Learning your child is sick is devastating, in any language.

“He got sick when he was two years old,” Miguel Morales’ mother, Maria Martinez, said in Spanish. “His diagnosis was spelled LCH. It is one of the somewhat aggressive cancers. It was a very, very difficult process for him. Very painful for all of us to see my son suffer every day without being able to understand why he does not speak much.”

LCH, or Langerhans cell histiocytosis, is a rare form of cancer that most commonly appears in toddlers and children.

Complicating the diagnosis — the fact that English is a second language for Miguel, his mother Maria and their family.

“We take care of our patients that have are limited English speakers,” said Tania Elguezabal Christensen, Interpreter Services manager at ECU Health. “So we help them to navigate our health care system and we help them communicate with our providers, with our doctors and nurses about their health care.”

Tania and the Language Access Services team — which is comprised of interpreters and translators — help bridge an important gap for patients and families during a hospital stay. An integral part of a patient’s care team, they offer services for 240 languages and dialects across the ECU Health system.

“When we go to get medical treatment, we all want to understand what our diagnosis is and what the treatments are,” Elguezabal Christensen said. “When people don’t speak the language, it’s hard to understand all of that. That’s why it’s so important for us to be a conduit between patients and providers.”

Martinez said she was grateful for the assistance the Language Access Services team provided while her family navigated a challenging time.

“It was a very good thing for me,” Martinez said. “They have been very supportive during this long process with my son. They have helped me to better understand his situation, how to properly give the medications, and to clarify many doubts that I had with the doctors. Since I do not speak the language, they have been a very important source of support for me.”

One part of the journey that is easy to understand in any language, the milestone moment Miguel got to ring the bell at the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at ECU Health Medical Center. It’s a celebration of beating cancer, surrounded by the many teams who helped him along the way.

“For me it meant life, it meant opportunity, it meant opportunity to have my son with me,” Martinez said. “It meant everything. It meant that some of my worries about losing him were fading away. It meant that I could see him grow.”

Today, Miguel is a happy, typical 4-year-old boy. He loves to play and jump around, which was difficult for him to do while he was sick.

Martinez is grateful for the outcome — and for those who made it possible.

“Well, I thank everything, first to God and for giving us the opportunity to heal my son, to the entire doctor’s team, from interpreters, nurses, doctors, everyone who was there, the whole team because they really helped us a lot,” Martinez said.

Along with sharing her appreciation for her healthy son, Martinez also wants other parents to learn from her family’s experience.

“More what I would like to say is just my experience as a mother,” Martinez said. “I would tell people that are out there listening to me and mothers out there — ask questions. If someone tells you this is just an infection, keep digging and keep asking questions.”

Resources

Maynard Children’s Hospital

ECU Health Cancer Care

Pediatric Cancer and Hematology

Cancer | Children's | Health News

The third Thursday of November is National Rural Health Day and ECU Health and the Brody School of Medicine are celebrating team members, faculty, staff and students by shining a light on the work they do to make a positive difference in the lives of the 1.4 million people living in eastern North Carolina.

A note from ECU Health CEO and Brody Dean Dr. Michael Waldrum: National Rural Health Day is a day to shine a light on the contributions of rural health professionals across the country. We created ECU Health earlier this year with high-quality rural health care in mind. The team members who work here truly personify the region and we wanted our name and logo to reflect that. We wanted our patients to know that the care we provide is backed by the educational excellence taking place at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. More than anything else, we wanted eastern North Carolina to know that ECU Health will always represent them. That’s a testament to the more than 13,500 ECU Health and Brody team members, who embody our mission and serve our communities. Thank you for your service and commitment to our organization, region and patients.

ECU Health serves a vast rural region made up of 29 counties and home to more than 1.4 million people. Like many rural regions, people across eastern North Carolina face a number of systemic socioeconomic challenges which have negative impacts on health outcomes. Perhaps most tragic of all, the region has wrestled for years with higher infant death rates than the state average, driven by difficult socioeconomic circumstances, barriers in access to care and fewer local resources to support expecting mothers.

