Born premature and weighing 1 pound and 14 ounces, Gabe Pitman spent six months in the neonatal intensive care unit at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital. He had his first of 15 surgeries when he was six days old.
Since being released from the NICU years ago, Gabe has continued to need specialized care for his cerebral palsy and other health conditions. His family moved out of the Charlotte area to western North Carolina. But when Gabe needs a doctor, there’s only one place they will go.
“Hemby Children’s Hospital has all the specialists Gabe needs,” says mom Stephanie Pitman, explaining her 2 ½ hour-drives to see her son’s team of trusted providers. “It’s our home away from home, and we love them dearly.”
Novant Health has had roots in Charlotte since 1903, when the then-named Presbyterian Hospital opened in Uptown. The hospital has grown over the years, mirroring the community. During the past five years, Novant Health has increased its focus on pediatrics, significantly investing in Hemby Children’s Hospital and growing services to meet the community’s evolving needs for children and their families. Novant has been investing about $38 million in pediatric care annually.
“We’ve shown a dedication to pediatrics as we have grown dramatically,” says Dr. L. Eugene Daugherty, medical director at Novant’s Hemby Children’s Hospital and the pediatric intensive care unit. In addition to offering more than 15 pediatric subspecialties, Hemby is adding hospital beds, expanding its clinical network and advancing cancer care.
Hemby Children’s Hospital is the only St. Jude Affiliate Clinic in the Carolinas, and the only pediatric oncology clinic in the Southeast area that provides children with access to both St. Jude and Children’s Oncology Group clinical trials.
“Hemby has done an amazing job for keeping up with the needs of the community,” Dr. Daugherty said. “There’s a flexibility and nimbleness to adjust to changing situations, and it ties in with the whole patient- and family-centered approach we have here.”
For Gabe and his parents, Hemby Children’s Hospital has become a second home, and the family has developed lasting bonds with those involved with their son’s care.
“(Gabe) was a very sick and fragile baby, and today he is a feisty, opinionated 9 year old because of the care received at Hemby,” Pitman said.
Care for the entire family
Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital opened in 1995 to focus on the needs of children and their families. In 2001, the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital began treating children with cancer and a wide range of blood disorders.
Located inside the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center on Hawthorne Lane and designed to be a hospital-within-a-hospital, the 76-bed Hemby focuses on caring for the entire family, not just the patient.
It was a stressful time for the Young family when mom April was hospitalized in early 2021 with pregnancy complications. Yet she fondly remembers the care she and her newborn daughter received. Young had developed pre-eclampsia, a serious blood pressure condition, and gave birth to daughter Alix prematurely at 23 weeks. Alix would go on to spend four months in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before being discharged from the hospital on her original due date of August 27 with no complications.
During Alix’s stay, Young appreciated the extra touches the NICU healthcare providers gave her baby girl, such as making her a tiny bikini, having dress up days, and bringing bows to decorate Alix’s tiny head.
“The commitment to care is immeasurable,” Young said. “I was extremely sick, and the nurses there not only took care of my daughter, but they looked out for me as well. They always asked how I was doing. They consoled me when I cried. They laughed with me and silently prayed with me. Through even the most stressful atmosphere, with COVID, the nurses managed to make the NICU feel warm.”
Dr. Jay Kothadia oversees the team of NICU providers as corporate medical director. The NICU, a Level IV facility, the highest level possible, averages 60 patients daily. A neonatologist is available 24/7, which Dr. Kothadia says helps families feel supported. The NICU is expanding next year to add more beds and is expected to add to its staff of 13 neonatologists, 16 pediatric nurse practitioners, and more than 50 neonatal nurse practitioners.
“One unique thing we do is we stay in touch with the parents almost every day. We continue to update them and educate them, and that helps everybody to understand where they are. It’s a differentiator and creates high parent satisfaction,” Dr. Kothadia said.
A warm, friendly feel
Erica Smith was hired five years ago to help make Novant Health’s radiology department as child friendly as possible. A Certified Child Life Specialist, Smith said children used to walk into the MRI room and be terrified by the equipment, making a stressful situation more difficult for everyone involved.
“Even after seeing pictures of the machine and hearing about what they do, the patients were like deer-in-headlights scared,” she said. “Kids have great imaginations and that magical thinking, and oftentimes they were creating this big, mysterious scary thing in their minds.”
Smith worked with a company to redo the MRI room, painting a vibrant and cheerful underwater scene on the walls and equipment. It was completed in January.
“Being able to redo this room to make it look child friendly and inviting really helped change the child’s perspectives when entering this room,” Smith said.
Smith said the radiology department has seen a significant increase in the number of children being referred for services in recent years. Between January and November, 5,009 children visited the radiology department. Smith worked with nearly 1,300 of them.
“There are patients whose parents drive two or three hours for a specific radiology procedure,” she said. “Here you get a more intimate, family feel. Our repeat kids know the technician taking their pictures. They know they can watch a movie during the procedure and they remember the movie list. They really benefit from the warm, friendly feel while they are getting excellent quality of care.”
Another special touch available only at Hemby is Caroline’s Corner, a space in the hospital for families to gather, relax, eat a meal, and even do laundry or shower while their child is being taken care of. The space, which opened in January 2021, was made possible by a local family who worked with hospital partner Ronald McDonald House. The family created the space in memory of their newborn daughter Caroline, who died from a rare infection. The room is dedicated to the Pediatric Critical Care Team.
Access to the best
Dr. Daugherty, Hemby’s medical director, has worked at other large hospital systems. He said Hemby patients and parents benefit from having direct access to the most highly trained doctors, something often missing with large institutions.
“Here you are going to see the attending doctor, the one who has done all the training and trained hundreds of doctors during their career,” he said. “It’s a different approach at Hemby, where you get direct patient care from the most experienced and the best-trained person.”
Gabe Pitman, who started his life in Hemby’s NICU, is now 9 years old and loves hockey, music and going on adventures. Because of complications from his birth, Gabe has short bowel syndrome and needs hospital care on average once a year.
Gabe continues to get treatment from the Hemby specialists who have cared for him since birth. His mother said she and her family have experienced other hospitals over the years.
“None of them compared to Hemby,” she said. “In some we felt like the doctors didn’t listen to us. The staff listens to us at Hemby. They don’t talk above our heads, and they genuinely care about Gabe and our family. We trust them.”
Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital has been investing heavily in pediatric care in the Charlotte region.
About Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital
Hemby offers the following pediatric subspecialties:
Allergy and immunology
Child and adolescent psychiatry
Hematology and hemophilia
Neurology and sleep medicine
Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, including physical, occupational and speech therapy