One day, Victoria Bermudez was a healthy, ballet-loving kindergartner. The next, a mild fever devolved into a case of influenza and strep that put the 6-year-old into cardiac arrest.
The doe-eyed girl who loves pink and princess crowns likely would have died then were it not for an oxygenating machine at Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. But it took luck and fast-acting doctors and parents to get her there.
“Now I feel like I have a nursing degree, but when it happened, I was just a mom,” said Bermudez’s mother, Judith Ferrer, of Miami, at a news conference Tuesday.
As most mothers would, Ferrer gave her daughter ibuprofen for the fever. When it persisted, she took her to an urgent care center where doctors diagnosed influenza and strep. But the child’s labored breathing concerned them, and she was rushed to the closest emergency room. There, Bermudez’s body went into septic shock, affecting all of her organs.
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Ferrer was told her daughter needed extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — commonly known as ECMO — to save her life: a treatment delivered by a machine that does the work of the heart and lungs so the organs can recuperate. Only a few hospitals offer ECMO. Ferrer chose to have her daughter moved to Holtz.
At that point, “She had had three cardiac arrests, two in the ER and one in the ICU. I prayed for angels the entire night to save my baby girl,” Ferrer said.
Ordinarily, antibiotics are sufficient to treat influenza and strep throat, but the bacteria that causes strep got into the child’s blood. Bermudez’s case is rare, her doctors say.
Dr. Barry Gelman, the Holtz pediatric critical care physician who took over Bermudez’s care when she arrived at the hospital, said, “She was as close to dying as any girl could be.”
For 17 days, doctors kept Bermudez on ECMO, tubes radiating from her bedside and teams of critical care doctors, surgeons and intensive care nurses working to keep new threats to her life at bay. She lost blood, requiring multiple transfusions. The lack of blood flow cut off circulation to the right foot, putting her at risk for amputation.
She spent two months in Holtz’s pediatric intensive care unit while her body recovered from the traumas, followed by daily speech and occupational therapy at Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital to help Bermudez walk and talk again. Bermudez’s mother never left her daughter’s bedside.
As the days went by, Ferrer said she stopped worrying. “I realized my angels were sent because the doctors here saved my baby girl. They knew what to do at the right time.”
Now she advises other parents: “Don’t panic, but be aware. Listen to what your child is telling you.”
Today, the girl who her mother calls “a feisty social butterfly” is expected to make a full recovery, with continued therapy as a Jackson outpatient.
“I told Victoria I expect her to go back to school in August and be getting good grades,” Gelman said, looking over at the 6-year-old, who wore a gold-sequined tutu and silver crown to greet television reporters.
But Bermudez has other ideas. Asked what she looks forward to doing when she gets home, she answered: “Play.”