Patient Stories: The Magic of Arkansas Children's Hospital
"We couldn't ask for a better place and have been blessed by the care ACH has given our boys.”
Identical twins Trent and Trey Hollon share everything. Both diagnosed with cleft lips at birth, the brothers received their first reconstructive surgeries at Arkansas Children’s Hospital at only six months old. Placed into the foster system at only 8 months old, the boys were welcomed with open arms by Kelly and Cliff Hollon right before their third birthday. “We knew we weren’t finished, as far as our family was concerned.” said Kelly. Having raised two biological children, Stuart (25) and Allie (23), the Hollons decided together to expand their family. In 2007, Kelly and Cliff attended training to become foster parents.
“There were a lot of questions about children with disabilities, including whether or not we were willing to accept a child with a physical or mental disability,” said Cliff. “We were determined that no barriers would stop us from adopting. We didn’t want to choose based on photos.”
Kelly and Cliff asked their adoption specialists to send their family the next sibling group that came to the agency. Trey and Trent arrived home in 2008 and the Hollons immediately fell in love. The brothers were officially adopted by the Hollons in January of 2009, just after their third birthday. Neither boy could speak at the time of their adoption, but now at 11 years old, Trey and Trent are thriving. “We’ve seen them grow by leaps and bounds,” explained Kelly.
Trey has aspirations of being a superhero and a missionary. Trent has an interest in architecture and spends his free time drawing house plans and reading log cabin magazines. “99.9% of the time they
would rather go to the book store than the toy store!” Kelly stated. “The boys talk often about college. Trent wants to live in Colorado and Trey wants to stay close, AND live next door to his brother.” Regardless of what they grow up to be, they want to be together.
In 2014, Trey needed an additional surgery to close a hole in his gum. The surgery required a bone graph to be taken from Trey’s hip to fill the void. Taking the boys to follow up appointments, Kelly and Cliff learned more about their sons’ diagnoses from the physicians and nurses at ACH. Dr. Buckmiller, the surgeon who performed Trey and Trent’s first surgery, recovered photos of the boys before surgery. “These are our only pictures of them as infants. Those pictures are very precious to me,” says Kelly.
Trey and Trent also receive care from the ACH Dental clinic and will be monitored until they’re 18 years old.
“All the nurses and doctors are engaged with our boys,” said Cliff. “It's like visiting family! The boys are not bashful and enjoy talking to everyone on their appointments. We couldn't ask for a better place and have been blessed by the care ACH has given our boys.”
“Arkansas Children’s Hospital gave my daughter her life back. She can just be a
– Randi Sundermeier
Eleven-year-old Emily Sundermeier was having trouble sitting up straight. She would slump to one side and slouch.
“One day, a light bulb just went off.” said her mom, Randi, who is a registered nurse. Randi checked her daughter’s back and immediately saw a curve. She made an appointment with Emily’s pediatrician, who referred them to the orthopedic program at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. At ACH, Emily was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. In fact, Emily had what’s called
a “double S curve,” meaning her spine was curved in two places. Emily wore a back brace for the next four years. It was a difficult time for the young girl. She had to wear looser-fitting boys’ clothing to accommodate the brace.
“Emily was teased sometimes," Randi recalled, "but we talked to her school administration, and that eventually got better.”
When Emily was 15, her doctor installed metal rods and screws in her spine to straighten the top curve. He told Randi and Emily’s dad, Roger that if they fixed the top curve, the bottom curve would follow suit. And he was right.
“Before her surgery, Emily had trouble walking, carrying things, sitting at her desk." Randi stated. "She was in constant pain. Since her surgery, her back never hurts anymore! Arkansas Children’s Hospital gave my daughter her life back. She can just be a teenager now.”
Emily stays busy “just being a teenager.” She is involved in her school yearbook, FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and mock trials, where students study a court case and then stage a “trial,” competing with other schools. Emily’s first trial was last March, and she had a wonderful time. But like all 16-year-olds, Emily is also looking toward the future. She has her driver’s permit and will take her driving test soon. She is considering colleges and plans to major in communications with a minor in marketing.
For now, Emily is happy to be pain free. She mentors other kids at her school who have been diagnosed with scoliosis, helping them adjust and learn to cope with challenges she understands very well. Emily and her parents are excited to be part of the ACH Ambassador program. Emily is looking forward to sharing her story to help other kids, and is eager to stretch her public speaking muscles to help prepare for college.
“As parents, Randi and I are excited to tell about the quality of care and the level of commitment from the entire staff at ACH. It’s a small way to say ‘thank you.’” - Roger, Emily's father
“We’re just glad we have the opportunity to give back.” - Randi, Emily's mother
“This was something none of the cardiologists had seen before — all three of these conditions in one
The news was scary enough the first time Jonathan and Cristin Atha met with the cardiology team at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Cristin was 20 weeks pregnant, and an ultrasound showed her baby boy had a serious congenital heart defect called tricuspid atresia. The doctors had a plan, though, and their confidence put the Fayetteville couple at ease. Then right before baby Jace was born, the news got much worse. Jace didn’t just have one major congenital heart defect — he had three.
“This was something none of the cardiologists had seen before — all three of these conditions in one child.” Jonathan said. "Thanks to ACH, though, the Athas had a world-class team on our side, and that team got to work. There were several conferences with the whole cardiology team to determine how to solve all three of these conditions without doing extra surgeries."
When Cristin went into labor in August 2011, the ACH Cardiology team sprang into action. The Angel One ambulance team was waiting at UAMS to stabilize Jace and transport him immediately to ACH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Jonathan followed. “They quickly pulled me into a room and explained what was going to happen in the next twenty-four hours or so.” he recalled. “I remember Dr. [Thomas] Best and Dr. [Ronnie} Collins telling me I needed to take as many pictures as my camera could hold.”
Over the next nine days, Jace stayed in the NICU and then the cardiac intensive care unit, having tests and procedures done in preparation for the first of three planned surgeries. “Everywhere you walked in Arkansas Children’s you were greeted with a hug,” Cristin said. “They treat the babies like kings or queens, and they treated our family the same way.” During Jace’s first surgery, when he was nine days old, surgeons corrected his two additional heart defects while they completed the first step in correcting his tricuspid atresia.
“The surgeon came in and explained everything.” Cristin said. “He had one of those pens that writes in a lot of colors and he drags down the colors he wants to use to draw the diagram of what he’ll do once he’s in there. It’s scary to hear, but he tells you like it is: ‘Here’s what my plan is. Are there risks? Absolutely. But here’s what my plan is.’”
Because of you, Jace had access to the expert care he needed to survive his unique combination of heart problems. He made it through that first surgery, a second right after Christmas 2011, and his third and final operation in July 2014. He’s now 5 years old, will start kindergarten next fall, and doing better than anyone expected. As of last May, he only requires yearly checkups with ACH’s cardiologists. “He’s great now,” Cristin says. “He’s a vibrant young man, and he hasn’t met a stranger.”
The Athas say they want to be Ambassadors for Arkansas Children’s because they want to share the story of the amazing care Jace received, and they want to support other families who are facing their own scary news.
“We want to let people know how wonderful Arkansas Children’s is.” Cristin said. “You’re not going to find anybody who cares about your child more than they do.”
-Jennifer Barnett Reed