By Anis Shakirah Mohd Muslimin
Despite being born with a rare condition, Emeline Dunham continues to inspire others through her determination and character. I interviewed 11-year-old from Wapello, Iowa, who was announced as Kid Captain of the week.
When she grows up, Emeline Dunham says she wants to work in a hospital so she can help others.
The 11-year-old from Wapello, Iowa, knows what it feels like to be cooped up in a hospital room. Ever since she was born, Emeline has faced numerous health challenges.
On Saturday, Emeline will join the players on field at Kinnick Stadium as Kid Captain for the Iowa-Wisconsin football game.
The Kid Captain program highlights the stories of pediatric patients at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital while introducing them on the field during football games.
Emeline said she wanted to work in health care “to take care of people.” Besides hanging out with her friends, she also enjoys playing Wii.
In 2005, Emeline was born with Down syndrome. Her mother, Barb Dunham, said she and husband knew their child was going to be diagnosed with the genetic disorder.
“Pretty much our first ultrasound [showed] there were abnormalities that suggested Down syndrome … and lots of other ultrasounds that confirmed Down syndrome, so we knew then that she was going to have Down [syndrome],” Barb said.
Emeline was also born with two heart defects, but neither required surgery.
From then onwards, Emeline was diagnosed with a series of disorders.
When she was almost 3 years old, Emeline experienced a seizure, which Barb described as her daughter’s first “big health challenge.”
Tests later revealed that Emeline had hypoparathyroidism — a condition where the body doesn’t make enough of a hormone that regulates the calcium and phosphorus in the bones and blood.
Soon after, Emeline became sick and started vomiting and slept for unusually long periods of time, so her parents took her to the UI Children’s Hospital.
There, Emeline was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, a disorder in which the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones.
“Most people, when their bodies get sick, their adrenal glands start producing more adrenaline to fight the sickness,” Barb said. “For Emeline, because she was sick, her adrenal glands weren’t working and so her organs were shutting down instead of fighting it; she was literally dying.
“The doctors told me, ‘If you had waited another 24 hours she would be dead,’ they told me, ‘If you have families that need to see her, you need to call them now, because we don’t know where this is going to go.’”
To keep her adrenal problems under control, Emeline takes steroids three times a day, Barb said.
“That was kind of our new normal, just taking meds three and four times a day, nothing drastic had to be done,” Barb said.
It didn’t take long until a new disease started emerging. Three years later, Emeline was diagnosed with stage-three kidney disease.
“[The doctors] gave us a goal where she needed to drink three liters of water a day, and that just wasn’t working,” Barb said. So, to cope with her disease, Emeline began using a gastrostomy tube, which she uses with a backpack.
After Saturday’s game, Emeline will prepare for a kidney biopsy due to complications caused by her old kidney medications.
“Nobody wanted to do anything before the game because nobody wanted anything to go wrong that would make her miss the game,” Barb said.
Emeline said her advice to kids who are in a similar situation as hers is to take their medicine and to listen to their doctor.
“Follow [the doctor’s] directions,” Emeline said.
Eyad Hanna, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the UI Children’s Hospital, describes Emeline as strong with a loving personality.
Hanna is Emeline’s pediatric gastroenterology doctor. His first encounter with Emeline was when she was only a baby.
“She’s very articulate. I have on my cork board in my office, pictures that she’s given to me over the years, one of them is a card that says, ‘You’ve made a difference to me’; I feel the same way about her because I’ve learned a lot from her,” he said. “She’s gone through more in her short life than most go through in a lifetime.”