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Senior foreign exchange student Lottie Roucet woke up in complete confusion. She was in the hospital — she knew that by the green gown, the tubes in her stomach and the IV’s piercing her arms. She knew she was surrounded by family, listening to the intertwining of French and English in the background of the beeps from the monitor. She also knew that she had her appendix removed — she could tell this by the five-inch incision, stitched straight down the middle of her stomach.
But what she didn’t know was that she was in the ICU because she was in critical condition. In the final quarter of her senior year, Lottie was trying to make out the faces of her family under the bright lights of room 329 at Shawnee Mission Medical Center.
Eight months prior to Lottie’s appendix bursting, she had been a headstrong girl who was looking forward to walking up to people she saw passing through the hallways of her new high school and saying “Hello!” — just because she wanted to know everyone. And she was looking forward to eating every American food — just because she wanted to experience everything about the American culture.
And finally, when the wheels of her plane hit the runway at KCI in August, every part of her body from head to toe was shaking — just because she was excited to live like an American girl.
“I wanted to come to America after watching ‘Shameless,’” Lottie said. “I just remember thinking, ‘America is crazy!’”
She was excited to go shopping on Saturdays and parties later that night. She was also excited to dance at her senior prom.
While her appendicitis kept her from going to Saturday night parties and forced her to go home three months early, before her prom, the stress of her illness birthed a strong relationship with her host family and her French 6 teacher Laure Losey. Her host family cared for her as if she was their own daughter, while Losey broke the language barrier between her parents and the doctors.
The illness started as a few stomach pains and vomiting, two weeks before her first visit to the hospital. Sandy Burgers, her host mother, took Lottie to the hospital just to be safe. The doctor sent Lottie home with a few antibiotics to treat the pains and vomiting.
But just one day later, Lottie was experiencing pains that she said felt like knives being jabbed into her stomach and she was vomiting so frequently she couldn’t catch a breath. So Sandy and her husband Allan took Lottie to the ER, where she was diagnosed with appendicitis. And what started as a day trip became one month in the hospital.
To Losey, her role beside Lottie’s hospital bed became just as maternal as Sandy’s or Sophie’s, her birth mother. In class, whenever Losey was teaching her students about the culture in France she would always have Lottie, her teaching assistant, chime in. Lottie was Losey’s assistant since the first day of school. There was not another student that Losey could teach and co-teach with that had the same experiences from the same country.
Lottie brought Losey a sense of home.
“Because we both come from the same country, we automatically clicked,” Losey said. “She [became] just like my own kid.”
When Lottie was admitted to the hospital, Losey immediately rushed over to visit. When she saw Lottie, she didn’t seem like the outgoing girl Losey came to know in class. She was exhausted and in pain. And as the number of days Lottie was in the hospital grew, the number of Losey’s hospital visits grew as well.
Most days Losey would go to the hospital after school, just talking with Lottie about what she taught the French 6 students that day or places in France they had both been. When Lottie’s parents finally arrived from France — four days after Lottie was admitted — and couldn’t pick up everything the doctors were saying, Losey would translate.
Losey didn’t come to the hospital because Lottie needed her to. She came because she wanted to be there for someone who was not just a student, but a member of her family.
Even when Lottie was asleep in her hospital bed, Losey was still there to keep Christian and Sophie — Lottie’s birth parents — fully updated on the doctors’ reports.
As Losey would translate for Christian and Sophie, Sandy and Allan remained at Lottie’s bedside, paying attention to every word the doctors were saying so they could make sure Lottie was well enough to board a plane to France on Tuesday, April 25.
The Burgers knew they would have a long-lasting bond with Lottie before she got sick. But having had this experience Sandy says it only solidified their relationship.
“We knew we would always be close to Lottie before [she got sick],” Sandy said. “This just showed us the importance of loving the people around you.”
On Tuesday, April 25 Lottie was healthy enough to fly back to France with Christian and Sophie. However, Lottie was not stable enough to go back to her daily routine. She will continue to visit with doctors in France until she is fully recovered.
But Lottie plans to come back to America in the summer of 2018, to see the people who helped her through one of the most difficult times of her life, and complete her experience as an American girl.