Last summer, Helen Lynn, who turns 3 this week, visited Hyatt Lake and Applegate Lake with her family and took swimming lessons at the Ashland YMCA.
She has a little white swimsuit with red flowers, and she loves to splash around and dive for rings.
But this summer will be different. Unless the water is chlorinated correctly, Helen can't swim. She can't even splash around in a bathtub or play with a pail of water unsupervised.
Helen was diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease last fall and wears a permanent catheter in her abdomen as she undergoes dialysis daily. She can't swim because she can't risk getting an infection at the catheter site.
"She always looked forward to swimming lessons, and I've been taking her since she was 3 months old," says Lauren Lynn, Helen's mom. The Lynns, formerly of Ashland, moved to Medford last year.
In August, Helen contracted an ugly strain of E. coli from an unknown source and a subsequent bout of hemolytic uremic syndrome that landed her in the pediatrician's office, followed by two trips to the emergency room. On Sept. 1, Helen was taken to Doernbecher Children's Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
"I knew things were bad, but I didn't know how bad," Lauren says. "Within 12 hours of arriving, she had a surgery to put in hemodialysis catheters and a central line so doctors could get samples of her blood every day."
Pregnant with her second daughter, Lauren stayed with Helen at the hospital during her 60-day stay. Helen's dad, Byron Lynn, a Mercy Flights pilot, visited every weekend.
"She had all the nurses at the hospital wrapped around her finger," Lauren says.
Helen was fed through IVs and received hemodialysis daily. The hemodialysis did the job of her kidneys by filtering the blood of waste and extra fluids.
At first, doctors thought her kidneys would recover, and she would no longer need the dialysis. But as the severity of her diagnosis became apparent, they realized that wouldn't be an option. In March, doctors recommended a kidney transplant.
Although a match for the transplant has yet to be found, Lauren is hoping the procedure will take place sometime this year.
In the meantime, the Lynns are administering peritoneal dialysis from their home in Medford.
Around 8:30 p.m. every day, they don their face masks, wash their hands with antibacterial soap, bleach the dialysis equipment and hook Helen's catheter to the suitcase-sized machine.
"It has a series of pumps and every hour the fluid goes into her body and sits in what's called a 'dwell' for roughly an hour and then exits the body," Lauren says. "The toxins in her body are attracted to this liquid through osmosis."
The dialysis runs for nine hours and shuts off around 6 a.m. To Helen, this is known simply as "belly juice."
Lauren says she is tied to the house most days of the week with her "little dynamite" and her now 2-month-old daughter, Addison. Helen may not be able to swim or go camping this summer, but she takes a hip-hop dance class and Music Together class in Ashland with her best friend, Bodhi Jukes, 2.
Through it all, Lauren counts her blessings. Her family has good medical insurance through Mercy Flights, which also offers free medevac flights to its employees.
On Friday morning, Helen could barely sit still for her music class at the Oak Street Dance Studio in Ashland. She chased Bodhi around in her little teal tutu, rang bells with her mom and followed teacher Laurie Finear's movements and rhythms.
"She's got a lot of spunk," says Lauren. "She's just a happy kid ... and very resilient."
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