“Cate the Great”

“It was literally an out-of-body experience—to see this machine on the side of the hospital bed, breathing for your four-year-old. She was on the brink of death.”

That’s how Ann Cook remembers the night she almost lost her daughter Cate. “Cate the Great,” as she became known during her 26-day stay at UK HealthCare’s Kentucky Children’s Hospital, was intubated and struggling to breathe. She was fighting a rare disease called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) that is most common in children under the age of 10, and is often caused by an E. coli infection.

A candid photo of Cate walking across a rope bridge at a playground.
“Before all this she was perfectly healthy,” said Ann.

HUS occurs when the small blood vessels in the kidneys become damaged and inflamed, causing clots to form in the vessels. Those clots then clog the filtering system in the kidneys, resulting in anemia, kidney failure and a host of other problems depending on how the disease interacts with the brain, pancreas, liver and heart.

Prior to being diagnosed with HUS, Cate was perfectly healthy. But then she got a bellyache that resulted in diarrhea, persisting pain and blood in her stool. Her parents knew something wasn’t right.

A photo of Cate smiling as her father Jerry holds her in his arms. Jerry is a white man with short blond hair, and he is wearing a pair of black-rimmed glasses and a blue checkered button-up shirt.
Cate has always been a joyful and energetic child.

“When we saw blood, we took off,” said Ann, who, alongside her husband Jerry and their ten-year-old son Charlie, made the 70+ mile drive from Somerset, Kentucky, to the Makenna David Pediatric Emergency Center at UK HealthCare. Bloodwork confirmed that Cate had an E-coli infection and HUS—but nothing could have prepared her family for what was to come in the coming days and weeks.

Dr. Stefan Kiessling, an older white man with short gray hair, looks directly into the camera with a warm expression on his face. He is wearing a long-sleeve blue button-up with a blue tie, and a stethoscope around his neck.
“As a parent of three, I cannot imagine anything more difficult than having a critically ill child,” said Dr. Kiessling.

“For Cate, everything happened very quickly,” said Dr. Stefan Kiessling, the chief pediatric nephrologist at UK. “She was having more than blood cell breakdown and kidney injury. The gastrointestinal and brain involvement made us very concerned that she was much sicker than a large number of patients are.”

Dr. Kiessling knew that Cate’s road to recovery wouldn’t be easy. Cate required multiple blood transfusions and continuous dialysis to support her kidneys. Dr. Kiessling, alongside the entire pediatric nephrology and pediatric critical care teams, provided the supportive care and interventions Cate and her family so desperately needed.

A picture of Cate in her hospital bed. She is hooked up to several different machines, and has two attending nurses standing over her.
“We could not have felt better about the care she was receiving,” said Ann. “I just felt so confident in the team.”

“It’s just like God himself put Dr. Kiessling in our path at that time, because he could not have been more perfect,” said Ann. “Probably every patient feels like that, but he guided us through every step of what to expect, and in the most gentle way. Somehow we had him for the first 10-plus days—I now know how their rotations work, and that was very odd for us to have been lucky enough to have had him for that duration, during her most dire time.”

A candid photo of the Cook family holding hands and smiling as they walk down the sidewalk together. Cate’s mother Ann, a white woman with long brown hair, is on the far left. She is wearing a light brown sweater over a white button-up, and a pair of blue jeans. Cate’s brother Charlie (far right) is a young white boy with medium-length red hair. He is wearing a blue long-sleeve button-up and a pair of khakis.
“This experience has changed all of our lives,” said Ann.

Day after day, Cate’s condition continued to worsen. On top of everything, she also developed pancreatitis—a life-threatening disease on its own. Combined with her HUS symptoms, it meant she needed even more advanced care.

A close-up photo of Cate unconscious in her hospital bed. She has tubes in both her nose and mouth.
“It felt like a rollercoaster the whole time we were there,” said Ann.

“It was 1:30 a.m. and we were sitting outside of the pediatric intensive care unit,” said Ann. “They had her intubated, which is terrifying because they had to paralyze her to do the procedure. She’s paralyzed and on a ventilator, and they are about to start dialysis. There were no less than 15 medical professionals standing there, just staring, because it’s such a delicate thing to turn that dialysis on when she’s in such a fragile state. They were waiting for it to crash.”

A photo of Cate and her brother posing together outside.
Cate’s health scare brought her and her older brother, Charlie, even closer together.

But Cate didn’t crash. Slowly but surely, she started to recover. Through continuous monitoring and around-the-clock care provided by the nurses, ancillary staff and physicians at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, her health improved little by little each day. She began to make urine on her own—perhaps the biggest relief. And the spunk and energy she was known for started to come back.

A photo of Cate sitting up in her hospital bed and laughing as her care team plays music for her.
“When Child Life came in, it was the first time I saw her smile in three weeks,” said Ann. “Like a true, actual smile.”

“When the Child Life team came in, it was such a good day,” said Ann. “It was all about Cate. I think they would have stood on their heads just to make her laugh.”

From the moment the Child Life team arrived, the room lit up with song and dance, all centered on Cate. It was the first time in three weeks Ann saw her daughter smile. And when Cate was finally released to go home after 26 long days, the smile the Cooks knew and loved fully returned—but with an extra special gleam.

A close-up photo of Cate smiling in her hospital bed while wearing a princess dress.
“She’s brave,” said Ann. “That’s the best way I can describe her, brave."

“The Cate we left the hospital with is exuberant and full of life. She is the bravest girl, and without knowing the severity of it, she knows what she overcame. She came home with so much joy after a traumatic, life-changing experience, and never once has asked, ‘Why did this happen to me?’”

A photo of the Cook family laughing on the couch together.
“This has taught me to be happier every day [and appreciate] what we have in front of us,” said Ann.

And now, behind those little glasses, that bravery and resilience is forever embedded in her name. To her family, friends and the team that cared for the brave girl they’ll never forget, she’ll always be “Cate the Great.”

A close-up photo of Cate smiling as she leans back and holds onto a rope at the playground.
“She is just exuberant and full of life,” said Ann. “She is happy.”

See how we care for kids like Cate

at UK HealthCare’s Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

Dr. John D’Orazio looks on as lab researcher Dr. Nathaniel Holcomb uses equipment to dye cells. Dr. D'Orazio is a white man with brown hair. He is wearing a white lab coat over a gray sweater and a light-blue button-up shirt, and a white face mask. Dr. Holcomb is a young white man with blonde hair. He is wearing a white lab coat over a gray polo shirt.Ronald “Andy” Combs and his wife Julie Combs pose on a UK basketball court with their arms in the air and their index fingers pointed up. Andy is an older white man with buzzed gray hair and is wearing a blue UK hat, a gray short-sleeve Kentucky Wildcats shirt, and blue sweatpants. Julie is a white woman with long, light red hair. She is wearing a dark gray, short-sleeve UK shirt and black leggings.