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A Pre-Christmas Miracle : Recovery: Christie Kowalsky, 9, looked death in the eye just two months ago. It’s hopeless, doctors told her parents, but then. . . .

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two months ago, 9-year-old Christie Kowalsky lay dying.

Dwarfed by a hospital bed made for an adult, she lay still beneath a single white sheet as Lisa, her favorite doll, stood guard beside her. Visible even in the darkened private room at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center, Christie’s face was expressionless and pale, with dark circles under her closed eyes.

Her condition was caused by a rare disease that made her blood vessels leak dangerous amounts of blood into her brain. Doctors said they were powerless to stop the bleeding, and a neurosurgeon told her parents, Kathy and Mick, that it would “only be a matter of hours” before their daughter died.

Then, what Kathy Kowalsky described as “a miracle” happened.

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Christie, a cheerful girl with bright blue eyes and shoulder-length brown hair, somehow survived the night and the blood disease she has fought for nine months went into remission. Doctors can’t explain why she survived, but whatever the reason, Christie, instead of having to go through a bone-marrow transplant that was scheduled for today and would have left her hospitalized over the holidays, will spend Christmas at home in Stanton.

“It’s a miracle, is what it is,” said Kathy Kowalsky, 36, a former insurance underwriter who quit her job to take care of her ailing daughter.

“It’s the best early Christmas present. Nobody could wrap up anything more pleasant. There’s nothing that anyone could ever give that would mean as much to me as much as her getting well.”

At home Thursday, Christie eagerly dressed for a rare night out, preparing to attend a holiday party at the Disneyland Hotel with her family. Thrown by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization for children with life-threatening or lethal illnesses, the party included puppet shows, clowns, gifts and a visit from Santa Claus for 150 children and their families.

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As she got ready, Christie, wearing a New Kids on the Block T-shirt and blue cotton pants, removed a dozen green curlers and let a lock of hair dangle in front of her face. She said that although she was eager to go to the party, she wanted to go back to school even more.

“I miss it. I want to go back and see my friends,” she said.

On Thursday, she was also happy to see her father, Mick, and sister, Stacey, again. Mick, 33, a purchaser for an Anaheim manufacturing company, recently came down with the flu and spent three nights at a cousin’s house to avoid passing it to Christie, whose blood disease has left her highly susceptible to illness. Stacey said she didn’t feel well Thursday morning and was also kept away from her sister.

But when the Make-A-Wish party started, the whole family arrived together, and walked into a ballroom filled with red, white and green balloons. A yellow-suited clown, Captain Leo, greeted her at the door with a handshake and a hug.

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In September, Make-A-Wish granted Christie’s request to meet actors on her favorite TV show, “Full House.” She missed the foundation’s Halloween party because of her illness.

Christie suffers from aplastic anemia, a potentially lethal blood disease that has stripped her body of its ability to produce red and white blood cells and platelets. She has been hospitalized repeatedly over the last several months and had to receive blood transfusions as often as every two days. Now, she needs them about once a week.

Although the disease can be cured only with radiation treatments followed by a bone-marrow transplant, the odds of finding a donor who is a perfect match for Christie are about 1 in 20,000. When newspapers publicized Christie’s illness in July, local residents and the City Council raised $22,000 and recruited hundreds of potential bone-marrow donors.

On the day after her brain hemorrhage--"really the ultimate low of our lives; there was not a dry eye in the (hospital),” Kathy Kowalsky said--doctors bucked the odds and found a perfect bone-marrow match. Christie’s recovery has made the bone marrow unnecessary for now, but the family rests easier knowing that it is available.

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Before Christie’s condition improved, that bone-marrow transplant would have been performed today in a risky procedure that requires three months of hospitalization and leaves the patient even more susceptible to infection. But Christie now has other plans, including Christmas shopping at the mall for her family and her nurses.

Kathy said that her daughter’s recovery “is a great story for this time of year (when) people think about material things. These are the miracles that Christmas is about.”

Now that she’s at home, though, Christie chafes at restrictions brought on by her illness, such as having to stay indoors, and avoid getting bumped or bruised and playing with kids who might transmit some disease to her.

“I tell mom that I want to get out of the house because I’m going nuts,” she said.

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“It’s great to be back together as a family,” Kathy said. “The girls are back to their normal arguing and that’s music to my ears. For so long, I would have given anything to hear that arguing.”

Stacey, 10, said she is happy to have her sister back, even if they do occasionally fight about who gets to sit in the front seat of the car, or who gets to go first when they play Monopoly. “It’s good because if she’s gone, I miss her. I hardly ever get to see her,” Stacey said.

For now, Christie’s parents just hope that the remission will be a complete one. Kathy Kowalsky said they believe that her recent improvement is “the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re not saying she’s cured, but she’s definitely turned the corner. This child has a will to live and she’s going to do something fabulous with her life.”


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