Eleven-year-old Jessica Nivens just finished her post-operation treatment this week, but the marks from her brain surgery in April remain in the scar across the top of her head and in the pile of medical bills in her family's mailbox.
Concerned friends and community members might not be able to hasten the healing of the former, but they are doing what they can to help the latter with a $5 sloppy Joe fundraiser dinner and silent auction at the 5th Avenue Christian Church at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“It'll help with all the bills and food and supplies, since my parents haven't been working for about two months,” Nivens said.
Those costs have become considerable, as Jessica’s mother, Christina Petersen, said she had to miss six weeks of work to take care of her daughter through the ordeal that began nearly two months ago.
In mid-April, Jessica started having headaches that eventually developed into “stroke-like symptoms,” according to Petersen.
She had trouble with coordination and speaking
After a week of trying to figure out what was wrong, doctors at Benefis Hospital in Great Falls discovered that Nivens had a severe sinus infection that had spread through her bloodstream and formed an abscess in her brain.
She was admitted to Benefis’ pediatric ward while doctors tried to assess the situation with a series of tests, including an MRI, and to figure out how to handle it.
Nivens said the doctors tried to drain it directly with a needle, which “hurt very bad.”
Eventually the doctors decided that the only solution was to go in for surgery to remove the abscess from her brain.
On April 26, she went in for the seven-hour procedure.
After a successful surgery, Jessica spent four days in the intensive care unit before being sent back to the pediatric care unit to recover.
She spent nearly two weeks in the hospital, receiving antibiotic treatment injections every six hours, during which time she also celebrated her 11th birthday.
On May 23, Jessica and her family were able to come back to Havre, though having to continue the antibiotic treatment until Monday.
Jessica, her family and doctors are still watching to make sure things stay better. The next few months are when the infection is most likely to come back.
In about six months, she’ll be ready for some reconstructive surgery to replace the portions of her skull that had to be removed in the surgery.
Until then, though, Jessica is a little disappointed at the limitations on what she can do: no swimming, no gym class and no karate.
“She has to be watched pretty closely,” Petersen said. “So that’s been really hard for her.”
Now their lives are getting closer to normal and Petersen is thankful for all of the support the family has received to make this terrifying situation a little more bearable, including Sunday night’s dinner.
But mostly Petersen is thankful for the people who helped save the life of her daughter.
“I’m just thankful that the medical staff in Great Falls are as wonderful as they are,” Petersen said, “and that we’re lucky to have that resource only a 100 miles away.”