Dr. Madhu Parmar, an OB-GYN for ECU Health, practices in Ahoskie. She helps facilitate countless healthy deliveries, but the ones that don’t go as planned stick with her the most. That is because many of the complications are preventable, and adequate access to perinatal care helps facilitate positive outcomes for both mother and baby. The unfortunate reality is that rural and underserved communities simply lack access to the perinatal care they need.

“This issue is very personal because I feel like there are not enough resources, people and attention placed on caring for mothers and babies in rural areas,” Dr. Parmar said. “I feel like rural mothers and babies are the ones that need care the most and we must do all we can to ensure they have access to that care. You hear about smaller hospitals closing down their OB units and that just increases the risk to mother and baby. If a community has access to these services, you see how the mother and the baby can thrive. That’s what we’re aiming for at ECU Health, access for all.”

Dr. Parmar says the primary challenges she sees in her patients stem from poverty. Data tells us that 1 in 4 mothers in eastern North Carolina live below the poverty line and 1 in 8 are uninsured.

“Because of poverty, patients are not as healthy,” she said. “Obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, are the things presenting difficult challenges for normal patients, and those conditions are even more challenging for pregnant patients. The reality is that we take care of a lot of high-risk patients in the East because many of our patients experience poverty.”

Across the region, more than 50 percent of the mothers delivering babies at ECU Health hospitals are clinically overweight. In Ahoskie, where Dr. Parmar practices, the average Body Mass Index (BMI) is about 40, nearly 15 points higher than the high range of a healthy person.

Keeping patients informed and educated about their health has been a key focus, Dr. Parmar said. Understanding illnesses and what to watch for is half the battle; a healthy mom often times leads to a healthier pregnancy.

“A nurse who specializes in diabetes care comes to our office once a week to educate our patients,” Dr. Parmar said. “She teaches them how to monitor their blood sugar and how to improve their diet so that we have optimal outcomes for the babies. She works with our nurses, too, and makes sure they’re looking through patients’ blood sugar diaries when they come in. The biggest thing we can do is be available to these patients.”

Women’s care close to home

At a time when many rural communities across the United States are losing access to obstetrics and women’s care services, ECU Health is doing its part to maintain and enhance obstetrics offerings in hospitals across the region.

According to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research, 183 rural hospitals have completely shuttered operations since 2005. When a hospital closes in a rural community, it makes it difficult for that community to thrive. One of the initial signs of trouble for an ailing rural hospital is a reduction or elimination of labor and delivery services.

Women’s services closures are often driven by the sustainability of the service itself. Staffing an around-the-clock unit is difficult due to the shortage of health care workers. The absence of nearby maternity services results in longer travel times, higher costs and medical complications.

In 2019, an average of 47 babies were born per day across the 29 eastern North Carolina counties. Those babies represent the future of the communities in which they are born and live, signifying the importance of maintain hospital-based obstetrics and labor and delivery services.

Dr. Daniel Dwyer, an OB-GYN at Outer Banks Women’s Care, said he remembers a time when many mothers in the area used to deliver babies on the way to the hospital. He said having rural hospitals close to where patients are can make the difference for positive outcomes, especially for mothers and babies.

For those living in communities where specialist care may not necessarily be only a few miles away, it is important to find ways to bring services directly to them. At the Outer Banks Women’s Care clinic, Dr. Dwyer said the services they offer keep patients close to home while receiving leading-edge care.

“We have begun to see patients for perinatology consultations, which is an important part of coordinating care for our highest risk patients.” Dr. Dwyer said. “Historically, it would take more than a half day for patients to get a consultation with a maternal-fetal specialist. In addition to the travel, the setting and staff would be unfamiliar for the patient. There is increased anxiety, cost and potential for loss of key information when patients travel for services that can be delivered in their trusted medical home. We hope to continue to leverage the technology and professional relationships to provide specialist care in rural settings. I think this is but one large step in the right direction toward reducing the disparities in access to the highest quality of care for our patients.”

Supporting hospitals across the region

High-quality perinatal care and labor and delivery services are synonymous with the ECU Health name. Dr. James deVente, associate professor at Brody and medical director of obstetrics at ECU Health Medical Center and Angela Still, senior administrator for women’s services at ECU Health Medical Center, have helped lead a perinatal outreach team that takes high quality training and best practices into other hospitals across the region, including facilities not affiliated with ECU Health.

