Support local kids this holiday season

November 21, 2018

For Michelle Vetter, February 25, 2017, is a date she’ll never forget. With the support of Child Life, her family made it through not only that scary day but the fear and uncertainty of those days that followed.

“Child Life was there for us,” said Michelle, from Bismarck, N.D.

The day started with a jarring phone call at 5 a.m. and the news every parent dreads.

Her 6-year-old daughter McKayla was unresponsive and being rushed to the Sanford Bismarck Emergency Center. When the call came, Michelle and her husband, Ken, were both out of town. McKayla and her twin sister, McKenzi, were staying with their grandma.

“I felt helpless,” Michelle said. “You know that you should be there for your child but you can’t be.”

Just a few hours earlier, McKayla had been playing with friends and was seemingly healthy.

But when she arrived at the emergency center, she was unresponsive and experiencing extreme seizures. Immediately, McKayla’s doctors arranged for her to be Lifeflighted to the pediatric intensive care unit at Sanford Children’s in Fargo.

When Michelle and Ken arrived in Fargo, they learned doctors had diagnosed McKayla with epilepsy. They were filled with fear for their little girl. But they also worried about their other daughter, McKenzi, who was confused and scared.

“You still have both your children that you have to take care of,” Ken said. “But when one daughter is sick and in intensive care, that prioritizes your time.”

The family was embraced by a team of caregivers who reassured them about McKayla’s care. They also met their Child Life Specialist who immediately focused on McKenzi’s needs.

“The biggest support was for our daughter McKenzi,” Michelle said. “The first night in the hospital, the Child Life Specialist introduced herself to McKenzi, asked if she had questions, took her to the playroom, told her what was going on with McKayla and read her books.”

Child Life Specialists are trained child development professionals who work behind the scenes and in tandem with doctors and nurses to ensure each child has the best experience possible. With well-established programs at Sanford Health in Fargo and Sioux Falls, Child Life services have helped improve pediatric outcomes, the quality of care and the overall patient and family experience.

“Child Life is awesome,” Michelle said. “What they do for your family, for the kids, is just so helpful. They help your child to not be scared, which I think is a big thing.”

As McKayla got better, Child Life was there every step of the way, making sure both sisters understood what was happening and felt comfortable in their unfamiliar surroundings.

“The one word that comes to mind about Child Life is compassion,” said Dr. Christina daSilva, a pediatrician at Sanford Children’s in Bismarck. “They do this because they care, and they love those kids.

“I would love to have Child Life here in Bismarck, because I know Child Life Specialists do a wonderful job working with the families and their children and giving them a fun, safe environment to play in.”

This holiday season, the family is celebrating McKayla’s health. She’s sassy, rambunctious, a bit of a fashionista, and has gone more than a year without seizures. Her epilepsy is managed with medication and care at Sanford Children’s in Bismarck with Dr. daSilva.

Your support today for the Above and Beyond campaign will help establish the first Child Life program in our region at Sanford Bismarck.

Child Life will go anywhere a child is in need in our local hospital and clinics, helping kids like McKenzi and McKayla. Their family can’t wait for the day Child Life is available closer to home.