No easy landing in U.S. -- Chelmos deal with daughter's dangerous medical issues
When Brook and Keiko Chelmo finally received visas to move their family back from Japan, they thought life would get easier -- and safer for their 19-month-old daughter, Aria.
In some regards, they're right.
They've faced no threats of earthquakes, tsunamis or power plant explosions like they did in their Japanese home this past spring.
What they have faced in the past month since living in Detroit Lakes, is a desperate 911 call, a life-flight to Fargo and some very dangerous medical red tape.
"We've been so stressed it's been tough to sleep," said Brook Chelmo.
The stress stems from little Aria's very rare medical condition, which causes her lungs to literally fall asleep when she does.
Only a machine keeps her breathing during slumber. The machine's oxygen settings were for baby Aria, not the much larger toddler she has become since getting the machine.
The Chelmos have been pushing for a medical sleep study in order for her setting to be updated, but since arriving in Minnesota, have been denied by doctors.
"Nobody wants to do them on children or can't because of all the red tape," said Chelmo.
In addition to that, the only breathing machine the state of Minnesota would provide them (through Pediatric Home Services) is a much cheaper, inadequate version. (Their $20,000 Japanese machine is on-loan to the Chelmos and must be sent back soon.)
"This machine has no internal battery, so if the power goes out like it did here the other day, her saturation could drop so low and her heart could stop," said Chelmo.
Aria was living in a risky situation, and during the Fourth of July weekend, her luck ran out.
"Aria was screaming like I had never heard her scream before," said Chelmo.
Attempts to calm her soon led to the realization that something was dreadfully wrong.
"Her eyes were glassed over, she was shaking and stiff as a board and she wasn't responding to me at all," Chelmo explained.
Aria was having a massive seizure, and her heart rate was up to 180 beats-per minute, information her machine provided.
"I thought she was going to have a heart attack and flatline," said Chelmo.
In fact, they thought she did, when the machine accidentally detached from Aria, sending out the signal that her heart had stopped.
"I thought I was going to die," said Chelmo, "but I put my head to her chest and could hear her heart, so we called for the ambulance."
"All I could do was pray," said Brook Chelmo's mother, Joyce, who the family is living with during the transition.
"And as soon as the ambulance left, I just bawled."
Aria's heart rate had dropped dramatically to critical levels and carbon dioxide was overtaking her oxygen levels.
She was stabilized at St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes and then life-flighted to Sanford Health in Fargo.
The tiny toddler was sedated for a couple of days, while doctors pushed the carbon dioxide out of her little body and studied what she needed.
Five days later, Aria was discharged, and has since recovered.
Now, the family, which had been planning to move to California for job opportunities, is sticking around Detroit Lakes a bit longer while Aria's health plan is more solidified.
"It's looking like a children's hospital in the Twin Cities might take her for sleep study," said Chelmo, who says they are also trying to save up to buy a high-quality machine for their daughter.
Members of Community Alliance Church held a fundraiser for them, which Chelmo says went a long way towards meeting that goal.
In the meantime, the family, which is getting unusually used to dealing with emergencies, will be trying to relax and enjoy life back in Minnesota.
"Aria loves all the animals here," said Chelmo, "she loves the birds and squirrels and rabbits we get to see right in the yard -- it's something she didn't really see in Japan."
And for a time, Grandma Joyce and Grandpa Richard Chelmo also get to soak up as much family time as they can.
"I've laughed more in the past few weeks with them home than I have in 10 years," said Joyce Chelmo, "My heart is just so full."
And although their new lives back in the States are still far from relaxing, Brook Chelmo says they're still happy to be home.
"Yeah, it's life," he said, "It can be tough, but you just gotta keep rolling with the punches."