As Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, Jessica Baeder travels around the country and spends time with kids at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Whether it’s a quick bedside chat or a playtime activity, Jessica finds joy in making a child’s day a little brighter. And it wasn’t long ago when she, too, was in need of a reassuring smile or a lighthearted distraction.
When Jessica was about 5 years old, she fell ill frequently, as did her younger sister, Juliana. “Each time it happened they would end up with extremely high fevers accompanied by intense low back pain,” said Jessica’s mother, Francesca Adler-Baeder. “In one episode, because her little sister was experiencing the same symptoms at the same time, the pediatrician thought it was just a virus and they went untreated for 10 days, which resulted in hospitalization for both and early sepsis for her sister.”
The sisters were both diagnosed with severe kidney infections and their local pediatrician in Auburn referred them to Children’s of Alabama for more testing. Doctors at Children’s discovered much more than a random kidney infection. An ultrasound revealed Jessica suffered from a malformation of the connection between the bladder and the kidneys, which caused kidney reflux. Each time Jessica fell ill, the kidney infection caused serious damage to her kidneys.
For a few months, Jessica took daily antibiotics and was monitored, tested, and re-tested as doctors hoped the valve malfunction would correct itself. “We would have to go to Children’s pretty frequently for ultrasounds and various other tests to make sure there was no additional damage and to determine if the refluxing had stopped,” Francesca said. “These were often really uncomfortable tests. But what was great was that Jessica always looked forward to those visits, which was wonderful for me as a parent. That’s a testament to the hospital when you have kids excited about going to see the doctors and nurses.”
Just before Jessica turned 7, doctors determined she would need reconstructive surgery for the connection between the bladder and kidneys, and a valve replacement. “The doctors explained to us that when the kidney is damaged, it’s damaged forever,” Francesca said. “The doctors saw that Jessica was on a trajectory of continued and cumulative kidney damage, which could result in a loss of function and other related problems as an adult. So she had surgery on their recommendation.”
After the six-hour surgery, doctors continued to monitor Jessica for three years. At age 10, she was officially and successfully released from care. Now age 17, Jessica doesn’t remember much about her time at Children’s. She doesn’t remember the testing or the surgery, but she does remember something much more important – the care she received.
“I remember the doctors and nurses making sure I understood exactly what was going on,” Jessica said. “They weren’t just talking to my parents; they were making sure I was OK and knew what was happening. Even that young, I could tell they cared about me. And that’s what I appreciate about Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals today. The doctors and nurses love on the kids and really care. They do what they can to help the kids enjoy their childhood and be a kid even when in the hospital.”