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MnDOT reaches out to help

DETROIT LAKES - When Bridget Miller was 20 weeks along in her pregnancy, she and her husband, Jesse, found out their daughter had congenital diaphragmatic hernia.

"That just means her diaphragm didn't form," Bridget Miller explained.

At 20 weeks into her pregnancy, Bridget was told her baby had a 50 percent chance of living. Two weeks before she delivered, she was told her daughter now had a 5 percent chance to live.

"Somebody had to be that 5 percent. Why not Ellie," Miller said.

That was two years ago, Ellie is doing fine and she has recruited mass support from the District 4 Minnesota Department of Transportation office.

On Wednesday, 65 MnDOT employees and spouses volunteered to donate blood in honor of Ellie and to replenish the 32 units she used after she was born.

Bridget is a soils engineer with MnDOT, and Jesse is employed there too, as a construction engineer.

"They've done an unbelievable job," Dave Bauduin, who works in donor recruitment for United Blood Services, said Wednesday. "The (number of) first timers are off the charts."


Having had difficult pregnancies with her first two sons, Miller was prepared for a few bumps, but she hadn't bargained for this. She was on bed rest for more than six weeks, and had to stay in the Twin Cities so Ellie could be monitored.

She was having a difficult time living away from her two boys, Kyle and Austin.

"I was away from the boys and only would talk with them on the phone and see them on weekends. Kyle would tell me things like, 'I know you are still my mom, but it doesn't feel like I have a mom any more,' and Austin (would say) 'cut that baby out of your stomach and come back home. I want a new family; one with a mommy.'"

Besides being away from her husband and sons, Miller had plenty of time on her hands to worry about Ellie's fate.

"Knowing that the minute I have her might be the last time her little heart works, was scary beyond belief. It is hard to even think back to those days. I wanted to keep her in forever and keep her safe."

Miller had weekly ultrasounds and got to know her daughter from the inside.

"When I was given the option not to continue with the pregnancy, it really offended me. I said she is my daughter and I never want to discuss this again," Miller said.

Thankfully, she didn't listen to any other options.

"Another thing that sounded weird was when people would say, 'we are so sorry' after I had her and she was on life support of a vent. It would really bother me. I realize looking back she looked pretty freaky with all the tubes, equipment, cuts, etc., but to me she looked beautiful. She was an amazing little girl that was so cute."

After Ellie was born, she was put on life support at the Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. Through the process of ECMO, her blood was taken out of her body, had oxygen added to it and then pumped back into her body.

Because her diaphragm hadn't formed, Ellie only had half a lung on one side of her body and none on the other, and her heart had shifted to the right side of her body.

When Ellie was 3 weeks old, the Millers had left the hospital and returned to say good night to their daughter. When they arrived, they found sterilized tool trays surrounding her.

"Her heart was doing very poor. They were putting in chest tubes to try and drain all the fluid that was pooling around her heart and lungs. Jesse and I just stood by and watched," said Miller. "Everything was happening so fast they didn't have time to even tell us what was going on."

After working on Ellie, the doctor put everything down, took of his gloves, and hung his head. He told Jesse, "I'm sorry, there is nothing else we can do now. All we can do at this point is pray."

Miller said she was in denial and was upset with the nurses who were crying over her daughter. Ellie's heart had dropped to 30 percent functioning. That was when Ellie received blood and oxygen through the ECMO process.

"They didn't know if it would work or not, but they gave it a try. They had not had a kid with a 30 percent functioning heart pull through."

Now Ellie has an artificial diaphragm, has had surgeries to get her other organs back in place and is like any other 2-year-old -- for the most part.

During her time in the hospital, Ellie was given two gallons of blood, or 32 units.

"It took 32 people to save her," Miller said of her daughter.

When Ellie was on life support, she hemorrhaged and doctors told the Millers there was a possibility their daughter would be mentally retarded in the future. They started working with her immediately and trained her brain to overcome any problems the hemorraging may have caused. Ellie has no problems mentally.

One of the lifelong issues Ellie will have to deal with is the fact that because of the bypass work on her heart, she now only has one artery running into her heart and one out instead of the two in and two out the average person has.

Until Ellie hit the one-year mark, she only had a 50 percent chance of survival. Until she hit age 2, she had an 80 percent chance. She's defied those percentages and become quite the success story.

Over the last two years of growth, Ellie's lungs have grown from 50 percent and 10 percent of working to 100 percent and 98 percent. She continues to have a problem eating and has a continuous feeding tube inserted into her intestine, but Miller said by the time she starts school in a few years she should be able to get rid of the tube and backpack she wears.

According Bauduin, every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood. Ninety percent of us will need blood at one point in life, and only 5 percent give blood.

It's those 5 percent that saved Ellie.

"The MnDOT people have been so wonderful," Miller said. "I've always been so independent and thought if I need it, I can do it myself. It's not true."

It's that false understanding, especially about the availability of blood, that has Bauduin and the United Blood Services asking for donors.

"People just assume there is blood on the shelf and that's not the case," he said. He added that there needs to be 300 people a day donating blood just to "break even" for the demand.

Unfortunately, many times doctors have to tell their patients they won't live because of the lack of blood available.

"It can happen to any of us tomorrow," Bauduin said of an accident that would cause a need for blood. "We're not asking for money. It's a free gift."

At the MnDOT offices Wednesday, employees and families were lined up to give their gift of blood. They came and went through the bus that housed United Blood Services, making sure they wouldn't be the reason another child like Ellie wouldn't receive the blood they needed.

"A lot of them are first time donors," Miller said of her co-workers.

"Everybody just wanted to help."

The Millers are organizing a public blood drive in mid-August (a definite date will be announced later) in honor of Ellie.