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Newschannel 3 Special Report: Fractured Family
ELBERTA, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Whether or not you believe in Miracles, you're about to meet one.
In a Newschannel 3 exclusive, we spoke with young Issy Stapleton.
This young girl with a severe form of autism from Elberta, Michigan, has been thrust into the national spotlight through no fault of her own.
We've followed her case from the beginning, when her family, desperate for help, finally got Issy admitted to residential treatment at the Great Lakes Center for Autism Treatment and Research in Portage.
However, at the end of that treatment, just when things were looking up, everything changed and Issy was very nearly killed--prosecutors say at the hands of her own mother.
Issy's treatment will continue and the donations made by the Stapleton's family and friends will ensure that.
"She fought to come home twice and so that's the miracle that we live with everyday... It's amazing," said Issy's aunt Sarah Ross.
Where the Betsie River flows into the big blue waters of Lake Michigan, in a big blue Victorian house, lives a little girl named Issy.
"It's incredible, said her father, Matt Stapleton. She is doing amazing and everyday it's more and more of herself."
She is, at once, a carefree 14-year-old who loves to cuddle her cats and cheerlead to YouTube videos, and also the central character in a heartbreaking tale that, by now, the whole world has heard.
Not long ago, Issy's story, which is really only beginning, almost came to a very unexpected end.
On Tuesday, September 3, Issy and her mother Kelli were found unconscious in the family van with two charcoal grills burning in the back seat.
They were both rushed to the hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning, with Issy in critical condition.
In a coma for several days, by Friday the prognosis was grim. If Issy lived she would have severe brain damage.
But then, by some miracle, everything changed. Issy began breathing on her own. Then she simply opened her eyes and started talking!
"She said 'tube out,' and then Matt came immediately to her bedside, and she said 'Daddy, tube out,' said Ross. So it was like she was gone and then she was just back."
"We prayed every day and thank god she came out and pulled through her coma and now she's doing fantastic," Matt said.
Within two weeks, Issy was home again.
The brain damage caused by carbon monoxide is affecting her balance and motor skills, but she is improving every day.
And it's a wonder she's come so far so fast. She'd only been home from residential autism treatment in Portage for a few days when the incident happened.
Now, while she recovers physically she's also working to manage her emotions. She and her caregivers live by the behavior plan she learned in treatment.
When we first met Issy, she was prone to violent outbursts. Now her aggression has decreased dramatically due to a token reward system where she earns her favorite things.
"You go back 10 months and it's a whole different kid," Matt said. "She's really doing a nice job following her program and we still have a tight schedule and we're trying to keep incorporated all the things that she was doing while she was at the center."
"None of us really knows what she's really thinking, Ross said. We know what she likes and dislikes and we love her personality but they were able to come up with a system that works for her and now she can be in better control of what's she's feeling"
And this second homecoming for Issy - in the space of just a few weeks was very much like the first, as the residents of this small lakeshore town rallied around her once again.
"The community support has been just overwhelming," Ross said.
Issy's friends have been one constant in her life, standing beside her as she reflects on a year of constant change.
Although she's back home, things at home are not the same. Her mother is no longer there. Kelli Stapleton was arrested in the hospital and is now in the Benzie County Jail awaiting trial on a charge of attempted murder. The case has made international headlines.
But while the eyes of world are focused on Kelli and what will no doubt be a landmark trial in the autism community, Issy's family is focused on her and sharing her incredible story of survival.
"That light was almost gone...it was almost snuffed out. And for a while it really seemed like it was; and so the miracle is that she's back," said Ross.
As for her mother, she is still awaiting a mental competency exam, and her friends are raising money for her legal defense fund.