Erin Mazzola remembers looking at a clock right before she, her husband Nick, and their daughter Abigail left an area hospital. Ten minutes later they arrived at St. Louis Children's Hospital, after a brief ride that was the beginning of what she calls a life-changing experience.
For several weeks prior, Abigail had been vomiting in the morning but then seemed fine. At first, her family thought she might have low blood sugar or allergies. But soon the vomiting became more frequent, and she began complaining of headaches. Her pediatrician recommended she go to the emergency room because she was not able to keep food down. In the emergency room, doctors discovered there was an abnormality on Abigail's brain.
"They told us that the transport team from St. Louis Children's Hospital was on their way, and they seemed to be there immediately. They were all in their flight suits and so confident in everything they were doing and saying," Erin recalls. Abigail was taken to Children's Hospital in one of four mobile intensive care units (MICUs) used by transport services.
Once at Children's, the Mazzolas met Dr. Mary Hartman, a pediatric intensive care unit specialist, who introduced the family to all the caregivers who were going to take care of Abigail.
Abigail had a 5-centimeter tumor that was blocking the brain stem from draining fluid. She would require a 7-hour surgery the next day with pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. David Limbrick. A couple of days after surgery, an MRI confirmed that Dr. Limbrick had removed the entire tumor.
Abigail remained in the PICU for several more days and then transferred to the neurorehab floor, where she was a patient for four weeks. "We can never express what Children's means to our family," Erin says. "We had amazing doctors, nurses, therapists and others who are the very best at what they do."
During Abigail's time on the 12th floor, she had regular rehab, including speech, occupational and physical therapy, as well as music therapy and other programs offered through Child Life Services.
"We want others to know about our experience, and we want to give back to Children's and encourage others to do the same," Erin says. "This bad scenario has definitely restored my hope in humanity. I don't think of what happened as bad, just one bad experience that brought us to Children's, where so many amazing things happened."