Since 2012, the outreach team has visited every hospital across the region and has helped smaller hospitals better prepare for expectant mothers and new babies with serious medical conditions. From 2018-21 alone, the perinatal outreach team visited 18 different hospitals across the region, hosting 169 simulation days and educating more than 500 students on advanced life support training, emergency simulations, electronic fetal monitoring and more.

According to Dr. deVente, these efforts are a necessary part of improving care, reducing infant mortality and helping eastern North Carolina thrive.

“Data shows us that when a woman has to travel more than 50 miles to a hospital, her outcomes are worse. Data also shows us that businesses want to come to communities where labor and delivery services are present,” Dr. deVente said. “At ECU Health, we designed the outreach program and cover the cost of this work with those realities in-mind. If we are going to solve the infant mortality issues that our region faces, we are going to have to work together with health care partners across the East. I’m proud to say we are leading the way in that regard and the work is truly making a difference.”

Innovations to bridge gaps

It is no secret that eastern North Carolina is a vast rural region with long travel times between communities. An innovative program launched in 2020 at East Carolina University is helping to make women’s telemedicine, telepsychiatry and nutritional support services more accessible.

The MOTHeRs Project was first offered to patients at primary care obstetric clinics in Carteret County and has since expanded to ECU Health and other clinics in counties across the region. Through formalized partnerships with clinics, patients in the practices are cared for by both an ECU specialist and their local physician through a combination of telehealth and face-to-face visits.

Dr. Dwyer and Outer Banks Women’s Care were the third clinic in the ECU Health system to join the MOTHeRs Project. Maternal-fetal medicine and behavioral health care offerings for expectant mothers has been a much needed addition to the practice.

“We have identified access to mental health care as the greatest need in our rural communities. This need is increased during pregnancy and the post-partum period. Providing this service is a huge addition to maternal health care,” Dr. Dwyer said. “We have already begun to have mental health appointments in our office through the MOTHeRs Project. The feedback from our patients have all been very positive. This is just the beginning of learning how to give the needed specialized care in rural offices.”

Through its ongoing work, the MOTHeRS Project expects not only to provide care to those who need it, but also to generate new knowledge regarding how barriers to care can be better addressed. It aims to be a national model to ensure that every woman in rural America has a safe and healthy pregnancy and delivery.

“ECU Health, Brody and East Carolina University are truly pioneering high-quality rural obstetrics and women’s care services,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, ECU Health CEO and dean of Brody. “Our hospitals and clinics provide excellent care in communities across eastern North Carolina. The perinatal outreach team trains other smaller hospitals on emergency care, best practices and more. Telemedicine innovations like the MOTHeRs Project makes patient-centered care more accessible. I’m proud of the work that all team members do to help our mothers, babies and communities thrive.”

Resources

About ECU Health

ECU Health Women’s services

ECU Health Maynard Children’s Hospital

Children's | Community | Women's

Greenville, N.C. ECU Health donated Stop the Bleed Kits to public schools in Tyrrell, Currituck, Northampton and Halifax counties as part of its goal to distribute these life-saving resources to public schools across eastern North Carolina. These kits provide resources such as tourniquets, trauma dressing, compressed gauze, gloves and training for school staff in the case of a bleeding emergency before professional help arrives.

“ECU Health is excited to continue expanding our distribution of Stop the Bleed Kits in the counties we serve in eastern North Carolina,” said Erika Greene, pediatric trauma program manager for Maynard Children’s Hospital at ECU Health Medical Center. “Time is of the essence for traumatic injuries, and early intervention can save lives. In rural areas like eastern North Carolina where the distance between schools and hospitals may be greater, these kits enable school staff to treat children early, improving chances of better outcomes.”

Stop the Bleed Kits are funded by Children’s Miracle Network with training provided by Maynard Children’s Hospital. ECU Health has donated more than 64 Stop the Bleed Kits to schools this year, with a total of 354 kits in 12 counties since the program started in eastern North Carolina. School nurses in each county help train staff to use the kits, which ensures more children can be treated with supplies that do not expire.

