When Emmett woke up on the morning of October 16th 2010, he should have been looking forward to celebrating his 1st and his brother's 3rd birthdays, at a family party that afternoon. Unfortunately, the 12 month old was not his usual self, and was running a fever. His symptoms did not improve as the day wore on, so Kayla Rauch, and her husband Michael, took the little boy to their local Urgent care. His symptoms were attributed to the flu, or a latent reaction to vaccinations he had received a few days earlier.
Over the next few days, Emmett only got worse. He was lethargic, struggling to settle for sleep, coughing up mucus, and crying when attempting to eat or drink. It was a struggle to see their young son in so much pain, and on Monday morning when he started vomiting blood, their paediatrician advised them to take Emmett straight to the Emergency department (ED). Soon after arriving at the ED, a chest X-ray showed something was lodged in his oesophagus, despite Emmett never showing signs of choking.
The ED doctor explained that the foreign object was a button battery, which stirred up many emotions in Emmett's worried parents, including shame, embarrassment, fear and sadness. It was decided that the 12 month old needed specialist care, and an ambulance rushed the ailing tot to the Phoenix Children's Hospital. Upon arrival, Emmett was met by a team of nurses and hooked up to a number of machines, before their surgeon Dr. Egan, went through the plan of action. He was to be operated on immediately to remove the button battery.
After an anxious three hours, Emmett's parents were told of the damage done by the button battery, including damage to his oesophagus, the extent of which was still unclear. What was clear, however, was how poorly Emmett was extremely poorly. His fever was through the roof, his breathing was laboured and he was coughing up mucus, which put further strain on his oesophagus. It was at 7pm on his first night in the Paediatric ICU when Emmett – now unable to breathe for himself – coded following a choking episode. Luckily the experienced team in the ICU managed to re-intubate and stabilise him. Poor Emmett was in a lot of pain, and now needed complete respiratory support.
A Bronchoscope revealed that the battery had burned a hole in both his oesophagus and trachea, which resulted in stomach fluids getting into the lungs. Additionally, there was a lot of burn damage, meaning that there was a lot of reconstructive surgery was going to be required. A stent surgery was planned as a stop-gap solution until the internal burns improved. Unfortunately, after over 9 hours in the operating theatre, the stent surgery was unsuccessful. Instead two inches of his oesophagus was surgically removed, and the hole in his trachea was repaired with neighbouring tissues.
Following surgery, the sight of Emmett – connected to numerous tubes, and on a number of medications – was difficult for his parents. He was so unwell, but thanks to dedicated medical staff and a 5 week stay in the ICU, Emmett was finally allowed to go home. However, he needed a feeding tube, as his oesophagus was, at that point, no longer attached to his stomach.
Even though he was allowed home, Emmett still had a long road ahead of him. His body was weak from being bed bound, so he required weekly physical, occupational, speech and swallowing therapy sessions, to build up his strength. Furthermore, his weak lungs meant that he had to remain indoors during the winter, as a minor cold could have had devastating consequences. But, this little boy was a fighter, and that was important, as Emmett's fight was not over yet.
Five months after returning home on the 1st of March 2011, Emmett was to go under the knife again, to reattach his oesophagus his stomach, which was not expected to be a simple surgery. Despite concerns, the surgery initially went beautifully, but unfortunately, five days later a leak was discovered in the oesophagus. Dr. Egan, and a team of expert surgeons convened to get a plan of action together for little Emmett. A genius solution was found - muscle was taken from the shoulder and used to repair the torn oesophagus.
It was a struggle for his parents to see Emmett in so much pain, and with his X-rays showing a lot of fluid on his lungs, they were very worried. A chest tube was inserted to drain the fluid, which enabled his lungs to fully expand. It was a great relied, that after a few weeks, Emmett was finally able to breathe on his own, without any respiratory support. He was on the road to recovery at last, and when it was shown that his oesophagus repair was holding strong, he was finally able to take small amounts of food and liquid by mouth.
There will be more surgeries and therapy sessions for Emmett in the future, but the family are just happy to still be together. Swallowing the button battery could have ended his life, which should be a huge concern for families everywhere. Emmett's Fight was started so other parents could be protected from watching their child suffer so much pain.