CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
When a blood vessel burst in Makana Gerona's brain two years ago, she was in such grave condition that doctors thought that she would die or be in a coma for the rest of her life. She survived and will now be featured, along with nine other children who survived critical medical conditions, on the Kaiser Permanente float (shown in an artist's depiction, below) in the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif. Makana is pictured with mother Danelle, father Stephen and brother Justin, 13.
Critical brain injury survivor to be honored on New Year’s Day
They call her "Miracle Child."
The Pearl City teen was believed dead two years ago after a blood vessel burst in her brain.
"By every prognostic indicator, she should have never survived," said Dr. James Griffith, who runs the pediatric critical care unit at Kaiser Permanente's Moanalua Medical Center.
If she did survive, doctors thought she would be a vegetable.
But Makanaokeakua Gerona defied medical odds.
She will be one of 10 heroic children who have lived through critical medical conditions riding on a Kaiser Permanente float called the "Aloha Festival" in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day.
She will be the only Hawaii patient on the Kaiser float, which will celebrate Kaiser's 50 years in Hawaii. Leading it will be Kamehameha Schools' all-state marching band and hula dancers. Kaiser will host a night-before-New-Year's-Eve Party at Knott's Berry Farm for the Hawaii contingent of more than 500.
Makana, 15, said she had never heard of the parade but she's "excited to be so far away from home. ... I'm prepared for the cold."
Accompanying her will be her parents, Danelle and Stephen, a lieutenant in the Honolulu Police Department's narcotics division, and brother Justin, 13.
"They're just a wonderful family and she's a wonderful girl," Griffith said. Of all the kids he has cared for, he said, "I've had nobody as astounding as her."
Makana had just gotten out of the shower the evening of Dec. 7, 2005, when she screamed in pain, started throwing up and passed out, said her mother. Makana's father gave her CPR.
"She was still not breathing until the ambulance intubated her," her mother said.
She said the ambulance driver called Kaiser. A pediatrician, neurosurgeon and intensive care unit doctor were waiting when they arrived.
"They told us if she lives the next two hours she'll be lucky," Gerona said. Soon she got calls asking about donating her daughter's organs.
"Of course, I'm in shock. They're saying, 'Can we have her organs?' I couldn't understand, how can you have them when she still needs them?
"She was brain-dead but we held on, like the doctors. Even they are calling it a miracle. As we walk through the hospital, they call her a miracle child."
Doctors working with Griffith on Makana's care included neurosurgeons William C. Madauss and Michon Morita, pediatrician Marsha Marumoto, neurologist Dorothy C. Chu, psychiatrists Won-Yee Cheng and Merle Kikue Miura-Akamine and neurointerventional radiologist Felix Song.
Griffith said a scan showed the upper part of her brain looked good and tests looking at the transmission of nerve impulses indicated "even though she wasn't reacting, we could demonstrate the nerve had some function."
The malformed blood vessel was removed from the back of her brain and "parts of the brain we preserved and protected from secondary injury came back to function," Griffith said.
Every time he walked into her room, he said he would tell her, "If you don't move, I'm going to pinch you."
There was no sign of response other than a change in her heart rate, he said, but when she was better she said, "He's the one who used to come in and pinch me every day."
Gerona said Makana was weaned from the breathing tube in January 2006 but was still in a vegetative state.
In her daughter's last three weeks in the hospital, she told Griffith it looked like her eyes and arm were moving but she wouldn't do it on demand. "We had to catch it on film ... to show the doctor."
She seemed to heal quickly after several surgical procedures but she couldn't walk or talk and needed 24-hour care, Gerona said. She was discharged to the Rehabilitation Hospital in March 2006, then went home four days later.
Makana underwent intensive therapy to learn how to walk and speak again and Gerona helped her catch up on her school work. Our Lady of Good Counsel School made accommodations for her return.
Gerona said she went to school with her every day to take notes because she couldn't write. She graduated with honors and continued on to Kamehameha Schools, which also made accommodations, her mother said.
She's an outstanding student now and is learning hula and plays drums. She played volleyball last year but is a little frustrated because "she can't be the athlete she was," Gerona said.
The 5-foot-5-inch girl's major problem is a damaged gland in her head that controls weight, which has doubled from 114 pounds. There is no cure for this, Griffith said.
Gerona said Makana just remembers up to when she passed out two years ago. "She went to sleep, woke up and doesn't understand what the big deal was."
In so many respects, said her mom, she has lived up to the name her grandmother gave her: Makanaokeakua in Hawaiian means "gift of God."