For years, Hannah West has cheered for Geneseo, but this fall, Geneseo is cheering for Hannah.


For years, Hannah West has cheered for Geneseo, but this fall, Geneseo is cheering for Hannah.

The 17-year old varsity cheerleader has been hospitalized since Oct. 26 with a bacterial form of strep pneumonia.

Since her hospitalization at Children’s Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in
Peoria, her classmates and fellow community members have offered their support.

Thus far, nearly 1,400 people have joined the online Facebook group “A Prayer for Hannah West.” Geneseo football players have worn her initials on their helmets during their playoff run and classmates have sold “Pray for Hannah” T-shirts. She’s also received thick stacks of cards and e-mails from friends and family members.

“It’s meant a lot to me,” said Hannah of the support. “Everyone has been so nice.”

At the homecoming pep rally on?Oct. 16, Hannah was enjoying her senior year, cheering for her team and performing stunts with her squad.

After homecoming, she started feeling ill, said Hannah’s mother, Kelly.

Though she’s not one to normally miss school, Kelly said her daughter stayed home sick the following Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

“I had a lot of chest pain, a fever, a bad cough and I couldn’t walk very well,” said Hannah.

By Monday, she was being rushed to the hospital in Peoria. “They wanted to send her by helicopter, but the weather was too bad,” said Kelly. Instead, Hannah was taken to Peoria by ambulance.

Though she remembers the ambulance ride, Hannah was so medicated she doesn’t recall what happened next.

“When I was my sickest, I don’t remember it,” she said.

“She probably lost a week of memory,”?said her mother. “I’m glad she doesn’t remember ...”

With her lungs full of fluid, breathing was becoming nearly impossible for Hannah.

“She was really in dire straits,” said cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Randy Fortuna. “At the time, she couldn’t be ventilated through normal channels.”

Hannah’s left lung had ruptured and her right was heading in the same direction, said Fortuna. “There was nothing more conventional type therapy could do for her.”

Fellow cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Dale Mueller recognized Hannah’s deteriorating condition and recommended bringing Fortuna to her medical team. Fortuna is well versed in using the rare ECMO machine.

An ECMO machine, which stands for “extracorporeal membrane oxygenation” is an artifical heart and lung machine.

“It’s the most complex type of life support machine we have. It’s a very sophisticated system,” said Fortuna.

Only 160 centers in the United States have ECMO machines, and of those, only 40 — including OSF Saint?Francis — are considered ECMO “centers of excellence.”

Though the machine can be used for both heart and lung functions, in Hannah’s situation, it was used only for her lungs.

The machine was attached to Hannah via small punctures in her neck. Hannah’s blood was then pumped through the machine where oxygen was added.

Oxygenating Hannah’s blood via machine allowed her body to work less and relax more, which was vital for her recovery.

Most patients attached to an ECMO are heavily sedated. Hannah, however, was awake enough to go online and visit her Facebook page with the help of her sister, Chelsea.

“It was pretty remarkable that she was awake enough to do that, though she may not have been totally aware,” said Fortuna. “The average person is on an ECMO machine for 16 days, Hannah only needed it for six days.

“She’s a very spirited person, and she really wanted to get up and go,” said Fortuna.

In fact, Hannah’s recovery has so impressed the medical staff at OSF, she’s been asked to be one of their “Miracle Children” and appear on hospital billboards.

At her worst, Hannah was hooked to nearly a dozen medical machines and devices.

Slowly, she’s been able to ditch most of the machines, including a feeding tube, which she despised.

“I felt so much better when I got that out. I hadn’t been able to eat food in three weeks,” said Hannah.

One of the first things she did after losing the feeding tube was order delivery from?Texas Roadhouse. “I had salad and rolls and it tasted so good,” she said.

Hannah’s also been enjoying eating real food prepared by the hospital cafeteria staff.
“When I leave, I’ll miss the nurses here and the food ... especially the green beans and the pineapple,”?she said.

Hannah’s recovery has progressed at such a rate, she’s hopeful she’ll be back in?Geneseo by Thanksgiving.

“In order to come home, she has to be off oxygen for 24 hours and has to be able to walk up and down the hall twice by herself,” said her mother.

Though she may return home within a week, Kelly said her daughter won’t return to school until after the first of the year.

Hannah has received tutoring while in the hospital, and will be provided with a tutor by the Geneseo School District when she returns home.

“The school district has been wonderful,” said Kelly. “They sent a laptop computer to the hospital for Hannah to use and have said her first priority should be to get better, then  worry about homework.”

Hannah said she’s also received a lot of support from her siblings Chelsea and Brock.

Chelsea, a senior nursing major at Lewis University, has spent several days a week with her younger sister.

“She helps me with my bath and helps me get up and walk around. Sometimes I have to tell her to stop because she’s helping too much,” joked Hannah.

Her brother, Brock, who lives and works in Portland, Ore., flew home to spend two weeks with his sister as well.

As she recovers, Hannah spends her days in various therapy sessions, and the work ethic needed for therapy is similar to what she needs when at cheerleading practice.

“Therapy was tough, but it’s getting easier, and cheerleading practice can also be tough, so I think it all evens out,” she said.

Though she said she admits she’s been disappointed to miss so much of her senior year, Hannah said “I know I?have to be here to get better.”

Still, the teen can’t wait to return home. “I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and showering in my own shower.”