Action 2 News This Morning reporter Kristyn Allen gave birth to fraternal twin girls on December 21 and has been on maternity leave since then. She was scheduled to return to work on March 18, but will be taking an extended leave to care for one of her daughters who became critically ill with Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, at just six weeks old.
“I thought I’d be spending my maternity leave at home, sitting around in my living room playing with my kids all day, but that’s not at all what happened. I’ve spent most of it in hospitals,” Kristyn says.
Kristyn had the twins at 38 weeks without any complications during her pregnancy or labor and delivery. She conceived them through an infertility procedure known as intrauterine insemination or IUI along with injectable medication.
“After Kristyn went to full term with the twins and they were healthy for the first few weeks of their lives, for them to get sick – and to this extent – was a shock,” said Kristyn’s husband Greg.
“Everything was going great until Braelyn was three weeks old. That’s when she got sick for the first time with an upper respiratory virus called coronavirus. She was at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay in the pediatric intensive care unit for ten days,” says Kristyn.
It was at that time that Braelyn’s pediatrician also discovered a hole in her heart known as ventricular septal defect or VSD. A week after getting discharged, she was back in the hospital again because she appeared to breathing faster still.
“That was just an overnight stay for observation. Braelyn had an echocardiogram. She went home on a prescription of diuretics to keep get rid of extra fluid in the blood so her heart didn’t have to work as hard. We were going to see a pediatric cardiologist a week later to talk about a treatment plan, but never made it there because she ended up back in the hospital, this time with RSV,” Kristyn recalled.
Kristyn says RSV hit Braelyn hard and fast. Braelyn was at her one month well visit which was delayed from being in the hospital the first time and was doing ok, but by later that evening she was vomiting up all of her formula and was inconsolable.
“It was the strangest thing. I had no idea what was wrong with her. We had just been to see her doctor. She didn’t have a history of gas or tummy troubles. The only way I could keep her calm that night was to have her sleep on my chest. By 4:30 the next morning, she was literally white as snow, and I once again packed up and raced her to St. Vincent Hospital’s emergency room,” Kristyn says.
Doctors ran a panel of tests and she was positive for RSV. Braelyn declined quickly and was put on a ventilator by 9:30 p.m. that night, which was February 6.
The following day Kristyn brought Braelyn’s twin, Brielle, to the ER after she was showing similar symptoms though not as severe. Brielle was hospitalized for three days before she was also put on a ventilator.
After a week, Braelyn had not improved, but was getting worse and was on maximum ventilator settings. Pediatric intensivists at St. Vincent Hospital thought that Braelyn may need to be put on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation or ECMO machine, which they didn’t have the capacity to do for babies. She was transported to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee on February 13 in critical condition.
“I’ll never forget when the team from Milwaukee came to get Braelyn and the doctor pulled me aside and told me that the transport would be very rough on her they needed her to survive it. The doctor told me if they pulled over, there was a problem. I think I was in shock. I followed the ambulance and it felt like my own heart stopped every time I saw the ambulance’s brake lights,” Kristyn recalled.
Braelyn made the transport without any issues. Kristyn decided to have Brielle transported to Children’s Hospital so she could have them both in the same place.
Braelyn was there for two days before doctors decided she ultimately needed to be placed on the ECMO machine because her oxygen levels were plummeting.
“The ECMO essentially acts as the body’s lungs. It does all the work. The blood is circulated outside of the body, oxygenated and then circulated back in. It gives the lungs a chance to rest and heal. It is fairly risky though. Unfortunately, there’s a risk of both blood clots and bleeding. To place the ECMO cannulas or tubes, it is a surgical procedure. They go into a vessel attached to the heart. My husband was in Green Bay with our three-year-old the day this happened, so I made the tough decision to get her baptized without him there,” explained Kristyn.
A few days after being put on ECMO, Braelyn had a small brain bleed.
“You hear the words ‘brain bleed’ and you automatically think the worst, that it’s catastrophic. However, we’ve been assured by neurologists that it was a good brain bleed to have. It happened in a part of the brain that isn’t responsible for much. The biggest risk right now is seizures. She’ll be on anti-seizure medicine for a while, but so far hasn’t had any and is doing great neurologically,” Kristyn said.
Braelyn came off ECMO on February 28 after 13 days. She continues to be on a ventilator as she has been for nearly six weeks. Her lungs still have a way to go in order to heal, but Kristyn and her family are so grateful that things are moving in the right direction.
“I feel like we can breathe a little bit now. ECMO was a really scary thing, but it ended up saving her life,” says Kristyn.
Brielle went home two weeks ago and is thriving. Big sister, Bailey, has enjoyed playing and interacting with her.
Because of the uncertainty of when Braelyn will come home, Kristyn won’t return to work in March.
“It’s been really difficult to care for three kids in two different places that are two hours a part. As you know, I do live shots for the morning show and work overnight. My husband is a freelance sports journalist. This is his very busy time of year and in a normal setting our life is nothing short of chaotic, so this situation just amplifies that. It’s pretty much impossible for me to work right now and give my kids, especially Braelyn, the care that they need,” Kristyn explains.
Kristyn says she’s extremely thankful for the care and support her family has received.
“I could never say enough good things about the care we received at St. Vincent Hospital. The pediatric intensive care nurses there are phenomenal. The pediatric intensivists Dr. Vardis, Dr. Ament and Dr. Taylor are amazing. The Child Life Department also was incredible in working with Bailey to help her process all of this. The doctors there ultimately knew when Braelyn needed more advanced care and I’m grateful for that and the team at Children’s in Milwaukee has taken excellent care of my daughters,” Kristyn explains.
She says her family has been blessed with so much support from friends and family.
“My WBAY family has been extraordinary. Management has been incredibly understanding and supportive. My co-workers constantly e-mail me and check in. Some have offered to watch Bailey. They’ve reached out and offered whatever I’ve needed. It’s brought my family so much comfort knowing so many people stand behind us,” Kristyn said.
Greg adds “What’s been amazing through this whole nightmare of having two kids in the hospital is the outpouring of support we have received from our families, friends and people we don’t even know too well. Everybody has gone above and beyond what we ever would have expected, and Kristyn and I can’t thank everyone enough. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.”
Kristyn hopes to return to work in late April.