- Associated Press - Sunday, April 17, 2016

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) - Watching 8-year-old Vienna draw six weeks after suffering two debilitating strokes, Evie DeWitt is amazed at how far her daughter has come.

While still in the hospital after the strokes, Vienna began to draw. A creative, smart kid, as described by her mother, Vienna was creating a book of sorts for her baby sister, Ember. On each page, Vienna wrote a color, and then attempted to draw objects of the corresponding color.

But Vienna had weakness on her left side and struggled to complete a task that was once routine, The Daily Republic (https://bit.ly/1WqmasZ ) reported.

“Watching her do it, it was honestly a little tough because she had lost a lot,” Evie DeWitt, of Mitchell, said. “She was writing fine, and you could understand what she was writing, but her drawing did not even resemble what she wanted or the skill she had before this.”

Through an 11-day stay at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, Vienna regained her strength_a feat that doctors called a “miracle” — and is, for the most part, back to normal.



But it has been a long road to recovery.

On Feb. 21, Vienna had an unbearable headache, was dizzy and when she laid down on the couch, she didn’t want to get up again. In a family with a long history of migraines, DeWitt said she feared Vienna was suffering from her first migraine.

“In the middle of the night, she got up to go to the bathroom_my husband helped her up and she was very unsteady on her feet,” DeWitt said. “She couldn’t walk very well, and it’s hard to know with an 8-year-old. Was she just being dramatic? We couldn’t tell.”

The next morning, DeWitt noticed Vienna’s eyes were focused to the right. DeWitt thought, since Vienna was laying on her right side, she was trying to look down to avoid the light. DeWitt kept a close eye on Vienna throughout the day, and then DeWitt and her husband, Randall, decided to take Vienna to the clinic in Mitchell. Doctors immediately ordered a computerized tomography (CT) scan, and said Vienna was going to be admitted to the hospital.

“I was like ‘Wait, what? I get the CT scan, but what? Really?’” DeWitt said. “He made some allusions to a couple of things but said he wasn’t going to say anything until they knew more because he didn’t want to scare us. But just those words were enough to know he thinks it could be super serious.”

Shortly after being admitted, the CT results came back positive for two strokes, one in the temporal lobe on the right side and the cerebellum on the left side of Vienna’s brain.

DeWitt and Vienna were airlifted to Sanford Children’s Hospital that evening, where Vienna was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit.

The helicopter took off around twilight, DeWitt said, and the sunset was comforting. In a whirlwind of confusion and fear, DeWitt said during the flight to Sioux Falls, she knew Vienna was going to be OK.

“There was a time after liftoff that I was just sobbing because I couldn’t comprehend how this could be happening,” DeWitt said. “Then I just came across this peaceful time to spend time with God and be praying. … I knew that it was going to be OK. That she was going to be OK.”

In the past, whenever the DeWitts heard a siren_ambulance or police_or heard the medical helicopter flying, they stopped what they were doing to pray for the people involved.

“It was so weird to be on the other end, but I knew people were doing the same,” DeWitt said. “I knew there were people praying for us. It was the strangest thing, but so, so cool to feel that peace of God that only God can give.”

Vienna spent 11 days in the hospital undergoing tests and under strict medical supervision. Through all of the tests, some of which were sent to labs in other states and other countries, doctors have been unable to find a definitive answer for why Vienna, an otherwise healthy second-grade student, had the strokes.

One test came back positive for mycoplasma pneumonia, or walking pneumonia, but Vienna showed no symptoms. During a transesophageal echo test_an ultrasound of the heart_doctors identified a hole in Vienna’s heart, which they originally thought could be the culprit. But, doctors said the hole is too small.

“There’s some magic thing that they do to see how much blood is going through the hole, and basically there was nothing,” DeWitt said. “It doesn’t mean that there couldn’t have been at one point … but it’s a pretty small chance.”

To err on the side of caution, Vienna was scheduled for heart surgery to have the hole repaired on March 15. With doctors claiming the hole probably didn’t cause the strokes, Randall and Evie weren’t sure if such an invasive procedure were necessary.

“We didn’t really want to do it, but we thought we needed to. It was one of those horrible between a rock and a hard spot not knowing really what to do,” DeWitt said. “That night my husband and I just said it comes down to the fact that if a year down the road, if we don’t do this and if she has another event, are we going to regret it?”

