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Back from a crisis

June 01, 2012 posted by Beth Anne Atkins

Back from a crisis 
Ava Gee, 6, recovered from a serious brain tumor, thanks to care from Vidant Children’s Hospital and today, is keeping up with her twin sister 

GREENVILLE, NC – The teacher called with the worst news a parent could imagine. Ava Gee, 6, was sick at her day care center. When she left home that morning, she was complaining of a headache, her mother remembers, and the call confirmed her fears that something was seriously wrong. 

She rushed to her daughter’s side and at Vidant Medical Center she soon underwent a brain scan. 

The news was bad. She had a cancerous brain tumor and would need surgery to remove it, followed by a year of aggressive chemotherapy at Vidant Children’s Hospital to make sure it didn’t return. 

Yet a year and a half later, she’s home again and chasing her twin sister and younger brother with all the energy you’d expect of someone her age. 
“She doesn’t even take a nap anymore,” says her mother, Brianna Gee, who along with Ava’s father, George, lives in Greenville. Other than hair loss from the chemotherapy, “you would think she was a normal healthy six-year-old,” she says. 

Ava Gee is one of this year’s miracle children for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. She will represent Vidant Children’s Hospital during this year’s Celebration Broadcast. The yearly fundraising event, now in its 27th year, is set to air June 1 and 3 on WITN. The 2012 miracle children, in addition to Ava, are Evan Salerno, 3, of Jacksonville at Camp Lejeune; Kennedy Dean, 7, of Pikeville in Wayne County; and Miranda Hale, 14, of Tarboro. The teen ambassador is Davie Swinson, 18, of Onslow County. They recovered from serious illness or injury through the medical care they received at Vidant Children’s Hospital in Greenville. 

“This year’s Miracle Children are unbelievable,” says Dr. Ronald M. Perkin, co-director of Vidant Children’s Hospital and professor and chairman, Department of Pediatrics, Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. “Each one’s ability to carry on with a successful life is due to a response to the medical needs we provided when they most desperately needed it. Having this hospital in the community is what that’s all about. 

“The community shows how much it cares about children by providing contributions to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals,” he says. “In turn, their generosity grants us the resources we need to see beyond the obvious treatments and save more lives.” 

This year, the broadcast will celebrate these children and the generous donors whose gifts made their life-saving care possible. Their support is helping with the expansion of Vidant Children’s Hospital. It will add 78,000 additional square feet for children’s care, including a new kids immunosuppressed special unit with a controlled environment and special ventilation systems to reduce the possibility for infection. It will have a treatment and recovery area for children who do not need an overnight stay. A newborn convalescent area will give newborns and their families private rooms while they grow stronger. 

“Our donors make the difference for children throughout eastern North Carolina,” says Laura Lee Potter, program director for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. “They save lives and bring miracles to thousands of children each year by sharing their financial resources, volunteer hours and other types of support. Their generosity makes sure we can provide advanced medical care, close to home, to the families and children who depend on us.” 

Ava underwent surgery in late 2010, and recovered for a month before starting radiation and chemotherapy. She had more than 30 radiation treatments, including several to her head and spine. Chemotherapy took place during that time, too. 

A strong little girl, Ava endured her treatments without complaint. While her treatments were taking place, she even learned to ride a bike. Throughout it all, the staff at Vidant Children’s Hospital made sure she and her family felt comfortable and reassured. 

“Everyone was so geared to our child,” Brianna says. “It’s amazing the support they provide to people who are going through something that’s devastating like this. They were right there if we needed something.” Pastoral care helped with their spiritual needs; child life specialists helped Ava have fun even when she couldn’t leave her room. The staff went above and beyond,” Gee says. 

Since the tumor lay in the part of the brain that controls movement, Ava still has trouble walking and wears leg braces. The powerful treatments affected her hearing and vision, and she wears hearing aids and glasses. She has kidney impairment and her once long blonde hair fell out. 

Yet she’s overcome these obstacles and returned to school “very close to picking up where she left off,” according to her mom. 

Today, Brianna, a nurse, has more gratitude than ever for the services and technology at Vidant Children’s Hospital. Without it, she and her family would have had to leave their Greenville home to move closer to a major medical center so their daughter could receive the treatment she needed. 

“If we hadn’t had these resources when Ava got sick, we would have had to move,” Brianna says. “Our lives would have been drastically different. We would have had to uproot our family.” Because they lived only minutes away, she would spend a night or two in the hospital for chemotherapy but could go home to recover. 

“You can never be too thankful for the resources we have,” she says. “People may not know it until they have the situation – it makes a huge difference to have it right here.”
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