Harper Still loves dancing, helping her mom cook, and playing with her twin sister and younger brother. In many ways, she’s a typical little girl.
Harper’s story, however, is anything but typical.
In May 2017, then-2-year-old Harper began experiencing diarrhea and had a bowel movement in her sleep. Knowing this was abnormal for their daughter, Jodi and Tyler Still took Harper to a local pediatrician.
The pediatrician took stool samples and conducted blood tests, and the Stills went home to await the results. The following morning, Harper began vomiting and had blood in her stool.
“I don’t just mean there were a few streaks with red in it. It was nothing but blood, and to see that come from your child, you don’t know what to do. You’re scared,” says Jodi.
Jodi called the pediatrician, who recommended she take Harper to an emergency department.
“By the time we got to Des Moines, she had vomited 11 times and had 32 bowel movements,” remembers Jodi.
Harper was initially diagnosed with Shigella, a bacteria related to E. coli, and was admitted to the hospital.
“They told us we had to get her hydration level up, but she would be OK,” says Jodi. “We just had to wait out the weekend and see what happened.”
Despite receiving IV fluids and other medications to treat her symptoms, Harper’s condition worsened and she was diagnosed with E. coli. Her doctors said there was a 5 percent chance Harper could develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a dangerous condition that develops due to E. coli. It causes red blood cells to be damaged and destroyed, and can lead to life-threatening kidney failure.
Just days later, Harper’s doctors had some news.
“They said, ’This had turned into HUS, and we can no longer treat her here,’” says Jodi.
“We wanted the best for our daughter, so Iowa City was the place for us,” adds Tyler. “It didn’t matter that it was four hours from home.”
Harper was transferred by ambulance to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where a pediatric nephrologist was waiting for her.
Harper’s condition was contagious, so she was quarantined to her room for 12 days. Her care team attempted to place a catheter in her arm to easily draw blood to monitor her levels, but her veins were too fragile, so a different catheter was placed in her chest.
The same day, Harper underwent a procedure to have a dialysis catheter placed in her stomach lining to help her body filter her blood while she slept. She underwent seven nights of dialysis in addition to five blood transfusions, seven platelet transfusions, and many potassium transfers and iron injections.
After more than three weeks in the hospital, Harper was able to go home. Today, she is back to being her vivacious, energetic self, despite her acute kidney injury. Her family attributes Harper’s recovery to her UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital team.
“They saved my daughter’s life,” says Tyler.
“The children's hospital is probably unlike any place you've ever been,” adds Jodi. “They truly care. From the person that greets you at the door, to the nurse who is checking you all night long, to the doctor who is there monitoring you every step of the way, to the man down in the cafeteria. Everybody here truly cares about what is going on in your life.”