It often has been said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In the case of Reagan Watkins of Brookwood, however, it has taken all the expertise, care and love of a “brain trust” to help this courageous and joyful little girl reach the milestone of her fourth birthday—and to thrive in the months since that time.
“Brain trust” is the term Reagan’s mother, Erika, uses to describe the multidisciplinary team of specialists at Children’s of Alabama who have been caring for her daughter almost since her diagnosis of Down syndrome at age two weeks.
When a routine heart catheterization at age 12 months showed Reagan would need open-heart surgery, Children’s was there. Happily, just two weeks after the operation, Erika and her husband, David, were able to take their daughter home for Christmas.
Then, in late September 2012, after a doctor’s visit for what they thought was merely a persistent back-to-school cold, came the most terrifying call of David’s life. “Our pediatrician said, ‘Please pack a bag and get Reagan back to Children’s as soon as possible,’” he recalls. “‘We will be waiting. We think she has cancer.’”
Thus began a 10-month journey during which Reagan would spend more than 280 days at Children’s battling AML leukemia and, for a time, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) as well. She became so ill that she was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and placed on a ventilator. Soon, the Watkins were being told that ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) was their daughter’s only hope for survival. But after several days into ECMO, Reagan’s kidneys began to fail and she was placed on dialysis.
After about a week, Reagan recovered from RSV, and it was time to discontinue ECMO. No one was certain she would survive after being disconnected from the machine. But against all odds, she began to improve. Soon, she was breathing on her own. Several days later, her kidneys began functioning again.
“I cannot explain the joy we felt when Reagan opened her eyes for the first time after all of this and we knew that she recognized us,” Erika remembers. On a sunny day in February of 2013, Reagan was able to return home. Another three (thankfully uneventful) rounds of chemo followed.
Now, more than two years later, Reagan remains in remission. “She is our walking miracle and truly a child of Children’s,” Erika says.