Remi is a thriving one-year-old who Katelyn and Casey cannot imagine life without and, if not for an ultrasound, she may not be here.
Katelyn, an OB/GYN ultrasonographer for Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire, sat silent in stunned disbelief as she stared at the screen during her 20-week ultrasound.
“I wanted to check on her; I wanted to see her,” said Katelyn, Remi’s mom.
“But as I looked at her heart…my heart sunk.”
Something was wrong. Katelyn’s friend and colleague confirmed her greatest fear: her baby had a heart abnormality.
“You never expect anything to be wrong with your baby…” said Katelyn.
Remi was diagnosed with Dextro-Transposition of the great arteries. DTGA is a congenital heart defect in which the main arteries—pulmonary and aorta—exit the heart parallel as opposed to crossing. It is a rare condition—affecting one in every 3,413 babies—and it is not always immediately detected.
Which makes the discovery even more remarkable.
“If the heart defect on the ultrasound was not detected and Remi was born in Eau Claire, she would have been flown to Rochester and she may not have survived,” said Katelyn. “Her condition post-delivery was very bad.”
Katelyn relocated to Rochester when she was 37 weeks pregnant because the pediatric cardiac team was not comfortable with her being two hours away…in case Katelyn went into labor. And Remi would need immediate care.
When Katelyn arrived in Rochester, she was not familiar with the Ronald McDonald House. After Remi was diagnosed, Katelyn was referred to the House by a Mayo Clinic social worker. The House answered two key questions: how would Katelyn and Casey afford lodging and how would they maintain normalcy for their four-year-old daughter Reese?
“Reese understood she was going to be a big sister, but she didn’t understand what was happening,” said Katelyn. “My husband is a teacher and wasn’t able to take time off before Remi was born. So, I started maternity leave early and Casey stayed home with Reese.
“And every weekend they would come to Rochester and we would stay at the Ronald McDonald House…as a family.”
But the House was in the final stages of its expansion and rooms; Katelyn was placed on the waiting list. Her OB/GYN doctor in Eau Claire, whom she works with, rallied others to contribute money for Katelyn’s hotel stay until a room opened up at the House. And they made a generous donation to the House in Remi’s name.
“It was such a blessing,” Katelyn said. “And when I was induced in Rochester, Dr. Yun from Eau Claire visited me and encouraged me. It was really sweet.”
Remi June was born on May 20. She was immediately transported via ambulance from Methodist to Saint Marys—Remi needed a balloon septostomy to stabilize her heart for a few days until she was strong enough to undergo surgery. Katelyn remained at Methodist for her own recovery while Remi recovered in the NICU at Saint Marys.
Doctors conducted a major open-heart surgery—arterial switch operation—in May 2019.
“The doctor is world-renowned,” said Katelyn. “Our beautiful daughter grew stronger and stronger by the day. She simply needed time to recover.
“And we were with her because of the Ronald McDonald House.”
When Katelyn arrived in Rochester, the House was in the midst of its expansion to add more guest rooms and community spaces. Her family was staying at the House for the grand opening in May and was the first family to stay in one of the new guest rooms—two moments she says they will never forget.
“I don’t feel like we deserved to be at the House,” Katelyn said. “It’s very humbling. It was an incredible support system, not only monetarily, but in every way.
“We did not have to worry about anything—we were able to focus on our child.”
One reason they were able to focus on Remi was because of the House volunteers.
“All of the volunteers were incredible,” said Katelyn. “They always had a smile on their face and asked if we needed any help. They were there for us during the hardest and most difficult time of our life.
“Again…it’s very humbling.”
Remi has fully recovered and is living a normal life—there is nothing anatomically wrong. She can do anything any other child can do—no restrictions. She will visit a cardiologist yearly for the rest of her life, but all reports are positive thus far.
While Remi never stayed at the House, it became much more than a place to stay for her parents and sister.
“The Ronald McDonald House is the best place in the entire world,” Katelyn said. “I can’t explain it in words…it means so much to our family. It’s a significant part of our lives.”
“It’s a place we will never forget and a place we will forever support.”