered from putting Amelia’s best interests first.
She also singles out Amelia’s pediatrician in Madison, Susan Nondahl, MD, who spent countless hours with the family and Dr. Lund in managing Amelia’s care. Today, Amelia is doing well and could not be happier to have made the trade from anesthesia and I.V. poles to fairies and baby dolls.
“She’s quite charming and expressive,” Kristin says. “And she doesn’t hold a grudge against any of the doctors or nurses. The whole experience is one we tried to turn into a positive. It really made us better people who emerged loving each other even more.”