The child of 9/11 needs the public’s help again

Dakota Emmerick has spent the last 21 years coping with her difficult birth on one of the most tragic days in American history.

Emmerick, a Carbon County native, was born on September 11, 2001, premature with gastroschisis, a condition in which a baby is born with the intestines outside the body. His parents, Buck and Marievna Emmerick, who lived in Carbon County at the time, could not take him home for the first five or six months of his life.

At the time, the Emmerick family was in dire financial straits. They were concerned about how they would pay for the care baby Dakota received at what was then Hershey Medical Center, which included removing most of his insides.

But thanks to generous donations from folks in the Lehigh Valley and northeastern Pennsylvania, they were able to pay for her medical bills.

Dakota has lived a normal life for the past 21 years: she played soccer in school and until recently had a job and ran a Youtube channel where she played video games. One of the few ways she was noticeably different from other children, even among other kids, was that her stomach was bottomless.

“I’m always hungry and everything I eat runs through me, so I can always eat all day but I would never gain weight,” Dakota said. “It seemed like a pretty normal life to me. I would eat non-stop. I would never gain weight. But I was always in the bathroom. I’ve probably spent half my life in the bathroom because I eat so much.”

But after two decades, Dakota’s body has begun to fail him, and the Emmerick family hopes the community that helped give Dakota a childhood will now help him give adulthood a chance.

About eight months ago, the 21-year-old’s body stopped absorbing nutrients from food, food wasn’t moving through his stomach properly, and he started getting tired all the time.

“Anything I ate would make my stomach bloat and physically expand to the point where I was almost in tears in pain,” Dakota said.

Because his body was not absorbing vital nutrients, he became partially blind. He also dropped from 150lbs to 120lbs and started experiencing pain in the nerves along his spine. He lost his job working in a car battery factory and can’t drive.

Dakota Emmerick, with her mother, Marievna Emmerick.

He and his family have spent much of the last few months trying to figure out what was wrong and how to help. Dakota went through a series of tests and x-rays and saw many specialists and doctors at different hospitals and medical centers.

“I was getting progressively worse, I felt worse and no matter how bad it got, there was no doctor who knew what to do. There was no doctor who could cure me. There was no doctor who could help take some of the pain away. It was just something I had to live with,” Dakota said.

She didn’t get answers until her family saw specialists at the Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute.

“The doctor who helped me compared my stomach to a car – he said ‘What they did to you 21 years ago was temporary, it wasn’t going to last a lifetime. What they did was get you off in the meantime and give you a normal life for as long as that would last. It’s like a brand new car, it’s going to run great at first, but no matter how well you take care of that engine, there will come a time when it breaks down and you have to buy a new one. Dakota said.

He now needs to travel to Ohio for colostomy bag surgery on December 16th. Dakota said this will help doctors figure out the best steps to save her digestive system and her life. But the Emmericks, who have faced many significant financial setbacks over the past 21 years, are concerned about piling up medical bills.

The immediate, short-term damage that the 9/11 terrorist attacks did to the airline industry uprooted the lives of Buck and Marievna Emmerick, who both worked as flight attendants. Due to the needs of Dakota and her other children, both took a year of leave, which allowed them to keep their jobs but limited their income. Buck Emmerick said the donations they received from the public after The Morning Call ran an article about their situation allowed them to pay for Dakota’s medical bills, but that’s about it.

“We have lost our homes, we have lost our cars. We pretty much lost everything,” Buck Emmerick said. “For his first fight at Hershey, those bills were over a million dollars and back then, with insurance, we were paying 20 percent.”

The Emmericks have spent much of the past 20 years moving around the country, with other family members’ medical emergencies forcing them to lose everything and have to pick up the pieces more than once. For now, the family has settled in Athens, Georgia, and both parents have stable jobs.

But with Dakota’s body starting to fail, bills piling up, and insurance refusing to cover many things Dakota needs, the family has set up a GoFundMe — “Help Dakota With Medical Surgery in Ohio” — with the goal of raising $50,000. They’ve raised just over $8,000 so far.

“We hope this GoFundMe can go national. We sent it to all our friends and asked “Please share this with your friends”. Because honestly, it’s just hard: insurance companies don’t help. Marievna said. “I don’t want free money for nothing. Her story is a special story: she’s 21 and hasn’t had a really good life.

Dakota is still ill but for now in relatively stable condition: his day vision has returned but he still doesn’t have night vision and he can’t drive. However, his stomach no longer functions as it should and he has an extremely fatty liver with non-alcoholic scarring. She uses total parenteral nutrition, a procedure in which an intravenous tube delivers liquid nutrients directly into her stomach, which can be done at home that she shares with her parents.

“I started on 24 hours of TPN a day and was doing 24 hours of TPN for a while, but eventually I was able to get down to 12 hours,” Dakota said.

But her parents said their insurance won’t cover her feeding tube or the blood thinners she needs. Those two costs alone set them back thousands.

The feeding tube is also just a means of supporting Dakota until she can get the surgery she needs. He can only be on TPN for two years, and his liver condition makes long-term feeding tube use more dangerous for him than for most people.

Dakota Emmerick, with her father, Buck Emmerick

After surgery to place the colostomy bag, Dakota will have to spend about a month in the hospital. You will be able to go home for a short while, but you will need to go back to remove the bursa and allow the doctors to decide the next step.

If things go well with the bursa, the Cleveland Clinic will perform another surgery to fix parts of her digestive system, Dakota said. Otherwise, you will probably need a bowel transplant. Buck Emmerick said the concern is that Dakota will have to take drugs to suppress her immune system. Even if the transplant is initially successful, there is a high probability that her body will reject the graft within five years.

“That’s what worries me: It’s not just going to be this ‘wham! bam!’ you’re done,” Marievna said. “If it doesn’t work, we have to go back to the drawing board.”

Dakota said that although being sick has been tough, the toll on his family is harder for him.

“I know that eventually I will probably make it. There are people who have been through worse things than me and I’m thankful I’m still here. I have a family that supports me,” she said. “The hardest thing for me is that I lost my job, I can’t work, I don’t make any money. All the bills are going out because of me, I want to help but I can’t do anything. The hardest thing for me is that I have to sit here and watch my parents work three times as hard as they normally do just to catch up.It’s just that I don’t want to see my parents struggling.

Dakota said the past eight months have given him a new perspective. He said he’s more grateful for what he has and is rethinking what he wants to do with his life than he is. Lui has purged gaming videos from his YouTube channel and plans to make more impactful content, including fundraising for charities and hospitals.

“My goal is to take what I’ve learned through this and help other people who are going through the same kind of issues,” Dakota said.

Buck and Marievna said their son’s strength and positivity help them keep the faith.

“I just try to look at the positive things, we all love it,” Marievna said. “This Thanksgiving the family is getting together — we’re going to have a good Thanksgiving before I go to surgery.”

The child of 9/11 needs the public’s help again

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