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Meet Rachael Branham

Rachael Branham

In late March 2010, Columbia firefighter Chris Branham had a stomach virus. His wife, Laura, a photographer, got the virus right after that. The Branhams had their 10-year-old daughter, Rachael, stay with her grandparents in hopes of protecting her from getting sick.

The following Monday, Rachael began running a fever of 102. "We took her to a nearby hospital for a rapid flu test, which came back positive," says Chris. Rachael was given antibiotics and sent home. The following day, Rachael's family doctor prescribed more antibiotics, but Rachael could not keep them down.

When Rachael's pediatrician, William Painter, M.D. saw her, he made immediate plans for her to be admitted to Palmetto Health Children's Hospital. Rachael's oxygen levels kept dropping and she was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

"I do EMT calls all the time, so I recognized how serious her condition was," says Chris. The Branhams became even more frightened when Rachael had to be put on a ventilator. "She didn't have a history of respiratory problems and didn't have allergies or asthma," says Chris. "Rachael continued getting worse, and then had to be put on a respiratory ossillator," says Chris. "I knew that this was not good."

Chris did not leave Children's Hospital for the next three weeks. Both of Rachael's lungs were full of pneumonia. Pediatric intensivist Elizabeth Mack, M.D. sat down with Rachael's parents and had to tell them that their daughter may not live through the night. "In addition to the pneumonia, she had developed a blood clot in her leg," says Chris.

Rachael was given medication to induce a coma. "Every day brought ups and downs. Laura and I just lived at the hospital," says Chris. "Finally, very slowly, she turned the corner and started getting better. When she was taken off the ventilator, it was a huge, risky endeavor."

"During Rachael's time in the PICU, the nurses were just amazing. They were incredibly helpful and supportive and we will always be indebted to them," says Chris.

When Rachael was awakened from her medically-induced coma, she began to improve more quickly. "But, the illness really took a toll on Rachael's body," says Chris. Rachael required 30 days of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, which she received at a rehabilitation center in Atlanta.

Because of all the class time she missed, Rachael was slowly introduced back to school. "Lake Carolina Elementary School was wonderful," says Chris. Rachael's schoolteacher, Nakita Jones, volunteered her time over that summer to help get Rachael completely caught up with the rest of her classmates.

Today, Rachael is a healthy rising 6th grader who enjoys soccer, karate, dance and tap. "This experience changed our lives completely," says Chris. "As a fireman, when I see a person in distress, it is only for a brief period of time. The doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital get very close to their patients and bond with them. Dr. Mack was with us through the worst week of our lives. When we came back to Children's Hospital to visit on Christmas Eve, Dr. Mack was there."

Chris Branham and his team of firefighters now make regular visits to Children's Hospital with a ladder truck to surprise hospitalized children. "We were even able to bring Santa Claus and his elves to Children's Hospital on a fire truck. That was such a hit that we hope to do it again this year," says Chris.