Amazing Strides: Children’s Mercy patient walks on life support

Zei Uwadia, center, is shown with her mother and Children’s Mercy Hospital medical team. Clockwise from left: Kari Davidson, Jenna Miller, M.D., Ryanne Toland, Julie Pearson, Debbie Newton, Jay Rilinger, M.D., Jill Dinkel, Marita Thompson, M.D., and Zei’s mother, Brie Kerschen.

Sixteen-year-old Zei Uwadia was a healthy teenager before she was admitted to the hospital suffering from shortness of breath on October 29. Her lungs quickly declined and stopped functioning without any explanation, and her condition remains a medical mystery to this day.

On Nov. 6, Zei was placed on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine at Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas City to keep her alive. Basically, the machine acts as her lungs to deliver oxygen to her blood.

Since being put on ECMO, she continues to amaze the staff. Zei is the first person in the 30 year history of ECMO at Children’s Mercy to sit up while on the machine. She’s also the first person to stand, the first person to eat, the first person to peddle a stationary bike and the first person to walk.

Zei’s story has been featured on CNN.

Zei was in her hospital bed for two months before ever taking her first step. When she approached her care team about walking, they weren’t even sure how to make this happen. No one had ever walked while on ECMO at Children’s Mercy. It’s a large machine that is meant to be stationary. The ECMO program director told Zei if she could stand for five minutes they’d figure out how she could walk. Zei not only stood for five minutes, but when the five minutes was up she stood for another two minutes to prove to everyone she was strong enough and ready.

Her doctors and nurses quickly came together to develop a safety protocol/comprehensive checklist to make it possible for Zei (and patients like Zei) to walk the halls of the hospital with the machine. Zei has been walking since December 29 and she continues to walk on a regular basis when she’s feeling good.

Several pediatric hospitals have reached out to Children’s Mercy after learning about Zei. They’re interested in developing their own safety checklists in hopes their ECMO patients can someday walk too.