WINTERSVILLE - Teresa "Tia" Zaleski was taking a nap when a visitor arrived at her home.
But the 3-year-old happily agreed to have a photo taken with her parents.
She is happy to be home again after spending the past four months undergoing surgeries and healing at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
BACK HOME — Teresa Zaleski cuddles with her parents Laura and Robert Zaleski at their Bantam Ridge home in Wintersville. Teresa recently returned home following a lengthy stay in Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh after she swallowed a flashlight battery. - Dave Gossett
It was the weekend before Thanksgiving when Laura and Robert Zaleski called their daughter's doctor.
"She wasn't eating and she felt warm. We had just had her in the hospital the week before for a day because she had been sick and was dehydrated. So the doctor told us to take her to Trinity West where she was admitted and an x-ray was taken. At first they thought she had swallowed a quarter. No one thought it was a big deal. They had the tool to pull it out but didn't have the right people on duty so Tia was transferred to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh where more x-rays were taken," recalled Laura.
"I was sleeping in a chair in her room when about 4 a.m. the nurse and doctor came in and said Tia had apparently swallowed a tiny three volt battery and she needed surgery immediately. The battery had started eating through her esophagus and windpipe. I was sitting there by myself. Robert was home with the kids and I was completely overwhelmed. A lot was going through my mind at that moment," Laura said.
"I remembered her brother Leon had said Tia was playing with his flashlight and had broke it. Apparently the tiny flat battery had come out and she put it in her mouth and swallowed it. We have a safe home but never thought about a flashlight battery," Laura stated.
That was the start of a 137 day stay at the hospital that included Thanksgiving, Christmas, Tia's third birthday and the birth of a baby brother.
"She was in surgery for 12 hours because they had to be care about her lungs and breathing. They had to take breaks to allow her oxygen levels to get back to normal, The surgery took a lot out of her and she was kept in an induced coma for the first three weeks," noted Robert.
"We would go back and forth every day. Robert would take Wednesday off from work and we would alternate taking her sister and brothers to visit her. When she started feeling better she would ask for her siblings to visit with her on Saturdays so they could play games together," Robert said.
"I work on computers at United Healthcare. But I learned a lot more from seeing our daughter in the hospital. When we saw her after her first surgery she had about 15 tubes coming out of her including two red tubes in her neck that was filtering her blood. We had a priest come in and pray for her and we were praying all the time," Robert continued.
"There were definitely tough days while Tia was in the hospital. The former bishop of the Pittsburgh Catholic diocese was in town for a visit and a recently ordained priest we knew told him about Tia. He said he would remember her at his Mass the next day. I felt such peace that next day sitting in the room with my daughter knowing prayers were being said for her," Robert remarked.
"The nurses and doctors would let the drugs wear off enough during the day so we could talk to Tia and she would respond by moving her head and holding our hands. She was aware we were there. The first three weeks we would be at the hospital by 7 a.m. because that is when the Intensive Care Unit staff would meet to discuss the cases on their floor. We got used to getting home by 7 p.m. and having dinner at about 8 p.m.," Laura remembered.
"Tia came out of the ICU the week before Christmas and we all went up there and celebrated Christmas at the hospital.. Tia had a total of three surgeries with the third and final surgery in March. We got into a routine where she was comfortable that we would leave when it was getting dark and come back the next day," Robert explained.
And Tia finally came home on April 6.
Meanwhile Abraham, the newest member of the Zaleski family was born on March 14.
"That was the easy part. I told the doctors, 'the baby will come when he is ready. But I want you to focus on Tia'," Laura said.
"After Abraham was born I took photos of him and his mom to Tia to look at," Robert added.
"Towards the end of Tia's stay at the hospital our parents and grandparents would visit her on the weekends. And I can tell you it was a very special Easter having Tia home again with her brothers and sister," Laura noted.
"The people at the hospital are seeing more and more of these incidents. Every child's toy should something to secure the batteries in the device. The same with the singing gift cards. Those are powered by tiny batteries that can easily be swallowed. And if there is any question that a child might have swallowed something take them to the hospital immediately," emphasized Robert.
"We have a toddler proofed home. But it just took a moment for Tia to find that tiny battery and to put it in her mouth. We thought she was past that stage. And she never told us she swallowed anything. It can happen in a moment and have lasting results," declared Laura.
"Tia still has a lot of healing to do. But she is home now with all of her family," added Robert.