On Wednesday, June 1, Ayanna Bradford lived a normal life for a 5-year-old girl. She played outside with her friends and rode her bike. She complained of a little tummy ache, but nothing out of the ordinary. That night she went to bed, excited for her pre-kindergarten graduation.
On Thursday, June 2, Ayanna’s world stopped being normal and became a chaotic mess.
Ayanna, or Yaya to her friends and family, woke up at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning. While getting ready for the day with her mom and sister, the usually cheerful little girl was complaining that her tummy and head hurt. Even a warm bath didn’t make her feel better.
She stayed home with her dad, Brian, while her mom Mandy went to work at a hospital near Cook Children’s. Only an hour after Mandy arrived at work, her husband called to tell her something was definitely wrong with their daughter.
Ayanna woke up screaming, the left side of her face was drooping and her eyes “were going every which way,” and not focusing. Mandy told Brian to meet her at Cook Children’s and he rushed their daughter into the Emergency Department. After a quick look at Ayanna, she was taken in to the Trauma bay.
A battery of tests followed including an X-ray and ultrasound of her abdomen, a chest X-ray and CT and MRI scans of her brain. The news was not good for little Yaya.
She suffered a stroke that attacked the right side of the brain.
While still reeling from the news of the stroke, the family found out Ayanna suffered heart failure as a result of myocarditis, a disease that attacks the heart. They later learned that it was most likely the result of the Parvo B-19 virus, which children commonly get in day care or schools (not the parvo from a dog). Usually, it causes cold like side effects, but nothing serious. Usually. But for Ayanna, it was another blow to her already fragile little body.
Cardiologist Corey Mandel, M.D., gave the family a 40-percent chance that their daughter would need a heart transplant, a 30-percent chance she would need either a pacemaker or defibrillator and another 30-percent chance that she would return to a completely normal state.
“I never would have thought in a million years that a child could have a stroke,” Mandy said. “My husband and I were talking and I said you know everything happens for a reason good or bad and if she didn’t stroke she may have been the child that had the heart attack and died on the playground and you would’ve never known what caused the heart attack. That’s a blessing in disguise. As difficult as this is, she’s still here.”
Donald Murphey, M.D., an Infectious Disease physician at Cook Children’s started Ayanna on an antibody regimen to fight the virus. The antibody regimen worked.
“Her heart today is 100-percent normal,” Mandy said. “Miracles do happen and Ayanna is a walking one.”
Ayanna needed a few miracles while at Cook Children’s. Richard Roberts, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Cook Children’s, told the family that their daughter’s stroke was so severe her brain was swelling at a significant rate. Without something to minimize the pressure on her good side, Ayanna would be brain dead.
That Friday morning, Dr. Roberts performed a decompressive craniectomy where he removed the right portion of Ayanna’s skull to allow her brain to expand. The swelling continued into the next day until a sodium IV regiment flushed the extra fluid out and once again, a crisis was averted.
If the sodium regimen had not worked, Ayanna would have received a right hemispherectomy, which would have required the removal of the right side of her brain. Instead Dr. Roberts removed her skull to allow for the swelling to go down. Ayanna was fitted with a special helmet to protect her head. She will need another surgery in about a month, after the swelling goes down, to reattach her skull.
Ayanna is currently in the Transitional Care Unit at Cook Children’s, which provides rehabilitation services to children recovering from illnesses and injuries. Her face on her left side is still drooping and she can’t move her left arm, but has regained movement in her left leg. Improving her left side is the focal point of her rehabilitation at Cook Children’s.
Now, Yaya faces another challenge. Among her many battles, she acquired gall stones and pancreatitis. She had her gallbladder removed and is working with the gastroenterology physicians at Cook Children’s to get the enzymes her pancreas creates a regular number. The numbers are extremely high right now and if they can’t be brought down to normal, she faces the danger of getting diabetes.
Today, the Bradford’s anything but typical day includes the care of an array of physicians, nurses, rehab therapists and Child Life specialists.
And with everything going on with their youngest child, the Bradfords continue to try to make life as typical as possible for their three other children, as they all deal with what has happened to their Yaya.
“You either go to the negative and fear for the worst or you go for the positive,” Mandy said. “I have my mini breakdowns. Yesterday I had to go for a little walk. I thought nothing’s getting better, but the truth is she’s here and she is getting better. You can’t be sad that she’s here. God gave me my baby and that’s all that I wanted. The day we walked into Cook Children’s was the worst day in my life, knowing how close she was to passing and that she wasn’t breathing on her own. It was more than difficult. It was very hard, knowing that she’s here and that she is just a kid. Like I told my husband I don’t care how she is. She can never walk again, even if she can’t talk again, I’m taking her just the way she is. She’s here and I get to hold her, squeeze her and kiss her until she’s blue in the face. As long as she’s here you can’t be anything, but happy.”