Mandy Seeger’s second pregnancy was normal and her daughter, Brelynn, was born healthy.
When baby Brelynn was almost 11 months old, she saw the pediatrician for what her parents thought was an ear infection. Despite treatment with antibiotics, Brelynn’s fever persisted.
Seeger’s husband, Scotty, had just started a new job and was preparing to travel to the coast when he became concerned about Brelynn’s breathing. Brelynn’s pediatrician at Sandhills Pediatrics referred her to Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands, where doctors discovered that Brelynn’s oxygen levels had sharply fallen. She was hospitalized and started on oxygen while tests were done to determine the cause of her illness.
Over the next several days, Brelynn became weaker and more lethargic. During a bronchoscopy, Seeger had a gut feeling something was terribly wrong with Brelynn. Then, she saw a hospital bed come around the corner with Brelynn, surrounded by doctors and nurses. “I lost it. Right there in the middle of the hall. Her pulmonologist explained that Brelynn was on life support and was being taken to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).”
Brelynn spent about a week in the PICU, surrounded by loving family members, including her great-grandmother. One night, her monitors began beeping. “My baby was blue, purple and not able to breathe on her own. I watched as these hard working nurses and doctors tried to save my baby. I cried out and begged God not to let my baby die. That night will never leave me,” said Seeger.
“A mucus plug was blocking the breathing tube,” said pediatric intensivist Jason Peck, MD. Peck and his team were able to stabilize Brelynn for the night. The next morning, Peck explained that Brelynn’s pneumonia was worsening, her lung function had declined despite treatment, and her condition was critical.
“Our job is to be honest with families. We try to do it in a way that is compassionate. We do supportive care to keep the body working while the underlying issue is treated. In this case, no one knew the cause of her severe illness.” Peck made arrangements to transport Brelynn to MUSC for a specialized treatment called ECMO, Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation.
Given the population of South Carolina and the rarity of cases involving children Brelynn’s age requiring ECMO treatment, all cases go to one hospital.
“The ECMO was the only option to give Brelynn a 50/50 chance of survival,” said Seeger. Brelynn was transported by ambulance because a looming thunderstorm made air travel too risky. In Charleston, the Seegers were told Brelynn was so ill she may not live, even with ECMO intervention.
The following morning, Brelynn’s X-ray showed a bit of clearing, so she was not started on ECMO. On July 3, Seeger made a quick trip to a pharmacy in Folly Beach and received a call from one of Brelynn’s nurses. “She said she had a surprise for me,” said Seeger. “When I got back to the hospital, my beautiful baby was awake, crying and breathing on her own! The next night, I was holding my breathing baby and watching fireworks from the hospital window.”
A few days later, Brelynn was discharged and sent back to Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands. “Dr. Peck was on the floor when we arrived,” said Seeger.
Peck meets his patients and their families when they are in crisis. “We love it when a family comes back to visit and we get to see the child feeling much better,” said Peck.
Extensive testing revealed that Brelynn is one of only 19 patients worldwide to have an extremely rare immune deficiency disorder. “Her body makes no B cells and her T cells are not functioning at normal capacity,” said Seeger.
Today, Brelynn has weekly infusions of B cells administered by her mother. She gets regular breathing treatments to prevent pneumonia and is followed by experts at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands, Duke University Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health.
Because of her compromised immune system, Brelynn and her family must avoid crowds and limit public outings. “We have to be very cautious and selective. It affects our entire lives, but we do everything we can to protect Brelynn and avoid germs,” said Seeger. “There is no way we could ever re-pay the doctors and nurses for all they did for Brelynn. In this life, we have experienced a miracle and we are so grateful for the care Brelynn received and the love and support of our friends and family.”