Although Chandler Felton was five weeks premature, he was big enough and strong enough that he didn't require a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the hospital where he was born. A few days after he was sent home, his mother, Veronica, brought him to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. He had been crying uncontrollably and wouldn't eat, and she had no idea what was wrong.
At Children's, the doctors did a spinal tap and learned Chandler had a spinal infection. He would have to be admitted so he could receive a monthlong course of antibiotics to fight what they discovered was late-onset bacterial meningitis. But as soon as he was admitted, his situation got even scarier: His blood pressure dropped, his legs wouldn't move and his heart even stopped for a moment.
"It must have showed on my face how defeated I was feeling," Veronica said. Her head was spinning as she tried to process everything that was happening with her newborn son. One of Chandler's nurses, Jeannette Chadwick, intervened to make sure Veronica was not overwhelmed as the doctors explained her son's various conditions.
"She wasn't just taking care of Chandler," Veronica said. "When you think about a nurse, you think about them taking care of that patient—they relay information to the family and they're the go-to for the family—but she took care of me, too."
Chandler was on a ventilator for two weeks and remained in the hospital for 40 days during that first stay. Not long after he was discharged, he returned to have a shunt placed for his hydrocephalus, or water on his brain. For a long time, there was always something bringing him back to Children's.
"I felt like I had been hit by a train," Veronica said of those early weeks, when she often felt discouraged about Chandler's prognosis. "But I've learned that I don't care how bleak the situation looks. There is always hope."
The outlook was indeed grim at first. Veronica credits the experience and expertise of the physicians at Children's with giving Chandler a second chance at life. Now 8 years old, Chandler has moderate cerebral palsy and is paralyzed from the waist down, and he is a regular at Children's. Even though Veronica and Chandler don't see Jeannette as often as they used to, she still helps the family through hard times—and there have been many through the years.
"Knowing where he has come from, he is remarkable and leads a much more normal life than you would think. He laughs and smiles and cuts up with you," said Jeannette. "For whatever reason, they were a family I really connected with."
Jeannette is just one example of the many staff who go above and beyond in caring for patients and their families every day. Veronica says she has yet to meet anybody on staff at Children's, whether clinical or administrative, who does not genuinely love working with kids. A member of the housekeeping staff even taught Veronica how to prepare meatloaf because Chandler loved to eat it in the hospital. No matter where they go within Children's, Veronica has complete trust that her son is in good hands. Even if it has been a while between visits, she can be sure they will see familiar faces when they check in. Veronica attributes this to the fact that Children's attracts and holds on to people who love their work.
"I don't know what the formula is when going about hiring for Children's, but it's perfect," Veronica said.
Veronica is thankful for the care the doctors, nurses, therapists and others at Children's have provided not only for her son, but also for her over the years.
"Children's helps make miracles happen," Veronica said. "There are things that you know even the doctors know aren't supposed to happen. These anomalies and exceptions are miracles. I don't care how small or how big the miracle is; when it comes to parents like us, we take them how ever we can get them."