When Loss Changes Everything: Ella’s Story
By Kyle Mertens, Ella’s Dad
We lost Ella five years ago (in 2017).
She first got sick on Easter and we thought it was a common illness. The next morning she still wasn’t feeling well so we took her to the E.R. They did a series of test, but didn’t find anything wrong. They released us and advised that we should contact our pediatrician on Monday.
Monday, my wife, Betty, called the pediatrician and described her symptoms. While she was talking to the nurse, Ella’s heavy breathing was overheard and we were advised to bring her in immediately. Shortly after she arrived at the pediatrician office, they requested we ambulance Ella to the hospital. We didn’t realize the severity of her condition. She had been a perfect baby, exceeding every milestone. From what we could tell she had a cold, not a serious condition.
After one night in the hospital, the staff was still concerned and they recommended we transfer to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We arrived at our room and had tens of doctors or nurses looking at our little girl. Nothing made sense so we asked when they expected we would get discharged. We were told bluntly, “Ella is much more sick than you realize”. Our stay extended and Ella had, what seemed like, hundreds of sensors attached to her little body.
We didn’t feel like we should have even been at the hospital. Yet, we were told by a hospital staff member that Ella was one of the sickest kids in the building. Nothing made sense. We had a perfect baby and in the blink of an eye we were fighting for her life.
Ella spent a few weeks in the hospital and was responding well to the medication and care. I would go home every few days to restock supplies. One of the most distinct memories in my life…I came back to the hospital one morning and Ella jumped up in her crib and yelled “DADA!”. She looked like we knew her from before she was sick and I thought we had turned a corner and everything was going to be fine.
Ella continued to improve over the coming week, and we were released. Over the next couple weeks Ella was doing well, but we brought her in for regular checkups. We never lost the anxiety from her medical issues, but we were hopeful with how she was seemingly improving.
On May 15th, I was sitting in a conference room leading a meeting. My Cousin, and best friend Don, came into the room and shouted “Betty is trying to reach you, about Ella”. I ran from the building and learned that Ella was being transported to the hospital.
Ella was at daycare and her lips had started turning blue. The daycare workers called Betty asking what they should do and she told them to call an ambulance and get her to a hospital immediately.
When I arrived at the hospital Ella was in the emergency room receiving care from countless medical professionals. They planned to have her air-lifted back to Children’s Hospital. But, the helicopter only had room for one passenger. So, I told Betty, “I will meet you at Children’s, but you’ll probably beat me there”.
I did not beat her there. I arrived and the helicopter was not there yet.
Through video call, Betty explained that Ella had complications as they were preparing her for the helicopter. The medical professionals were performing CPR on our little girl. Time stood still as the doctors told us, “I’m sorry, she’s gone”. Everything after that moment became a blur and it felt like I was in a nightmare that just wouldn’t end.
We miss our little girl every day. I imagine anyone reading this story is missing their little one in a similar way. After our tragedy we made a conscious decision that something good would come out of Ella’s life.
We chose to start the Ella Marie Endowment Fund through St. Louis Children’s Hospital, to hopefully prevent our tragedy from happening to other families. The money that we raise all goes toward funding pediatric heart research. Our main fundraiser is an annual trivia night that we hold the weekend of her birthday. We really think of it as a birthday celebration for her and we’re able to keep her memory alive with hundreds of people supporting her fund.
Also, through our grief we decided that we wouldn’t let the loss of Ella destroy our marriage. We made intentional efforts to connect and share where we were on our grief journey. We kept up with our notes in a journal. We took the notes from our journal to write a book, Unraveled: When Loss Changes Everything. The mission for our book is very similar to what Just Enduring is setting out to do, coming alongside the reader and helping them figure out how to move forward when dealing with a difficult loss.
When you can’t change a terrible situation, the best thing you can do is stay positive and find any good that could come out of the situation.
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