Sanford Health providers like Kelsey Duchsherer spend each and every work day caring for their patients. But every once in a while, the tables turn.
For Duchsherer, who works as a nurse practitioner at Sanford Health’s Occupational Medicine Clinic in Minot, North Dakota, that day came last March when her youngest son, Ayce, got sick.
A baby’s emergency illness
“I remember it like it was yesterday, unfortunately,” Duchsherer said. “He was seven months old at the time, and he had been sick. You know, just upper respiratory. Then all of a sudden, within 24 hours, he started to have a very productive cough to the point where he was almost coughing up chunks of mucus, which in an infant is atypical.”
Ayce would develop a fever. He couldn’t keep any food or medicine down without vomiting. Then his breathing became labored.
“I just knew this was very atypical. He’s only seven months old. This isn’t something he can fight on his own, so in the car we went,” said Duchsherer.
They stopped at a local hospital in Minot, but without a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), and with Ayce not responding to treatment, they called Sanford AirMed to transfer Ayce to the Sanford Medical Center in Fargo.
“The pediatrician looked at us and said, you’re hitching a ride out of here,” said Duchsherer.
Even that wouldn’t be so easy though. A snowstorm had come in, grounding flights across the region. Duchsherer couldn’t believe it.
“I knew that was our ticket to save him. I knew that if we had to stay there, he just wasn’t going to make it. I knew that as mom. I knew that as a health care provider. His skin was starting to turn a bluish hue,” said Duchsherer. “There was nothing I could do other than comfort him. I told my son at one point that if he needed to go, he could, because the breaths were so few and far between.”
Then the weather let up just enough for flights to be cleared. The AirMed plane flew in from Dickinson, and finally, Ayce and Kelsey Duchsherer were headed to Fargo.
Nursing Ayce back to health
Sanford’s PICU team started working on Ayce as soon as he arrived at the medical center. What was initially thought to be a collapsed lung instead turned out to be a rare complication.
“He had what we think is a kind of common virus, human metapneumovirus, that causes common cough symptoms,” said Ashley Carver, M.D., a pediatric critical care specialist at Sanford Fargo, and Ayce’s primary physician during his hospital stay. “Then on top of that, he developed a secondary pneumonia, which is known to happen. And then he even had another rare complication, which is having some extra fluid — or an effusion — develop secondary to his pneumonia.”
The team drained Ayce’s left lung, pulling out more than 400 milliliters of fluid, a large amount for a seven-month old. Finally, after a harrowing journey, he was on the road to recovery.
“Time is of the essence,” said Dr. Carver. “He was on so much oxygen. I think if he would’ve had to take an ambulance ride from out west, they might have run out of oxygen truthfully. So to be able to get him here faster was really important.”
For Kelsey Duchsherer, the trip to Fargo allowed her to stop being a nurse practitioner for a few very important days.
“I am not one to immediately inform people that I work in health care,” she said. “I found almost comfort in that, that I didn’t have to be (a provider) in that situation. I was there to just be Mom. That gave me some peace of mind that I didn’t need to be both because I was so confident in the care that we were receiving.”
It also gave her confidence in her employer, which doubled as her son’s health care provider.
“To see that in action from a patient perspective, already knowing it from a health care perspective was so reassuring. It just reaffirmed that I’m in the right place for care and for my professional career,” Duchsherer said.
Ayce Duchsherer spent 11 days in the hospital. He has since celebrated his first birthday, and he is now healthy, having been given the all clear from his doctors.
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