Local child a survivor, thriver

BREMEN — It hasn’t been an easy road for Brenna Blosser, but the 6-year-old’s exuberance for life serves as a lesson for those who don’t realize how lucky they are.
On Sept. 15, 2005, the same day as her sister Madison’s birthday, Brenna’s life was forever changed. Just 13 months old at the time, Brenna’s parents — Brad and Mindi Blosser — thought she was fighting a cold. Then, in the middle of the night, Brenna’s left leg turned cold and blue, and her breathing became seriously labored.
Brenna was taken to the Bremen emergency room, where the only place they could attach an IV was through her head, because everything else had closed up due to blood clots and pulmonary/cardiac failure.
With a police escort, Brenna was rushed to South Bend Memorial Hospital — a frantic, high-speed trip that took just 11 minutes. There, the decision was made to airlift Brenna to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, and the gravity of the situation set in.
“The doctor told us it was 99 percent sure she would not survive the airlift,” Mindi Blosser said. “So we had to say our goodbyes right there in the intensive care unit.”
A matter of life and death
Once the helicopter was airborne, Brad and Mindi rushed home to pack a bag and jumped back in their vehicle for the winding 100-mile drive to Indianapolis. The helicopter pilot promised he would call the Blossers once the 30-minute flight was complete, but two hours passed with no word.
“It was the longest drive of our lives,” Brad Blosser said.
The Blossers finally got a call when they reached Carmel, just outside of Indy, for permission to give Brenna a blood transfusion. When they made it to the hospital, the Blossers worked their way to a hallway jam-packed with doctors trying to decide what to focus on first — Brenna’s blood clots, failing heart or lungs.
“I looked at one of the doctors and said, ‘This is Riley, you’ve seen this before, right?’” Mindi said. “They hadn’t seen everything that was wrong at the same time in a child before.”
Brenna was diagnosed with viral cardio myopathy, which was brought on by a virus unknown to this day. With three IV towers and doctors trying to keep Brenna breathing, she swelled up to horrific proportions.
“It was awful. She wasn’t the same child I took to the emergency room,” Mindi said.
Three days into around-the-clock, tireless treatment, the Blossers were forced to accept the likely outcome — that Brenna wouldn’t be with them much longer.
“We had come to peace with it,” Mindi said. “We said, ‘If God needs her more than us, we’ll have to move on and get through this.’ We had to know we’d raised her the best we could and it wasn’t in our hands anymore.”
Turning the tide
Doctors decided to utilize a procedure never before performed on a child, by using a clot-dissolver reserved only for adults.
“We never lost hope, and then somebody ran out to us and said, ‘It’s working!’” Mindi said.
Blood flow was restored, but the fight was far from over. Brenna’s kidneys went into failure, and in pumping large amounts of fluids through her body, sediment settled in her hands and feet, which turned black. The prognosis at the time was that Brenna’s left leg, and possibly more, would have to be amputated.
Again, Brenna bucked the odds and stabilized. Shocked doctors said there were three probabilities — that Brenna would be on tons of medication; that she would need a heart transplant; or that she would make a full recovery.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Mindi said. “After thinking she was going to die, those three things sounded real good.”
After being at Riley for eight weeks, Brenna was given the green light to go home, but the Blossers had to decide what kind of home it would be.
“We were told we’d have to rip up the carpet, throw away the curtains and maybe have her in an actual bubble,” Brad said. “We didn’t do any of that. We pretty much lived secluded. We tried to protect her, but we weren’t going to put her in a bubble.”
The new normal
Brenna was put on 22 different medications when she returned home. As time went on, each checkup got better and better, and nearly two years after Brenna was stricken, she was told to come back in a year and that her heart issues had disappeared.
“It really was a miracle,” Mindi said.
The only remaining ailment is Brenna’s left leg, which doesn’t thrive like it should. It has little muscle and is nearly 2 inches shorter than her right. Brenna relies on customized braces and wears two different shoe sizes.
Brenna can’t do a full physical education regimen at school, but won’t let her difficulties restrain her. She completed a children’s triathlon last summer.
“It doesn’t bother her a bit or slow her down,” Brad said. “We never tell her she can’t do something,”
Brenna has had three surgeries on the leg, the last on Nov. 18 to flatten the angle of her foot. While Brenna is checked out every six months, the hope is that it will be the last operation until she’s 11.
A love for Riley
The impact of Riley Hospital for Children and its staff on the Blossers is eternal.
“It’s amazing Brenna is alive,” Mindi said. “That’s why we give back to Riley as much as we can. They make you feel like they’re your family.”
While Riley was home to Blossers for two months, in seeing many of the other patients and families, they were humbled daily.
“As grim as things were, we didn’t have to look far to find someone worse off than us,” Brad said. “All you had to do was look next door, and so many broke our hearts. We told our social worker to not bother with us. There were a lot of people there with much greater needs.”
Many of the financial and material gifts the Blossers received while at Riley were passed on to the others in need, and that generosity goes strong today. The family helps in fundraising any way it can, including an event at Warsaw’s Toyota dealership last summer, where Brenna was the top donation solicitor.
“The event was part of a NASCAR autograph signing, and we weren’t getting many donations,” Mindi said. “Then Brenna went out and she’s coming back with $50s while everyone else is getting dollar bills.”
Brenna has only good memories of Riley, including her most recent surgery, which she called a “sleep-over.” Any discomfort is alleviated when she sees her doctors and nurses again.
“She’s treated like a princess there,” Mindi said.
Brenna’s face lights up when talking about her friends at the hospital, and she is anxious to show pictures from her last visit, which featured pizza, a dog visit and some air hockey. Even at 6, she knows what Riley did for her.
“Riley saved my life,” Brenna said.
Coming out party
The Riley Children’s Foundation asked Brenna to contribute a drawing for its 2011 calendar, which includes similar submissions from fellow survivors. Her October picture had a scarecrow, with one normal sized leg and one “skinny leg,” just like Brenna.
Brenna and the other artists were honored with a banquet at the NCAA Hall of Champions Dec. 10. The next day, Brenna was the “Riley Kid of the Game” at the Notre Dame women’s basketball game with Creighton, where she met the players and received numerous gifts, including a team-signed basketball. The Riley Foundation gave Brenna 10 of its new calendars, and she handed one to the Irish for their locker room.
“She was so excited about going down on the floor,” Mindi said. “She doesn’t need a lot of confidence, but it gave her a different confidence to be down there with all those people looking at her and to say, ‘I can do this.’ She really felt like an all-star and it was great for her to have that experience.”
Bremen — A Good Town
The Blossers’ level of affection for Riley is also reserved for Bremen. During their most difficult days and weeks, the town offered support which the family remembers with perfect accuracy.
While the Blossers were gone for two months, community members took their boat out of its spot on Lake of the Woods, removed their pier, took care of their yard, checked in on the family’s daughters (Madison and Macey) and parents, cleaned their house, sent hundreds of e-mails and letters and much, much more.
“Everyone was so vigilant with prayers, gifts, everything,” Mindi said. “The community took care of so many things for us, that meant more than they could ever realize. It’s all because of how this town is. We wouldn’t live anywhere else.”