New Castle News

March 15, 2014

Happy homecoming: Septic shock left Neshannock girl in a battle for her life

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Emma Hanaway turned 10 last week.

It was a birthday that almost didn’t happen.

A month ago, health professionals couldn’t assure Michael and Cheryl Hanaway that their only child would make it.

Back in mid-January, the New Castle Christian Academy student was a typical fourth grader enjoying a typical afternoon when something went terribly wrong.

“Overnight, she went from being perfectly healthy to fighting for her life,” Cheryl said. “She came home from playing and started vomiting and complaining of knee pain.”

They figured it must be the flu.

It wasn’t until the next day when Emma was still in excruciating pain and unable to walk that they knew this was no flu.

“It was so traumatic,” Cheryl said. “I never believed a child could be so sick and that it could happen so fast.”

It wasn’t an easy diagnosis. Even some doctors were fooled.

Dr. Denise Beard was the first to realize Emma was going into septic shock.

Sepsis, according to the Mayo Clinic, “is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection. Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can trigger a cascade of changes that can damage multiple organ systems, causing them to fail. If sepsis progresses to septic shock, blood pressure drops dramatically, which may lead to death.”

Beard advised that Emma be taken immediately to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Eleven hours later, the little girl was in intensive care, fighting for her life.

Doctors determined that there was a blood clot in her knee, along with osteomyelitis — an infection of the bone and bone marrow. It is thought that inflammation resulting from sepsis caused tiny blood clots to form, blocking oxygen and nutrients from reaching her vital organs.

The infection started in her femur, and doctors had to drill into the bone to drain it. There was a second surgery, followed by four blood transfusions.

Cheryl, a licensed mental health therapist, was alarmed by what she observed. “Emma was hallucinating,” she said.

Cheryl took family medical leave to be able to stay with Emma. “I promised her I would not leave the hospital until she did,” she said. “The first two weeks, I didn’t sleep at all.”

Emma, who stands just over four feet and weighs 52 pounds, lost 10 pounds during her ordeal. She had a feeding tube and didn’t eat for 13 days before the tide turned.

Emma vowed to be home by Valentine’s Day, but there were still no guarantees.

“The school and our church were phenomenal in their support,” Cheryl said. “If not for our faith, I don’t know how we would have made it.”

When Emma got depressed at the hospital, a gift or card would arrive and lift her spirits. Those gifts and cards, many coming from the Hanaways’ church family at New Life Baptist, arrived daily. She also got a hospital visit from her best friend, Hayley, who lives next door. “That was really nice,” Emma said.

Cheryl said teachers and students at New Castle Christian Academy were a godsend. Katie Tomko and Mrs. Hilton have been at the forefront. On her own time, Tomko comes to the Hanaway house three times a week to tutor Emma.

Students made a chain of paper hearts and each one wrote a message to her. Students also staged a Pajama Rama fundraiser and posed as letters on the gym floor with a message that read “We (heart) U Emma.”

Returning home on the day she predicted, Emma was greeted at her front door by teachers with balloons, stuffed animals and a huge Valentine box filled with Valentines from all the students.

She just missed being home. “It was all pretty scary,” Emma said.

She recently celebrated her birthday with a few close friends and a big cake.

During of the ordeal, the family learned that Emma was born with a blood disorder and that she must continue on blood thinning injections because of a clotting disorder.

But it’s something they can deal with said Cheryl.

“We’re just so thankful to have our daughter back.”

 (Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)