|October 25, 2012
THHS Kids Health Fair proved to be a lifesaver for one lucky teenager
By B.L. Azure
THHS Public Information Officer
The 2011 THHS Kids Health Fair was a lifesaver for 15-year-old Llewella “Lala” Caye. Had the then 14-year-old Lala stayed home that day, in all likelihood she wouldn’t have been around to blow out the 15 candles at her recent birthday — and renewed life — celebration. (B.L. Azure photo)
ST. IGNATIUS — Health Fairs are important for many reasons: they can get a person caught up on the appropriate seasonal vaccinations, give a people a snap shot of their present health conditions, refer them to a primary care provider if needed and encourage people to practice a healthy lifestyle. They can also mean the difference between life and death. That was the case at last year’s Kids Heath Fair when the prodding of a concerned mother got her then 14-year-old daughter to go and get health screened.
It was a lifesaving decision, just ask Llewella “Lala” Caye, just ask her mother Arlene Bigcrane, her siblings, her relatives or her father Willie Caye. The now 15-year-old precocious Lala attended last year’s Tribal Health and Human Services Kids Health Fair, at the urging of her mother. Unfortunately there was bad news revealed at the screening: indications that things were not entirely well with Lala. The good news was that it wasn’t too late to take remedial medical action.
“There were little things going on with Lala, minor aches and pains, lethargy. Her knees began to bother her,” Arlene said Friday at the Kids Health Fair. “At the time it didn’t seem like something to be concerned about. She seemed tired a lot and took lots of naps. I thought it was just the teenage thing she was going through. Her physical outward appearance was just like it is now, she didn’t look sick.”
Lala looked like the picture of perfect health.
Fun and games are more fun when healthy. Those who went to the THHS Kids Health Fair received a thorough health screening and participated in several fun energy sapping contests. (B.L. Azure photo)
“Last year I was home with my sister and nieces when mom asked us if we wanted to go the health fair,” Lala said. “I told her no but a half hour later she called from work and told us to get ready to go to the health fair. ‘You’re going,” she said. By then I felt like going, so we did.”
Bigcrane said she went to work the day of last year’s Kids Health Fair but couldn’t get her concerns about her daughter’s health off her mind. Arlene eventually called home and set in motion a life threatening and life saving year.
What the Kids Health Fair screening of Lala found came as a surprise to her and her family as well as the folks conducting the health fair. “The nurse lady was taking my blood pressure and it was really high,” Lala said. “She told me to calm down a bit and awhile later took my blood pressure again and it was still high. She told me to hook up with a doctor to see what was going on.”
“Her numbers were off the chart,” said Margene Asay, THHS Fitness Center(s) manager and health educator. “The nursing staff at last year’s Kids Health Fair told Arlene that she needed to get Lala to a doctor right away.”
Salish Kootenai College Nursing Program student Autumn Blackweasel got hands-on real-life medical experience and the young ones got their vitals checked at the THHS Kids Health Fair. (B.L. Azure photo)
Arlene scheduled an appointment and with Lala in tow went to St. Luke Hospital in Ronan and got laboratory tests done then went home. “Twenty or thirty minutes later a nurse from St. Lukes called and told us to get back to the hospital right away,” Lala said. “When we got there they told us they thought I was in kidney failure and that I needed to get to Seattle right away.”
It was Lala’s failing kidneys that blew the numbers off the charts. Untreated toxins were spiking her blood pressure. Actually it was Lala’s lone kidney failing. “I was always really cold and tired. I just didn’t feel good,” Lala said. “My appetite was gone, I slept all the time, I was never energized and couldn’t concentrate on my school work.”
“She was really anemic. Her blood count was so low that the doctors told us that older people would be dead if they had that blood count,” Arlene said, adding arrangements were made to life-flight Lala to the Seattle Children’s Hospital immediately. “We arrived in the evening, she got checked out and was put on dialysis the next day and received a blood infusion after that.”
What the medical experts found with a thorough check up was that Lala had only one kidney and it was failing. They speculated that Lala’s body, born without a functioning second kidney, had through the years adjusted to living with one. However the reliance on one kidney eventually started taking its toll due to its inability to properly detoxify the blood stream. If Arlene didn’t make the fateful decision to take Lala to the Kids Health Fair the outcome would have been worse.
“Here’s looking at you, kid.” The Humphrey Bogart line fits these six eyeballs checking out an animal eyeball at the University of Montana spectrUM station at the THHS Kids Health Fair. (B.L. Azure photo)
“I think a lot about that decision. I went through a lot of issues. I was feeling bad, feeling mad at my self. What if I didn’t take her to the health fair? Why didn’t I take her to the doctors sooner? Would that have made a difference?” Arlene said of the decision to take Lala to the health fair that also sparked queries from medical personnel at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “All the doctors we talked to at Seattle Children’s Hospital asked us about the health fair and how it raised the red flags for us, for Lala.”
