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2-Year-Old `Fighting For Her Life’ Nicole Undergoes Heart Bypass Rarely Done On One So Young

Thu., Feb. 23, 1995, midnight

Tubes snake to and from Nicole Marlin’s small body, while a respirator pumps air into her lungs.

Doctors still don’t know whether the 2-year-old North Idaho girl will survive. If she does, they don’t know how much brain damage she will have.

Nicole survived almost an hour submerged in an icy creek Monday. She also survived an operation rarely done on a child so young.

“She’s fighting for her life,” said her uncle, Tom Marlin. “She’s a little scrapper.”

But while the toddler hangs on in critical condition, mounting hospital bills have overwhelmed her family.

Helicopter flights to two hospitals, surgery and around-the-clock care have left the family with a $100,000 bill, Tom Marlin said.

Her parents have no health insurance, he said.

Nicole Marlin was visiting her aunt and uncle’s home Monday when she was swept into flooding Stella Creek north of Wolf Lodge Bay.

Family members, neighbors and rescue workers spent the next hour frantically searching for the girl in the icy creek waters. She had no vital signs when a family friend pulled her from two feet of water.

Doctors in Spokane used a cardiopulmonary bypass to revive her. The toddler’s doctor, Gary Lee, said he believes it was the first time such an operation has been used in the Inland Northwest to revive a small child from near drowning.

Lee said the girl was fortunate to have fallen in icy, rather than warm, water.

In the creek, Nicole’s brain wasn’t getting the oxygen it needed. The cold water slowed her body systems down, so her brain and body didn’t need as much oxygen.

But doctors couldn’t merely warm the girl’s body. They needed to first warm her blood and get her heart working. They turned to a procedure called a cardiopulmonary bypass - one that is often used during heart operations.

A machine took the blood from her heart, warmed it and then put it back into her heart, said Dr. Timothy Icenogle, who assisted Dr. Jack Leonard in the operation.

Doctors in the area have occasionally used the procedure to revive adults with hypothermia. But the operation posed a special problem with a small child, Icenogle said.

With adults they remove the blood through a vein in the groin area. With Nicole, the vessels were too small and they had to open up her chest, Icenogle said.

Nicole pulled through the operation but remains in critical condition.

“`She’s the toughest kid I’ve seen,” said Terry Marlin, Nicole’s aunt.

The girl has taken a couple of short breaths on her own but is being kept sedated, she said.

“We’re trying to avoid things that would stress the brain at this point,” Dr. Lee said.

Lee said he will have a better idea of Nicole’s chances in about a week.

Terry Marlin said family members have been told Nicole could be in the hospital for more than a month.

xxxx Trust fund The family of Nicole Marlin has started a trust fund to help pay for the girl’s medical bills. Donations can be made in Nicole’s name to any West One Bank.

Tags: drowning

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