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You Cannot Hack Their Heart

An open letter to the care providers of The Studer Family Children's Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart.

This is part column and part open letter to the Studer family and the servants who work at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart. If you have ever given a nickel to this organization or volunteered your time, I sincerely write this to you as well.

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Last week for the third time in my 18 years of motherhood, one of my children experienced a medical emergency that resulted in hospitalization. The first incident was nearly 14 years ago, at the same hospital, after our oldest had a near-death experience and subsequent stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. I am happy to report that he turns 18 this summer. The second event was a burn accident with our youngest, during a vacation in San Francisco, resulting in emergency care and a week’s stay in a burn intensive care unit. And last week, again with our youngest son, we returned to the “Sacred Heart” emergency room after an illness compromised his breathing.

Two doctors saved my son’s life 14 years ago, his father and the emergency room doctor on call. Although many years have passed, I remember the nurses and care providers as wonderful and thorough. The illness he suffered has long since healed, but the imprint of its trauma is etched on his Mama’s heart forever.

Although this isn’t about their facility, I would be remiss not to mention the exceptional care we received in San Francisco from Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon Richard Grossman, M.D., F.A.C.S. and Bothin Burn Center nurse, Marilyn Dees, from Atmore, Alabama. You heard that right, our nurse in San Francisco was from good ole Atmore, right up the road. 

But just as trauma imprints on the heart, so does gratitude – something we don’t always make enough room for in the public forum. When someone saves your baby’s life, cares for your sick children, or expresses kindness and compassion to you in your darkest hour, you never forget it. And by sharing my experience, I hope you won’t forget it, either.

I don’t know why babies get sick or why children suffer. You can be diligent with your care, and helicopter with safety measures, but unfair things still happen. Illnesses linger and accidents happen. And while I was terrified each time, I was also painfully aware of the children with much taller mountains to climb. 

I’ve never forgotten a child we encountered during my oldest’s hospitalization at the University of Florida Shands Hospital for Children. The chronically ill child was frequently dropped off during health events and unseen again by the family until discharge. Of course, child welfare was involved, but while hospitalized those providers filled in the gap by serving in ways not listed in their job descriptions. 

I saw the same improvisation again this week. Not just with direct patient care, but through the navigation of a system-wide computer hack eliminating digital and quick access to records, charts, labs, scans, etc. Let me be the one to say it – there’s a special place in the here-on-after for people who hack hospitals. 

But back to gratitude…everyone who has given money to Ascension Sacred Heart, especially the Studer Family for whom the children’s hospital is named, thank you. Thank you for choosing to give your money here. To the designers, architects, and builders, thank you for creating a space that is bright, spacious, as comfortable as possible, and filled with natural light. 

The philanthropic gifts given to this facility over the last several years have completely transformed pediatric healthcare in Pensacola and Northwest Florida. Fourteen years ago, I once waited in the ER with a sick child next to a man handcuffed to a bed. The emergency rooms were small and cramped, and there were extremely tight quarters in the PICU.

To the security guard who welcomed this distressed mother at the emergency room, I am sorry I did not get your name, your hospitality and warmth were as important to our family’s care as the medicine itself.

To every single nurse and respiratory therapist who entered our room, you have been called into a service many of us could never provide; each of you is living up to your calling in divine ways. 

To the physicians who made time to listen, look me in the eye, and communicate patiently, our society is forever indebted to the sacrifices you make in your own families to care for ours. 

To the priest who prayed with me and over my son in the middle of the night, I was frightened at the sight of you, but eternally grateful you were there.

Every person from housekeeping, food services, and maintenance was friendly and professional.

I hope we never experience another illness or accident again, but if we do, I know that The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart is ready. 

You can hack their computers, but you cannot hack their heart.