‘He’s a miracle’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sonya and Kerry Dyess of Opp have already received a wonderful Christmas present this year.

Earlier this summer, their 7-year-old son Kolby contracted the H1N1 flu virus and spent one and a half months in various hospitals as doctors worked to save his life. Kolby first had trouble breathing at home Fri., July 24, and was quickly sent to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, where doctors realized the virus had started to attack the boy’s lungs and was creating holes in the tissue.

He was quickly transported to Children’s Health Care in Atlanta on Wed., July 29.

“It was really scary for a while,” Sonya Dyess said. “When he was first flown to Atlanta, the doctors in Pensacola said he might only have a 40-50 percent chance of survival.”

In Atlanta, doctors connected Kolby to an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, which adds oxygen to a person’s blood and also provides breathable oxygen into the lungs. Dyess said Kolby was in a drug-induced coma for 18 days while he was connected to the ECMO machine.

The family was especially concerned because Kolby was the first child H1N1 patient to be connected to the ECMO machine in Atlanta, and doctors were not sure what the boy’s reaction would be or if the procedure would work. Dyess said she was at peace — hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.

“I remembered the story in the Bible of Abraham being ready to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God,” said Dyess, whose family attends Country Cathedral. “And I realized that I might have to be ready to do the same. But, at the same time, I also remembered that God — at the last minute — sent a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of Isaac. I just remember praying and asking God for the same thing.”

Dyess said she wasn’t the only one praying, either.

“I really just had an amazing peace during the experience,” she said. “I know I was praying, and family and friends back home were praying. Kolby made such an incredible turnaround that other families at the hospital asked me to pray for their children as well, because they saw how much it was helping Kolby. I know that if it wasn’t for prayer and trust in God, he wouldn’t be here today.”

Dyess was able to stay at the hospital in Atlanta during Kolby’s entire treatment. He finally came home for the first time on Thurs., Sept. 10, where he was greeted back by friends, classmates and teachers.

“He’s done amazingly well,” she said. “He missed seven weeks of class, but he’s done an amazing job of catching up and he made the A/B honor roll this semester. He’s just a miracle.”

Watching Kolby today, it is hard to believe the boy was once so dangerously sick. He is breathing normally, and doing the things most little boys do — playing outside, laughing and enjoying spending time with his 5-year-old brother, Kasey.

Kolby’s memories of the hospital are still fuzzy, but the images that linger in his mind are happy ones.

“I remember they had this big screen where you could push buttons and pictures would appear,” he said, referring to a game in the Atlanta hospital. “One was an octopus. Downstairs, there was ‘The Zone,’ and they had a Wii and mini golf course, but the coolest thing was the koi pond.”

He even laughs off the initial helicopter trip to Sacred Heart in Pensacola, remembering that his parents could not travel with him on the flight and instead had to follow in their car.

“I thought a car was slower than a helicopter,” he said.

Dyess said that since returning home, she can’t count the number of people who have remarked how healthy Kolby looks.

“When he first came out of the coma, the doctors told me that we had to be ready for anything, because he had ‘been asleep’ for weeks,” she said. “But he was always so pleasant; he hardly ever cried, which was amazing. He didn’t seem to have any memory loss, and he was able to breathe normally. He only needed to go to therapy twice, because he improved so quickly.

“Every time I see Kolby, I can’t help but thank God for what a blessing and miracle he is.”