“We are thankful for the generous gift of Stop the Bleed Kits provided by Maynard Children’s Hospital for every school in Currituck County,” said Jennifer Solley, school nurse, Currituck County Schools. “An emergency in the school setting can occur at any moment. Stop the Bleed training and equipment in each school will equip the staff with the knowledge and tools needed to respond to any bleeding emergency. With these kits, we are prepared and able to reduce or eliminate the loss of life due to an emergent bleeding situation whether it be a single playground injury or a mass injury situation.”

Preventable blood loss is one of the most common contributing factors in trauma-related deaths. Approximately 40 percent of trauma-related deaths worldwide can be attributed to bleeding or its consequence. If bleeding is managed early, the chances of recovery and survival are much greater. The items in the kits help control the loss of blood, leading to positive outcomes for those who sustain injuries.

Children's | Community | Health News

Pediatric patients at the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at ECU Health Medical Center got a little taste of Halloween as they had the chance to dress up and see ECU Health team members and community groups participate in a parade.

During the parade, floats with team members dress up as everything from Disney’s Up characters to safari themes poured by while patients and families had an opportunity to step outside of their rooms and enjoy some fresh air on a warm afternoon.

Quionna Lofton, the mother of pediatric patient Emoni Salvant, said it was a great experience for her and her daughter.

“It makes me feel really good,” Lofton said. “I didn’t think she would get to experience Halloween today because we are here. This is very nice and well thought out, it was just very lovely.”

Emoni said her favorite float was the Trolls characters and her mother agreed, since she got to see her daughter’s smile light up as it came by.

Various community partners came out to bring a little joy to the youngest patients at ECU Health Medical Center. The Greenville Fire Department brought two trucks to the parade while the Pitt County Sherriff’s Office showed off a safari-themed float. The Down East Wood Ducks baseball team mascot, DEWD, gave patients a big wave from the back of a Jeep while ECU’s mascot, PeeDee the Pirate, interacted with patients and families.

Karolyn Martin, Miss North Carolina 2022, was on hand for the parade as well. She said it was a great experience, and a personally meaningful cause for her.

“My younger sister actually has Crohn’s Disease,” Martin said. “When she was diagnosed, she was in a hospital for about eight months of her year in 8th grade. I know how important it is for families to have people come that care about their children and also to celebrate the people that are making sure children are safe and healthy – that’s so important and why I was so excited to be here.”

Patients had the opportunity to select a costume from those available in the Maynard Children’s Hospital and got to select a party favor, including books and other fun activities.

Chloe Williams, a Child Life intern who helped organize the event, said it was special to see the smiles on the faces of patients and families after the time spent planning.

“I think it’s great. I think it provides a sense of normalization to the hospital experience, because a lot of the time they don’t get to have a Halloween if they’re here,” Williams said. “Just to provide something that they can enjoy and the parents can enjoy, too, is a really special thing.”

Williams said it’s also something team members look forward to each year. Whether they are dressing up and riding along on a float or out in the sea of children, it’s a welcomed opportunity to see patients in their natural setting – enjoying time as a kid.

Children's | Community | Featured

Jamysen Howard during her NICU stay in 2010.

From premature babies to complex conditions, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital sees the youngest patients at ECU Health Medical Center and provides high-quality, compassionate care while looking after families throughout their NICU journey.

Along the way, many families find a community and support system around them as they navigate the experience.

Thriving 12 years later

Tonya Howard found out at her 11-week ultrasound that her daughter would be born with her intestines outside of her body, a condition called gastroschisis.

While baby Jamysen grew, plans were lining up to have a pediatric surgeon join the team at Maynard Children’s Hospital at ECU Health Medical Center just in time for Jamysen’s arrival. However, when she came four weeks early, the pediatric surgeon received emergency privileges and successfully operated on her just after her birth.

Tonya said the supportive care team helped her and her family immensely during their time in the NICU. While they took care of Jamysen, they also kept the family up-to-date and informed.

“The NICU nurses who, probably about four or five of them I still talk to, kept me up with Jamysen’s progress,” Tonya said. “I had two other children at home, so I’d go home and spend the night and when I’d get up in the morning, the first thing I’d do is call the NICU to see how she did that night. The nurses were the ones that took care of her and they were with her all night.”

