Last month, business, community, and elected leaders gathered along with health care officials at the opening of Atrium Health Levine Children’s Pediatric Emergency Room at Lake Norman. The new facility located at exit 25 in Huntersville is a 24/7 emergency room specifically trained in caring for children.
The highlight of the morning was hearing from the parent of a young baby who was evidence of a death-defying miracle – Scarlett LaPierre. Mike LaPierre, the general manager of Skybrook Golf Club in Huntersville, shared how Scarlett was delivered by a C-section at 26 weeks, weighing less than a pound and a half. Two weeks after her premature birth, Scarlett developed a massive clot inside her heart.
Fortunately, the doctors at Levine Children’s Hospital had advanced knowledge of a treatment that few babies in the world had ever been exposed. A new drug had recently been developed called “TPA” which busted the clot but not without concerns of side effects which threatened her life.
The parents Mike and Tracey LaPierre had been prepared to say goodbye to their precious little girl named after Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone with the Wind”. Much like the character for whom she was named, little Scarlett was a fighter and survived the ordeal.
Mike LaPierre credited the team at Levine for both finding and treating the clot. There had only been 10 similar documented cases published worldwide, so the odds had been heavily stacked against her. Had it not been for the outstanding physicians and resources of Levine, little Scarlett would have been another statistic. Instead, she is a miracle growing healthier each day.
Listening to Scarlett’s story, I thought about a visit I took to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Medical University at South Carolina in 1993. I had recently been asked to take part in the Blue-Ribbon Commission Partnership with the March of Dimes. The commission was an effort by the healthcare advocate to engage national civic organizations in their fight against birth defects.
I was 34 at the time and chairman of the board of the largest young people’s service organization in the country – the United States Junior Chamber. We toured several wings of the hospital before one of the physicians took me down a darkened corridor. There to the right and left were rows and rows of incubators with little premature babies who could have easily fit in the palm of your hand. I was told many of these babies were “crack babies” born to mothers addicted to cocaine. Others were the result of alcohol, heroin or other narcotics.
I stood at the glass and looked down at one of the babies. Bright pink, this little “preemie’s” eyes were closed tightly as they fought for each labored breath. I remember asking naively about the parents as the female physician looked at me, paused, and carefully chose her words which have haunted me since.
“In most cases these little babies are born to young mothers exposed to drugs such as barbiturates or heroin,” she replied. I asked what would become of them? The young physician looked away and then turned to me and replied, “Most will not likely survive the week. Those that do, may have cognitive or developmental issues.”
I didn’t dare ask another question. Instead, l looked back down, focusing on the little baby whose chest rose slowly up and down. His fingers were clenched tightly and every soften, seemed to take a wild swing through the air.
Today, we are so fortunate to have a facility like Levine Children’s hospital here at the lake. As a community, we are blessed to have outstanding providers like Atrium, Novant, and Lake Norman Regional Medical to take care of our employees, families, and children.
Listening to Mike Lapierre who held baby Scarlett tight in his arms, I couldn’t help but think of that young “preemie” almost three decades ago.
No child should be left alone in the darkness of that room, with no one to love and no one to love them back. It is important we educate young expectant mothers on lifestyle decisions and as importantly, we as a community need to invest in our healthcare, making sure each child has that fighting chance. It’s a fight we can win together and a fight we dare not lose.