Jeans for Genes day – Erin’s story

| August 1, 2013

On Jeans for Genes day everyone is invited to wear jeans to support a good cause – raising funds to fight childhood diseases. Kate Horvath from the Children’s Medical Research Institute tells the story of how the life of a little girl was saved.

Seven years ago, Dean Hutchison supported Jeans for Genes with no personal connection.

He worked for the Department of Health, where he’d been for 20 years, and helped raise money for Jeans for Genes because it funded research into childhood disease and birth defects.

His wife, Kim, was pregnant with their first child.

“I didn’t really know the Jeans for Genes connection with CMRI (Children’s Medical Research Institute), just that it’s a children’s charity, so I supported them.”

In January 2006, the connection became a lot clearer.

“Kim got up in the middle of the night and said, ‘I’m feeling a bit off’. I wouldn’t normally worry about that, but I said, ‘let’s get you off to the hospital to make sure’.”

On the way to Baulkham Hills Private Hospital, Kim went into eclampsia – a life-threatening complication of pregnancy.

“Her blood pressure went through the roof and she was just screaming in pain and bouncing around the front of the car. I got her to Baulkham Hills and that’s when the real seizures started.”

Dean was faced with a decision that would shape the rest of his life.

He could keep them at Baulkham Hills and save Kim alone, or have them moved to Westmead Children’s Hospital and increase the chances that both mother and child would survive.

Without hesitation, they were moved to Westmead, where Kim underwent an emergency C-section.

For three days after the operation, Dean didn’t know if his wife or their baby would be going home with him.

“Kim was in a comatose state during that time. When she woke up, the first thing she saw was a little picture of Erin up on the end of the bed to let her know she had a baby and the baby was alive.”

But baby Erin’s fight was far from over. She was kept in neonatal intensive care for 3 ¼ months.

“I lost count after 20 blood infusions. She had laser eye surgery at six weeks, because her retinas were detaching, which was an unfortunate offshoot from the oxygenation techniques used to keep her alive. And she had a hole in her heart, so she had PDA surgery at about four weeks.”

Erin was so small, that Dean’s wedding ring could fit over her arm and up over her shoulder.

“They (doctors) gave her a 5 per cent chance of survival. She weighed 597 grams at birth.”

Dean’s way of coping was to gather information about what was going on and what it all meant.

“There were four mentions of CMRI that I clearly remember in relation to Erin’s treatment and keeping her alive. It was in particular regard to the oxygenation techniques that were reasonably ground-breaking at the time and partly to do with the laser eye surgery she had to have. There was something to do with the level of oxygen in the humidicrib combined with other agents, but there was direct reference to that being developed based on research at CMRI.”

Kim and Dean had their first cuddle with Erin when she was 2 ½ months old and were given the green light to take their baby girl home at 5 ½ months.

“She was pretty much in quarantine for eight months and wasn’t allowed contact with other people because she had a very weak immune system. So I took three months off work and Kim took three months off and we pretty much didn’t leave the house.”

That was seven years ago.

There were countless trips to and from the hospital, and even to this day Erin requires regular treatment from doctors and specialists.

But the past seven years are also full of great memories that the Hutchison family never thought they would have.

In 2010, Dean accepted a job at Children’s Medical Research Institute, turning down several other positions to take the role.

“When I saw the job here (CMRI) the penny dropped who they were and I thought, ‘I want to work for these guys’ to be part of that and give something back. I’m part of something very special here and it’s a privilege to be hooked into it in a small way.”

Erin regularly drops into CMRI to say hello and was well enough to take to the streets as one of the Jeans for Genes denim police last year.

She’ll hit the streets again this year with her dad at Epping Station to encourage people to donate to CMRI and the research which helped save her life. She’s the most outgoing, bubbly and sociable child you could imagine.

“I’m now at the stage where I’m planning out everything now and just saying, ‘okay, there’s going to be a thousand more medical appointments, but she’s going to get through them all’”.

You can help support our research at CMRI and give more kids like Erin a bright future. Wear your jeans on Friday 2nd August, and give generously.