Toddler spends 2nd birthday with CHLA doctors who saved her life

Denise Dador Image
Saturday, June 27, 2015
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A Santa Barbara couple nearly lost their infant to what doctors are calling 'a perfect storm of germs.' Haven Forner, who's about to turn 2 years old, is celebrating life with the medical team at Children's Hospital Los Angeles who made her birthday possible.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Haven Forner doesn't remember all her doctors and nurses, but they sure remember her.

Haven and her parents celebrated her second birthday with a visit to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. At six months old, she was airlifted to CHLA from Santa Barbara after a simple cold rapidly turned into a deadly lung infection.

"She was an otherwise healthy child who came in and happened to get a really bad virus," said Dr. James Stein, associate chief of surgery at CHLA.

Pneumonia had damaged Haven's lungs so badly, she could barely breathe. Stein says air was escaping from the surface of her lungs, "making it impossible to keep her lungs filled with the air and oxygen like we would normally on a ventilator."

Her only hope was a device reserved for the direst of cases: an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine or ECMO.

Haven's mom remembers it well.

"It's definitely emotional to see it, but we're so thankful for this machine," said Aja Forner, Haven's mom.

For 15 days, Haven relied on ECMO to be her lungs. Through a tube, blood was transported out of her body into the machine where it was oxygenated and then returned to Haven through another tube.

Deadly blood clots are a huge concern. It takes a team of two nurses working around the clock to make sure the blood stays the correct consistency. Essentially, the ECMO buys doctor's time to let Haven heal.

"Her lungs were able to eventually fully recover," Stein said.

Haven has completely recovered, and doctors say her prognosis looks very good.

Besides respiratory failure, ECMO can be used to treat heart patients and newborns born with respiratory disease.