Kalley-Mae Yee weighed little more than a pound when she was born. Tuesday, March 28, it was revealed that the now vibrant 4-year-old girl from Hawaii Island is the 2023 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMN Hospitals) Champion for Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.
Kalley-Mae and her family accepted the honor in front of a cheering crowd at the Sheraton Waikiki. She will share her courageous story throughout the year, inspiring countless CMN Hospitals community partners and supporters committed to the health and well-being of Hawaii’s keiki.
In the fall of 2018, Cherilyn and Kevin Yee were expecting their new baby. Cherilyn was due in the spring, but 10 days before Christmas — when she was just 23 weeks pregnant — she noticed something was not quite right. The Kapiolani Critical Care Transport team flew with her from Hawaii Island to Oahu where doctors at Kapiolani determined that her baby was in distress and would need to be born right away.
Kapiolani’s team performed an emergency C-section. Kalley-Mae was just 11.81 inches long and weighed just 1 pound, 6.6 ounces when she entered the world.
“I saw how small and fragile she was. But when we heard her cry for the first time, it gave us a glimmer of hope,” Cherilyn said. “We wanted to enjoy the moment as much as we could and, at the same time, not get our hopes up.”
That’s because Kalley-Mae’s medical journey was far from over. The tiny micropreemie was immediately placed in an incubator in Kapiolani’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). A ventilator helped her breathe and other specialized machines kept her alive. She was so small and fragile, even her parents were afraid to touch her.
“At 23 weeks, sometimes the baby’s organs are not developed enough to support life,” said Dr. Cherilyn Yee, a Kapiolani neonatologist who is not related to the Yee family. “Sometimes they’re so small that even our smallest breathing tubes can’t fit. Fortunately, we were able to find one that fit Kalley-Mae, and she responded well.”
A few weeks later, doctors discovered a problem with her heart. Kalley-Mae needed open-heart surgery. She was only 46 days old.
“Premature infants often have difficulty tolerating the heart procedure, and Kalley-Mae got sick. She got very sick.” Dr. Yee said. “She developed pneumonia and there were times we
thought she may not make it. But Kalley-Mae is strong and managed to pull through.”
It wasn’t the last challenge during her 183-day stay in the NICU. The little girl endured a second round of pneumonia, 10 blood transfusions, and subsequent surgeries on her heart and eyes. Kapiolani physicians, nurses, specialists, therapists, pharmacists and the entire medical staff offered their expertise, compassion and support.
“Every day was a journey. Some days, all we could do was try to get from morning to lunchtime, then from lunch to dinner, one step at a time,” Kalley-Mae’s dad Kevin said. “Everyone at Kapiolani was amazing. They explained every step, were always compassionate and made us feel like we weren’t just patients, but we were family.”
Today, Kalley-Mae is enjoying her life back home on Hawaii Island. When she’s not dancing or jumping, she is playing as many sports as she can. She loves hitting the field with her T-ball team and, as Kalley-Mae puts it, “running really, really, really, really fast.”
Kapiolani staff who cared for her during the first crucial months of her life say she is a natural fit for the CMN Hospitals Champion.
“She was feisty from day one,” said Lloyda Tamboa, a NICU nurse who spent those weeks with the Yees. “Even when she could barely move a limb or open her eyes, you could tell she was a fighter. Kalley-Mae is proof that sometimes the teeniest, tiniest babies are the strongest.”
Kalley-Mae’s Champion announcement included several surprises, including a trip to California for the family, where they will visit Disneyland and represent Kapiolani at a CMN Hospitals event. CMN Hospitals partners are excited to welcome the Yees to their stores.
“Meeting the Champion family in person really helps our employees and our members put a face and story to the purpose of our fundraising efforts,” said Lianne Shimaoka-Lopez, general manager of Costco Kailua-Kona. “Our whole team looks forward to that day when they come to visit our stores and pass out their pins. It makes such a lasting impression and motivates everyone to keep going and asking for donations for the keiki!”
Champion Pin Represents Kalley-Mae’s Journey
CMN Hospitals partners also were the first ones to receive Kalley-Mae’s Champion pin. The unique design represents her journey:
- The hand recalls one of her parents’ most powerful memories from those early weeks – when Kalley-Mae’s tiny hand could barely wrap around their finger.
- The stethoscope is a symbol of her parents’ love, as well as the lifesaving care Kalley-Mae received at Kapiolani.
- The bracelet reflects Kalley-Mae’s love of jewelry, as well as the many Beads of Courage she received during her 183-day stay in the NICU.
Community Partnerships Support Programs at Kapiolani
As a not-for-profit medical center, Kapiolani relies on community support to further its mission of caring for Hawaii’s families and creating a healthier Hawaii. Kapiolani is committed to providing advanced quality care to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
In Hawaii, CMN Hospitals funds help support key programs and services at Kapiolani that helped Kalley-Mae and many other keiki, including the Child Life program, critical care transport team and lifesaving equipment. Gifts made in Hawaii stay in Hawaii, with 100% of the funds going to help local keiki.
Local fundraising partners Costco Wholesale, Panda Express, Walmart and Sam’s Club, Ace Hardware, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, various Hawaii credit unions, KSSK with iHeartMedia, D. Suehiro Electric, Inc. and more helped raise more than $3 million for Kapiolani CMN last year. Kapiolani has had a partnership with CMN Hospitals for nearly 40 years.
Video: Hawaii's 2023 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Champion: Kalley-Mae Yee
Top photo: Kalley-Mae Yee and her parents, Kevin and Cherilyn Yee.
Inset photo 1: Kalley-Mae Yee as a micropreemie in the Kapiolani Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
Inset photo 2: Dr. Cherilyn Yee gets a big hug from Kalley-Mae Yee.
Bottom photo: An illustration of Kalley-Mae's CMN Champion pin.