Jamysen is now in 7th grade, excels in school and plays volleyball for her school and travel teams.

She also said the NICU community is very strong and has been happy to serve as a support to other NICU families, including one that experienced gastroschisis, just like Jamysen.

Today, Jamysen is 12 years old and thriving. Tonya said while they were told there was possibility Jamysen could experience trouble with physical and mental development, she is now an honor roll student and plays volleyball with school and travel teams.

“We’ve always told her that she can do anything she wanted to do,” Tonya said. “I was like, ‘before you were one day old, you’d already been through a five-hour surgery so you know what, you can do anything you want to do.’ And she’s done just that. She knows she’s tough, she’s never had much fear and she’s headfirst into everything and always has been.”

Jamysen frequently participates in Children’s Miracle Network events as well.

Tonya has a unique perspective on the Maynard Children’s Hospital as a former team member in the pediatrics department, including time before the Children’s Hospital was built.

“At one point the NICU was just one big room. When Jamysen was born, the NICU was what it is now and each baby had their own individual room,” Tonya said. “Everything from the beds to the Child Life [team] and now they’ve progressed to where the parents can even log on and see their babies when they’re not able to be there. We didn’t have that while we were there but that’s just amazing.”

Rallying around Waylon

Waylon Denny is shown in a crib after having a tracheostomy.

On July 23, 2016, Waylon Denny was born at 23 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces. He spent the first 298 days of his life at the Maynard Children’s Hospital, beginning with about four months in the NICU.

Following a surgery for young Waylon, he became sick and needed immediate intervention. His providers knew one treatment, called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), could be lifesaving.

“I mean, they all really rallied right around us,” Waylon’s mother, Sara, said. “They got the doctors and everybody in the PICU that had anything to do with ECMO to come down to look at him to see if he would be a candidate for ECMO.  And I truly believe if it was not for his respiratory therapists and nurses fighting for him that day I really do not believe that he would even be here.”

ECMO is a treatment where blood is pumped out of your body and into a machine that removes carbon dioxide and then flows blood back to tissues in the body. One of the providers fighting for Waylon was Dr. Shannon Longshore.

“I remember Dr. Longshore telling us that in a baby his size, 23 weeks, he was already swollen,” Sara said. “Everything he had been through, she should not have been able to get the [tubes] in his neck. And I remember her telling us that she looked at the team in that room and told them that she was going to keep trying because we were two weeks away from going home. And she closed her eyes and told God if it was his will or for him to live, they would go in. Well, those [tubes] went in.”

Waylon started kindergarten this year.

Sara was a first time mom and said it was hard to know what questions to even ask. Luckily, she said, the doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists were there to help. They explained things to her and the family and checked on them frequently.

Six years later, the check-ins have not stopped, she said.

“We’ve had so many nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists friend us on Facebook just so they can keep following him and see how he’s doing,” Sara said. “And then when we were able to go to the hospital before COVID, and we would go and visit the NICU and the PICU and everywhere where he had been.”

Waylon is six and starting kindergarten and has met every challenge he’s faced in his young life head-on.

September is NICU Awareness Month and Sara said that she and Waylon have NICU Awareness Day (Sept. 30) t-shirts that they wear each year and she’s looking forward to celebrating and recognizing the day once again with her miracle son.

Twins fight through NICU together

Twins Molly and Lucy Davis are shown during their NICU stay.

Owen and her husband Garrett Davis were expecting twins and enjoying a family vacation before welcoming the new additions to their family. But their vacation was cut short when Owen could feel something was not right and she went into labor at 22 weeks.

Molly and Lucy Davis came into the world each weighing just 1 pound, 9 ounces and were immediately placed in the NICU at Maynard Children’s Hospital. The twins were both fighting infections early on in their lives and experienced many tests, treatments, procedures and exams over their 128 days in the NICU.

Owen said they experienced the full range of the NICU rollercoaster during their stay, but they were comforted along the way by the supportive and caring team at the hospital.

“One of the biggest things that I remember were the nurses and our neonatologists,” Owen said. “We still keep in touch with them really on a daily basis. Some of our nurses babysit for us, which is really special. Just the people that we encountered throughout our long stay made it bearable.”

