A special case

Friday, October 31, 2003

ST. CLAIR Shores, Mich. - Until Specialized Home Medical Services came along, no HME wanted to care for 2-year-old Olivia Whalen.

And at first, even Specialized tried to turn down the case.

“Then the parents called and said come and meet her, and the minute Olivia looked up with those big blues eyes, I knew we had to get her home,” said Carlia Cichon, Specialized COO.

Olivia is a special case. When she was about a year old, Olivia fell asleep on the family’s couch, stopped breathing and began to turn blue. Her parents quickly revived her. Then started a year long ordeal that had Olivia in and out of doctors’ offices and spending many weeks in the hospital.

Eventually, doctors diagnosed her with congenital central hypoventil-ation syndrome. People with the syndrome have difficulty breathing while asleep due to a defect that impairs how the brain detects carbon dioxide.

The syndrome was once known as Odine’s curse. In Greek methodology, Odine was a female water spirit cursed to stay awake for loving a human. For treatment, doctors performed a tracheotomy on Olivia, who must be tethered to a ventilator whenever she sleeps for the rest of here life.

When it was time for Olivia to return to her home in northern Michigan, hospital officials couldn’t find a nearby HME provider capable of caring for the child.

That’s when hospital officials called Specialized, which specializes in ventilator patients. But at an hour and 20 minutes from Olivia’s home, Cichon thought the distance too great to safely service the girl. Then she meet with the parents, witnessed Olivia’s zest for life (she’s like any other toddler when awake, into everything) and decided to make it work.

Specialized located a respiratory therapist near Olivia’s home and trained her on the girl’s vent, the Pulmonotics LTV950. The RT checks in on Olivia once a week. Specialized also lined up an area HME to provide oxygen to Olivia if it’s ever needed. Additionally, Specialized visits Olivia once a month.

Speciailized took on Olivia’s home care in June, and so far so good.

“Her dad will say, ‘Put yourself on (the ventilator) Olivia,’ and she’ll put herself on,” Cichon said. “For her, it is a normal kind of life.”