GRANVILLE — During her lengthy hospital stay, 4-year-old Brianna Sager Maulfair of Granville missed Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
She and her family, however, have big plans for her fifth birthday Feb. 13. In fact, she’ll celebrate it early —with a blood drive in her honor saturday afternoon at the McNabb fire and ambulance station along Route 89.
In November, Brianna’s mother, Nicole Maulfair, was told by doctors that Brianna might never emerge from the coma she fell into Oct. 18 after suffering meningitis followed by acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. ADEM is a rare condition in which both the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. Doctors said Brianna’s case of ADEM was severe.
“They told us at times that she wouldn’t wake up. I just wouldn’t accept that,” Nicole said.
The day before Brianna displayed any signs of serious illness, she complained that her shoulder hurt badly.
Nicole, who works as a registered nurse, had no reason to be overly concerned — Brianna was running no fever and an emergency room visit only yielded a diagnosis of a sprained arm.
The next day, the fever arrived, starting at 101 degrees. When Nicole returned from an errand and checked on her later that day, her husband asked her to look at Brianna. She saw Brianna was non-responsive, shaking and her eyes were darting back and forth. They headed straight for the nearest emergency room.
“She was still awake when we went to Spring Valley,” Nicole said.
Despite her condition, when the family arrived at St. Margaret’s Hospital, Brianna was “able to talk to us a little bit,” Nicole said.
Kara Sager, Brianna’s aunt, and Brian Sager, Brianna’s father, drove to Spring Valley to see Brianna.
“When we got there she recognized us and she knew we were there,” Kara said.
From Spring Valley, she was taken by helicopter to St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria. By the time the helicopter had landed, Brianna had already slipped into a coma.
How quickly Brianna’s health had deteriorated was shocking for her family.
“It happened overnight. The night before she was running around,” Nicole said.
For more than six weeks, Brianna stayed in a coma, at one point even “flatlining” for 45 seconds, Nicole said.
But along the way, family looked for encouraging signs, such as Brianna opening her eyes soon after flatlining.
“It got to the point where we got excited if we noticed she would blink,” Kara, who went to the hospital almost every day, said. “They had prepared us to have a newborn in a four-year-old body. There might be no memory left.”
The family became elated when Brianna briefly opened her eyes on Oct. 27, one day after an online prayer vigil held in her honor.
“It wasn’t like a full wake-up at that point,” Kara said. “But she could open her little eyes.”
Brianna fully emerged from her coma Nov. 30.
“It was scary,” Nicole said. “But she came back to us.”
From there, Brianna kept progressing, surprising her doctors at times. Kara said Brianna spoke for the first time following her coma one day when Kara was reading her a Curious George book.
“She said, ‘I not go night night now,’” Kara recalled.
Both Kara and Nicole burst into tears at hearing her speak.
On Jan. 3, Brianna, who had been transferred to a Chicago hospital Dec. 3, was allowed to come home.
“Everything they were doing there, we could do at home,” Nicole said.
Home apparently is the right place for Brianna, as she is thriving there.
“She’s done a remarkable turnaround since we’ve been home,” Nicole said.
Brianna suffered damage to her brain’s white matter and she still has a long way to go with her recovery, but her mom is proud of the progress she has made.
“She’s doing really good now. She’s starting to walk,” she said.
Brianna requires multiple physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy appointments every week.
“She’s still really weak,” Nicole said.
For instance, she can grip a pencil but can’t push it down enough to write.
“Her speech is coming around really well,” Nicole said.
Brianna’s progress has amazed those who saw her at her worst.
“Her neurologist is still astounded,” Nicole said.
To compensate for the 1,000 units of blood Brianna used while in the hospital, the family decided to have a blood drive.
“We want to donate it back to OSF in her name,” Nicole said.
Despite all she went through and having had to use a wheelchair before she began walking, Kara said Brianna has remained a spirited, good-natured girl.
“That little girl always has a smile on her face. I have never heard her get upset about it,” she said. “She’s been such an inspiration. She’s a little miracle.”
Shannon Crawley-Serpette may be reached at (309)364-2268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.