Saving Annabella

  • Published
  • By David R. Hopper
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Her soft cries filled the room as she was born. To her parents the cries were the sweetest sound to ever touch them so deeply. Like many other parents, Chad and Mirela Krueger knew their daughter would be special, they knew that they would share experiences with their little Annabella that would enrich their lives forever.

They never imagined how suddenly their lives would change because their beautiful bundle of joy, they waited nine months to greet, was suddenly rushed into open heart surgery four days later.

A doctor revealed to them that their beautiful child was born with not one or two but 12 tumors in her heart. The doctor continued with the diagnosis to reveal that Annabella also had three tumors in her right eye and her little brain was riddled with tumors - a condition known as tuberous sclerosis complex. After hearing this, the new parents struggled with the news with heavy hearts.

"Because of the tumors in her brain, Annabella suffers from a type of seizure called infantile spasms which halts all developmental growth," said Chad Krueger, civilian contractor with Multilingual Solutions. "The spasms started when Annabella was only four months old."

In the location where the Krueger's live, the closest form of medical support comes from the all-volunteer Murray Fire and Rescue in Cass County, Neb.

"We met Murray Fire and Rescue because doctors couldn't get control of the infantile spasms," Krueger said. "My daughter is now on three different antiepileptic medications to control her spasms that occasionally need to be adjusted."

It was a member of the Murray Fire and Rescue and neighbor to the Krueger's that took a special interest in Annabella's disease and began studying it. Senior Master Sgt. Gary Self, a member of the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron and Murray volunteer, eventually made a huge impact on the Krueger's life since learning of Annabella's TSC.

"It was around three in the morning when I heard the message about a 20 month old baby struggling to breathe come over the radio," Self said. "When I heard the address, I knew it had to be Chad's house so I called the firehouse and told them I would respond directly to the scene."

Self went on to describe how when he got there, little Annabella was struggling to breathe, a condition known as agonal breathing. Self managed to keep her airway open, rolled her over into a recovery position and as soon as the squad got there we put her on 100 percent oxygen.

"The doctor [at the hospital] said that the timely application of the oxygen when they got it to her and when Gary directed it helped to keep her there and that she might not have made it without oxygen being applied in such a timely manner," Krueger said. "Every time we have had an ambulance ride and a massive bout of seizures she had gone backwards in her development, but this time she came out of the seizure ok, and that may be attributed to the oxygen."

"Without Gary we might not have our daughter anymore," he said.

To the Kruegers, Self will always be a hero, but he is cautious wearing that title.

"The guys who work at Murray Fire Rescue like Steve Gdovic, Chris Spangler and Jim Daly set the example that I strive to follow," Self said.

"I just want to say thank you for, while having a normal job, being there when your neighbors needed you - that's huge," Krueger said. "Thanks from the bottom of my heart and I am sure Annabella would say the same if she could."

With all that has happened to little Annabella, it is the little glimpse of hope obtained from caring individuals like Senior Master Sgt. Self that raises the spirits of those that feel helpless.

"He is my hero," Krueger said. "He is my daughter's hero."

Sadly, not all solutions in life are permanent. Since Self is a member of the U.S. Air Force, this summer he will be leaving Nebraska and moving to the East-coast. This transition has Krueger and his wife nervous and sad to see him go because not only are they losing a good friend but also a hero.

"When she gets old enough to understand we will make sure she knows who Gary is and what he did for her," Said Krueger. "We have been very fortunate to have Gary living so close to us."

"It weighs on our hearts and minds that Gary will not be living near us anymore," Krueger said. "I don't know how to express my gratitude and I know my daughter can't."

The question remains for the Krueger family of who will step in and fill the shoes of their hero, who will be like Senior Master Sgt. Gary Self and take such an interest in saving Annabella?

"I am confident that Murray Volunteer Rescue and Fire will always be there for Bella and the rest of the community," Self said. "They are true professionals and I am just happy that I was in their company for a few years."