Health fairs are a big part of THHS’ preventive health care efforts that are more cost effective as a preventive measure than treatment after the fact and are in some cases lifesavers.
“Every year we pick up some body with some kind of health problem the person wasn’t aware of,” said Barb Plouffe, THHS Community Health Division manager. “It could be anything but we do see a lot of diabetes indicators and hyper tension issues. In Lala’s case it was her kidneys failing.”
Lala is tentatively scheduled for a kidney transplant in the next two to nine months. Her 30-year-old sister, Susette Billedeaux, offered to donate one of her kidneys to Lala if it was a healthy match. People with failing kidneys must have dialysis treatments and often wait years for a match so their bodies don’t reject its new addition. Susette’s and Lala’s physiologies were a perfect match.
“I was the first person tested here and in Seattle. My kidneys are healthy and working well and we matched perfectly,” Susette said, adding that it is the right thing to do for her sister and hasn’t had trepidations since making the decision. “I never hesitated nor have I had second thoughts about doing this.”
Llewella “Lala” Caye picks out a winning ticket from Margene Asay at the THHS Kids Health Fair. Lala’s niece Alexis Billedeaux, a cancer survivor, is in the center. (B.L. Azure photo)
“Being a family member doesn’t mean that there will be a match,” Arlene said. “The doctors were surprised that the first person they tested was a match.”
Seattle Children’s Hospital medical staff is leaning towards taking Susette’s right kidney. When the transplant takes place Lala’s new kidney will be positioned in the front portion of her lower abdominal area instead of the rear where they are naturally located.
“I will forever have part of my sister with me,” Lala said.
She had three surgeries over a three-month period in Seattle and her mom Arlene was by her side at all times. She kept in touch with friends and family via cell phone and her uncle Art Caye’s iPad. She is presently undergoing 10 hours of kidney dialysis daily using a portable in-home dialysis machine. Had the surgeries been unsuccessful Lala would have had to stay at the Seattle Children’s Hospital until the transplant and her family would have had to move there to be by her side.
“I think it’s a miracle that I am here today. A year ago had I not gone to the health fair I don’t think I would be here today,” Lala said.
“It has been a pretty scary experience. I was really scared but in my heart I knew she would be okay. I am still worried but this last year has been very uplifting to our spirits,” Arlene said, adding that the familial support had a very positive effect on Lala. So did the support from the Indian community and the Tribal Council. “It all helped her emotionally. When it was just she and I there, she would get kind of sad. Whenever the rest of the family came she would really cheer up. She’s a trooper, a strong young lady who has faced everything head on, accepted it, dealt with it and handled it bravely.”
Arlene said the Tribal Council funded her motel room during the three months she was in Seattle and is very thankful for that aid.
Cyndie Marengo of the Polson THHS Clinic Dental Office shows youngsters at the Kids Health Fair what kinds of sweet delights are bad for teeth health and some healthy alternatives. (B.L. Azure photo)
“The one thing I would like people to know is that the health fairs are very important,” Arlene said. “They can find out a lot of things with the screenings. They are awesome.”
Plouffe said the various health care fairs THHS holds throughout the year for the public as well as those centered on the various departments within the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes organizational wings have proven to be very helpful and successful over the years.
“We want people to be better educated about health issues and their health so they can take better control of their health. Preventive measures and early detection and intervention helps Tribal Health reduce the costs of providing health care,” Plouffe said. “The health fairs put a face on our organization. People who attend them can get to know the health care providers in a less intimidating way. It helps people reach out, establish a relationship with medical care professionals. For some it is a less threatening environment.”
For some, health fairs are lifesavers and eye openers — Lala is a prime example.
“I now have a different outlook. Everything I do, since last year, has a different feel to it. If I didn’t go to the health fair and found out that something was going with me, who knows what I’d be doing or how I would be feeling right now,” Lala said. “I got good care at Seattle and it seemed like I was part of a big family at the Children’s Hospital. It was never boring there and I was kind of sad when I left them. I am looking forward to the transplant.”
Face painting has become a staple at sponsored gatherings, including the Kids Health Fair, where there are plenty of blank canvasses on young faces. (B.L. Azure photo)
In closing Lala looked around the Two Eagle River School gym, site of the Kids Health Fair and said: “I am happy that it is me going through this instead of these little kids.”
And her family is happy that Arlene made the fateful decision to attend the THHS Kids Health Fair.
• The annual Tribal Employees Health Fair is set for 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, October 25, in the Pablo and Lefthand conference rooms in the former headquarters building of the tribal complex at Pablo.