SANTA CLARITA – Despite the early morning darkness outside, Charlie and Katie Fladhammer were bouncing balls of energy at the supermarket. “Let’s get the one with the butterflies,” Charlie exclaimed, standing on tiptoe to look at a flower display. “One candy, a small one, not a big one,” she admonished, as they ran up an aisle to get their favorite sweet. “And a Red Bull for Mom.” Getting flowers and candy at 6:30 a.m. is routine for the Fladhammers, who drive from Las Vegas to visit Dana’s parents in Saugus every three weeks. After stopping at Starbucks for two apple juices and a venti coffee to go, the trio jump on the freeway for a 90-minute drive to UCLA. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Charlie, 4, Katie, 3, and little brother Tommy, 19 months, have transient hypogammaglobulin anemia, an immunodeficiency disease. The regular visits accommodate their need for life-saving infusions of antibodies. The juice serves the purpose of pumping up their veins, making the infusion easier. The Red Bull and the caffeine keep Dana on her toes as she juggles her way through an eight-hour day of treatment that involves the older children getting morning treatments and baby Tommy being delivered around lunchtime. “I don’t want to go,” Katie said as Dana buckled her into the family minivan and set up “Dora the Explorer” on the DVD screen on the back of the driver seat. “I promise it will make you feel better,” Dana said. “Let Dora take you away.” The trip is something Dana often makes alone, since her husband can’t leave his job as a supervisor with Mercy Air Ambulance. His promotion in April is what took the family from their Saugus home to Las Vegas. Pulling special infusion bags behind them – roller suitcases marked “Doodle Bug” for Charlie and “Lady Bug” for Katie that hold blankets and toys used only during the process – the children carried the bouquets toward nurses Jennifer Richlin and Sid Urbano, who greeted them at the second floor of the medical center. “Oh, they’re beautiful,” Richlin exclaimed as she hugged the children. The Fladhammers have a strong network of support from family, friends and the medical staff at Valencia Pediatrics and UCLA. “The infusion nurse has become part of the family,” Dana said. “How many kids go hug their nurse and bring her flowers? This is the woman who sticks them one, two, three, four times a day. She’s fabulous to them. “I remember when we first started, Jennifer said it would be better after three or four times. I didn’t believe her at first, we were so overwhelmed. She’s helped a tremendous amount.” Charlie carefully selected an action figure DVD from a drawer, then jumped up on the treatment table. “I dranked lots of water,” he proudly told Urbano. As they prepared to insert the infusion needle into the back of Charlie’s left hand, Dana and the nurses became a team, surrounding his table and offering words of encouragement. “I need to hold your hand,” Dana said. “Ouch,” Charlie grimaced, while Katie sat in a nearby chair, her eyes wide as saucers. “You’re going really good,” Dana said, locking his stare with hers as the nurses worked deftly. “Breathe.” A minute later, his hand held an infusion port wrapped in bright red tape. Dana hugged him for encouragement, then asked Katie “Are you going to be brave like Charlie?” “No,” she answered, shaking her head. “I don’t want to be brave today. I want to cry.” When it was Katie’s turn, Richlin worked a hypodermic needle around her back, out of sight of the youngster. “How about if I use a teeny, tiny baby needle,” she asked. As she inserted the needle, Katie’s blue eyes got even wider. “We’re in. Good job, Katie.” Something was wrong Dana knew something was wrong with Charlie when he kept getting sinus infections that wouldn’t go away. Her first pediatrician thought she was reading too much into the boy’s sickness, but a new doctor suspected immunodeficiency disease almost immediately and arranged to have the boy tested. And when Katie spent two weeks in the hospital with persistent diarrhea and a fever that couldn’t be explained, the Fladhammers started to suspect that their children might have some of the same problems. Charlie was diagnosed with primary immune deficiency right about the time Dana found she was pregnant with her third child. He started infusion therapy on Feb. 4, 2004, and Tommy was born a week later. Soon after Tommy was born, Dana suspected an immunodeficiency problem when Tommy started getting random bruising and nonspecific symptoms she’d seen before. When all three diagnoses were confirmed, Katie started infusions at 20 months of age and Tommy started at 11 months. Each of the Fladhammer children has a different manifestation of the disease: Charlie has chronically infected sinuses, Katie has stomach problems and Tommy has ear infections that cannot be cleared. “It’s an odd existence for them – they can’t really live a normal life,” she said. “I’m always wondering if the kid playing next to them has a cold. They’ve missed so many play dates and holidays. People coming over to our house are immediately sent to the sink to watch their hands. We live antibacterial lives. “There are one or two questions we can’t answer. What does the future hold and why did they get it? We always present it to them that this is their life. We don’t know if they’ll outgrow it, but that’s kind of slim that they all will.” Dana said she felt lucky the pediatrician went to UCLA and was exposed to treatment for this rare disease. Along with taking care of her children, she tries to take care of herself. “I don’t live and breathe my children,” she says. “It would be bad for both them and me. My husband and I make it a point to go out once a week. If we keep ourselves and our marriage healthy, that’s the way we keep the kids healthy, both emotionally and physically.” For additional information on immunodeficiency disease, visit the Immune Deficiency Foundation at www.primaryimmune.org or e-mail Fladhammer at [email protected] Carol Rock, (661) 257-5252 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!