Hayleigh, 16

“They lost her for about 15 seconds,” Michelle says, remembering the blur of events surrounding the trip her daughter, Hayleigh, 16, took by ambulance to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR).

Hayleigh had been experiencing shortness of breath and lower back pain, but her Down syndrome meant it was difficult for her to explain her symptoms to her parents, Michelle and John. She was admitted to a community hospital, but when her health began to rapidly deteriorate she was transferred to CHoR. Just after arrival, she had a cardiac arrest and required CPR and support by ECMO (a heart and lung bypass machine), which was necessary to save her life but put her leg at risk because a cannula had to be placed in her femoral artery to keep her alive. A CT scan showed a pulmonary embolism, a blockage in her pulmonary artery by a blood clot the size of a quarter. The family was told that Hayleigh had a 10% chance to live.

In the operating room, the Children’s Hospital Foundation Heart Center team repositioned her ECMO support centrally, moving it from her leg, and opened her pulmonary artery to remove the blood clot, while a vascular surgeon simultaneously repaired her femoral artery and performed a fasciotomy to save her left leg. Hayleigh beat the odds by coming off of ECMO after just 36 hours and making a full recovery, including full use of her leg.

“Everyone at the hospital was really genuine and really cared,” Michelle says of the large team that saved Hayleigh’s life. “Hayleigh is back to doing all of her activities—going to school, cheerleading, playing softball.”

“We couldn’t ask for anything better,” John adds. “It’s a perfect ending.”

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