Buckeye patients set aside ties for Mich. medical care

In the spirit of the rivalry, Ann Arbor and Columbus hospitals started The Goal Line Challenge to raise money for pediatric ICUs

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — When Matt and Deanna Olsen opened a bag of clothes their Ohio family sent to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, they knew it was going to be bad news.

Stuffed inside was their red and white apparel that they’d proudly wear anywhere else in the country.

“Opening it up, I was like, ‘It’s probably not a good idea to wear this,’ ” says Matt, whose 13-year-old daughter, Olivia (nicknamed Birdie), was receiving medical care at the hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest in late October.

Without another change of clothes, Deanna threw on a Buckeye shirt.

“All the doctors were like, ‘Nope. I’m not working until you change your shirt,’ ” Matt says.

It was clearly a joke, but Deanna changed into a “Hail to the Little Victors” pink T-shirt in the middle of the ICU to humor them.

“I’m like, ‘OK, I have the right shirt on. Now you can keep working on her!’ ” she says, laughing.

As the tempestuous Michigan versus Ohio State football game approaches, school rivalries intensify. But the hospital is perhaps the one place on campus where school allegiances are set aside.

“We hate Michigan football, but we love this hospital,” says Deanna, rocking in the plum hospital chair she’s slept in the past 18 days. The 42-year-old lifetime Ohio State fans point out that’s three Buckeye football games they watched in Wolverine territory.

For the first time, pediatric doctors from Mott in Ann Arbor and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, are using the fire that comes with the rivalry for a cause that benefits both hospitals. Dr. Michael Quasney, the director of pediatric critical care medicine who treated Birdie, devised The Goal Line Challenge to raise money for research and care of children in the intensive care units.

Until the last second of The Game on Saturday, fans can donate on CrowdRise to the Wolverine or Buckeye teams. The pledges will stay at each school, but the winner gets bragging rights.

“Regardless of who wins the challenge or who wins The Game, everybody wins,” says Mark Hall, critical care division chief at Nationwide Children’s, which sees roughly 3,000 kids a year in the pediatric ICU.

Quasney intends to use the funds — that will go into The LIFE Fund endowment — to improve life-saving therapies that aren’t always in the public’s eye.

“It’s somewhat easy to raise money to cure diseases such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes in kids. There are foundations around the country that do just that,” he says. “But we save the lives of kids with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, severe infections, and we see kids with trauma everyday. … And a lot of those dollars don’t take into account what we do at the bedside in the ICU.”

Mott treats 1,200-1,300 kids a year in the ICU. The mortality rate is low at 2.5 percent, but as Quasney points out, “that’s still a large number of kids that die.”

“When we think about kids that die from cancer, diabetes, severe infections or heart disease, it’s usually in the ICU where they die, so we need to do a better job of providing some of the life-sustaining therapies that we do,” he says.

Hall, a staunch Buckeye who’s collaborated on research with Quasney, happily partnered with him to set up the challenge, which aims to raise $25,000.

“Despite the gridiron competition, we have great respect and regard for each other, and we look forward to jointly solving problems in our intensive care units,” says Hall, whose division works with The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

“There really are many, many research questions that are unanswered in this populations of patients, and we believe funding dedicated specifically to critically ill or injured children is badly needed ... and this seems like a really nice way to use local energy and enthusiasm to raise money to help us answer some of these questions in our sickest patients.”

Care from victors valiant

The Olsens, for one, will be supporting the challenge.

Sitting on a couch against Birdie’s hospital room window overlooking the changing treetops, Matt jokes about teaching his three kids that Michigan has a “funny smell.” But his laughter ceases when discussing how Michigan doctors kept Birdie alive in the ICU.

A chemical factory worker in Toledo, he spews out medical jargon.

“They were dealing with cardiac arrest with secondary pneumonia caused by aspiration of vomit and gum,” he says.

Though Birdie doesn’t remember anything from the day she collapsed, or the day before, her father does. He was coaching grade school football at St. Patrick of Heatherdowns, and Birdie — a nickname that stuck after her mom compared her to a “little birdie” when nursing — was waiting for him to finish on the sidelines with a friend. While chatting, she told her girlfriend, “I can’t see. Do you ever get that feeling?” And then she collapsed.

Someone called Matt over.

“I checked her breathing, and she wasn’t breathing,” he says. “And I remember she was chewing gum, so I checked if she was choking on gum. I could feel the gum, and I couldn’t get it out. A couple other parents came over and tried the Heimlich, and then we just did CPR.”

Luckily, the school had an automated external defibrillator.

“They hooked it up, and then said ‘zap her’ and then she had a pulse,” Matt says.

Paramedics arrived and took Birdie to St. Luke’s Hospital in Maumee, Ohio, before she was transported to Mott.

“She was in our pediatric intensive care unit for about seven to 10 days on life support, very very critically ill initially,” Quasney says. “She wasn’t breathing on her own, and we had to take over all of her breathing.”

Cardiac arrest — when the heart stops functioning — is rare among children and teens, but there are occasions when student athletes collapse during games.

“There’s a very, very small percentage of kids that have an underlying arrhythmia that given certain circumstances — it could be dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, a rapid heart rate brought on by exercise — it stimulates the heart going into one of these arrhythmias, which doesn’t allow for adequate blood flow to the brain and to the other organs,” Quasney says, “and that’s when they basically have their arrest, and they go down.”

Doctors are still trying to determine the cause of Birdie’s arrest. Though she’s an active cheerleader, basketball and volleyball player, she wasn’t partaking in exercise that might have triggered it.

Quasney underscores the importance of schools having defibrillators in these situations.

“If she didn’t get shocked or resuscitated and brought to an intensive care unit where we continued to treat her, then she would have died,” he says.

Fortunately, Quasney says, it looks like Birdie will have a full recovery.

Last week, doctors surgically placed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator that will deliver an electric shock if it detects abnormal heart rhythm. The device will allow her to lead a normal life and even get back to basketball in the spring.

After 2.5 weeks surrounded by the maize and blue, the Olsens were looking forward to going home, where it “smells” better, and they can wear their Buckeye gear in peace.

Yet Birdie wasn’t going to make it out of the hospital without a reminder of the Leaders and Best — an arm sling emblazoned with the block M.

“I don’t like it, and I’m getting a new one that’s an Ohio State logo,” she says.

Michigan doctors may have saved her life, but that won’t change which team she’s rooting for on Saturday.

“Michigan just can’t beat us,” she says.




Donate to The Goal Line Challenge


Money raised so far:

University of Michigan: $3,675

Ohio State University: $1,600