On June 22, Carissa and Mitch Brummelhuis were thrilled to welcome their third child, Brynlee, to the world. However, excitement quickly turned to fear as Brynlee was diagnosed with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) – a hole in the diaphragm muscle allowing organs in the lower torso to migrate into the chest cavity. Part of Brynlee’s intestines and liver were displacing her lungs and heart. Though often diagnosed in utero, Brynlee’s case was a complete surprise following her birth in Lethbridge and she was rushed to the Alberta Children’s Hospital for emergency surgery. At just two days old, tiny Brynlee underwent a big operation. Her parents were carefully walked through everything by the surgery team and even had Brynlee baptized by the hospital chaplain, so they felt confident their baby was in the best of hands at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Everything went smoothly and surgeons were even able to use Brynlee’s own tissue to patch the hole, rather than a mesh substitute – the best case scenario!
There was still a long road to getting Brynlee back on track after her rocky start to life. She needed to be extubated and learn to breathe on her own, slowly weaned off sedation and pain medications, learn how to feed and be monitored for cardiac function. She spent 52 days total in the Edwards Family Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where staff became like family, especially considering Brynlee hadn’t been able to meet her big brothers or her grandparents yet due to COVID-19 restrictions. Carissa was in awe of how their NICU family always seemed genuinely happy to be there. Considering some of the situations they must encounter, they were so positive. They also took time to look after Carissa’s health and wellness.
As Brynlee arrived during the pandemic and Mitch’s busy season running the family farm, news that she needed surgery so far from their home in Vauxhall was incredibly stressful. The main options for out-of-town families to stay near their kids receiving care at the Alberta Children’s Hospital were extremely reduced. Fortunately, the community-supported Special Children’s Fund, which helps cover expenses so families can focus on their child’s health, provided a hotel stay until other accommodations opened up so Carissa and Mitch could be near Brynlee. Carissa calls this “a breath of fresh air when we felt like we were drowning.”
Today, Brynlee is home, happy, and healthy. Carissa and Mitch are so grateful to the surgery and NICU teams at the Alberta Children’s Hospital who helped save their daughter’s life, and to the people who support things like the Special Children’s Fund to make journeys like theirs a little bit easier.
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