How it All Began
Most companies begin with a vision, invention or gap in the market. Other times it begins when a parent’s life reaches rock bottom.
I will never forget the day the doctors sent my daughter home to die. That day should have been the end. But instead, it became the beginning.
It was the last day of school in 2006, and I think I was more excited than my children for the summer. As a teacher, I always looked forward to that extra time with my children, Blake and JeAnnah, ages 11 and 9. Unbeknownst to me, my world as I knew it was to change in an instant.
Every morning before teaching I would go to my coffeehouse to start the baking. My dad would come over, get the kids ready for school: feed them, read the Bible with them and send them off with prayer time. That morning he called me soon after the kids were up to tell me JeAnnah was struggling to walk, missing her mouth as she tried to feed herself, walking as if she was drunk. He took her to the Emergency Room. I notified the school I would miss my morning classes. I had no idea how seriously ill JeAnnah was.
By the time JeAnnah got to the hospital, she could no longer walk. I arrived a few minutes later and found the doctors confused with her rapid regression. The lumbar puncture gave us news we did not want to hear; the tap revealed JeAnnah’s white blood cell count was hundreds of times higher than normal; she was diagnosed with viral encephalitis. Due to the brain swelling, JeAnnah quickly began slipping away.
Little JeAnnah, despite the bleak outlook and lack of any apparent hope, hung on to life, fought the odds and survived. She was left severely brain damaged and functioned at the level of a child 11-14 months old. The damage left her legally blind, unable to walk or talk, having seizures. Her mental and physical capacity went from that of a healthy, happy 9-year-old to an 11-month infant almost overnight.
Traditional medicine left us with a prognosis that JeAnnah’s seizures would increase, and she would eventually die in her sleep. My life went from teaching and working my coffeehouse, to the 24-hour caregiver, daily taking her to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. We were learning to live a new life, that of having a disabled child, wheelchair barriers, constant appointments, and the enormous emotional strain on the family.
Despite our best efforts, JeAnnah was regressing. I searched in desperation for anything to help her. I began to scour the globe looking for any hope to minimize JeAnnah’s condition. Again and again, I reached one dead end after another. Although I began to feel that my search might be futile, I never completely lost hope.
Eventually, I joined an international support group for parents of children with encephalitis, where the grim stories of others sounded like a broken record. Within a month of joining the group, two children died, and I began to feel my story soon would become part of the record. That’s when an email from a parent in the support group from Malaysia gave me a glimmer of hope.
The email read ”Have you ever heard of hbot? My son was a near drown victim 18 years ago. He did hbot, and the girl in the chamber next to him sounds like your daughter. She started on a gurney, then a wheelchair, then a walker, and left dancing!” I remember thinking what on earth is hbot? A chamber? Moreover how do I get it for JeAnnah? I began rapidly searching the Internet for information. I had hope at last!
My search of Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) found that it is used commonly around the world for neurological damage in children. But unfortunately not in the US and not as easy as I had hoped. Short of leaving the country, there were not many options as hospitals in the United States that use HBOT, don’t use it to treat brain damage. Not to mention I did not have the support of any of her doctors; every one of her them told me it was a waste of my time. One went as far as doing everything he could to block her from treating.
I was not able to leave JeAnnah with others, as her care was too difficult. However, my mom convinced me to go work the coffeehouse for a few hours one Saturday morning to get some relief. It was not long after being there when a frequent customer came in who was an emergency room doctor. Out of ideas and nothing to lose, I decided to tell him about JeAnnah and my email about HBOT. Expecting the same response, I about fell over when he interrupted.
“Stop,” he said. “I was just trained as a doc in hyperbaric medicine.”
Rob agreed to introduce me to the doctor who did his hyperbaric training, Dr. Stephen Guthrie, MD.; he also was researching the effect on viruses in hyperbarics.
Dr. Guthrie didn’t really believe anything could help restore her to normal as the damage was severe; however, he was kind and agreed to help. He arranged for a meeting with the doctor who oversaw the hyperbaric unit at the hospital. The thrill was beyond explanation when I pushed JeAnnah into his office with my parents in tow to see about getting her treated there. He didn’t quite see things the same way.
He informed me that hyperbarics is for wound care, and a few other conditions, but not for brain damage. I quickly pulled out my evidence, an e-mail from a mom! I had proof! He looked me in the eyes and told me nothing was going to get her better. I debated back and forth with the doctor; I knew in my heart this was her only hope!
It was then another doctor listening in the hall popped his head in and exclaimed that such treatment was done all the time in his country. The doctor in charge then agreed to try but said treatment would have to be private pay, as insurance would not cover it. I had offers of help with fundraising, and though I didn’t know the cost, I didn’t see it as an obstacle. The nurse put JeAnnah on the schedule to start HBOT the following Monday. Things were looking up!
The next day I received a call from the hospital. Not only was it going to be private pay, the cost was $72,000 up front before she could start. The treatments were $2,000 a day, and they knew she would need at least 40. I begged her to let her start, promising to get the money, but the answer was NO.
Feeling devastated, the hope of her healing, of saving her life, was pulled away from me with one phone call. I had no money, no equity in the house, old cars….where does one get that kind of money and fast? I felt a helplessness that no parent should have to feel. Through a journey of events, by God’s grace, we were able to start her treatments at a regional hospital 10 days later. As far as anyone can tell us at the time, she was the only child treated in a hospital using HBOT for brain damage anywhere in the country.
JeAnnah’s progress was miraculous!