Along with the great support of care teams, Owen said some of her family’s closest friends came from their time in the NICU. She said it is a special bond and shared experience for families of NICU children.

Recently, Owen had someone reach out to her on social media saying their friend was about to have a child at 23 weeks and the two got in touch with each other.

The Davis family takes a photo at the beach.

“It’s really cool to have that connection and to be able to provide insight and support to other families going through what we’ve been through,” Owen said. “So I’ve been in touch with basically a stranger from across the country who saw our story and reached out for some guidance and just a listening ear to be able to bounce questions off of and support and vent. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been through it.”

Being open with her family’s story has brought comfort to others and she’s happy that her twin daughters are beginning to understand their own story as well.

She said it’s important to her that Molly and Lucy know how strong they are and that their parents advocated and fought for them from the time they were born.

“It was super hard and trying, but it’s also their testimony and they understand that at 3 years old. It’s really two miracles that we were able to witness,” Owen said. “They know, as much as a 3-year-old can. We have their blessing beads, these little beads that they got for every procedure and every test they had, we have them hanging up on their beds and we have their first diapers that are about the size of a credit card. We keep two of those on our entryway table in our living room as a constant reminder of what they’ve been through.”

Owen said she has a video that she put together of her daughters’ NICU stay that shows up in her memories each September and serves as a reminder of the importance of the month for her family — and so many others.

Resources

Howard family story (2011)

Davis family story (2020)

Denny family story (2018)

Maynard Children’s Hospital

Inpatient Neonatal Care at ECU Health

Children's | Featured | Health News

Renovations to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital, known as the PICU, provided a special way to honor some of the bravest patients.

“I’ve had families who their child has spent a significant amount of time in the PICU and asked, ‘How can we leave my child’s legacy on the unit?’” said Child Life Specialist Chelse Cudmore. “And I saw a picture of a wave and I was like, you know, a wave really represents patient and families stays while in the ICU as well as represents grief.”

One ECU Health nurse, Lacey Boldyrev, knows firsthand the journey of a family in the PICU. Her son Thaddeus was transferred to Maynard Children’s Hospital shortly after his birth.

“He was born in Jacksonville at Onslow Memorial Hospital,” said Boldyrev. “We had had just the normal pregnancy, normal ultrasounds, nothing special. I went to go get him and they told me that I couldn’t pick him up and I had to go back to my room and that the doctor would call me there. So I went back to the room and I waited. And the pediatrician that was in the hospital that day, she called and she said, ‘Your son has congenital heart disease and we’re going to send him to Greenville.’ He passed away on Christmas Day, December 2015. And I just felt like after he was gone, that there was that big empty hole.”

In the year that followed. Lacey felt called to serve the medical field and to care for patients just like her son. Her first choice upon graduating from nursing school was the PICU at Maynard Children’s Hospital. The admiration is mutual with the child life team honoring Lacey and choosing Thaddeus’ legacy to represent those who came before.

Cudmore reflected on the wave wall selection process.

“As we were talking about, how could we make this a significant thing? And Lacey, having a child who spent a significant amount of time and would have absolutely qualified for the wall and then him passing as well, and then her that kind of motivating her to want to be a nurse and our PICU. I mean it was really no question about it,” Cudmore said.

“I was asked by the child life team if I would want to put that on the wall,” said Boldyrev. “And I was completely honored to do that. It’s just a little bubble that it means a whole lot to me.”

Resources

Maynard Children’s Hospital

Watch more ECU Health News videos

Children's | Health News

Dana Parker poses for a photo with her daughters.

It started out as a typical holiday weekend for Dana Parker and her two daughters.

“We had plans to go hang out with my family the next day, for a cookout,” Dana said, about their plans last summer. “Fourth of July is a big holiday in our family.”

But overnight, those plans for a celebration quickly changed.

“I woke up a few times the next morning and thought, ‘Man, the house is really quiet. I’m surprised the girls aren’t up yet,’” Dana said.

Next came a horrifying discovery, as Dana found her oldest daughter Parker unresponsive on their living room floor.