After further consultation with doctors, the surgery was canceled.

It is also believed that Vienna suffered an additional stroke sometime prior to her episode in February, but they aren’t sure when.

Doctors believe Vienna suffered from a dissection_a tear within the wall of a blood vessel_in an artery in her neck. In the tube that is an artery, there are three different layers, and the tear was on the innermost layer, according to Vienna’s doctors. But what caused that remains a mystery.

“It could be caused by something as simple as jerking on a roller coaster too hard or doing somersaults,” DeWitt said. “There’s just no way to know if that is 100 percent. They’re fairly certain that it is, but we don’t know why, and there’s no way to figure it out because the dissection healed on its own already.”

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Also identified during her stay in the hospital were several blood clots in “critical” spots in her brain, meaning they could cause problems in the future. To prevent future clotting, Vienna takes anticoagulants, like aspirin, but that doesn’t take away from the clots that are already formed.

Because of this, Vienna can no longer participate in Xtreme Cheer, contact sports, do somersaults or other “things that kids do,” at least for a while, DeWitt said. It is expected Vienna will have to be cautious with her head for the next couple of years, then doctors will re-evaluate whether she can do more strenuous activities as she gets older.

For now, the family is learning to adjust.

“It’s kind of a whole new world for us,” DeWitt said. “We still, and will continue to, watch her carefully for anything. If she gets a headache, we’re going to take it very, very seriously.”

Vienna has handled her diagnosis “remarkably well,” DeWitt said. But she does have days that are more difficult than others.

“She’s a person, and she’s 8 and she had this major thing happen to her,” DeWitt said. “So, yeah, she has days where she has a hard time dealing with things, but that’s to be expected.”

When she is having a difficult day, Vienna has found comfort in LEGO Friends sets, DeWitt said. Since the toys are small, they also reinforce Vienna’s dexterity and fine motor skills, acting as a kind of physical therapy.

Part of a family of five, Vienna’s illness has affected them, as well.

As a mom, DeWitt had days where she faltered in her faith. But, she said, that comes with a life-changing experience and is something she has learned to adjust to over time.

“You doubt everything you once knew and things can change so quickly,” DeWitt said. ” … You always think, ‘What if that was me?’ but until it is, you have no way to know. You don’t know how you’re going to react, there’s no way to know anything. It’s been a pretty tough adjustment, but we’re getting there slowly.”

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Learning to cope would not have been possible without the community that has rallied behind the family, DeWitt said.

Each day, whether it’s a text or Facebook message, a phone call, a gift or prayers, DeWitt said she and her family felt the support of the people around them.

“We feel unbelievably blessed. I look back and I reflect on everything and remember the people who have reached out and sent a message or whatever,” DeWitt said. “We have a lot of people that care, and people are so good.”

It has changed her outlook about how she’ll respond to similar situations faced by her friends and family in the future. In the past, she was hesitant to reach out, afraid to impose or bother the people facing a challenge. Now, she feels differently.

“It’s not like that at all. Not even a little bit. Every single message on Facebook or anything that anybody sent me, it all meant so much to me_it really meant the world,” DeWitt said. “It doesn’t have to be something tangible like flowers or balloons, it can be just a note and prayer.”

And, she has learned the significance behind the campaigns hoping to “raise awareness” for various illnesses, something they hope to do in sharing Vienna’s story.

“If we can help one person recognize the symptoms before we did, it’s worth it,” DeWitt said. “Out of anything, it reinforces to me, as parents, to follow your gut instinct with your kids.”

For now, moving forward, Vienna can be content in knowing she is a walking medical miracle, according to her doctors.

“A couple of days before discharge, the physical therapist did some strength tests in her legs and different things …,” DeWitt said. “And he said, ‘Well, you, miss Vienna, when you meet somebody, you can shake their hand with confidence and say “My name is Vienna, and I’m a walking miracle.’”

Vienna has not required any physical therapy since being released from the hospital_and she should have needed a lot, according to the physical therapist. Instead, her largest day-to-day concern is a struggle to walk down stairs.

“I totally attribute it to God. There’s no other explanation,” DeWitt said. “She is_she’s a miracle.”

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Information from: The Daily Republic, https://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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