Alisha Mueller is taking life one step at a time this summer.
“I could have ended up way worse than this,” Alisha said.
Just a few weeks into getting to know her new prosthetic, the 11-year-old is making giant strides. This past February, she and her family were blindsided one Monday morning.
“I think it’s just like a big nightmare. I don’t really believe it,” Alisha said.
Alisha, the second oldest of six, soon to be seven, was battling a fever one weekend with no other symptoms. Her mother Rachel says eventually Alisha started having trouble breathing and couldn’t walk or talk. The two rushed to the emergency room at Sanford.
“And then that’s when they told us it was strep and pneumonia and that they’re taking her up to the PICU because she was having a real hard time breathing,” Rachel said.
The Strep got into her blood stream causing her immune system to throw her into toxic shock. Within five minutes, Alisha would go into cardiac arrest with her parents, stunned, watching nearby.
“Later when we talked about it, we both were thinking what day will we be planning her funeral because they kept saying, ‘Check for pulse. No pulse.’ So we thought they’re going to stop one of these times,” Rachel said.
As a last resort, the staff offered to use ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. ECMO provides cardiac and respiratory support to patients whose heart and lungs are badly damaged or diseased.
“From what we understand, it hadn’t been done. Putting a child on ECMO while doing chest compressions. That had never been done. We’re very thankful that they took a chance and they saved her life,” Rachel said.
Considered a second mom in her home, Alisha has had to take a break from caring for her siblings in order to get herself back on track. As a result of the toxic shock, her right leg was amputated around the knee when she was transferred to a children’s hospital in Minnesota.
“That was the first thing I remember. I cried and I told them to write a letter to my teacher and classmates telling them not to treat me differently and be respectful. I didn’t want to be an outcast at school,” Alisha said.
And her leg wasn’t the only challenge.
“The first day I was in Minneapolis, the surgeon was like, ‘Well we’re going to have to amputate this and we’re also going to have to amputate this and this and this.’ My mom and dad were super worried about what’s going to be left of our daughter. Later my surgeon was making jokes to my mom. ‘You were worried about her fingers and I was worried about her life,'” Alisha said.
Her fingers are healing. Unfortunately she can’t see out of her right eye but that’s her only neurological damage. Alisha gets dialysis three times a week. Her kidneys could get stronger but if they don’t she’ll need a transplant.
“I think about the future. I will be able to do some stuff again like running. Right now you have to get past this and then you can do so much more,” Alisha said.
“Right now her goal is for her to be able to walk into her school on the first day of school here in August coming up. We’re hopeful for that. Her physical therapist Dan is really hopeful that she’ll be able to do that too,” Matt said.
As long as she keeps putting in the work, she’ll be well on her way.
Matt Holsen: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Alisha: I don’t know. Many things.
Holsen: Like what?
Alisha: I want to be like an actor and maybe a news person.
She’s free to write her own story now that she’s on the path to recovery.
“Sanford saved my life and I’m very thankful that they did. I’m very thankful that I live so close and that my mom and dad love me,” Alisha said.