“She’s just covered in vomit. She had definitely aspirated, I can hear it gurgling in her lungs,” Dana said, as she recounted the experience that day. “Her body is cold, I mean it is cold, stiff, she’s not responsive at all.”

Dana then finds herself reeling as first responders hone in on a possible cause. “They just kept saying, ‘Do you think it could be an overdose?’ They’re hooking her up to all these things and they just keep going back, like ‘Ma’am, she’s young, she’s healthy, all of these symptoms point to an overdose,’” she said.

Evidence found on Parker’s cell phone confirmed those suspicions. “In the course of about 25 minutes, she consumed almost 26 shots of alcohol,” Dana said.

“Depending on how old you are, how much you weigh, how much alcohol you’re ingesting, every child is different in terms of the effect it’s going to have on you,” Nicole Belcher, PA-C, a physician assistant at the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at ECU Health Medical Center (VMC).

In Parker’s case, she consumed enough alcohol for the care team at the Children’s Emergency Department at VMC to warn of an unknown outcome.

“They said, ‘At this point we don’t know if she’ll wake up. And if she does we have no idea what condition she’ll be in,’” Dana said. “She was already on borrowed time. I mean, it is literally by the grace of God that she was even still breathing at that point.”

Breathing then – and thriving now. While minor nerve issues persist, the multi-sport student athlete has made nearly a full recovery. And Dana is grateful for the care her daughter received.

“The little things that they do mean more than what they realize. Just the little kind words and taking the time to ask the questions and to say, ‘Hey, are you ok? Is there anything I can get you?’ I would just love to say ‘thank you,’” Dana said.

Now Dana wants other parents to learn from her family’s experience, and to consider how they talk to their children about the dangers of drinking.

“In her eyes, maybe she was drinking responsibly. She wasn’t out on the street, she wasn’t at a party, she wasn’t driving, you know – she’s in the comfort of her own home. She gets curious, she wants to experiment,” Dana said.

Experts agree.

“Bottom line, is to have the conversation. I think the earlier we walk about it, the better,” said Belcher. “The reality is, they are going to learn it from you, or they’re going to see it on social media, they’re going to see it on television, they are going to see it on the movies. Being able to have that open communication and being able to model safe behaviors with alcohol is the most important thing.”

Resources

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. If you or a loved one needs support, resources or treatment, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can help.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is free, confidential and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-662-HELP.

They also offer an online treatment locator: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Watch more ECU Health News videos

Children's | Featured | Health News

Vidant Health team members and other community organizations came together to give patients at the James & Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital a Halloween experience to remember.

More than 20 cars drove by the Maynard Children’s Hospital with decorations on their cars and decked out in Halloween costumes. From the Mystery Machine to Star Wars and unicorns to super-dogs, everyone came out to put a smile on the face of Vidant’s smallest patients.

Alix Larrazabal is a Child Life student at the children’s hospital and helped organize the parade. She said the event was a success and seeing the reactions from the children was a highlight.

“It was honestly the most fun thing to see this come to life from the very beginning, months ago when we first started talking about it to seeing it now, how it turned out and how excited the kids were, it was amazing,” Larrazabal said. “I’m really happy with how it turned out.”

The ground outside the front entrance to the children’s hospital was decorated with Halloween-themed chalk as some East Carolina University students and children’s hospital patients brought out the spirit of the season. Many children showed off their Halloween costumes during the parade as well.

In years past, team members would dress up in their costumes and visit patients but COVID-19 brought about changes to the event. Last year was the first year of the parade-style Halloween celebration and it was a hit. Larrazabal said it’s important for the patients to have a safe and memorable holiday.

“This allows all the kids to safely come outside despite why they’re here at the hospital,” Larrazabal said. “It gives them a normal Halloween when they might not have gotten that inside the hospital.”

Larrazabal said the patients in the Maynard Children’s Hospital received a goodie bag with toys and art supplies as part of the event, whether or not they could make it outside to the parade.

Children's

On July 23, 2021, Cleere Reaves, 26 and a half weeks pregnant with her and her husband Will’s first child, headed to a regularly scheduled OB-GYN appointment with Dr. Kori Whitley for a glucose screening.

Cleere also had an ultrasound added to her visit, though it wasn’t totally necessary based on her scheduling.

