Georgeann stared, unblinking, at her two-day-old baby girl cradled in her arms.
It wasn’t making sense.
The infant was bright red. Hot to the touch.
She hurriedly called her sister, Rene, and summoned her mom, Patra, who bought out just about every baby thermometer she could find in a nearby drugstore on her way over to her daughter’s home.
They took baby Mara’s temperature. The first digital display read 104 F. Another–106 F. And then–107 F. That couldn’t be right.
Georgeann’s throat tightened. A creeping, slow-rising panic that had started in her toes was now making its way to her heart.
She called her pediatrician, who told her to pack a bag.
On instinct, Georgeann and her husband, Anthony, bypassed the hospital closest to their Pasco County home and, instead, rushed the baby straight to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Emergency Center.
Through the double-doors of the EC they went. Instantaneously, a full clinical team went into action.
“I was just dizzy with it. I can’t even tell you. She had a team of doctors over her immediately, doing blood pressure, oxygen, all this stuff,” Georgeann recounts.
Georgeann couldn’t believe the calm and confidence of this team of professionals. They tested the baby girl’s blood. They placed a catheter. As they worked with the tiny newborn, these parents never once wondered what was happening. The clinical staff explained every step with a calm compassion.
Baby Mara was going to need a spinal tap for diagnostic testing.
“My God, they curled her into this little fetal position and held her on the bed, and she’s not even crying because they were just so gentle,” Georgeann says. “It wasn’t like just one doctor was doing this. They were all a team. You knew that you weren’t their first rodeo.”
But what could possibly be wrong with their baby?
Georgeann would soon find out. She’ll never forget the attending EC physician coming into the room and literally getting down on her knees in front of her. The doctor placed a steadying hand on this new mother and told her the news.
“I’m afraid your baby has meningitis.”
Georgeann blacked out.
This wasn’t supposed to happen to their family. This is a family with broad connections to the medical field in general, and to Johns Hopkins All Children’s in particular. But they are the teachers, the healers, the administrators. Not the patients. At least not like this.
Georgeann has several relatives who are physicians. In fact, her cousin, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Emergency Center pediatrician Mary Chrisochos, who had been off duty that day, would provide emotional support to her in the EC. Georgeann, herself, is a community educator with the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Safe Routes to School program. Her mother, Patra Bates, has been director of the Outpatient Care Center in Pasco County for a dozen years and her role has recently expanded to that of regional director for the hospital’s north market. Patra’s sister, Anna Stratigos, has been with the hospital for 25 years, now serving as senior director of support services.
Georgeann had experienced the skill of clinicians at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Outpatient Care, Pasco with her first child, Oliver, now 6 years old, who had been diagnosed with sensory issues as a toddler. Georgeann saw remarkable improvement in her son after some concentrated occupational therapy. He also had his tonsils taken out at the main campus in St. Petersburg, and that experience left a strong, positive impression on the family.
But this was different. Georgeann’s little girl, just 48 hours old, was in real trouble.
When Georgeann regained consciousness, a sort of well-choreographed “dance” had begun around her.
“All of a sudden, the door swings open and there are literally like four women in scrubs with this incubator-looking thing,” Georgeann recounts. “Cords are coming out of every part of it, and these people are like all business.”
Mara was being moved to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They had to act fast because the baby had swelling on the brain. But, in her panic, all Georgeann could do was fire off questions.
“Will I be able to touch her? What happens next? Can she come out of that thing?”
Every question was answered with gentleness and clarity.
Up in the NICU, little Mara began receiving intense rounds of antibiotics and anti-virals. Until doctors could determine whether the meningitis was bacterial or viral, they had to treat her for both. Viral meningitis is generally easier to treat than bacterial meningitis, which if left untreated for too long, can be fatal.
In those early hours of waiting on cultures to grow in the lab, Patra Bates remembers feeling helpless. Accustomed to taking charge, here she was counting on others with a precious treasure–her grandbaby.
“I was no longer the director of a facility. I was just a grandmother, sitting there watching her. I was pained and hurting inside. I hurt for my daughter, her husband, and for Mara.”
But this family would soon learn what it meant to be cared for at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. Mara had a fantastic primary care nurse who anticipated her every need, and even took care of mom, Georgeann, in the process.
The doctors who would round each day and discuss her baby’s status were ready to answer every question. Those who cared for her baby deemed themselves, “Team Mara.” This family knew they were getting the best care.
“Nobody ever held my hand the way my hand was held at Johns Hopkins All Children’s,” Georgeann says. “This was first-class treatment.”
She wondered if it had anything to do with the fact she was an employee. But Georgeann soon learned most of the clinical staff didn’t even know this. They treated Mara like one of their own because they treat all of their patients like one of their own.
Mara began to get her color back. Her little lips looked better. Her temperature stayed down.
Georgeann will never forget the pivotal moments. The moment the doctor told her that Mara had viral meningitis and not bacterial, and how she fell to the ground, crying tears of relief. The moment–72 hours after she had rushed her baby into the ER–that she was told everything was clear and she could walk out of the hospital with her baby girl, who was going to be fine.
Before and After
Before Mara got sick, this family knew the integrity of Johns Hopkins All Children’s. They knew of the first-rate doctors and nurses here. They knew some great facts about Johns Hopkins All Children’s, which they shared every day.
But after this experience, they understood in a different way. Their baby had been gravely ill. She was quickly and accurately diagnosed, treated with the highest level of care, and sent home a well baby. They knew this because they lived it. And that, says Georgeann, is a story worth sharing.