Early in the spring of 2011, 20-month-old Elijah was a perfectly healthy little boy. His parents, Brenda and Mark, were expecting their second child – Brenda was 33 weeks pregnant. Life was good in Dassel, Minnesota. However, in the time it took Elijah to develop a high fever, their lives would be forever changed.
For reasons unknown, Elijah became incredibly sick on April 20, 2011. He woke up at 3 a.m. with a high fever that wouldn’t break. He was so weak he couldn’t hold his head up and needed to be cradled. Elijah slowly developed a rash of purple spots and eventually couldn’t keep food or water down. Brenda and Mark rushed him to urgent care in Hutchinson, Minnesota. They thought he had chicken pox.
Elijah continued to deteriorate and was air-lifted to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. He underwent countless rounds of blood tests and his parents anxiously awaited a diagnosis. They learned the rash was due to Purpura (blood poisoning), which ultimately resulted in blisters and ulcerations on Elijah’s skin. The diagnosis was Meningococcemia, a rare, communicable infection. The most common disease presentation is meningitis, but this is not always the case. Meningococcemia can kill more rapidly than any other infectious disease and early recognition is critical. Irreversible shock and death may occur within hours of the onset of symptoms, which is why the decision to rush Elijah to Minneapolis was crucial.
Brenda and Mark would never have guessed they’d be spending the next 12 weeks in the Twin Cities. Their hearts went out to Elijah, his body completely covered in blisters and ulcerations, requiring amputation of his fingers and parts of his feet. During these difficult days, the family found a bright spot in the Ronald McDonald House – located inside Children’s Hospital, Minneapolis.
“Having the support of the Ronald McDonald House was extremely important to us,” Brenda said. “We ended up at the hospital unexpectedly and didn’t plan on staying more than a few days, let alone 12 weeks. To have a safe, comfortable place to stay so close to Elijah meant the world to us.”
Feeling that community of support was incredibly meaningful during the difficult days spent with Elijah in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). “The first few weeks, the volunteer meals were the only time Brenda would leave Elijah’s side to eat,” Mark said. “If only those volunteers knew how much their one meal meant. Having somewhere to get away was important for our mental health. Visiting with other families who were going through a similar experience was encouraging – we didn’t have to be alone.”
In early June, Mark and Brenda were preparing to deliver their second child. They arranged for Elijah’s Grandmother Kim and Aunt Maria to stay at Children’s to be familiar faces for Elijah. Mark and Brenda headed to Waconia, Minnesota and baby Gabriel was born the very next night. Just a few days later, the growing family made their way back to Elijah’s side.
After 10 weeks at Children’s Hospital, Minneapolis, Elijah was ready to rebuild strength through in-patient rehabilitation therapy. Due to his amputations, he had to re-learn to crawl and use his reformed hands. He qualified for a 2-week rehabilitation program at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul. Brenda and Mark were surprised to learn there was a new Ronald McDonald House Charities program inside of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare called the Ronald McDonald Family Room. “The Ronald McDonald Family Room was a great place to get away from the tiny hospital room and visit with other families of kids who were going through something similar,” Brenda said. “That support meant the world to us.”
By the end of rehab therapy, Brenda and Mark were ready to bring the boys home. They had mastered Elijah’s dressing changes and were confident he would continue to progress in their care. At home, the family treasures the little things. Brenda is currently staying with her mother while Mark is on active duty with the Army National Guard. Being far from home for extended periods of time is difficult, but Mark is certain the love within his family is more than most will know in a lifetime.