Feb. 12 was the day that changed life for the Cunha family forever.
It started as just another quiet weekday at home. Amber Cunha and her 19-month-old daughter, Avery, were making Valentine’s Day cards. But while Amber was putting supplies away, Avery made a break for it.
"In that one split minute that I was out of the room, she figured out how to unlock the sliding glass door and she got into the pool. When I looked and saw that the door was open, I ran out and she was face down in the pool,” said Amber Cunha.
Cunha jumped into the pool and pulled her daughter out. Then dialed 911 and performed CPR on Avery, until paramedics arrived. Once Avery was taken to a nearby hospital, her heart stopped twice. She needed 37 minutes of CPR and five rounds of epinephrine before she was stabilized and could be life-flighted to the Pediatric and Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at UC Davis Children’s Hospital.
When she arrived, Avery was in critical condition and it was not clear she would make it.
She needed to be on a feeding tube, since she was unable to eat or swallow. She required a breathing machine to get oxygen into her lungs. She had a heart monitor, and IVs delivered necessary fluids and medications. She had impaired head control and was unable to sit, roll over or speak. Her eyes weren’t able to track objects.
“It was like having a 6-month-old baby again,” said Amber Cunha.
But there were positive signs in those early days. Avery experienced no seizures, which can signal brain injury, and her MRI results showed no brain damage.
Avery began to make daily progress through the UC Davis pediatric rehabilitation program, which consists of three hours of daily inpatient speech, physical and occupational therapy, six days a week.
UC Davis speech therapist Michelle Ramirez remembers when Avery used to need suction so she wouldn’t drown on her own saliva. Now she is able to sit at a table and feed herself chicken nuggets and grapes. She couldn’t speak two months ago and now can yell, “Mama!” across the room and say, “Thank you.”
“It has been an amazing experience for our rehab team to see her make daily gains in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Her mom, Amber, has been a rock through this all and Avery wouldn’t be where she is without her. We are all truly honored to be part of their journey,” said Ramirez.
Jennifer Plant, pediatric critical care physician, visited with Avery and Amber on her last day in the hospital and was pleased to see how far Avery has come in a short amount of time.
“Avery has made an amazing recovery from her accident in February,” Plant said. “She has gone from being in a coma requiring a machine to breathe and a tube for nutrition to an active toddler working on mastering eating, walking, talking and trouble-making. She is the reason why we do this kind of work.”
Now, two months after the accident, Avery is safely back at home and Amber says she is grateful to have her daughter back. Avery is the same bubbly, happy little girl that she was before the accident, and Amber thanks Avery’s health care team for saving her daughter’s life.