Community comes together to support French exchange student and her parents after life-threatening medical ordeal

Anne-Sophie Rocuet (from left), Sandy Burgers, Laure Losey and Christian Burgers in Lottie's hospital room.
Anne-Sophie Rocuet (from left), Sandy Burgers, Laure Losey and Christian Burgers in Lottie’s hospital room.

When Anne-Sophie and Christian Rocuet heard their daughter Lottie would have to get her appendix removed, it didn’t set off any alarm bells.

Lottie Rocuet was in the intensive care unit for more than a week.
Lottie Rocuet was in the intensive care unit for more than a week.

Yes, they were concerned, as any parents with a 17-year-old daughter more than 4,000 miles from home would be. But Lottie’s experience as an exchange student in Prairie Village had been great so far. Both parents had their own appendixes removed in their youths. It would be, they imagined, a minor procedure that would leave her with a small scar.

Instead, the Rocuets have been on an emotional rollercoaster that saw Lottie face a life-threatening infection, and forced her parents to abruptly leave France to be by their daughter’s side.

Now, with Lottie set to leave the hospital soon, the Rocuets credit a group of Shawnee Mission East community members with helping them through one of the greatest challenges of their lives.

“They took care of her like she was theirs,” Anne-Sophie said through a translator earlier this week.

Lottie had her appendix removed at Shawnee Mission Health in Merriam on March 16 and went home the next day. In the weeks that followed, though, she continued to experience abdominal pain. Those pains were initially attributed to side effects from antibiotics, but eventually it became clear that there was an infection. Lottie started having difficultly breathing. A fever spiked. On March 31, she was readmitted to the hospital.

Her host parents, Sandy and Alan Burgers, and Shawnee Mission East French teacher Laure Losey requested a cot be brought into Lottie’s hospital room. They vowed to have someone by Lottie’s side every minute of the day. When word came that Lottie’s condition was deteriorating, her parents rushed to the airport and bought tickets for the first flight they could get to Kansas City. They arrived Apr. 4 to find their daughter in a potentially life-threatening condition.

“Horrible,” is how Anne-Sophie describes the experience of seeing Lottie in the hospital bed for the first time.

The Rocuets were exhausted, but relieved to be near their daughter. One parent would sleep at the Burgers’ house while the other spent the night in the hospital. Doctors determined that an additional procedure was required to address the spreading infection, forcing them to make a large incision down the middle of her abdomen. Lottie was transferred to the intensive care unit after the surgery. By all indications, Lottie’s parents say, the appendix had ruptured before it was removed.

The situation was day-to-day. Losey and the Burgers spent hours at the hospital, trying to provide whatever support they could to Lottie and the Rocuets. At one point, Alan took Christian to a Sporting KC game to try to get his mind off the situation. Sandy cooked Easter dinner for the family and brought it to the hospital – along with a chocolate rabbit with Lottie’s name on it from Laura Little’s.

Having been in a fog, Lottie hadn’t realized her parents had arrived until after she was released from the ICU and regained full consciousness.

“I just cried,” Lottie said of seeing her parents. “I just cried and cried when they came.”

Anne-Sophie said she was grateful for the solidarity that Lottie’s host family and teacher showed in response to the crisis. Lottie agreed.

“It’s really clear that without Sandy, I could be dead right now,” Lottie said. “So, it’s pretty scary to realize that. I’m really thankful to her.”

Sandy and Losey say they were just doing what anyone in the situation would have done.

“She was like my own daughter,” Sandy said. “They’re like family now.”

“We wanted to make sure there was somebody with Lottie no matter what,” Losey said. “There was not one moment she was by herself until her parents came.”

As for the Rocuets, they’re planning to return to France together next week. Lottie says she’s disappointed she won’t get to finish out the year at Shawnee Mission East and experience the graduation ceremony, but she’s ready for the comforts of home.

“I’m a little bit sad because I would like to finish my exchange,” she said. “But after this crazy month, I think I really need some rest and my family. I need to go back to my comfort zone after eight months in a foreign territory.”