Evelyn Kluka
Madison County
Feature Story
In watching 3-year-old Evelyn Kluka run and play, you’d never guess she spent five weeks of her young life at Children’s of Alabama with an enlarged heart. “There were never any signs of a problem during pregnancy,” said Evelyn’s mother, Kara. “Everything was completely normal until one day it just wasn’t.”

The changes were subtle at first. Evelyn’s breathing changed randomly. “It was one episode of her breathing getting deeper,” Kara said. “We weren’t too concerned right away, but I couldn’t rest until we talked to her pediatrician to make sure.”

Because of Evelyn’s age—she was only 5 weeks old at the time—her pediatrician recommended a trip to the emergency room. The family drove from their home in Madison to the hospital in Huntsville. All of the tests came back normal, but then Evelyn had another breathing episode. This time, however, Kara caught it on video and showed the emergency room doctor when he came back in the exam room. “As soon as he saw it, he immediately said that wasn’t normal,” Kara said. “He began ordering so many more tests. That’s when everything drastically changed.”

Doctors grew more concerned about Evelyn when her vitals suddenly spiraled out of control and she was placed on oxygen. The hospital quickly moved her from the pediatric emergency room to the intensive care unit, where a chest X-ray revealed an enlarged heart. “The doctor came in and told us she was incredibly sick and needed to get to Children’s immediately via MedFlight,” Kara said. “We didn’t even know if she would even make it to Children’s.”

Children’s of Alabama sent its own Critical Care Transport team to Huntsville to pick up Evelyn while Kara and her husband, Michael, drove to Birmingham. “Children’s deciding to send its own flight team to pick her up ended up being huge,” Kara said. “They were able to get her better stabilized. When we got to Birmingham and saw her, she was much more stable.”

Doctors expected Evelyn to be placed on ECMO upon arrival, but she stabilized enough to not need it. The conversation quickly turned to the need for a heart transplant when Evelyn was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. “Doctors sat with us and explained that there was no surgical option to repair the heart,” Kara said. “We knew we needed a miracle.”

Doctors told the Klukas that Evelyn could remain hospitalized for up to year while waiting for a new heart. In the meantime, Evelyn was prescribed various medications to help her heart function. “We were blown away with everyone at Children’s,” Kara said. “We went from not really knowing about Children’s to basically living there, and everyone was so kind. The nurses would just love on Evelyn and bring books to our son, Camden. The whole staff was so loving to our family.”

A few weeks after Evelyn’s diagnosis, an echocardiogram test showed her heart had begun to heal. Doctors began to wean her off some medications, and in another few weeks, Evelyn’s name was removed from the transplant list and she was discharged home. Kara said Evelyn’s recovery can be attributed to faith, prayer and the expertise of Evelyn’s care team at Children’s.

“I remember to this day getting the letter that she had been taken off the transplant list. It was the best letter we’ve ever gotten,” Kara said. “We’re giving to God because it was the miracle we’d been praying for.”

The Klukas continue to visit Children’s for Evelyn’s checkups and tests, which continue to show good heart function. As Evelyn’s heart continues to heal and get stronger, her family is grateful for the miraculous and much needed care received at Children’s. “God has done so much for Evelyn already and we fully believe she will be healed,” Kara said. “As hard and scary as this process has been, we contribute so much of the positive outcome to Children’s. The doctors, nurses and staff there are so knowledgeable and caring. They are such a gift, and we are so fortunate to have a hospital like that in Alabama. They’ve left a huge footprint on our hearts.”