Nurses get teen back to living life

Kyleigh Williams (center) found a second family in her nurses who cheered her on through every hurdle during her six-month hospital stay. Left to right: Hanna Kremsreiter, Mary Witte and Lauren Batcher.

When influenza destroyed Kyleigh Willams’ lungs, Med Flight, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and a lung transplant helped keep her alive.

But when you ask her mom, Nikki Williams, what truly saved her daughter, who everyone calls Ky, she credits the American Family Children’s Hospital nurses and other staff who walked with Ky every step of her nearly seven-month journey to get back home.

“Lauren Batcher is amazing,’’ Nikki said of her daughter’s main nurse. “She went above and beyond with Ky. She never took a break when she was there.”

In December 2022, Ky was a 15-year-old student athlete at Clinton High School, who played travel basketball, softball, and was, in the words of her mom, “never sick.” Then Ky came down with influenza A and was soon having so much trouble breathing that her mom drove her to Beloit Memorial Hospital.

“They took a pulse ox on her, and from then, it’s a blur,” Nikki said.

The Beloit team called UW Health Med Flight to take Ky to American Family Children’s Hospital. Nikki and her husband, Jeremy, jumped in the car and beat the helicopter to Madison. After an exam, doctors in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) decided to put Ky on an ECMO machine, which does the work of the heart and lungs so the body can heal.

Except Ky got worse, as the inflammation led to necrotizing pneumonia, and then a bacterial infection and kidney failure. By Christmas, she was on dialysis and a ventilator.

“The hardest part was Christmas. She was just coming to and realizing what was going on, and that things were not getting better,’’ said Lauren Batcher, BSN, RN. She was with the Williams family when they got the somber news that a lung transplant was the best hope.

Nikki reflected on the devastating time. “All I remember is sitting in the room, and the doctor sat and cried with us and mourned,” she said.

Amanda Minnig, RN, BSN, CCRN, pre-transplant coordinator could sympathize.

“This was completely unexpected and not something they ever imagined,” she said. “It’s so rare (to need a transplant) without underlying conditions.”

The team focused on preparing Ky for transplant surgery. Normally, a transplant patient is up and walking, but it took six people just to get Ky to the edge of the bed and onto a “stander” to put weight on her legs.

“She was one of the most deconditioned patients we’ve ever done transplant on,’’ Lauren said. “You have to work your lungs and work your body. We had to really push to get her ready. She got mad at me every day, but she had trust in me.”

To try to lighten the mood, Lauren and Brittani Butler, RRT, ECMO specialist, worked out a TikTok dance to “Wannabe,” by the Spice Girls.

“Ky looked horrified,’’ Lauren said with a laugh.

Following the transplant, the team planned fun distractions: A purple theme for Valentine’s Day, bunny ears at Easter and a “beach day” that involved hauling buckets of sand and water to Ky’s hospital room and batting around beach balls.

The big event was a talent show judged by Ky and won by Kelsey Konz, physical therapist, who played a Morgan Wallen tune on the piano in the hospital lobby.

Night nurse Hanna Kremsreiter, BSN, RN, would bring Ky to the nurse’s station for company as she did charting, and style her hair and do art projects with her. And as winter turned to spring and Ky got stronger, Lauren took Ky on wheelchair outings to the Healing Garden and the University Hospital Gift Shop. Meanwhile, Ky started to work with Mary Witte, BSN, RN, transplant coordinator, on her transition back to home and school.

“I told her, ‘Ky, I’m your new best friend,’ and Lauren was like “What?!,’’ Mary said.

Kidding aside, Mary said, “I credit a lot of Kyleigh’s success to Lauren. She really went above and beyond on the hard days to cheer Kyleigh up and motivate her.”

Ky is now getting back to high school activities, going to the homecoming dance and earning her driver’s license. “For us she was a celebrity patient,’’ Mary said. “But for her, she just wants to get back to being a normal teenager.”

Kyleigh with her parents, Nikki and Jeremy Williams, during her hospital stay in 2023.

Check out more stories featuring the great work of our nurses in the Nursing Year in Review 2023 (pdf).