It was an otherwise ordinary day -- Sept. 26, 2018. Sabrina McMiller was driving to a gas station in Indianapolis with all six of her children in the car. Her eldest, Ke’Mora, 11, was sitting directly behind her, chattering about anything and nothing. Suddenly there was a gasp, then silence.
McMiller looked in her rearview mirror and saw Ke’Mora slumped over unconscious.
“I stopped the car in the middle of the street, opened the door and started screaming for help,” McMiller said. She called 911, while neighbors ran out to help and started performing CPR.
An ambulance rushed Ke’Mora to Riley Hospital for Children, where she was diagnosed with viral myocarditis, a heart condition caused by a virus. The virus can strike previously healthy people like Ke’Mora with little warning other than flu-like symptoms. It attacks the heart muscle and can lead to an abnormal heartbeat and heart failure.
By the time they arrived at the hospital, McMiller knew it was bad.
“They put us in a room to wait, and then we heard them over the intercom saying code blue. My husband just took off for the room they had taken her to, and I went after him. We saw them doing chest compressions. She was gone.”
Doctors revived Ke’Mora and put her on a ventilator to help her breathe. It would be four days before McMiller and her husband, William, would see their baby’s eyes flutter open and feel her fingers grasp their hands.
‘When She Opened Her Eyes, It Was Like A Miracle’ - https://t.co/nOGK0WRdB1 pic.twitter.com/9VDK0SzuJf
— Riley Children's (@RileyChildrens) November 6, 2018
In that time, McMiller said, she was in “a twilight zone.”
“Everything was surreal, all these people praying, offering support, bringing balloons -- people I hadn’t talked to in years.”
About those balloons. McMiller estimates her daughter received close to 100. Dozens had deflated in the weeks since she was first hospitalized, but they were stored in a cabinet in her hospital room. When she moved from the PICU to the rehab floor, her father managed to corral a mass of those balloons in a wagon and wheel them down the hallway to her new room.
Kiley Parry, an occupational therapist, worked with Ke’Mora for three weeks to help build up her strength. She was there the first time Ke’Mora sat up in bed, the first time she was able to sit in a chair and the first time she took a step.
“Oh my goodness, she’s improved a lot,” Parry said as she watched Ke’Mora tie her shoes and stretch her arms using exercise bands. “Her arm strength has gotten so much better.”
But what hasn’t changed is Ke’Mora’s smile. “She always had a smile on her face,” Parry said. “I remember when I walked in that first day, and you never know what you’re going to walk into, but she had the biggest smile.”
Not that there weren’t hard days.
“I didn’t understand why I was here,” said Ke’Mora, who remembered nothing about the first few days of her hospitalization. “I just knew I had to get stronger.”
Even when she had to spend her 12th birthday in the hospital, Ke’Mora made the best of it. All she really wanted to do was go to the mall with her friends, she said, but instead she was inundated with gifts, cake and, yes, more balloons from family and friends.
She held her favorite gift – a unicorn pillow -- tight to her chest during one of her last days in the hospital. Unicorns are a mythical creature, but they are said to have magical powers, including healing sickness.
McMiller knows the miracle of her daughter’s recovery is less about magic and more about the care and expertise of the Riley staff. On Oct. 26, exactly one month after she was admitted to Riley, Ke’Mora got to go home. She will continue outpatient physical therapy, but otherwise she expects to be back in school with her friends soon, something that didn’t seem possible just a few weeks ago.
“I really appreciate the teams that came together to help save our daughter’s life and get her back to a fully functioning life,” Sabrina McMiller said.
“Every second that Ke’Mora was on life support, I had to believe there was hope. When she opened her eyes, it was like watching someone being born again.”
-- By Maureen Gilmer, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @MaureenCGilmer