Karlie Gill
Montgomery County
Feature Story
Karlie Gill enjoys playing with friends and preparing for gymnastics meets, but it wasn’t long ago that she faced a different battle – one that required great resiliency and strength.

At age 3, Karlie began having stomach pain. Her parents, Jason and Kacey Gill, initially thought it was a stomach bug, but the pain continued to persist. “We went to the pediatrician and even he thought it was just a bug,” Kacey said. “He recommended that she be admitted to the hospital just to get some fluids, thinking she would be better after about 24 hours.”

But instead of getting better, Karlie continued to get worse. Doctors discovered she had hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe infection caused by E.coli that affects the kidneys and can even cause kidney failure. Karlie was airlifted to Children’s of Alabama, where she was put on 24-hour dialysis. “By that point, her kidneys just weren’t working,” Jason said. “Because of that, doctors were very limited in what they could and couldn’t give Karlie to intake, whether that was food or medicine, because there was the risk of making her kidneys worse.”

The hope was between dialysis and giving time for the HUS to clear, Karlie would start to show improvement. But one day, she quit breathing. “I knew something wasn’t right,” Kacey said. “But before her nephrologist could even be called, she stopped breathing and started turning blue. All we could do was fall on our knees and pray.”

The staff at Children’s was able to revive Karlie, yet she had to be put on a ventilator and moved to Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Her body had gone septic, and because her blood pressure and heart rate spiked, she experienced a respiratory arrest and then a cardiac arrest. “We were taken to that room no one ever wants to go to, that room where the chaplain talks with you about the fact your child might not make it through the night,” Kacey said. “We hit rock bottom. We were devastated, just waiting and praying.”

After a few minutes, but what seemed like an eternity, a nurse informed Kacey and Jason that despite Karlie having two major arrests within such a short period of time, Karlie was alive, on a ventilator and in a coma. It was a waiting game to determine if the arrests did significant damage. “After a few days, she woke up and was doing OK,” Jason said. “We were able to get back on track as far as dialysis and eventually they were able to start focusing on her kidneys again.”

After much testing, an unsuccessful procedure and another bout with septic shock, Karlie held on. She underwent an emergency surgery that required doctors to remove half of her colon and appendix. “After that surgery, she started feeling so much better,” Kacey said. “It was a surgery we never wanted to see her have to endure, but it was a blessing because that’s when she started getting better and was no longer in pain.”

Karlie later had surgery to correct her small intestines and is now doing well. She returned home to Pike Road, Alabama, reunited with big sister, Kaylee, and has gone on to win bar and floor state and regional championships in gymnastics. She visits Children’s twice a year to check in with her nephrologist, Daniel Feig, M.D. And while there is talk about a kidney transplant potentially in her future, for now, she’s getting to be a regular 9-year-old girl. “You would never know what she went through just looking at her,” Kacey said. “She’s such a fighter. She hasn’t let anything stop her. She’s just our hero. She amazes us still every day.”

What has also amazed Kacey and Jason is the resiliency and dedication of the staff at Children’s. “They really became our family,” Kacey says. “And they were so great to Karlie. We knew they cared and that they wanted her better just as much as we did. We are forever grateful to them.”