Doernbecher advocate and Wilsonville resident Chloë Lam turns lemons into lemonade
This article has been updated from its original version
As his ill daughter Chloë Lam was being whisked to Doernbecher Children's Hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) and doctors were scrambling to determine a remedy, Wilsonville resident Ronald Lam asked a doctor a question most parents only have to ask in a nightmare: "Are we at risk of losing our daughter?"
When the response didn't ease her fears, Chloë's mother Sako Lam fainted.
"One of the nurses had to catch her (Hisako) before she hit the floor and they ended up pushing her in a wheelchair to the ICU behind us," Ronald Lam said. "It was so surreal."
That moment, fortunately, was the worst scene in a tumultuous act. And Chloë has since flipped the script.
Doctors helped stabilize Chloë's condition and, ultimately, saved her life. And after leaving the hospital in 2016, Chloë, 13, has spent subsequent years raising money with her friends Kate Cutting and Sarah Mason by selling lemonade at lemonade stands. To this date, they have raised close to $5,000 for Doernbecher.
"It teaches you that you may face something difficult but it can turn into something wonderful," Hisako Lam said.
A nearly deadly infection
For Chloë, the fateful day in fifth grade began like any other and she was even performing cartwheels at recess. But when she got home from school, she could hardly walk.
"She was like a zombie. She said 'I'm so tired.' She almost collapsed to the floor," Hisako Lam said.
Hours later, Chloë' started screaming and saying "It hurts." And her mother found that her temperature had reached 104 degrees. Sako Lam was not initially overly concerned and a doctor told Ronald Lam that her symptoms seemed like meningitis. But when they visited Doernbecher, they surmised that she had streptococcus and the doctor prescribed her pills to quell the infection.
When they returned home, Chloë's symptoms only worsened. For one, she threw up everything including water and medicine. But even scarier for her parents, Chloë complained that she couldn't see anything and her skin turned a pale yellow. Then, according to Sako Lam, Chloë's eyes rolled backward like a character in a horror movie and she passed out.
"It was the scariest thing you've ever seen," Chloë's mother said.
When they called 911, the emergency responders couldn't perform intravenous therapy (IV) on Chloë because her veins were too small. Then she transported her to Doernbecher. When they got there, the doctors said she had low blood pressure and was severely dehydrated.
The doctors hooked her up to many IVs but they weren't hydrating her fast enough and Chloë's kidneys were failing. Then, doctors told the Lams that they were taking Chloë to the ICU. And that's about the moment Ronald Lam asked the question about Chloe's fate.
"I remember it was like someone poured a bucket of cold water into my face," he said. "You watch hospital dramas on TV and the ICU is where people are seriously injured or dying."
The Lam family's fortunes began to turn for the better when the doctor stuck an IV with antibiotics into her ephemeral vein, which required a 45-minute procedure and stabilized her to a degree.
However, her blood pressure remained low and her temperature stayed well above 100 degrees.
Two days later, the infectious disease specialist told them that Chloë likely had toxic shock syndrome, caused by a rare form of strep.
In Ronald's research he found that there were only 300 other cases of the disease nationwide and that in England, they used to call it "lightning death."
However, Chloë's form of the syndrome was easy to treat with the right antibiotics and Chloë's health almost immediately improved after she received the appropriate antibiotics. The doctors saved her kidneys and her life.
"They said we were hours away. They said we got her in on time to reverse the effects of it," Ronald Lam said.
When they found out the good news that Chloë was improving, the Lams cried from relief and smiled for the first time in days.
Returning the favor
Chloë went into acute care for another day or so and then was quarantined at home for the next 30 days. During that time, through inspiration from Youtube, she drummed up an idea to thank Doernbecher for their work to save her. She decided to set up a lemonade stand and donate the sales to the hospital network. And she asked her longtime friends Sarah and Kate to help.
"I couldn't say no to that," Kate said.
"She (Chloë) knows what she wants so when she wants to do something she'll find a way to make it happen," Sako Lam said. "The lemonade stand is no different."
The family has set up stands at Rice Time, Izumi Japanese Steakhouse, in their driveway, First Tech Credit Union, Wilsonville High School and at the Fun in the Park event, among other locations. And First Tech decided to match the girls' donations to Doernbecher during one sale.
"It's kind of fun doing it together. We just sit there have fun waiting for customers and trade off jobs," Kate said.
Chloë has also been featured by the Portland Trail Blazers through their former Dunks for Doernbecher program and is a "champion" for Doernbecher's Children's Miracle Network, which is a fundraising campaign for the hospital. As a champion, Chloë shares her story with others, meets with organizations and supports fundraising efforts. Doernbecher is also hoping that schools outside of Wilsonville High in the West-Linn-Wilsonville School District will join its Kids Making Miracles program, where schools undergo fundraising efforts to raise money for Doernbecher.
Asked why she does all this for Doernbecher, Chloë says: "Because they saved my life."
Julie Robertson, the assistant director of corporate and community development at the OHSU and Doernbecher Foundations, hopes Chloë is an inspiration for others.
"For a young child to go through something like she went through, being in the pediatric ICU, I can only imagine how scary that would be for a young girl," she said. "To come out on the other end and feeling so inspired to give back is truly a heartwarming story and something we are so grateful for at the foundation."
Chloë was still her rambunctious self after the health scare but felt separation anxiety from her parents for a while afterward.
But the event may have impacted Sako the most.
She didn't allow Chloë to play sports for a period and nearly homeschooled her due to her worry that germs could cause another similar episode. However, she said both Boeckman Creek Primary School and Meridian Creek Middle School have made her feel more at ease, agreeing to take extra measures including notifying her when one of Chloë's schoolmates has some sort of contagious illness so that Chloë can stay home from school on those days. She's hoping to establish a similar relationship at Wilsonville High when Chloë is a freshman next year.
"I'm pretty sure I'll be forever worried," Sako said. "I'm pretty sure it's (extra precautions) not necessary but it's nice to feel safe that, even if she gets sick, she's not going to be left."
Nevertheless, Chloë is readying for volleyball season, enjoys spending time with her friends and leads a normal life. It might not come as a surprise that she wants to be a doctor when she's older.
Though scared that her health might deteriorate again, Chloë's mother appreciates how her daughter has turned a negative into a positive.
"I'm so proud of her," she said.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the school Chloë Lam attends. It is Meridian Creek Middle School
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