Central Texas communities quickly ramped up support for a family fighting a tough battle more than 1,000 miles away from home

Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 8:27 AM CST
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WEST, Texas (KWTX) - Central Texas communities started arranging fundraisers and donations on Thanksgiving Day, hours after hearing a West middle schooler was rushed to a hospital for an infection over 1,000 miles away from home.

Nikki Altieri and her daughter, Daytyn, traveled from West to Florida Tuesday to visit family that they hadn’t seen in 12 years. During their travels, she noticed Dayton starting showing unusual but familiar symptoms.

“We got here [Florida] about 6 p.m. on Wednesday, had dinner, put her to bed, and I couldn’t get her oxygen level up,” Altieri said. “I had her on the max that I could give, and she just wasn’t tolerating that well.”

That’s when Altieri brought Daytyn to the local hospital where she stopped breathing until doctors intubated her. Then, they transported Daytyn to a hospital in Orlando, about 300 hundred miles away.

“We’ve done a bunch of tests,” Altieri said. “She’s still incubated, she’s still under a lot of sedation. They had her on a paralytic [powerful muscle relaxer] for a while because she was moving, and they had to do a bronchoscopy.”

Altieri said she is still intubated and under heavy sedatives; however, she is in the process of healing.

Daytyn is unfortunately not new to illnesses. She was diagnosed with a genetic disorder and epilepsy when she was very young, causing a weak immune system.

“She has had pneumonia 12 times in this last year, so she gets it a lot,” Altieri said. “But, this one just kind of unfortunately got her a little harder than most.”

A health scare similar to this also happened in 2016 when a minor illness turned into pneumonia. Daytyn was hospitalized for over 4 months at Baylor, Scott & White McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple, about an hour from West.

Now, Altieri and Daytyn are stuck in Florida, about 16 hours away from home, and Altieri does not know when they will be able to go back.

Even though the community is far away from the West residents, they started planning fundraisers and donations.

“It was amazing the amount of people who just were like, ‘Okay, well, you know, none of us are in Florida, none of us are even close...what do we do here?’” Altieri’s close friend and fundraiser organizer, Lara Lmaak, said. “A lot of us were like, ‘let’s start this fundraiser.’ We know, when it comes to them, the first and most important thing is, ‘let’s pull something together, let’s get them comfortable where they are.”

Lamaak is also Daytyn’s teacher at West Middle School, who has know her since she was two years old.

“Daytyn is the kind of person, like, when you meet her, she’s going to attach herself to something in you,” Lamaak said. “There is something about that girl that she’s going to make you smile, she’s going to make you laugh, and she has done that from the smallest age.”

Lamaak would visit Daytyn and Altieri at the hospital during the previous scare in 2016, and, when she heard the news about Daytyn’s condition, she was devastated and unable to comfort them in this rough time.

“It was heart wrenching,” Lamaak said. “We were headed to my parents, and I pulled the car over...and I’m like, ‘my girl’s in the hospital.’”

That’s when Lamaak as well as other friends and neighbors of Altieri from West, McGregor, Robinson and Austin got together to form the Facebook group--#Daytynstrong’s Waffles And More! They created an online auction, gathering donations from local businesses. They also shared Daytyn’s condition with community members and posted ways for them to donate.

The hashtag---”Daytyn Strong” is familiar to Central Texans. They created it when Daytyn was in the hospital 6 years ago for over four months. Their goal was to raise funds but also to raise awareness about epilepsy.

Lamaak said seizure awareness is a big deal because those surrounding a person having a seizure need to know how to respond and help him or her.

Both Lamaak and Altieri hopes fundraisers and support like this will also help families not feel alone if they are battling similar disorders.

“We want families to know that we have groups and people can reach out to people, and they’re not alone,” Altieri said. “That was one of my biggest things whenever I found out about the disorder is I wanted other families to know, like, we’re not alone.”

Daytyn has made an impact on many people throughout her young life, living her hashtag every single day.

“’Daytyn Strong’ isn’t a statement...It isn’t a hashtag...It is a way for all of us to remember that this child has taught us all different things...different steps throughout life,” Lamaak said.

Since the start, Lamaak said they have already received multiple donations from local businesses, including T-shirts, gift cards, totes and more. They are doing a waffle for items. People can purchase spots in the auction, and winners are selected randomly.

As of Monday morning, Altieri said the community has already raised about $3,000 and counting.

“We have a huge army of prayers, and I want everybody to know that life can be hard, but she’s strong,” she said. “If she can get through anything, all the stuff that she has gone through over the years, then there’s hope out there and you can get through whatever you’re dealing with.”

There are several ways to donate, including Cash App--$nikkialtieri-- and Venmo--@nikkialtieri. There are also #daytynstrong t-shirts for $20, and those interested can email daytynstrong@gmail.com.

All donations will go to medical expenses and transportation for Daytyn and Altieri.

“I want her to be a hero for everybody, and I definitely want her to be able to touch people’s lives,” Altieri said. “She’s an amazing kid, and I know she’ll make it, but we definitely need prayers.”

Altieri hopes Daytyn will be able to return back to school and her favorite activities soon, and, for now, she hopes Daytyn will get well enough to be transported back to Texas.