Wichita girl dies, days after ending 457-day hospital stay

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A girl who was the first at a Kansas City hospital to walk while on an invasive form of life support has died, less than two weeks after returning to her Wichita home.

The mother of Zei ("Zay") Uwadia said her daughter died Tuesday after returning home on Jan. 31. She had recently returned to Wichita after a 457-day stay at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, The Kansas City Star reported .

"On behalf of the countless doctors, nurses and staff who cared for Zei and were inspired daily by her fighting spirit, all of us at Children's Mercy were heartbroken to learn of her passing," the hospital said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with her family and friends and everyone who loved her."

Uwadia was hospitalized in 2017 after her lungs failed without explanation. Last year, she became the hospital's first patient to walk while on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, which bypassed her lungs and pulled blood from her body, oxygenated it and pumped it back in. She survived on the machine for 190 days. Before her, no one at Children's Mercy had used the machine longer than three months.

Thousands of people watched YouTube videos of her walking the halls as friends, family and hospital employees cheered her on.

Zei, who turned 17 the day after she returned home, had said she wanted to go hom. She was smiling and walking when about 50 of her Wichita North High School classmates, teachers and friends lined the sidewalk and cheered her return home.

"This was a big goal for us, and it was a little difficult for us to achieve," Kerschen said after Zei returned home. "We had lots of ups and downs in the past month and it finally came to the point where we just had a frank conversation with the physicians and said it's time, we need to touch home. And they made it happen."

"I'm excited to have more freedom," Zei had said of returning home. "I won't be confined to this room or the hospital halls. I can go outside. I'll feel more normal. Not completely normal, but more."

But as she walked up the steps of her home, her legs gave out and she fell. She also needed a tracheostomy, a tube in her neck to help her breathe. She remained on oxygen but was no longer on ECMO.

Her doctors expressed concern about her returning home. Normally, before patients are discharged, they rely on machines for only 30 percent of the work of inhaling and exhaling. Zei was still at 40 percent.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Zei said. "Just be and live as best I can and try to get off of all these machines."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com