Primary Children's Hospital to hold fundraiser for unexpected miracles

Published: Wednesday, June 4 2014 5:09 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, June 4 2014 5:09 p.m. MDT

Tiffany Harris helps her daughter, Abbey Harris, 12, walk to her wheelchair in Layton, Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Abbey Harris is having to learn how to walk, eat and talk again after an infection attacked her brain stem.

Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Abbey Harris was an honor roll student, the lead in her school play and dancing 15 hours each week.

That was before a pneumonia-like virus unexpectedly attacked her brain.

The larger-than-life personality of 12-year-old Abbey hasn't been affected, however, as she's fought through weeks of medical procedures and rehabilitation at Primary Children's Hospital to save her life.

The Layton girl tells people she feels like she was meant to go through it, and she's not much different from the 149,393 children treated at the hospital last year.

"She's been a strength to tons and tons of people," said Abbey's mom, Tiffany Harris.

And while she might not realize it, Abbey has strengthened her mother most of all.

In a religious blessing, Harris was told she'd "raise sons and daughters on this earth," so she knew the recent ordeal wasn't the end for Abbey.

"I haven't raised her yet," she said.

"Even in her darkest moment, she'd say, 'Mom, I'm going to be fine,'" Harris said. "It's hard, but I feel like the other road would have been harder."

Abbey complained of a headache one weekend in March, and urgent care doctors believed it was a sinus infection and gave the then-11-year-old some antibiotic therapy.

By midweek, Abbey was throwing up and doctors thought it was the flu. Meningitis was also a potential diagnosis, but when Abbey kept going downhill, doctors opted for a spinal tap at the hospital, and "that's when we knew there was a problem," Harris said.

There was protein in Abbey's spinal fluid, and her white blood cell count was high.

"We're people who have never broken a bone, never been to the hospital other than to have babies," Harris said. "The way they were talking was in terms unknown to me."

Doctors at Ogden's McKay-Dee Hospital Center told the Harrises that if their daughter were to become unstable, she'd be better off at Primary Children's Hospital — a specialty hospital for children.

"We thought, 'That's where really sick kids go. She's not really sick,'" Harris said.

Next thing they knew, Abbey and her mom were being flown via medical helicopter to Salt Lake City.

While Abbey never lost consciousness throughout the early diagnosis stage of her illness, she had so much swelling on her brain that she lost the ability to sit up and hold her head. Talking was difficult, and she definitely couldn't move from her bed. Her parents didn't leave her side.

Harris likens it to Hurricane Katrina that battered America's Gulf Coast in 2005.

"It was hitting the shores at McKay-Dee, and now we were left with the aftermath and cleaning up the damage," she said.

Hundreds of children each year have similar circumstances, requiring around-the-clock medical assistance and life-saving procedures at Primary Children's Hospital.

The hospital expended $13.2 million last year to cover 9,031 visits by children in need. It prides itself on having the lowest costs per child when compared with the nation's freestanding children's hospitals, and it depends greatly on donations from the public to make miracles happen, according to the Primary Children's Hospital Foundation.

It will host its 32nd annual Primary Children's Miracle Network Telethon on Saturday, with every penny donated going to the foundation and directly toward patient care. National programming will air on KSL Ch. 5 between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., followed by a live local celebration from 6 to 9 p.m.

Contributions can be made during the telethon by calling 801-662-6222 or toll-free at 800-762-7262, and online at www.primarychildrens.org/donate. Donations can also be mailed to the Primary Children's Hospital Foundation, P.O. Box 58249, Salt Lake City, UT 84158.

While the hospital is a temporary stop or the last home for many children, it is sometimes the only place with answers to some of the smallest of life's questions, according to Harris. She said she felt comfortable at another hospital, but when concerns grew, she wanted only the best for her daughter and was glad to be at Primary Children's Hospital "through the storm."

"I was told there was nothing we could've done sooner or to avoid this," Harris said. "She could have died, but that word was never mentioned. It was always in the back of your mind, but it was never mentioned."

In addition to the expertise Harris feels is being dealt to Abbey, including an innovative music therapy program, Harris said she has felt the prayers being offered throughout the community on their behalf.

"Heavenly Father had a plan for her," she said. "It was just far greater than we ever anticipated for her."

Doctors have said Abbey will make close to a full recovery, and Harris feels grateful for whatever she can get.

"She may not be the fastest runner and she may have balance issues once in a while, but she should be fine," Harris said, adding that blessings bestowed on her daughter have revealed a full recovery. "I have to have faith in that. It's funny what you hang onto."

As it turns out, hope is the biggest thing the family — now getting back to life at home after months in the hospital — has to cling to.

"I'm so glad I get to keep her," Harris said. "There are days she is extra needy, but I am more than willing to serve her. I'm happy to be able to do that."

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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