‘I thought we were going to lose her’
Santa Claus traded his red suit for hospital scrubs and his sleigh became an Aero Med helicopter.
At least, that’s the way Rob and Becky Alway of Scottville, Michigan, will remember Christmas Eve 2015.
Shortly after 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve, Becky woke up to find their 14-month-old daughter, Sloane, convulsing and unresponsive.
“It was scary,” Rob said. “I thought we were going to lose her. I was a first responder for 15 years, but nothing prepares you for when it’s your own child that needs help.”
Sloane stopped convulsing by the time she got in the ambulance, but had another seizure while in the emergency room at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital.
This time, she didn’t convulse, but tensed up. The second seizure lasted for nearly an hour. Concerned over how long the seizure lasted, emergency department physician Robert Joyce, DO, decided to call Aero Med to transfer Sloane to Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Heroes in the sky
A Christmas Eve storm delivered strong winds to the area, worrying the family that a helicopter flight may be too risky.
“Before we left the emergency room in Ludington, the Aero Med pilot pulled us aside and told us about his own children,” Rob said. “He connected with us in a way that only a parent could. And despite the blustery conditions, he reassured us that he would fly our daughter to safety.”
As the Alway family made the 96-mile drive to Grand Rapids, the Aero Med crew stayed in contact with them to ease their concerns.
“The flight doctor called us from his cell phone to let us know that they landed safely,” Rob recalled. “It was too windy to land on the roof of Butterworth Hospital, so they had to land at Gerald Ford International Airport and take Sloane to the children’s hospital by ambulance.”
Sloane was taken to the pediatric intensive care unit at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, where she stayed Christmas Eve and Christmas night. After multiple tests, the diagnosis was febrile seizure caused by the rapid onset of a high fever.
Febrile seizures are the most common type of convulsions in children between 6 months and 5 years of age. The seizures are caused by a fever above 101 degrees that is often accompanied by common childhood illnesses such as colds or ear infections.
In Sloane’s case, she was taking antibiotics after being diagnosed with an ear infection earlier in the week. When she arrived at the emergency room, her fever had spiked to 104 degrees.
“Most febrile seizures last less than 15 minutes,” said Kari Leikert, DO, pediatrician at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital Pediatrics – Ludington. “A very small percentage of children will have prolonged febrile seizures lasting more than 30 minutes, which was the case for Sloane.”
Despite concerns about the length of Sloane’s seizures, neurological tests indicated no permanent damage.
“Even when febrile seizures are complex, most children recover completely,” Dr. Leikert added.
After two nights in the hospital, she returned home as a happy and playful toddler.
A Christmas to remember
For the Alway family, it’s a Christmas that will live in their memories forever.
“Everyone went above and beyond to make sure we had a great holiday,” Rob said. “Sloane received Christmas presents from the volunteers at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and we were provided with holiday meals from the volunteers at the Renucci Hospitality House.
“I can’t say enough about the people who volunteered to give up their own Christmas to make sure ours was special,” he added.