Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tiny H1N1 victim recovers

Toddler able to breathe without use of ventilator

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The H1N1 virus is expected to surge when the fall flu season begins, hitting younger victims harder than regular flu. It has already taken several Manitobans' lives.

But it's spared many more, including one very sick but strong toddler whose photo appeared in the Free Press on June 28.

After being turned away from the emergency ward three times in the late spring, Rhea Myers ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit at the Health Sciences Centre in June.

She was placed in a sterile isolation room, hooked up to a breathing machine and in a coma for weeks. At that traumatic time, her parents agreed to an interview and to have her photo taken, but didn't want their names made public.

Today, the toddler with long blond curls is back in the pink, at home with her family and enjoying the swing sets of Stonewall.

"She's doing fabulous," said her dad, Scott Myers.

He and Rhea's mom, Michelle, are so grateful that their H1N1 story had a happy ending, they agreed to share it.

"If there is a silver lining to a child being that sick, perhaps being in the coma gave her body the rest it needed to heal and she has somehow beaten H1N1 and is now healthier than ever."

In June, Rhea was one of 20 suspected or confirmed H1N1 cases in the pediatric ICU.

Like all of those kids hit hardest by H1N1, Rhea had medical challenges. The 16-month-old already had respiratory problems and needed supplemental oxygen to help her breathe. Still, she was a busy, happy toddler. When she became totally listless, her parents became alarmed.

After she was admitted to hospital, she tested positive for the H1N1 virus that was virtually shutting down her lungs.

A ventilator pumped 300 shallow breaths a minute into her lungs. The quick, little breaths pumped in oxygen without inflating -- and further damaging -- her injured little lungs, giving them time to heal.

"Lungs can make a remarkable recovery," a pediatric ICU doctor said at the time.

Rhea's did.

"After over a year of requiring oxygen on a daily basis, she hasn't needed any for over a month," Michelle said.

"It's so great to go to the park or even just to our backyard without carrying an oxygen tank with us or worry that her oxygen levels are dropping too low."

Today, Rhea's parents want others to know there is hope when it comes to the dreaded virus and to express their thanks for the help and support they've received.

"People are so important -- friends, family and community," Michelle said.

Scott's sister, Carolyn Fines in Stonewall, looked after Rhea's three-year-old brother, Alex, when they visited Rhea in the hospital. Fines was glad to help.

"It's hard to watch when there's not much you can do," said Fines, whose daughters Madison, 6, and Sarah, 9, also wanted to help their cousin. They and their friends donated money from a lemonade stand to the Children's Hospital Foundation.

At the pediatric ICU, Rhea's parents met parents and grandparents from as far away as Churchill keeping watch over the tiny patients through the windows of their isolation rooms. There were days when the other parents' watch tragically ended.

"It's sad," Michelle said. "You see them every day for a month" and a quiet bond of understanding develops. "They totally get it," she said.

Rhea's parents were at home when the pediatric ICU called with the good news she was awake.

"We cried," said Michelle.

Rhea takes a protective antibiotic, and now needs to be a little stronger before she's able to go to daycare, said Michelle. The little girl, who's always had a happy nature, is glad to be home and so is her big brother, Alex, who missed her. When Rhea was able to breathe without oxygen tubes, he was overjoyed," she said.

"Alex jumped up with his arms in the air yelling 'no more tubes, hurray for Rhea!'"

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 16, 2009 A5

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