Heather and Andrew Karazim of Indiana were at their “breaking point.” For two years, their lives revolved around doctors’ appointments for their daughter Lucie, who was struggling with eczema, food allergies and a gastrointestinal disease called eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). Finally, they found relief for Lucie — and the family — at National Jewish Health.
“When Lucie was 4 months old, she had really bad eczema with really horrible welts on her arms and legs,” Heather recalls. “She wasn’t the best sleeper and wasn’t a great eater. I remember nursing her took longer than it had with her older brother and she always seemed to spit up with each feeding.”
The Karazims took Lucie to the pediatrician who said she “just had a little eczema.” Lucie was prescribed topical creams by her pediatrician and a pediatric dermatologist, but nothing seemed to help.
“I had a good friend who studies holistic medicine and who thought that Lucie might have food allergies and might be zinc deficient, so I cut dairy out of my own diet and gave Lucie a zinc supplement,” Heather says. “I felt like I had nothing to lose.”
With this new routine, Lucie improved, but it was short lived. “After three weeks, it came back again,” Heather says.
Heather and Andrew took Lucie to an allergist when she was 6 months old and learned that she was allergic to eating dairy, egg, peanuts and tree nuts, green peas, and contact with dogs. They switched Lucie to a hypoallergenic infant formula called Neocate.
“I couldn’t control my diet enough to feed her,” Heather says. “But, we were just treating it, not healing it. I felt that everything we were doing was a Band-Aid and only addressing her symptoms. There had to be a root cause or a source to all her issues. We just couldn’t figure out what it was. It was heartbreaking. I remember she had a very allergic look — she looked swollen and just didn’t look healthy.”
A Turning Point
They continued to seek out specialists in their hometown of Indianapolis, and began working with a pediatric dermatologist, Kirsten M. Turchan, MD, and Mark Holbreich, MD, who specializes in the treatment of allergies and asthma.
Dr. Turchan recommended that the Karazims look into National Jewish Health in Denver. They also learned that Dr. Holbreich had trained at National Jewish Health.
When Lucie was 2 ½ years old, the Karazims brought Lucie to Denver for a two-week appointment. She was seen by a team of specialists at National Jewish Health. Her care was led by Stanley Szefler, MD, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, as the attending physician, and Angela Sabry, MD, a fellow in training in the allergy and immunology training program.
She was also seen by David M. Fleischer, MD, an associate professor in the Division of Pediatric Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and Mark Boguniewicz, MD, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics. Glenn T. Furuta, MD, at University of Colorado Health, was also part of Lucie’s care team, focusing on her EoE diagnosis and treatment.
“From the day we arrived, everyone cared about her having a successful outcome,” Heather says.
The first week was challenging for Lucie and the family because she had to be taken off all her medications so that doctors could evaluate her condition.
“Lucie wasn’t responding, and we were mentally and physically exhausted,” Heather recalls.
At the end of the first week, Lucie started responding to treatments with wet wraps. Patients with severe eczema receive wet wrap therapy, where wet dressings are applied to skin after soaking and sealing and applying topical steroid medicine. The wraps help keep skin moist and improve effectiveness of topical medicine. They also have a cooling anti-itch effect.
During her second week, Lucie had several food challenges. The food challenge was originally developed at National Jewish Health, and it is considered the gold standard for diagnosing food allergies. In a food challenge, patients are fed tiny, then increasing, amounts of food and closely monitored for any allergic reactions. This helps sort out what is truly an allergic reaction to food and what is often caused by other things such as medications, allergen exposures by inhalation or contact, viral illness, exercise, or even panic.
“We were able to add a few foods that we had avoided,” Heather says. “Now we definitively know what we can and can’t feed her.”
“It was great to have two weeks to focus on Lucie, with everyone under the same roof — her medical team, psychosocial, and support from child life,” Heather says. “We were able to back her off several of her medications and establish a new baseline for her.”
‘A Much Better Place Now’
In addition to the medications Lucie takes, the Karazims have established a routine with two baths a day and nasal washes for Lucie and her dolls. “She loves to give her dolls nasal washes,” Heather says.
Doctors at National Jewish Health continue to collaborate with Drs. Holbreich and Turchan in Indiana.
“We are so grateful for her stay; we still talk about it and don’t want her to forget it,” Heather says.
Every night, before Lucie goes to bed, she and her parents say goodnight to all of their friends in Denver. “We say good night to Dr. Szefler, Dr. Angie, Dr. Furuta, Dr. Fleischer, Dr. B and all the staff and nurses.”
“When we were in the midst of it, it was pretty bad — trying to research and find answers. As a mother, you want your kids to be happy, and it broke my heart,” Heather says. “National Jewish Health was our last resort, and we are forever grateful. We are in a much better place now.”
Lucie Donates Birthday Money to Pediatric Prize Closet
In April 2015, when Lucie and her mom, Heather, were planning her fifth birthday party, they decided that her friends didn’t need to bring presents to her party. For Lucie, the fact that they were coming to help her celebrate was the most important gift. They talked about kids who really needed toys and immediately remembered when Lucie was a patient at National Jewish Health and the Prize Closet.
The Prize Closet is part of the National Jewish Health Child Life Program, a play-based program that helps children, teens and family members cope with illness, treatment and the overall health care experience. As part of the program, patients are allowed to choose a prize when they achieve certain goals during their visit.
Lucie’s trips to the prize closet were comforting and memorable during a time when she was struggling with eczema and allergies. “Lucie had many trips to the Prize Closet during her stay,” Heather said, “We are not only grateful for the doctors and nurses who cared for her, but also to the Child Life staff.”
Lucie and Heather decided that in lieu of gifts, they would ask guests for monetary donations for the Prize Closet. In May, Lucie presented a $400 gift card to the Pediatric Prize Closet.
“We are excited to help other kids like her have a similar experience during their treatment,” Heather said.
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