There’s a little secret understood by parents who have experienced a medical emergency with their children: we always need to know where the nearest pediatric hospital is located.
Since 2010, I’ve noted a pediatric hospital’s proximity to homes we’ve considered purchasing or vacation rentals out-of-town. Maybe it’s a way to maintain some level of control in a parenting journey that is often out of our control.
In Pensacola, I always know where I am in relation to the Pediatric Emergency Room and Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart.
In 2010, we experienced a medical emergency that put our then four-year-old on life support at Sacred Heart and in and out of Shands University of Florida hospital and clinics for the next three years. Fortunately, with a quick emergency intervention, our son, now 14, was saved.
Within hours of him becoming sick, our world was upside down, and I was inside out. There was a blur of events: CPR, EMTs, an ambulance ride, emergency room, intubation, nurses, therapists, aides, and a fiercely dedicated emergency room doctor. And then, our son was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
Everywhere I looked in that little PICU room felt unfamiliar, foreign. I might as well have been on Mars. I hyperfocused, and my mind raced. My anxiety and emotions were spiraling. Not a single person on the medical team batted an eye at my fragile and edgy condition. My knees could barely hold me, but these professionals were steady and prepared – trained for this very moment. Before the blurriness of that time, I’d never wondered if the emergency room had the right sized instruments to spare my little boy’s life. I’d never considered where a Mama waits when she turns over her most precious earthly gift to the hands of a surgeon.
I put so much thought into registering for baby showers and picking out a school for Kindergarten when what would impact my children the most was what type of care they received when their life was on the line.
Thank goodness other people were thinking about those things and planning for them, so the bases were covered when the unthinkable happened.
I previously worked in a university medical center, and my husband was a physician. Still, the hospital was completely different from this point of view, with my son as a patient.
I remember every moment of that experience, especially the expert and compassionate care our entire family received. I remember the dark night in my soul when I laid out on the chapel floor begging for mercy, but I also remember the redemptive moment he woke up and the nurse that was by my side.
Every person on that team was there to care for children and knew the right approach for both the pediatric patient and unraveling mother to achieve the best results.
Over the course of the next three years, and due to our son’s somewhat unique case, we sought continuing clinical care at a university hospital. It took a financial and exhausting toll on our family to travel the six hours one way. Sometimes those twelve-hour round trips were simply to have a thirty-minute consultation.
Now, almost eight years later, I can personally attest to the great fortune of the people of Pensacola and the surrounding areas to have the phenomenal resource of The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart. It is Northwest Florida’s only hospital solely dedicated to the care of sick and injured babies and children. The completely new pediatric operating rooms and pediatric intensive care units were designed with children of all ages in mind, creating an artistic, visually peaceful, and child-friendly environment.
With new facilities that provide an elevated level of care for all families along the Gulf Coast, there isn’t a need to travel outside the area, which provides patients and families the ability to sleep in their own beds sooner and reduce the discomfort and risk of traveling with a child in need of or recovering from surgery.
The six operating rooms (OR) and two new procedure rooms mean that pediatric surgeries are performed in ORs separate from those for adult surgeries. This is important because the needs of children are very different from adults. Children should be cared for in a clinical care and treatment environment different from the care of adults.
Every detail in this hospital was carefully constructed with children in mind, right down to the design of the elevators, with exposed gears and a view of the outside.
In 2017, I was back at Sacred Heart with another son. Even though it wasn’t an emergency, I was still anxious. However, this time, I knew my baby was in good hands under the care of pediatric and surgical critical care and trauma surgeon Bryan C. Weidner, M.D., and the entire team at Sacred Heart.
Once again, we had a positive outcome following this fairly common surgical procedure. I recently spoke with him to say thank you again for taking great care of our son and also to hear what this new facility means to him as a pediatric surgeon.
He remembered caring for our baby and said, “We understand that the day your child needs surgery is a rough day under the best circumstances; there are special emotional needs of the entire family. Our team visited places like Alabama Children’s Hospital in Birmingham for design ideas and have been waiting so long for a facility of this caliber – one that combines the infrastructure and instrumentation to accommodate children of all sizes from a one-pound preemie to a fully grown teenager.”
“This facility concentrates the skill, talent, and desire of highly skilled and specialized pediatric professionals in one place to better serve the people of our community,” exclaimed Dr. Bryan Weidner.
I hope you never have to experience the trauma of having a sick child, whether it’s for a few stitches, a minor surgical procedure (doesn’t feel minor when it’s your baby, does it?), a chronic illness, or a serious surgery.
But, fellow Mamas, I can assure you of this: our neighbors over at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart are thinking of us and our babies (the teen ones, too), preparing for those hard days, providing a first-class facility and care team so that we can get back to worrying about other things – like what to make for dinner.