More than 30 years ago, Emilee Dobish was born in Warrenton, Virginia to her parents Tim and Barb Dobish. The pregnancy was normal and her parents weren’t expecting Emilee to have any health challenges at birth. She was delivered by cesarean section and, to the surprise of her family and doctors, turned blue as soon as the umbilical cord was cut.
Shortly after, Emilee was transported to Children’s National Health System and was rushed into surgery. Philip Guzzetta, MD, a surgeon at Children’s National, performed Emilee’s surgery to repair her diaphragmatic hernia. At the time, there was less than a 50 percent survival rate for babies with this birth defect.
After surgery, Emilee was placed under the care of Billie Short, MD, Division Chief of Neonatology. At the time, Dr. Short was a fellow and Emilee was one of her first patients.
Emilee’s left lung had not developed due to her diaphragmatic hernia. With that and the added trauma of recovering from surgery, Emilee’s chances at survival were slim.
Dr. Short called Emilee’s father Tim to let him know that Emilee’s surgery was successful, but that she was still fighting for her life. She told Tim about Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) and said it was Emilee’s last hope. ECMO was a very new treatment in the world of pediatrics at the time and wasn’t available at most hospitals, but Dr. Short and her team knew it could help.
Emilee was one of the first patients at Children’s National to be placed on ECMO. ECMO is often called heart-lung bypass: a machine that takes over the work of the baby’s lungs and sometimes their heart. ECMO requires around-the-clock monitoring in an intensive care unit by specially trained providers. Emilee was on ECMO for about a week and spent a total of five weeks at Children’s National in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and step-down units.
Emilee went home on oxygen and, over the next year, her left lung finished developing and she went on to develop at a normal rate. She went back to Children’s National often for check-ups from her care team including Penny Glass, PhD, a developmental psychologist.
“One of my very first memories as a child was of being at Children’s and doing a development puzzle with Dr. Glass to test my brain,” Emilee said. “Children’s felt like home to me. I loved going and seeing my doctors. Dr. Short feels more like a friend or an aunt than a doctor.”
Emilee excelled in school and graduated from high school as valedictorian of her class. She went on to college, then to medical school.
“My decision to become a doctor was 100 percent influenced by Dr. Short. She saved my life and I always knew I wanted to be like her when I grew up,” Emilee said.
Emilee graduated from medical school and did her residency at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis where she is currently in her first year as an attending physician.
“What’s really amazing about this story is that Emilee didn’t just survive. Emilee thrived. She’s our miracle and I give her all the credit for the amazing woman she has become,” Tim said.
Dr. Short continues her work in saving babies’ lives today, and is now a nationally and internationally recognized ECMO expert. She was recently honored as an inaugural Fellow in the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (FELSO). This honor recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to care, research, and innovation in the field of extracorporeal support. Emilee Dobish is now part of an ever-growing group of children whose lives have been saved by Dr. Short’s groundbreaking efforts in using this treatment modality.
Emilee next to the ECMO equipment that saved her life as a baby.
Emilee at her job as a doctor at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.