SPOKANE, Wash. - Most parents mark the passage of time in soccer games, swim lessons, and bedtime stories. But, one Spokane couple marked the last few months by the medication and machines keeping their four-year-old son alive.
You can still see where doctors at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children's Hospital poked a needle into Levi Owen Kimberling's chest to drain his lungs, in February. His life hung in the balance.
Parents Randall and Jill Kimberling had never faced anything like this before. They took their youngest son to the doctor in early February when he had flu-like symptoms. Their doctor told them to go home and let it pass. Then, things got really bad. So, Levi Owen was rushed to Sacred Heart Children's Hospital.
"He had tested positive for influenza B, the adenovirus, pneumonia, strep, and necrotizing pneumonia in his lungs, so it was eating his lungs," Randall said.
The Kimberlings said a ventilator and then an oscillator kept their son breathing, until even those machines weren't enough. Randall remembered his son being so frail that even a slight movement to put a blanket under him almost killed him.
"They moved him this much and they stopped his heart, so we got to watch all the monitors go completely blank," Randall said.
A nurse saved the four-year-old boy's life that day. Unfortunately, it wasn't the last time he flat-lined.
Doctors knew their little patient needed more help to stay alive, so they suggested a form of life support called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). The equipment would mimic Levi Owen's lungs, giving his organs time to heal. But, his odds of surviving the treatment weren't good. Randall said his son would have died without it though.
"We signed the papers, which felt like we were signing him off to go to his death, and then we baptized him. It felt like we gave him last rights," Randall said.
It felt like a lifetime had passed until the Kimberling family got an update. Then, Levi Owen's doctor came out to see them.
"I said, I just need to know, is it good news or bad news? It was good," Randall said.
Remembering the moment brought tears to Levi Owen's mom's eyes.
"It was the happiest day of our lives," Jill said.
Levi Owen was now on ECMO, but he wasn't done fighting for his life. While he was hooked to the machine, he started having kidney issues. The Kimberlings said three nurses were with their son every minute while he was on dialysis.
"He had a double room because you couldn't fit any more machines in the room," Randall said.
Just when things looked really bad, Levi Owen reminded his family that he was a fighter.
He spent 51 days on ECMO, according to Randall. Hospital officials said that's longer than any other child at Sacred Heart Children's Center. Levi Owen also broke international records in his age group for the length of treatment. All that was possible thanks to Children's Miracle Network (CMN). The organization paid for nurses to have specialized training to handle cases like his. CMN also used donations to pay for the machine used to save Levi's life.
"He's still here and without those donations, he's not here," Randall said.
It's no secret that Levi Owen is a fighter. His scars tell that part of his story, his smile tells another part.
"I think this is the hardest thing we've had to go through in our entire lives and we're still standing and we're still fighting," Jill said. "As long as he fights, we fight."
Levi Owen got to go home with his family on Friday. He's already planning his birthday party next month. He wants to go to a trampoline park with his two older brothers and parents.
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