Supermom and Superdaughter: Theisen Family Continues Fight For Emily
Writer / Janet Striebel
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
You have probably already heard about a most adorable young girl, Emily Theisen, and her family. In 2015, Chris Theisen nominated his wife, Elizabeth, for the Noblesville Mom of the Year Contest and she won. He still refers to her as “Superwoman” in the way that she accomplishes everything she does. From caring for their daughter, Emily, around the clock, who was born prematurely and has suffered from pancreatitis, to managing their two boys, Michael and Jonathon, and everything else in between.
Since she was an infant, Emily Theisen has experienced chronic pain from her. She’s been to the emergency room about every other month with a stay since she was 10 months old. It wasn’t until she was old enough to point to her pain specifically, that the doctor realized it may be her pancreas. Doctors still don’t know the cause of her pancreatitis that is so rare in children.
Emme, who enjoys Disney movies, coloring and painting and playing pretend kitchen, has never been able to eat a meal and has been on some type of supplemental formula since birth.
In order to help relieve Emme of her pain and reduce her intake of pain medications, she underwent surgery on January 31. Emme was the youngest patient ever to have a pancreatectomy with islet cell transplantation procedure done at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Only about six hospitals in the nation perform that surgery on children.
Her 12-hour procedure included removing her pancreas and spleen and rerouting her GI system. Her islet cells were isolated for four hours before transplanting them back into her liver, which will hopefully help Emme to become insulin-free some day. Due to the removal of her pancreas, she now has type-1 diabetes and her glucose levels need to be checked every three hours. After her surgery, she was placed in the ICU for two weeks before moving to a regular room.
“It’s going to be a long road to recovery,” says her dad, Chris. “Her chronic pain is gone from pancreatitis, but she still has some stomach pain because her system is having to relearn and readjust. Her stomach is working again, and she’s getting stronger every day.”
Although Emme had been out of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for about a month, she and her mom have been staying at an Airbnb in an apartment close by the hospital so they can continue with lab work, monitoring her feedings and medicine dosages.
Emme misses her dad and brothers as the family has been separated for more than two months. On the weekends, Chris has been commuting to Cincinnati with 9-year old Jonathon. Michael, who graduated early, and is now 18, attends IUPUI and works two part-time jobs. He hasn’t been able to visit Emme and his mom as often as he’d like. He plans to transfer to Franklin College to pursue a degree in the Medical Business field.
“We’re ready to have them come home,” Chris says. “It’s been especially hard on Jonathon because he and Emme were always playing together and are out of their routine. He jumps at every chance to visit on the weekends and sometimes we stay until Monday mornings at 5 a.m. so that we can visit longer.”
How Can You Help?
Since pancreatic issues are not a covered diagnosis for children, the Theisen family has had to work with their doctors to hurdle long approval processes.
Even with insurance, the Theisen family has been burdened with steep medical expenses. To help ease this load and to increase awareness, Mark Light, co-founder of the Pancreatitis Foundation, decided to help Emme and her family by starting a coast-to-coast bike-riding fundraiser.
Light has also suffered from pancreatitis but has overcome the condition. He traveled 3,000 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla. raising close to $20,000. With more future medical expenses expected, every penny counts toward helping the Theisens.
To make a donation or to learn more, visit emmesmiles.com.
“We’ve been blown away by the support from our community,” Chris says. “So many bad things are going on in the world, yet we continue to receive encouragement from complete strangers.
“I’ve got the easy job because I go to work for 8 or 9 hours and I get to try not to worry about it,” Chris adds. “Liz works non-stop caring for and loving Emme and still manages to do the same for the rest of us. She is more than a Superwoman.”