Children's Center Patient Stories
A happy 7-year-old boy, Joshua Sullivan and his two brothers were enjoying one last getaway with their mom, Mary Sullivan, before heading back to school for the year. Their weekend was full of activities that any boy would enjoy: a trip to the beach, a pit stop at a nature center to learn more about reptiles, a chance to play at Grandma’s house. What started as a final hoorah before starting second grade, quickly turned into the beginning of a very memorable weekend for Joshua and his family.
“After being in the car for several hours, I figured that the boys needed to play outside and run around,” said Mary Sullivan as she was settling into her mother’s home in Tallahassee for the final leg of their trip on that August evening. “I yelled for the boys to come inside, but when Joshua ran through the door, I could tell something was wrong.” If you ask the Sullivan boys, you may get completely different stories, but the consensus was that Joshua had stepped on a “stick” when running inside. That’s when the “stick” flew forward and stuck two fangs into one of Joshua’s middle toes. “Joshua came in screaming he had been bitten by a snake. After I looked at his toe, it was clear Joshua had two punctures. He had been bitten by a snake,” Mary knew, with the guidance of her sister-in-law, she needed to take him to the Tallahassee Memorial Emergency Center - Northeast.
While the car ride was full of scared screams and Joshua’s toe turning shades of blue, once arrived the Sullivan family was immediately transferred into a room where Natalie Radford, MD, board certified emergency medicine physician, began the procedure for a venomous snakebite. His toe turned deeper pigments of blue and purple as his entire foot continued to swell. The venom kept spreading up towards his ankle.
Once Dr. Radford and her team had given him a few rounds of anti-venom and felt he was stable, Joshua and his mom were transported to the only Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in the Big Bend, the Tallahassee Memorial Children’s Center. During the ambulance ride, Joshua’s new fascination with snakes quickly turned terrifying as he remembered the specific facts he learned about venom. Joshua began crying, “I’m going to die mommy. I don’t want to die,” between the waling sounds of the ambulance.
Upon being admitted to the PICU, Julie Strickland, RN began treating Joshua, “He was very brave and was most interested in finding out what kind of snake bit him” as his little mind wrestled with the hope that it was not a poisonous snake. As the swelling continued in the PICU, Paul Martinez, MD, board certified pediatric intensivist, addressed spreading of the venom with a few more rounds of anti-venom while nurses kept record. “As the venom continued to spread up his foot, nurses would mark Joshua’s foot with a marker,” Joshua’s father, Dean Sullivan, made it to the PICU in record time from their home in Broward County, FL, after getting the call he will never forget.
During his 2-day stay in the PICU, Thomas Truman, MD, board certified pediatric intensivist, cared for Joshua’s recovery ensuring that the anti-venom had stopped the spreading of the poison. Dean watched as his son began to become himself again, “At one point, Joshua had been getting restless having to lay in bed for some time. A nurse brought in a Nintendo Wii video game which quickly changed the PICU from being a place he couldn’t wait to leave, to a place he was begging to stay.” After two and a half days, Joshua was finally able to be wheeled back into his normal life.
If you ask the Sullivan’s why they chose to come to TMH, they would tell you it was a no brainer. “I was born at TMH,” Mary accounted. “Even after moving away from Tallahassee, I knew in an emergency situation I wanted TMH to care for my son.” Dean echoed that statement, “They treated my son like he was their own. It is amazing to see how much TMH has evolved since we left Tallahassee in the 90’s.”
What is Joshua Sullivan up to now? His visit to TMH gave him a scar and a story that he is quick to share with anyone who asks, especially his little league baseball team. Just two weeks after the incident, Joshua made his first home run – proving his snakebite isn’t slowing him down anytime soon.
A child’s life is full of ups and downs, for Marshall, life was just that.
Marshall is a Kids Korner patient and already by the age of 14 has faced many challenges. Marshall spent the first six years of life with his biological family, then was separated and spent the next years in and out of foster care. In 2013, Marshall was adopted by Betsy Fisher.
Marshall was an active boy and still adjusting to his new mom, his new school and was working on overcoming many issues. In April 2014, they noticed a bump on his knee. Betsy scheduled an appointment with his primary care doctor, who gave him a referral for an MRI and then was referred to Shands. Within a short period of time, the results of the MRI came back positive and Marshall was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. The same day he was diagnosed with cancer, they put his port in. “It all happened so quickly,” Fisher said.
In May 2014, Marshall had his first round of chemotherapy. Through their conversations with his doctors and with their own research they learned that Chemotherapy was an essential part of treatment and both chemotherapy and surgery are often needed. It was important for Betsy that her son was able to make his own decision and have as much control of the situation as possible.
In between his trips to Shands for chemotherapy, Marshall started making regular visits to Kids Korner. Upon meeting Marshall, it was important for our Child Life Specialist, Lauren Sherrill to build a trusting relationship with him. Marshall had behavioral struggles and did not trust others easily. Knowing this, it was important for Lauren to encourage him and speak positive to him. “Giving up on him was not an option, no matter how long a procedure would take,” said Sherrill. “His anxiety levels were very high, a simple finger poke would take up to 3 hours to complete. “ He was angry and upset – it was hard for him to process what was happening.
Marshall has built a long-lasting relationship with all the nurses in the Kids Korner.
In July 2014, Marshall decided to have an above the knee leg amputation. “I wanted the cancer out of my body,” Marshall said. Marshall has since received a prosthetic leg and has nicknamed it “Rexy” after the dinosaur theme on it.
