Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE — Michelle Smith remembers the early morning hours of September 1 more vividly than she probably ever wanted to.

“I can remember after they took Addison to the hospital, I was literally screaming in my hotel room for God to not take her. I was screaming in the hotel for Him to take me, not my baby,” she said.

Michelle reacted just like a mother that night.

Addison Smith, 8-year-old daughter of Michelle and Wilson Smith of LaPlace, just suffered a severe asthma attack. It was the worst ever for the cute little girl, who was a straight-A student at Sacred Heart School in Norco. And when her daughter was taken away in an ambulance, Michelle didn’t know if Addison would live or die.

Michelle and Wilson were quite familiar with their daughter’s asthma. After all, she had dealt with it all her life and never went anywhere without her inhaler and Nebulizer, a special breathing device.

But when the family evacuated from the oncoming threat of Hurricane Gustav, Sept. 1 turned into a day that the Smith family would always remember for a storm of their own.

When Addison woke up just after midnight on the morning of Sept. 1, the asthma attack that the family was so used to, was turning worse by the minute.

After the usual treatments didn’t work, Addison felt sick and was headed for the bathroom to throw up.

But she never made it.

Instead, Michelle remembers, she vividly recalls her little girl falling backwards and laying there, completely blue.

“I remember Wilson going after her and just screaming that she was blue,” Michelle recalled. “We went into a panic, trying to call 911 although the phone line came out of the wall, while Wilson was giving her CPR, and I was suddenly opening the hotel room door and yelling for help. I think we were both in shock.”

Addison was rushed to the hospital, but had gone seven minutes with no air getting to her brain. The result today is that she is now recovering in Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, slowly beating the odds against what many health care professionals told the family was a hopeless situation.

While Addison has come a long way in her recovery, her parents still struggle to get a smile out of her, as she sits in a wheelchair, only partially having control of her motor skills. While she can apparently hear, she has yet to begin talking again, and must re-learn those skills, Wilson said.

“When they did the MRI in the hospital in Florida, the nurse told me the asthma patients that go through what she went through almost always died,” Michelle revealed. “So this is a miracle she is alive. We know it’s a miracle and that there is a reason she has been spared, and our family is going through this.”

However the tragedy has not come without a cost, and the family is now facing the mounting bills that come with such a disaster, even though they were fortunate enough to have health insurance.

To help out, family and friends are throwing a fundraiser on Friday, Nov. 21 at Riverlands Country Club. (See details in separate story on page 1A.)

Wilson and Michelle Smith are both lifelong River Region folks, growing up here, going to school after high school, and returning to their River Parishes home to begin businesses.

Wilson is the manager of America’s Mortgage Resource in LaPlace, while Michelle had owned ASAP Monogram’s, before selling the business just in July.

“We know now that God had that business sell then to prepare us for this,” she said.

The couple both entered their first marriage together right near the age of 30, and since then had two girls, Addison, 8, and Alyvia, age 6. Michelle also had a 20-year-old daughter Amber who she had before they met.

Michelle said the couple decided to have her sell her business so she could spend more time with their two little girls still at home, who were very active in gymnastics, acting, swimming and more. But everything changed the weekend leading into Hurricane Gustav striking the Gulf Coast.

“We decided to evacuate to Florida since it appeared to be away from where the storm was going,” Wilson said. “And the afternoon on Sunday was just as normal as could be, playing on the beach.”

They had rented movies for the hotel room that night and Addison had gone to bed about 9 p.m. But Michelle said it was almost as if she and her husband were tapped on the shoulder by God, both of them bounding awake at 12:15 a.m. on Monday to hear Addison struggling to breath.

“When the usual treatments didn’t work, we told her to get next to the hotel room’s air conditioner, hoping the cool air would open her lungs,” Michelle recalls. “But I had been sick that afternoon and maybe she had caught it since she suddenly told us she needed to throw up.”

That’s where Addison headed for the bathroom, only to fall back without being able to breathe.

By the time the emergency personnel got her to the hospital, the seven minute stretch without oxygen had taken its toll. Wilson said the condition is called hypoxia, which is simply a lack of oxygen to the brain. Now Addison is recovering slowly as the swelling in her brain goes down. But with each day comes steady improvement, and more of her motor skills returning.

“She has gone from a vegetative state to sitting up in a wheelchair, moving all her limbs, holding her head up, and responding to us talking,” Wilson said. “But it’s a long road back now.”

Michelle said that the family has maintained its positive outlook only through a strong faith.

“We have only heard doom and gloom from doctors and health care people,” she said. “But we get our hope from others around us, and our own faith.”

Michelle, who has slept in the hospital room with Addison every night since the tragic event in Florida, believes God is using the situation for a purpose.

“As tragic as this is, there have been so many good things that have come out of it. So many people we know have turned to God through this,” she explained. “Personally I have not had a bad day since this first happened since I have seen how God is using this.

“We don’t know what the future holds. Maybe we dedicate ourselves to some plan God has for us, but we have seen so many things that have helped us be strong, knowing there was a purpose for all this,” she added.

Perhaps it is the faith and spirit of Addison herself which has also been behind the remarkable recovery so far. Michelle said “I have never seen a child like Addison who is so spiritual. She is truly an amazing child, and I’m not saying that just because she is my child. I have never seen a child who wants to go to church so much, or always does the right thing.”

Michelle remembered one story about Addison making sure every kid in the class got a cookie from a small party, even when they didn’t have enough cookies to go around, and she was the only one to not get one. And she said there have been numerous other stories about the eight-year-old that indicate she may have a path already planned out for her.

“Even with her first communion, which she was supposed to do at the end of the school year,” Michelle said. “She had been so excited about it, like no child I had ever seen. So we are certainly hoping that some way, in May of next year, she will be with her class to have the first communion.”

While Michelle has maintained a steady vigil at the hospital room, Wilson continues to go to work as much as possible each day, even though the event has been difficult on him.

“This has been like half of my heart was pulled out,” Wilson remarked. “It just shows you that everything can change in a matter of five minutes. People just don’t realize how fragile life is.”

Wilson continues to work at America’s Mortgage Resources, and is thankful for his health insurance to cover most of the bills. But he said there are a multitude of expenses that don’t fall under the health insurance coverage, and that has become a growing strain for the family.

“It’s tough since I work in the mornings and I try to be here as much as possible. Addison responds to us like nobody else, so we want to be here with her as much as possible,” he said.

As both parents keep a smile on for Addison to see each day, Michelle said that the difficult part has been the loss of the personality she used to know in her daughter.

“I am grieving the loss of a child who is still living, since she is here, but her personality is not what it used to be,” she said. “She was like no other child and I miss the Addison that I used to see.”