On January 3, 2012, Annistin and Austin Franke made their debut into this world six weeks early. After a stay in the NICU, they were on their way to being happy, healthy babies.
"They were doing great, growing how they were supposed to, eating every three hours," Amber and Blake Franke recall. "We were just getting used to being home with them when Anni got sick."
At the twins' one-month checkup with Dr. Stephen Sawyer, Shannon Clinic pediatrician, Anni exhibited some cold-like symptoms. She tested negative for RSV and Dr. Sawyer instructed Amber to bring her daughter back to the clinic in a few days if she had any fever or still wasn't feeling well.
By the end of the weekend, Anni's condition took a turn for the worst.
"I wasn't feeling well, so I didn't fully recognize she wasn't feeling quite right," Amber says. "I actually had a seizure myself that night and was admitted to the hospital. My sister-in-law and mother-in-law were taking care of Anni when she began projectile vomiting and not wanting to eat. My sister-in-law took her back to the doctor."
When the nurses saw Anni, they recognized how sick she was and notified Dr. Sawyer immediately.
"She was probably the sickest baby I have ever seen in my office," Dr. Sawyer recalls. "She was lying on the exam table, arms out to the side, whining and grimacing in pain."
On February 6, Anni was admitted to the hospital. Blood work revealed her white blood cell count was extremely high. The results of a spinal tap showed bacteria called streptococcus pneumonia, which is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in kids.
"We all have bacteria in our system—in our nose or on our body—but with Anni being premature, her risk factors for developing an infection were greater," Dr. Sawyer says. "It overwhelmed her body. This disease is preventable through immunizations, but because Anni was so young, so had not received the vaccine yet."
Anni was placed on high doses of antibiotics to combat the bacteria. During this time, Amber was still in the hospital trying to recover.
"Dr. Sawyer immediately starting Anni on antibiotics really helped her," Blake says. "It helped her start fighting back. I didn't really tell Amber how sick Anni was because I didn't want her to get worse. I would go check on Amber and make sure she was doing fine, and then I would go check on Anni and make sure she was ok. Then I would have to choose which one of them to stay with at night. It was stressful, it was tiring, I was still working. Luckily, we had help from family."
The Frankes knew Anni was going to be in the hospital for some time after the meningitis diagnosis was determined. A few days into her stay, Anni had several seizures. Results of an MRI revealed abscesses on her brain. Upon receiving this news, Dr. Sawyer informed the Frankes they needed to take Anni to Cook Children's Hospital that evening.
"This illness is 100 percent fatal if it is not treated with antibiotics," Dr Sawyer says. "It's the most serious bacterial infection found in infants. Luckily, her other siblings were not affected."
Anni spent the next seven weeks at Cook Children's. During that time, she had a weekly MRI and consults with multiple specialists including a pediatric neurologist and a neurosurgeon because they thought she may need brain surgery to deal with the abscesses. She also saw a gastroenterologist due to intestinal issues from all the medications and formula she was receiving. Meningitis can affect motor development so a physical therapist examined Anni. She saw an otolaryngologist for hearing exams. Three hearing tests revealed high frequency hearing loss in her left ear. She also received a central line to receive her medication and tubes were placed in her ears.
Amber was with her daughter the entire length of her stay. Blake would bring Austin, and their older daughter, Kennedee, to visit on the weekends and whenever he could.
"I felt horrible because I was missing my babies at home," Amber says. "I didn't get to see them or love on them, and then I felt horrible for missing them because I knew I needed to be there with Anni taking care of her. And all the pictures in the world don't do it justice. Besides Anni, getting to see her siblings on the weekend is mainly what kept me going."
By the end of March, Anni and Amber were able to come home. Anni still had her central line in place and was on seizure medications. A home health nurse visited Anni once a week to check her blood and administer her medications. The family still made trips to Cook's every two weeks and saw Dr. Sawyer the weeks in between.
"We were very protective of her," Amber remembers. "If she had a cold we were at the doctor's office."
When treated, the type of meningitis Anni contracted still has a high fatality rate of ten percent. Of the children treated, fifty percent have some sort of long-term neurological issues—seizures, mental retardation, motor problems, hearing loss. Fortunately, Anni has not experienced any further seizure activity. She was cleared from Cook Children's in September 2012. She has a slight speech delay, due to her hearing loss, and sees a speech therapist and hearing teacher. But other than her minor issues, she has caught back up to her brother.
"She is a miracle in my eyes," Dr. Sawyer says, who is grateful for the availability of equipment made possible by Children's Miracle Network and the partnership between CMN and Cook Children's, which allowed Anni to be transported quickly. "She could have passed away from this illness and she came through with minimal problems."
Amber and Blake are beyond appreciative for Dr. Sawyer and are in awe of their now typical two-year-old. They look to Philippians 4:13 and advise parents facing hard situations not to lose faith.
"Dr. Sawyer and the nurses went above and beyond to help take care of Anni. They were wonderful," Amber says. "He called and checked on her every day while we were gone. Austin had a checkup when we were in Fort Worth, and he called me to tell me how it went. Dr. Sawyer is a God-send, he saved her life."
"Anni's a little fighter," Blake says. "She and her brother like to compete with each other. They look up to their big sister and copy everything she does. There's not a day that goes by that they don't amaze us. To go through everything she has gone through and still smile, she's just incredible."