“We’ve built a lasting relationship with all the nurses at Kids Korner and can be seen giving them high fives when he makes his visits. They will forever be part of our lives,” said Betsy.
Marshall is now finished with Chemotherapy and is happy to report his hair is growing back.
One evening, while going about her nightly routine, Jolanda McCoy noticed her four-year old son, Carter, had a low-grade fever. “Since there were no other symptoms, I did what I would normally do, and gave him the appropriate amount of fever reducer. He went to bed as usual,” explained Jolanda. The next morning Carter’s parents noticed that his eye was starting to swell.
Jolanda and Billy Joe, Carter’s dad, immediately took Carter to the local emergency room in Cairo, Ga. He was admitted and monitored, but when his eye started swelling rapidly, Carter was transferred to the Tallahassee Memorial Children’s Center.
Soon after arriving in the TMH Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), a CT scan was performed on Carter and his medical team located an abscess behind his right eye. He was diagnosed with a periorbital abscess with associated sinusitis - an infection of the sinuses and adjacent tissue in the cheek and eye. Carter was rushed to surgery where Adrian Roberts, MD, an otolaryngologist also known as an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, was able to endoscopically drain the infection from his eye and affected sinuses. “It all happened so fast,” Jolanda recalled.
A hospital can be a scary place for a sick child, especially in situations like Carter’s, but it doesn’t have to be. As the McCoys learned, Tallahassee Memorial has the region’s only certified Child Life Specialist on staff to provide kid-friendly explanations for tests and procedures, as well as procedural support. Lauren Sherrill, Child Life Specialist at Tallahassee Memorial, said, “I talked to Carter and told him the CT scan takes pictures of the inside of our bodies. And who doesn’t like to have their picture taken? ”The day after Carter’s surgery, Lauren introduced the McCoys to an evidence-based educational behavioral intervention program known as Creating Opportunities for Parent Empowerment, or COPE. This program was originally created to help parents with children in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), but Tallahassee Memorial became the first hospital in the country to apply the COPE program to children from two to seven years old admitted to the PICU.
The COPE program is designed to reduce stress for families with a child in the hospital, empower parents and caregivers to be actively involved in their child’s medical care and improve the overall outcome for each patient. It features a series of digital and written material for the parents and play activities for children. At TMH, the COPE program is implemented in the NICU and PICU.
Carter’s grandmother, Connie Saul, was by Carter’s side during the majority of his 10-day stay at the Children’s Center. “The program consists of great information and a workbook with activities for parents and their children to perform. The book Jenny’s Wish was a favorite because, as an adult caregiver, it gave me a better understanding of how Carter felt,” explained Connie. “Carter particularly liked the medical play because it gave him a way to participate and play out what was happening to him.”
“It meant a lot to our family that he was able to play and somewhat forget about his illness during that time,” said Jolanda. “He received such outstanding treatment. TMH is awesome!” According to Billy Joe and Jolanda, Carter is happy, healthy (with no vision issues) and back to playing with his friends and toys.
What started out as a week of spring break fun ended with a hospital stay for seven-year old Shelby Bassett.
“Shelby was visiting my sister in Tampa,” says Meghan Bassett, Shelby’s mom. “My sister called Thursday night to say Shelby wasn’t feeling well.” Shelby had stubbed her toe at school the week prior and stubbed it again. She had a fever and her toe was red and warm. “We drove to Tampa to pick her up.”
It was 12:30 a.m. when the Bassets arrived at TMH’s Emergency Center-Northeast. “Thankfully, parking was very convenient and we didn’t have to wait long at all,” said Meghan. Due to Shelby’s high fever, her pediatrician, Dr. Anna Koeppel, admitted her right away to the Children’s Center, TMH’s inpatient pediatric unit, for observation and an MRI.
A hospital can me a scary place for a sick child, but it doesn’t have to be. The Children’s Center has a child life specialist on staff to provide kid-friendly explanations for tests and procedures as well as procedural support. TMH Child Life Specialist Lauren Sherrill recalls, “I told Shelby the MRI looks like a giant doughnut, and we all like doughnuts, right?” “I used a picture book to show her exactly what the machine looks like and said it makes a loud sound, but it won’t hurt you.”
Osteomyelitis – an infection in the bone – was suspected. “Dr. Wong, the orthopedist, was great and so quick to speak to us after the MRI,” said Megan. Shelby spent four days in the hospital and was discharged, continuing her antibiotics.
Ten days later, Shelby had a fever of 102 degrees and was readmitted. She had developed scarlet fever, an infection caused by strep bacteria. “The infection settled in her fractured toe,” said Meghan. “I know scarlet fever can be very serious. I’m a pediatric nurse, but when your own child is sick, it’s tough.” A PICC line – a peripherally inserted central catheter – was prescribed for extended antibiotic therapy.
The trip back to the Children’s Center meant seeing familiar faces. Child Life Specialist Lauren Sherrill worked with Shelby again, this time to explain the PICC line. “I showed her where the catheter inserts in her arm and how it looks once taped up.” Explaining what to expect was calming for Shelby and her mom. Once she was feeling better, the art therapist visited Shelby and colored pictures with her – a comforting and familiar activity she does at home.
Shelby is fully recovered and doing very well. The Bassett family is grateful for her care at every step and especially the extra care given to make her comfortable and unafraid. “We were very confident with the care she received,” said Meghan.