Battling Bruin: Austin

Posted February 2017

On June 23, 2010, two-and-a-half year old Austin Jones went camping with his mother and grandparents. As soon as his father flew in from their home in Thousand Oaks, California to join the festivities, it would be the start of a long vacation. Unfortunately, while camping Austin and his sister Emma got sick. When Emma started feeling ill, the family cut their vacation short and went back to their parents’ house in Moses Lake, Washington to take care of her.

The next five days and four nights were sleepless not only for Austin and Emma, but also for their worried parents, Cortney and Ben Jones. Both children were in such severe stomach pain that their bodies would not allow them to rest, and they needed their diapers changed every 20 minutes. On Friday morning, Austin turned blue and started throwing up. His parents rushed him to the emergency room, where he was evaluated and sent home. The following day, Emma went to the ER and was put on an IV to help rehydrate her. She began to recover quickly. Hoping for a similar fate for Austin, Cortney and Ben took him to see a friend of the family, Dr. Milligan. Getting an appointment was difficult but Cortney thought Austin might be in serious trouble, so she persisted and finally got him in for evaluation. Dr. Milligan listened to the details of Austin's case, and quickly determined that Austin did not just have the common flu. The doctor told the Jones family to immediately leave for Sacred Heart Children's Hospital in Spokane, WA. They quickly packed their bags and left, not anticipating more than a few days' stay in the hospital.

For most of that night, Austin was in the ER undergoing a seemingly endless number of tests. As he was a very healthy child in general, he didn't seem that sick at first glance. But at 3 a.m. the ER doctor finally had some news for the exhausted parents.

"Austin is very sick," he explained. "We're not sure what he's sick with, but we've narrowed it down to three possibilities. They're all quite severe." By the next morning, Austin was admitted into Sacred Heart.

Later that day, Cortney and Ben met Dr. Joel Hernandez, not knowing that he would end up saving their son's life. Dr. Hernandez, a nephrologist, sat down with the worried parents and asked detailed questions about Austin's health. He intently wrote down all their responses, and upon finishing the interview, he had a hypothesis. Austin was showing signs of having a disease called Hemolyic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). Dr. Hernandez explained that Austin may have contracted the deadly bacteria E. coli 0157:H7, which was releasing toxins into Austin's bloodstream. This resulted in a chain reaction: Austin's red blood cells were breaking down and tearing apart small blood vessels in his organs, particularly impacting his kidneys. The doctor told Cortney and Ben that Austin's kidneys were shutting down.

The following day, Austin was taken into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and put on Continuous Venovenus Hemodiafiltration (CVVH) to clean his blood 24 hours a day. Despite the pain medication and sedatives, Austin was in continual discomfort and was only getting sicker. The balance was very delicate. If they gave him a higher dosage of pain medication, his digestive system would slow down. As antibiotics would not work on the E. coli, digestion was the only way to eliminate the deadly bacteria. This continued for days. Austin was on complete gut rest, and would beg his parents for the food or water which they could not give him. Every day, his requirements for medication became higher. He had to have more tubes placed and holes poked in him than his parents ever dreamed they would see in their small son. Austin was struggling for his life, and Dr. Hernandez was by his side day and night helping him fight.

Several weeks passed with no improvement in Austin's condition, and then he took a sharp turn for the worse. His stomach was growing at an astounding rate. Two stomach X-rays later, a pediatric surgeon informed the parents that Austin was going to receive emergency surgery. Cortney and Ben waited hours for word on the proceedings. Finally, the surgeon came out and told them that the bacteria in Austin's system had attacked his colon and they'd had to remove eleven inches of decaying organ. Austin was left with a colostomy and no functional digestive system. After the surgery, it took several days for Austin to stabilize. These were some of the worst times of his entire illness, but he fought through it and pushed to survive.

After the colostomy, the E. coli was out of his system. Then, Austin fought a six week battle to get his body functioning again. He managed to recover almost completely, but his digestive system would take a long time to heal and his kidneys still were not doing well. He overcame blood pressure challenges, nutrition challenges, the challenge of learning to walk and feed himself again, and the final challenge of learning how to have fun like he used to.

After two months of waiting for his kidneys to heal, a biopsy was performed. The doctors determined that Austin's kidney would never recover. Eighty-four days after his first night in the Sacred Heart emergency room, Austin went to Moses Lake, WA for a few weeks before returning to California. Ben had accepted a new job, so he would have a new house and town waiting for him upon his return. Cortney and Ben were thrilled to have Austin at home with them again.

Austin had a feeding tube for two years. He would also have to make a 70 mile round trip drive down to Los Angeles to receive hemo dialysis where he had to sit to still for four hours, three times a week as well as all his other doctor’s appointments to get him ready for his transplant. Austin received a live kidney transplant from his dad’s brother on Aug. 2, 2011. It was an excellent match, and the surgery and recovery for both of them went smoothly. He has learned how to eat again and now does not need a feeding tube. Unfortunately, the kidney will not last forever (twenty years at the most), and he still has many challenges to face.

Although Austin has had a rough start, he faces life with a great attitude and a smile. He is hospitalized occasionally for illnesses, he has many doctors’ appointments and lab draws to maintain the health of his kidney. And his compromised immune system means he is sick more often and takes longer to recover than the average kid. He receives monthly IVIG infusions to help with this. He is not one to complain, he does a great job trying to find the good in it all. Austin enjoys spending time with his family, playing baseball and basketball, participating in scouting, and playing Minecraft. He is doing well in school and loves science and math.

Austin’s family is so grateful for UCLA. Austin and his family have seen the best this world has to offer. Friends, family and many different organizations have stepped in to help in countless ways. This love and selflessness has sustained the family and given them the strength they have needed to persevere through the trauma.

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