Sanford Health

Daughter’s seizure teaches family to seize the day

Katie The youngest member of the Schmidt family, Katie, had given them a scare in December 2006, when she suffered a fever-induced seizure. However, the family never expected the emergency they faced later that winter which required lifesaving work by Sanford Health pediatrician and neonatologist, Dr. Rafael Ocejo, to heal their 12-month-old little girl.

The morning of Feb. 10, 2007 was like many winter days in North Dakota with the wind blowing, frigid temperature and blinding snow. Sherry Schmidt, principal of two Jamestown elementary schools, had dropped her children, Kaden, Kane and Katie, off at daycare before dawn. Her husband, Joe Schmidt, was checking their cattle near town.

Katie’s father got the call at 4:30 p.m. “Katie is seizing,” said the daycare provider. Schmidt jumped into truck and raced to the daycare, calling 911 as he drove. When he arrived, his daughter was in the midst of a seizure. Schmidt had to decide whether he should wait for the ambulance to come from Medina or bundle his daughter up and meet it on the interstate. He knew he could not wait.

Maintaining constant cell phone communication with the 911 dispatcher, they quickly met the ambulance and EMT crew. Schmidt climbed into the ambulance with his baby girl. He saw the panic on the crew’s faces as they worked to save her life.

Katie was admitted into the emergency room at the Jamestown Hospital. She was still seizing. She had to have an IV but the medical staff had a hard time finding a vein in her tiny body. After several tries, they tried to create a passageway in her leg. It didn’t work, so her mother, who met the ambulance team when they arrived in Jamestown, suggested they try Katie’s head. Though it meant shaving her head and would be her first haircut, it was the right decision because the IV held and the life-saving medications were successfully administered.

The Schmidts had the emergency room staff contact Dr. Ocejo at Sanford Health. “Get her stable and get her here,” were his instructions.

Once the seizure was under control, the Jamestown pediatrician released Katie for ambulance travel to Bismarck and made the trip with her. They arrived at 9 p.m. and she was immediately admitted into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in the Children’s Hospital at Sanford Health.

“Our beloved Dr. Ocejo met us right away and stayed with us until 3 a.m.,” Sherry Schmidt said.

Harrowing as the last twelve hours had been, the couple was relieved to hear Dr. Ocejo say, “Katie is going to be okay. Right now, we all need rest.” By 7 a.m., Dr. Ocejo was back at her bedside.

Katie had suffered a complex, prolonged febrile seizure that lasted 90 minutes. The fever came on from the RSV virus that attacked her lungs, heart and liver. She went into respiratory distress due to severe double pneumonia and, because of her seizure, suffered total paralysis on the entire left side of her body.

During her hospitalization, Katie endured countless tests and procedures including a painful spinal tap, MRI’s and EEG’s. Her journey to recovery lasted 31 days in the hospital that included six grueling hours of physical and occupational therapy every day.

Katie no longer had use of her left arm or leg. Plus, she couldn’t drink, eat or swallow.

Yet, out of deep gratitude for their daughter’s life, these setbacks didn’t dampen the Schmidts’ spirit. “We decided, early on, not to expend our energy feeling sad or mad about what did or may happen. We would rather spend our energy on the fact that Katie is here today with us,” said her mother.

The Schmidts’ hope turned into reality when one month after her seizure and hospitalization, Katie’s father helped her take her first few steps.

“The staff at Sanford’s Children’s Hospital is hugely dedicated,” Sherry Schmidt said. “It has been very apparent to us that Dr. Ocejo and Randi Schaeffer, nurse manager of the Children’s Hospital, empower their staff with the skills and knowledge they need to do their phenomenal work.”

Although Katie is now home with her family, there are no guarantees. She is a high-risk toddler who has overcome tremendous hurdles. Therapy and medication are part of her everyday life. “This has definitely been a faith journey,” her mom said. “We live each day in the present and are grateful our Katie can be a part of it.”


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