“Praise God that was added,” Cleere said.

The ultrasound showed that something was wrong in the womb and it was time to move Cleere immediately over to Maynard Children’s Hospital at Vidant Medical Center. Dr. Whitley told Cleere and Will that they might be 90 hours from delivery, but their son would likely need to be delivered even earlier than that.

Will, a lawyer, began his nearly hour and a half drive from court in Onslow County while Cleere was admitted to the hospital for more ultrasounds and tests.

“Basically they figured out that they didn’t think it was safe for the baby to be in the womb anymore,” Will said. “And then the question was, well how long can he be in there?”

Sledge Strong

Photo courtesy of Reaves family

The time frame changed quickly as the team at Maynard Children’s Hospital reviewed the situation. Among several other factors, the ultrasound revealed that there was fluid around Sledge’s liver and near his brain, prompting doctors to be extremely concerned about a serious condition called hydrops, which can be life-threatening for premature babies.

Cleere was taken back about 2 p.m. that same day, July 23, to deliver her baby boy. As William Sledge Reaves was born, doctors could tell right away there was no sign of hydrops – the first big win in the life of a young fighter.

“It was really incredible because I can definitely tell you, there were angels in that room that helped him,” Cleere said. “I have no doubt that the Lord was very much present in that room and fighting for him.”

Sledge, with an appropriately tough name, weighed just 1 pound, 12 ounces at birth and was intubated right away to help him breathe. Intubating a child so small was another early win.

Sledge has been in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Maynard Children’s Hospital since his birth and continues to get stronger and face the ups and downs of his young life.

Life in the NICU

Cleere and Will said they often hear the term “NICU rollercoaster ride” as they navigate this time with their newborn son. There are plenty of wins and challenging times, but Will and Cleere both said the support of team members in the NICU keep them on track.

“The providers are really helpful with that,” Will said. “If Sledge does have a tough day with one thing, they’ll say look at all these other great things that happened today. It’s hard but it’s a great reminder.”

“You’re kind of trying to coach your mind to say ‘Hey, this is part of the ride and sometimes what feels like a back step is not. His body is learning, all his systems are growing, he’s maturing and this is part of it,'” Cleere said. “It’s really just having such a sense of trust that they’re good at what they do, this is not their first rodeo, so Will can be the dad and I can be the mom – because that’s what Sledge needs and he can feel that from us I think.”

Trusting the care team is an invaluable part of life in the NICU, Will and Cleere agreed. They said it’s not natural to have a baby and leave the hospital to go home with their child staying behind.

The camaraderie with the care team and welcoming team members at every turn who care for physical and emotional needs make it easier to sleep at night and come back into the Maynard Children’s Hospital each day to spend time with their baby boy and focus on being parents.

“I think it starts when you walk into the Children’s Hospital,” Will said. “Whether it’s Jackie, Barbra, Lee or anyone out there at the front desk who are just inviting and welcoming and asking how Sledge is doing. It starts there and then continues to when you get back and see Mr. Lawrence, Natasha or MJ and they’re asking how he’s doing, how you’re doing and making sure you have everything you need.

“Then, his primary care nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors – there are too many to name, there’s so many of them – they just make you feel like ‘Hey, we’re all here, we’re all in this together.’ That’s amazing when you consider the fact that every single one of them has been working 12-hour shifts. Whether you walk in at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., you’re getting the same positive attitude.”

Moving Forward

Cleere and Will said Sledge still has a long road ahead of him and they are proud of their son for all he has overcome to this point. Cleere has a mantra that she heard early on in their experience and keeps close to her heart through their time in the NICU.

“As a mom, you just pray that he rests and grows and I think about that all the time,” Cleere said. “He’s going to have his bumps, we’ve had them and we’ll still have some. Then we’ll have it where we coast a little bit. But as he rests and as he grows, he’ll be able to handle and fight whatever comes his way and he’ll move right along.”

Sledge has come off of his ventilator but still receives some respiratory support. His feedings are growing and so is he as he was up to 4 pounds, 6 ounces at nine weeks.

The Reaves family looks forward to everyone being home together, but until then Sledge will continue to live up to his tough name and fight with parents and a care team by his side.

Children's