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Inaugural race, walk benefitting Akron Children’s PICU

8/14/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

Emily Kungli
Photo courtesy of Gretchen Naumoff
RICHFIELD — One year ago, 11-year-old Emily Kungli, of Richfield, was bitten by a mosquito at a family picnic.

According to her mother, Gretchen Naumoff, several weeks later Emily began complaining of headaches, vomiting and making nonsensical statements.

Naumoff said Emily was diagnosed with a life-threatening case of encephalitis after a spinal tap and was admitted into Akron Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). She returned home after she seemed to respond well to medication, but a week later, the headaches came back, and as they returned to the hospital for another visit, Emily suffered the first of many seizures.

Naumoff said doctors put Emily into a medically induced coma and gave her an extremely high dose of medicine. After six days, they attempted to bring her out of it, but she again seized, so she was placed back into the coma.

“Her doctor was worried she would be bedridden because of the seizures for the rest of her life when she came out of it,” said Naumoff.

Naumoff said the family kept a bedside vigil and hoped Emily would “get her sparkle back,” and thanks to the efforts of the PICU, Emily did.

“The doctors were amazed by her recovery, and they said it was like it never happened,” said Naumoff.

Today, Emily continues to do gymnastics and is looking forward to participating in track and volleyball at Revere Middle School, according to her mother. The incident did change her daughter, Naumoff added.

“She knows she was lucky,” said Naumoff. “It has made her a better person, and she is looking at life a little differently. She shows more love for her brother and she is braver. She even tried riding a roller coaster for the first time this summer.”

Naumoff said she is grateful for her daughter’s recovery and to have her home, which she shares with her husband, Tom Naumoff, and 16-year-old son, Nick Kungli.

“The doctors and nurses in the PICU were amazing, and I wanted to do something for these people to thank them,” said Naumoff.

Naumoff said she coordinated an effort to make and donate more than 250 blankets to give to children upon their admission to the hospital.

“These blankets are like a piece of home away from home,” she said.

Naumoff added she felt she needed to do more in honor of Emily’s well-being today.

“The hospital has numerous fundraisers, but the PICU does not have any just for them,” she said. “We decided they needed one, so we created the idea for a race and walk to raise funds specifically for the PICU.”

With help from a committee of friends and family, the inaugural Emily’s Sparkle Sprint was born to raise funds for staff education, research opportunities and a yearly retreat for the PICU team, according to Naumoff.

The event will take place Sept. 21 and include a 5K Race and a Family Fun Walk, both along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath. The 5K Race will step off at 9 a.m., and the Family Fun Walk will start at 9:10 a.m., both from Lock 3 Park, 200 S. Main St.

Race registration is $35 for adults and $12 for children for either event, and includes a T-shirt, a goodie bag and refreshments at the finish line. Strollers are welcome.

In addition, there will be a free photo booth, a DJ, face painting and more.

“Even if you are not a runner or a walker, there will be plenty of fun things to do,” said Naumoff. “It’s not so much a competitive event, and it’s all for a good cause.”

To register for either event, visit www.akronchildrens.org/picu5k.

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