I started to see the fruits of our journey. Prior to starting HBOT, I had multiple therapists evaluate JeAnnah’s functioning level. She was 10 years old at the time she started HBOT, and the test showed her functioning between 11-14 months of age. The goal of treating her was to give her a better quality of life, no matter how short it may be. I never expected her to walk or really recover, but any improvements would be a blessing. Following her first hyperbaric treatment, JeAnnah’s condition improved immensely. She could kneel, not only was she kneeling but she was doing a half kneel while singing the chicken dance throwing a ball against a trampoline, all of which she was unable to do the day before. After almost three months of hyperbaric therapy, JeAnnah did the inconceivable and danced in the Nutcracker as if nothing had happened. I got my daughter back.
Medical experts and therapist working with JeAnnah were stunned at her progress. HBOT was not traditionally offered for neurological conditions, and though
After my experience, I realized I received a gift. There was far more potential for this treatment that was being overlooked by traditional medicine. I was called with a passion I could not ignore. I then opened
I was amazed at the healing we saw, but I also saw more kids come through the doors who could not afford the many treatments that insurance does not cover. I couldn’t accept seeing these children suffer knowing that there is something that could help them. With the encouragement of some of the families that came to Oxford Recovery Center, I founded Oxford Kids Foundation in 2010.
Oxford Kids Foundation
Oxford Kids Foundation (OKF) a 501c3 organization, was founded in 2010 by Dr. Tami Peterson, Ph.D. It is dedicated to helping children in Michigan with disabilities, chronic illness, and traumatic injuries have access to therapies and medical care not covered by insurance. These therapies, they desperately need but cannot afford, can help recover these children and give them back the life they deserve. Today, its largest fundraiser is through its annual gala with a goal of over $120K. “As thrilled as we are at the outpouring of generosity that our supporters give, there are so many more children who are the most beautiful people one could ever meet, that need your support,” said Dr. Peterson. Please join the OKF Gala’s top sponsors ABC Group & Todd Sheppelman and Oxford Recovery Center to support these children. Information can be found at www.oxfordkidsfoundation.org
MyFox Detroit Video Script
This is JeAnnah, a year ago on Christmas. 9 years old, healthy, jumping, normal, with no indication that 6 months later she’ll look like this. Unable to speak, move, see, and hold her head up. In June, JeAnnah got the chicken pox. Out of nowhere she’s dizzy, confused, and then unconscious. Her heartbeat out of rhythm, she stops breathing, her kidneys malfunction, she’s fed through IV’s. The Chicken Pox has become Encephalitis, a rare infection of the brain. Her mother is warned, her perfect little girl is likely paralyzed and will need a wheelchair. “She doesn’t need a wheelchair,” her mother says, “she’ll walk. You know I… She needs a wheelchair, and I realized my daughter was truly disabled. It was hard.” JeAnnah starts therapy to learn to speak and move. “We tried that for a month, and then it was time to try something else.” Her mother gets on the internet, searching for answers. “I would have given everything I had, I would have gone anywhere in the world.” Remarkably, she hears from a women in Australia that another child with Encephalitis was cured after spending time in a hyperbaric chamber. It’s oxygen therapy. Used to treat things like gangrene, carbon monoxide poisoning, and tissue damage. “It’s so simple, the concept: pressure and oxygen, and it can bring healing.” But in the US it’s not being in use for encephalitis. “I cannot find another child in the country that a hospital had treated in Hyperbarics for this.” JeAnnah’s neurologist says no. “It’s going to work, you gotta let me try. He refused to write the script.” She ignores her daughter’s doctor and refuses to give up. “I didn’t care, I’m like if I have a 10% chance, I’ll sell everything I have, and we’ll do it.” That’s when fate steps in, the family has a coffee shop and a customer comes in talking about a new researcher at the Detroit medical center, Dr. Steven Guthrie, who’s studying the effects of the hyperbaric chamber on viruses like AIDS. Believing the chamber confuses a virus, “so it makes some sense to say well if I take this virus and put it some place it’s not used to being, it’s just going to throw up its hands and run off into the corners. I think that’s probably part of what we’re doing.” Dr. Guthrie agrees to let JeAnnah try it and after just one treatment, called a dive, the improvement are dramatic. Her grip strength improves, her vision comes back, and she’s speaking. Her mother documents every extraordinary moment. She’ll take dive after dive in the chamber. At first crawling in, her mother sits with her. They watch movies or play cards. There are no pills or shots or side effects. JeAnnah says, “It definitely makes you hungry, and well sometimes when I get out I…I just feel happy.” Each dive brings more improvement. She can walk pushing a wheelchair; eventually she’s able to walk with a cane. It’s awesome, brings tears to my eyes. We didn’t know if she would ever walk. If I had listened to the doctors, she would still be in a wheelchair, impaired. Even dr. Guthrie is impressed, “there aren’t that many diseases that I know of where a patient will go from that level of disability to that level of mobility that quickly.” As for JeAnnah the progress isn’t good enough she has her own goal. “I’ve been doing dance since I was 3 so I can’t wait to get back.” She just wants to dance and somehow she always knew it would happen. “I could just feel it,” JeAnnah says. And after 57 dives, JeAnnah who somehow kept smiling through all of this, takes the stage. JeAnnah’s story sends such a strong message, doctors don’t have every answer, and the family never gave up hope. Even when things looked so bleak, it was the chance message on the internet that led the family to what they believe cured their daughter. JeAnnah is done with the chamber for now, but if she has another flare-up like she has in the past, she’ll come back in for another dive. That’s how it works, I’m Lila Lazarus.
Pure O2 Video
Tami & JeAnnah Video Script
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