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Kuna High Football Player Makes a Miraculous Recovery After Infection Turned Life Threatening

Elijah Minnick returns to St. Luke's to say a healthy hello to the PICU staff who took care of him for more than two months.
March 14, 2014

By Kayti Proctor - St. Luke's Public Relations

Kuna High School junior, Elijah Minnick, was a healthy and active 17-year-old until he and his twin brother both came down with the flu at the end of December.

His brother, Jonah, kicked the bug quickly, but Elijah still was not feeling well. Elijah had an appointment to see a doctor the Monday before New Year's, but the family had no way of predicting that by the weekend’s end, Elijah would be teetering on the brink of organ failure with his life on the line.

Elijah is a tough teen. He plays multiple sports for Kuna High School including left tackle for the football team alongside his brother who plays left guard. The weekend before his appointment Elijah's condition worsened. Elijah felt he could tough it out, but on Dec. 29 he started having cold sweats and feeling pressure on his chest.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me” Elijah recalled saying to his brother, Jonah who had stayed at his side. Elijah's temperature soon spiked to 103 degrees.

The last thing that Elijah remembers is going into a half conscious daze as his mother, Karen, drove him to the emergency room at St. Luke’s in Meridian

Everyone describes Elijah as a sweet and respectful young man but, in his feverish state, Elijah subconsciously went into fight-mode while being admitted to St. Luke’s. He had to be restrained by several nurses and security guards.

Elijah (center right) stands tall once again along with his twin brother, Jonah (center left), mother, Karen (right) and the St. Luke's Chaplain, Karla Sampson (left).

Panicked, Karen was shocked by how quickly her son’s health had deteriorated. She immediately called her husband and  her sister who is a nurse at a children’s hospital in Los Angeles.

Because of the seriousness of his condition, Elijah was intubated to help him breath. It wasn’t long before his vital organs began to shut down, so he was transported to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital where a team of doctors and nurses awaited.

“All of the staff was right there welcoming us… totally ready for whatever was coming to them.” Karen said, recalling her  arrival to St. Luke’s as they wheeled Elijah out of the ambulance.

While still very afraid and confused about her son’s condition, Karen marveled at the structured process between the doctor and nurses while they worked furiously to attach all necessary machines.

“It wasn’t everyone talking back and forth and seeming jumbled, it was very controlled.” Karen said.

The initial hours in the PICU were a blur for the Minnick family as they waited for the status reports from Dr. Derrick Dauplaise as he and his team tried to stabilize Elijah.

It had been more than 24 hours since any member of the family had slept. Jonah had been awake for more than 30 hours to be with his brother.

The twin brothers have done almost everything together throughout their lives from sports to social events. Seeing his brother fighting for his life was tough on Jonah. “We have pretty much never left each other’s side our entire life” Jonah said.

Jonah (left) and Elijah (right) have been side-by-side throughout every aspect of life.

During that first night, Dr. Dauplaise came to the exhausted family with three rules.

“He said, you have to be eating, you have to be drinking and you have to be sleeping or I will kick you out,” Karen explained with a laugh. “He just said, we will take care of him, you need to go rest.”

Just before the dawn of the New Year was the first time any of the family slept.

Elijah was in a coma for nearly two weeks. During this time, Karen posted pictures on Facebook as suggested by the boys’ football coach, Lee Leslie.

Coach Leslie awarded the Minnick’s the Family of the Year award in 2012 at Kuna High. Karen explained that during football season, Elijah and Jonah were the only players who thanked the coach for his challenging workouts.

“He said that in twenty-something years of coaching, he had never had players say ‘thank you’ after basically beating them into the ground,” she said with a laugh.

Kuna High School Football Coach Lee Leslie gives his team a pep talk before a game.

The strength and discipline gained from the football field paid off. On Jan. 13, Elijah woke from his coma. He was incredibly weak - yet fiercely determined to recover. Elijah had lost more than 40 pounds. While in the coma, his family and nurses continued to move his hands, feet, arms and legs to help maintain range of motion.

“I don’t think I could let go because I feel like I need to be there for my family.” Elijah said.

On Jan. 15, with the help of several physical therapists Elijah was the first St. Luke’s children’s hospital patient to walk while still on a ventilator. This is a new physical therapy procedure that had previously only been implemented in the adult intensive care unit.

After Elijah's breathing improved, the intubation tube was removed. He was awake and not in physical pain, but the doctors had not cleared him to drink water. He was incredibly thirsty.

“It was terrible. When you feel like you’re dying from thirst… even if you know why they can’t give you water, it’s really frustrating,” he said.

Elijah was the first PICU patient at St. Luke's to stand up and walk while still on a ventilator.

Elijah’s nurse, Kristen, helped him through this rough patch by telling him that once he was cleared to drink water, she would buy him the biggest coldest water bottle in the hospital. It didn’t surprise Elijah that there was with a half-gallon jug of ice-cold water waiting for him when he was cleared to drink.

Karen said she was moved by the compassion of the staff taking care of her son and their family.

“It’s a very risky place to be for them to be, emotionally," Karen said. "They put themselves out there and love the kids even when they are not sure if they are going to survive. To love kids that you could lose and to identify with the families that are going through it, I mean, how heroic is that?”

Elijah was released from St. Luke’s on Feb. 4. While he continues to return for appointments, he is on the fast-track to a full recovery and has returned to school part-time with a plan of going back to full time soon.

Looking back, Karen still has a hard time contemplating how her son went from being a healthy teenager to having with a strep infection that ultimately brought him to the brink of death.  That first infection expanded to life threatening conditions including influenza, pneumonia, respiratory stress disorder, renal failure, and scarlet fever.

Through it all, the family never lost faith in the physicians and caregivers at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital who were determined to save Elijah.

“It was a beautiful demonstration. We felt privileged and honored to be part of the St. Luke’s family. We wanted to say thank you and make sure they know that we noticed” Karen said.

Elijah never gave up, and he knows he couldn't have pulled through without their support and dedication.

“The way they cared for me and my family means the world to me. I can’t thank the PICU staff enough,” Elijah said. To see more of Elijah's story watch the video below.

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