Home for Christmas

Published 3:35 pm Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas came early this year for Lyle residents Janelle and John Achenbach.

The couple’s 6-year-old son, Foster, spent a month in St. Marys Hospital because of complications from H1N1, but he returned home in time to spend the holidays with his family.

After the ordeal, Janelle said spending time with family was more important than presents during the holidays.

“Everybody tends to overdo gifts and such,” Janelle said. “We (have) toned it down because it’s not the most important thing. We’re concerned mostly about being able to be with our family, and really that’s what we’ve been focusing on.”

Foster was admitted to the hospital Oct. 19 after he’d been sick off and on for about a week. Janelle said that Foster’s regular doctor at Mitchell County Regional Health Clinics in St. Ansgar, Iowa, originally diagnosed him with bronchitis after a nose swab test said he didn’t have the flu.

Within 12 hours of going to the doctor, Foster’s conditioned worsened, and he was taken into the hospital.

“He was struggling to breathe,” Janelle said. “He was completely lethargic. You could see his lungs contracting. It was like gasping for breath. And it happened so quickly.”

Foster’s oxygen levels dropped to 50 percent, and doctors had to stabilize him and raise his oxygen level to 80 percent, so he could be transferred to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester by ambulance.

Doctors at St. Marys tested and confirmed Foster had H1N1. The doctors told Janelle and John that the nose swab test — which said Foster didn’t have the flu — produces an incorrect result about 20 percent of the time.

At St. Marys, Foster was immediately incubated with a breathing tube, and he stayed in the children’s intensive care unit for 18 days on a ventilator. Along with H1N1, Foster contracted viral pneumonia, and he suffered a collapsed lung.

For those 18 days, doctors paralyzed and sedated Foster so his body wouldn’t fight the treatments.

One key fear was that Foster’s body wasn’t properly dispelling carbon dioxide.

For about the first week, doctors didn’t know if Foster would survive.

But, he slowly progressed and was transferred to a pediatric unit for about a week. He then spent another week in rehab to learn to walk again and use his hands. It also took some time before Foster began talking again.

Foster returned home Nov. 19 in time spend Thanksgiving with his family. He then celebrated his sixth birthday on Nov. 28. One present for his birthday was a Nintendo DSi handheld gaming system.

Foster was completely healthy before contracting H1N1, Janelle said. He’s nearly back to normal, but Janelle said he still has weakness in his lungs and uses a nebulizer for medicine to help his breathing.

“It’s taken a while to see him comeback to himself, but he’s definitely excited for the holidays, ” she said.

While the family cut back on Christmas gifts, Foster is getting a gift he’s frequently asked for: an acoustic guitar.

Janelle said she’s more cautious now with hand washing. She recommended parents follow their hunches if a child is sick: “Don’t hesitate to take your child in,” she said.

“We have no idea where he got it from,” she said. “It could be anywhere.”

Foster’s 7-year-old sister, Zoe, and Janelle were also sick around the time Foster was admitted to the hospital, but they didn’t receive treatment.

While the family lives in Lyle, Janelle works in LeRoy and John works in St. Ansgar. Janelle said they’re thankful for all the support from people in those communities.

A sloppy joe dinner and a silent auction benefit will be held at Lyle Elementary School on Jan. 8 from 5 to 8 p.m. as a benefit to help the family pay with the medical bills.