Seeing the vibrant young lady Emily Kungli is today – the one her mother describes as “spunky, sassy and kind” – you’d never know she was fighting for her life just 3 years ago.
It started with an insect bite, and resulted in then-10-year-old Emily being placed in a medically induced coma in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Emily and her family were at a picnic when Emily was bitten by a mosquito infected with encephalitis. Weeks later, she complained of headaches, spiked a fever, forgot the names of common items and started making nonsensical statements like, “We need to let the TV outside.”
A spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis of encephalitis, a rare brain inflammation. Emily was admitted to Akron Children’s for her first trip to the PICU and initially responded well to treatment. She went home after a week.
But the headaches returned. On the family’s way back to the hospital, Emily had the first of many seizures. After being re-admitted to the PICU, she was placed in the medically induced coma for several weeks.
“Nothing is harder than seeing your active, vibrant child like that. We lost her for 12 days,” said Gretchen Naumoff, Emily’s mother. “Dr. Forbes did everything medically he could do. Emily was put on very heavy drugs to give her brain a chance to heal. In the end, it took 2 and a half days to bring her fully out.”
Doctors told Gretchen that when her little girl did wake up, she’d never be the same, that she’d have the mental capacity of a 2-year-old. Miraculously, Emily woke up, said she had to use the bathroom … and was fine.
“No amount of money I can give the PICU would be enough,” said Gretchen. “We became a part of their family. They gave me my daughter back.”
So when Gretchen learned there was no fundraiser earmarked specifically for the PICU, she and Emily took action and created a race, Emily’s Sparkle Sprint, to raise funds for the unit. This year, Gretchen will transition the fundraiser to Sparkle n’ Sip – a wine tasting event.
“This is just our way of saying thank you,” says Gretchen. “We are so very, very grateful for these doctors and nurses who gave us back our daughter.”
Hear more about Emily’s story – and those of other patients – by tuning in to the 17th annual “Have a Heart, Do Your Part Radiothon,” broadcast live from Akron Children’s Hospital Atrium by 98.1 KDD Feb. 11-13. Click here to support the 2016 Radiothon.