Family relies on Hershey Medical Center for treatment of daughter’s cardiac arrest

During his brief stay on the planet, Bristol had never had a heart problem. No other Miller either, nor any member of his wife’s family. It had struck from the clear blue sky.

Josh took over CPR, and then inside the ambulance as it sped towards WellSpan York Hospital, he “went to work”, he said.

He used electric shocks from a defibrillator to restart his heart. It revived her, but only temporarily. She slipped in and out of consciousness. Josh found Bristol’s heart beating. There was a rhythm. He just wasn’t pumping blood.

The ambulance arrived at WellSpan York Hospital where, as the family would have it that day, Bristol’s mother, Leah, was waiting. Leah Miller is a nurse practitioner in the hospital’s cardiology unit.

“For both of us, it was kind of helpful that we both worked in medicine,” she said. “You are capable of trying to withdraw from being a family member. You don’t think about the fact that it’s your child.

To Hershey

Within 10 minutes, hospital staff decided to airlift Bristol to Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. Leah’s parents drove her and her husband down Pennsylvania State Route 83 and out of York County to the glass and steel hospital buildings in Hershey that would become their home for weeks. Two days of testing and monitoring passed before doctors in the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital were able to tell the Millers the game plan. Bristol needed surgery to implant a defibrillator, a small battery-powered device that would help regulate his heartbeat.

But it was not so simple, as it turned out. Doctors convinced Bristol of sedation and, within four days, implanted the defibrillator. Two days after his operation, Bristol suffered a seizure. Hershey’s medical staff took her back to intensive care. They calmed her down again and put her on a ventilator to help her breathe. She stayed like that for a week.

Cardiac arrest in a baby is ‘very, very rare’, says Dr. Jason Imundo, the pediatric electrophysiologist who treated Bristol. “What’s even rarer is a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital where they end up fine. I really give his parents all the credit for saving his life.

Like most doctors at Children’s Hospital, Imundo works with parents dealing with difficult situations almost every day. But few, if any, have been as adept as the Millers at handling it, he said. Along with saving his life with the defibrillator, the family calmly presented Imundo with all relevant facts and details about Bristol’s condition.

“They were great people to deal with,” Imundo said. “What I love most about pediatrics is the contact with families, and they [the Millers] are simply the best example we can give.

But the long days tested the family’s tried resolve. Josh and Leah have moved into Bristol’s hospital room. They canceled the job and never left their daughter. Whenever they slept, it was sitting on chairs or lying where they could find space.

“You try to lead a normal life,” Leah said. Friends and neighbors sent meals to the hospital. The Airville Fire Department sent a care package.

The weeks have passed. After doctors resuscitated Bristol, she developed a high fever, the result of an infection around a blood clot in her heart. She fought him. After a month and a half, the Millers could take her home.

Your typical 5 year old

Those hard weeks of four years ago recede into the past. Bristol is now 5 years old, and if this perilous period has infiltrated the personality of the little girl, Josh and Leah do not realize it. She loves to dance, draw and play with her Barbies. Last fall, she started ballet lessons. “He’s your typical 5-year-old,” Leah said.

A possible effect of the ordeal on her personality – visits to the doctor and dentist don’t seem to bother her. In June, she visited Hershey for her six-month checkup with the cardiologist. She is fine. The implanted defibrillator is still there, but no subsequent arrhythmia caused it to shock the little girl’s heart. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy, but no one knows if the epilepsy caused his cardiac arrest. The jury is still out on the reason for her crisis.

Meanwhile, Imundo continues to see Bristol on dates. He will test her at children’s hospital when she is older to hopefully determine the cause of her cardiac arrest and prevent others. The defibrillator will need a new battery in the future or may need to be replaced. This will require another surgery.

Josh and Leah show photographs of Bristol from her days at Hershey, when she was hooked on tubes and wires. They ask if she remembers. She says she does. They doubt it. She was so small.

But has the Bristol crisis changed his family? They’re used to being turned to when the chips are down and have seen more than their share of good people taken to extremes.

But it was one of them.

Every parent protects their child. But the Millers admit they may be holding Bristol a little tighter.

“It probably changed us,” Leah said. “Maybe in a way that we don’t want to admit.”