Local teen fighting for her life

Emilie Hissam (front, right) is joined in this family photo by siblings Hunter, Brandon, Addison and Alicia. (Photo courtesy Hissam family)

17-year-old Emilie Hissam has been hospitalized since February 12

By Per Peterson

Jeff Hissam finds the words hard to come by.
He doesn’t know how to describe what it’s like watching as one of his children, lying in a hospital bed, struggles to breathe. But that’s what he and his wife, Steph, were left to do after their daughter, Emilie, got sick last month.
Emilie, a 17-year-old, straight-A junior at Tracy Area High School and youth member at Victory Christian Church in Balaton with a passion for drawing, was admitted to Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center on February 12 after a week at home with influenza. She eventually contracted pneumonia, and then developed MRSA — a staph infection in her blood and lungs.
“It was hard to take, just seeing what she was going through,” Jeff said last week.
Emilie’s staph infection went away while she was in Marshall, her father said, but came back as she was transferred to Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls on February 16.
“That’s when it really went bad,” Jeff said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It kind of overwhelms you to see one of your kids suffering while they’re trying to breathe. It’s a scary feeling.”
Eventually, Emilie was placed under heavy sedation that left her in a coma-like state.
“Her eyes were shut the whole time, but a lot of the time she’d respond to a question by nodding her head,” said Jeff. It’s like she could hear you. I think she could hear us.”
Jeff can’t said doctors initally had trouble finding the exact cause of his daughter’s problems.
“We just take it one day at a time,” Jeff said. “We can’t really … we just take it as it comes. “Our goal is to get her out of (the hospital), but with every day it seems like there is a new hurdle to jump.”
According to her Caringbridge site Tuesday, Emilie recently went into septic shock and was sedated for seven days; doctors said they didn’t know if she would survive. On February 24, doctors started to wake her up and she was improving a little each day. Then on Saturday, March 2, she felt good enough for a walk. However, when she got back to her room she started coughing up blood. The diagnosis was an artery or vein hemorrhage in her lung. She lost consciousness and her heart stopped. Thirteen minutes of chest compressions got her heart started again. She is now stable with her numbers slowly improving but is still in very critical condition and not out of the woods yet.
Steph has been with her daughter in Sioux Falls ever since the ambulance dropped the two off there after the transfer from Marshall. Jeff, who just started his new job with MnDOT out of Marshall in January, stays at home with their other children and visits Emilie every weekend.
“It’s not easy,” staying home, Jeff said, “but I just tell myself that someone has got to take care of the other two at home.”
The Hissams live just south of Balaton. Steph works for Running’s Corporate office. They have four other children: older sister Alicia Oren; Brandon, a freshman at South Dakota State University; Hunter, a freshman at Tracy Area High School; and Addison, a fourth-grader at True Light in Marshall.
Jeff said he is thankful for all the help the family has received over the last few weeks — from the snow removal in their driveway courtesy of Ralco, to the congregation at Victory Church in Balaton that have helped to fill up the family’s freezer with food.
“The whole community has been asking about her, if there’s anything they can do,” Jeff said. “Just having people say they’ve been thinking about her means a lot.”

See this week’s Headlight-Herald, for more on this article.