Family celebrates with hospital staff that saved baby’s life

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By Brenda Sexton-The Courier-Herald

“What a different day than from a year ago,” said Debbie Tyler watching her granddaughter Ashley Mueller play with balloons, eat cake and grin from ear to ear with all the attention she was receiving Thursday evening at Enumclaw Regional Hospital.

Ashley and her family were there to celebrate Ashley’s first birthday with the hospital staff that a year ago saved her life.

“We watched these people in action,” said great-grandmother Sharon Tyler. “The staff at that hospital kept her alive right in front of our eyes.”

Ashley was born to Brook and Steve Mueller of Bonney Lake at 7:54 a.m. Sept. 18. On the outside, she was perfect 8-pound, 9-ounce baby girl. On the inside, she had a random, undetected birth defect called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). She was born with a hole in her diaphragm. Her bowels were in her chest cavity. Her heart was on the left side, one lung was collapsed and the other lung was squished into a ball. She was pushing carbon dioxide through her body with every breath.

Congenital diaphragmatic hernias are not a common occurrence and often do not have happy endings. Jean Horner, a registered nurse for Enumclaw’s women and infant services, said in her 34 years she’s only seen two CDH births, “and those were probably 25 years ago.” Brook said Children’s Hopsital sees about two a month and that’s from an area that encompasses several states.

Hospital staff immediately realized something wasn’t right and put Ashley on oxygen. They took many X-rays and decided she needed to be at a bigger hospital. They called in the neonatal team from Tacoma General to transport her by ambulance. As time went by, they diagnosed (CDH). Little Ashley wasn’t stabilizing and the equipment she needed and the time she may have to get to a larger facility was running out. At 12:20 p.m. she was airlifted by helicopter to Seattle Children’s.

She underwent surgery one week later and was on a ventilator for 20 days. She stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 23 days. She was on a feeding tube until Dec. 7. Because her lungs are so fragile, she didn’t venture out of the house until May.

“The whole day didn’t seem real,” Ashley’s proud mother Brook said.

“Enumclaw was just absolutely amazing,” she said. “Even the surgeon at Children’s said that it was amazing Enumclaw, for being such a small hospital, was able to do what they did.”

For the Enumclaw Regional Hospital staff that were there that day and dropped by Ashley’s birthday celebration, it’s their calling.

“From second one I knew she was going to make it,” said respitory therapist Lee Smith, who was the man of the hour, hand-pumping for the fiery little red head, keeping her breathing. “That was very obvious. She was a scrapper.”

Smith said celebrations like Ashley’s first birthday is what make the job special.

“Hats off to you guys, all the way through you were perfect,” Smith said to the family.

Another on the scene, but taking little credit, was Ashley’s pediatrician, who as fate would have it happened to be passing by around the time of the delivery and had been exposed to CDH.

“I can’t take credit for any of this,” Dr. Brenda VanFossen said at the birthday party. “This was just a miracle.”

A miracle is what mom and dad, Brook and Steve, call it too.

“We have so much to celebrate,” Brook said. “I’m a big fan of Enumclaw hospital and a big fan of Children’s Hospital.

“She is absolutely the best-case scenario,” she said. “No side affects; no brain damage. She is a miracle baby. It’s exciting and scary to be part of miracles.”

“Her lungs aren’t great, but they never will be,” grandmother Debbie Tyler said, but no one would ever know. Ashley does have regular chest X-rays. She checks in with a surgeon to make sure there is no re-injury and there is medication for acid reflux.

“She’s a little rock star,” Brook said, and that’s what the hospital party was all about. “We wanted to let them see how wonderful she’s doing. When she left they didn’t think she’d make it the 20 minutes to Seattle.”

“They did a bang-up job,” grandfather Herb Tyler said.

Reach Brenda Sexton at or 360-802-8206.

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