Michelle Harris, a high school senior from Chicago, is headed back home after what she deems a “miracle” recovery from, granulomatosis with polyangiitis, a rare autoimmune disease that left her in need of a lung transplant.
Last year, the teen’s condition deteriorated so much that doctors thought in order to survive Harris would need a transplant. “She coded in the hospital the day before Thanksgiving and two other times after that while in Chicago,” Sharon Harris, Michelle's mother, said in a statement, referencing her daughter’s heart attack. “The Chicago doctors had given up hope. They told me she wasn’t going to make it.”
Doctors placed Michelle on a specialized machine called an EMCO, (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), that mimics the lung’s work by oxygenating the blood. Desperate for help, Harris’ parents reached out to specialists at the University of Alabama – Birmingham Hospital, where they agreed to take Harries in for further treatment. Michelle was referred to us because of our experience with ambulatory ECMO as a bridge to transplant,” explains Dr. Charles Hoopes, the chief of University of Alabama at Birmingham's Section of Thoracic Transplantation, “We decided to offer her a transplant at UAB given the low likelihood of recovery she faced. The difficulty in this is having the capability to take very sick patients like Michelle and create a functional person who can responsibly undergo the rigors of transplant.”
A special medical jet transported Michelle from Chicago to Alabama. There her doctors stated they just hoped Michelle would be healthy enough for a transplant; however, after her arrival at the specialized hospital Michelle’s organs began to recover. "One of the strengths of bringing her to UAB was so that she could be awakened and engaged in physical therapy, and that wasn’t possible" while she remained on the ECMO Unit in Chicago, Dr. Keith Wille, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine explains. Wille explained they, (the UAB doctors) were able to put Michelle on the ECMO in an easier position "where she could wake up better, participate in therapy and rely less on sedating medicines."
Weeks later, the doctors had to remove the ECMO in order to clean and reset it, this process is called a “circuit change”. Doctors were, however, shocked to see that Michelle was able to breathe on her own, without the aid of the machine. According to Shelby Bryant, a RN at the hospital says changing the ECMO is, “usually a very traumatic thing for patients; A patient’s oxygen rate can drop to the 50s, 60s or even lower.” A normal oxygen level is 97 to 100.
A slew of tests and studies later, doctors found out the months Michelle had spent on the ECMO machine had allowed her organs to heal. “Her lungs were doing 100 percent of the work,” Bryant said.
Because the treatment worked so well and Michelle’s damaged organs had recovered, the doctors stated that at this moment Michelle does not need a transplant.
“We believe that God healed my lungs," Michelle says. "I remember Dr. Hoopes kept saying it was going to take a miracle for my lungs to heal, and I remember him saying that they weren’t too optimistic that they would; but they did. They did.”
Regardless of how long she has been in the hospital, this Chicago senior well get to experience two of the biggest event high school has to offer: prom and graduation. “Those dates are very special to me,” Michelle said. “Ever since I started my senior year, I’ve been looking forward to those two days. I can’t wait to get home, continue to get better, and see my family and friends again.”
Working with a transplant coordinator, who offered to assistance her with her work for school, Michelle is expected to graduate right on schedule.
After the owners of Bella Bridesmaids heard about Michelle's miraculous recovery, they gave the senior twelve dress options to pick from so she can attend prom. "They are so beautiful. I’m still trying to decide which one to wear,” Michelle explains.