Like thousands of families across the state, the Slighs of Fairhope, Ala. depend on Children’s of Alabama to provide the specialized pediatric care that 10-year-old Sarah Kate and 3-year-old Nathan need.
Now an active little girl who swims and plays softball, Sarah Kate was born 10 weeks prematurely and weighed only 2 lbs. 9 ozs. at birth. She spent 53 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Just after her first birthday, she was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.
“Sarah Kate has been a Child of Children’s practically her whole life,” said her mother, Andi Sligh “When she was 18 months old she began seeing Dr. Jayne Ness in the Neurology Department at Children’s.
Then, when she turned 3, her doctors recommended that she have Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy,”
Sarah Kate’s Cerebral Palsy causes tightness or spasticity in the muscles of her legs. In Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy doctors operate on the spinal column to determine which nerves are misfiring to cause the spasticity and destroy the roots of those nerves. “Basically, Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy is the only Cerebral Palsy surgery that reduces the spasticity. All the others are temporary or correct orthopedic problems,” Sligh said.
The Slighs chose Dr. Jerry Oakes, a neurosurgeon at Children’s to do the surgery. “At that time, not many doctors in the U.S. were doing the surgery, and not that many had been doing it for more than a few years. Dr. Oakes had been doing it for almost two decades,” Sligh said.
Following her surgery, Sarah Kate began a three-week program of intensive physical therapy to increase her range of motion, strength and balance. “For three weeks, she went to physical therapy twice a day, Monday through Friday, for two hours,” Sligh explained.
Sarah Kate completed several sessions of intensive therapy at Children’s over the next few years, as well as seeing a therapist near her home. She also received injections of Botox in her legs to help reduce the tone in her muscles.
This spring, Sarah Kate went in for her annual checkup with Dr. Oakes and received good news. “He told us she didn’t need to come back for two years unless we have a problem,” Sligh said.
While Sarah Kate was having her checkup, her brother, Nathan, was making his first visit to Children’s as a patient. Nathan was born with Mosaic Down Syndrome. “Only about two or three percent of the cases of Down Syndrome are Mosaic. It means that not every cell in his body is affected. Some are normal cells and some have the extra chromosome,” Sligh said.
In February, Nathan was diagnosed with pneumonia and hospitalized. As he began to recover, the doctors noticed that the oxygen levels in his blood remained troublingly low, especially when he was sleeping. After conferring with doctors in the Pulmonology Department at Children’s, his pediatrician recommended that Nathan come to Birmingham for an overnight stay to test for sleep apnea. “The typical treatment for sleep apnea is to remove the tonsils and adenoids, so we went to see Dr. Smith and he had them taken out. We’ll follow up in a few weeks and he’ll be monitored again overnight, but hopefully this will be the end of it,” Sligh said.
Although it is a long drive from south Alabama to Birmingham, Sligh says that she prefers to bring Sarah Kate and Nathan to Children’s of Alabama for specialized care. “We’ve been to other hospitals and our children were well cared for, but it just wasn’t the same feeling we’ve had for all these years at Children’s,” she noted.
“I’m the type of parent who asks a lot of questions and I feel like we’ve always been told everything we needed to be told. I feel like all the doctors, all the nurses, everybody has been very open and very approachable, and with so many kids, I always feel like they give them far more personal attention than they should be able to give,” Sligh said.