Arkansas Children’s Hospital Became “Alyssa’s” Hospital
Editors note: Following is the story of Alyssa Williams, 8-year-old daughter of Dustin and Andy Williams of Charleston, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) on November 27, 2008. It is the fourth of a 6 part series about area residents experiences at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which will run leading up to the Charleston Music Fest that will be held at the Charleston Fairgrounds on April 5th from 3pm to 11pm. Proceeds from the Music fest will benefit Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
November 13, 2008, started out like any other Thursday until Alyssa woke up from her nap at her babysitter’s with a fever. Afraid of an ear infection, her parents took her to a walk in clinic in Fort Smith that evening but were told her ears were clear and she probably just had a virus that had to run its course.
Over the weekend, the fever wasn’t constant but when it did spike, it was hitting higher and higher temperatures.
The following Monday we decided to take Alyssa to her normal pediatrician for a closer look, her mother, Andy said. She still had no other symptoms, just a fever that would not stay away. Her doctor decided to do some x-rays, blood work, and a urine sample. When the results came back, we were told Alyssa’s white blood cell count was abnormal and would need to be checked again in a couple of days, Andy said. “As a mother, I was already thinking the worst, but tried to reassure myself I was just overreacting.” Andy and Dustin also had a newborn baby Dylan at home to care for and were all a little sleep deprived. We already had a check up appointment on Wednesday for Dylan, Alyssa’s 2-month-old brother, so we took Alyssa then for another CBC (complete blood count), Andy said. She was admitted to the hospital in Fort Smith on November 19th, for neutropenia, which meant her immune system was very weak and she was very susceptible to catching a virus or other germs. “I remember asking more than once, if they thought Alyssa had cancer?” But the doctors did not believe that was the cause of her illness. After 3 days in the hospital in Fort Smith, we requested to be transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock in hopes of getting more specific answers to the cause of Alyssa’s fevers so they could be stopped, Andy said.
On the drive to ACH, I remember telling myself over and over that this was silly and a waste of everyone’s time and money, Andy said. “My daughter’s not “sick” like other children at ACH. She just has a virus that won’t go away.” I was afraid of being embarrassed in front of the doctors and nurses because we were there for fever when there were so many other really sick kids with life threatening illnesses, Andy said. “But then “momma mode” would kick in and I didn’t care what humiliation I had to face, I just wanted my daughter to get well and for us to go home to her baby brother.”
No matter how insignificant I thought Alyssa’s fevers might be compared to the other sick children, the doctors, nurses, and even house cleaning and the janitorial staff made us all feel so special and important, she said. Immediately, there was a team of doctors asking dozens and dozens of questions and going over different scenarios trying to put a name to Alyssa’s illness, Andy said. “They never once made us feel like we were overreacting by having her there. It may sound strange, but I kind of felt of sense of “peace” once we settled in. Dustin and I knew we were where we needed to be to get answers and the best care for Alyssa.”
After 4 days and numerous CBC’s, scans, and questions, Alyssa’s doctor, Dr. Mian, decided to do a bone marrow aspiration.
“On Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2008, we received the devastating news that our 3 year old little girl had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, (A.L.L),” Andy said. “We responded like most parents with meltdowns, panic attacks, and confusion as to how and why this happened to this innocent, precious young girl.”
But it didn’t take long for the team at ACH to get us on track to what was next, what we were going to do to get Alyssa healthy and home again, Andy said. The next 7 months were the roughest of our life, she added. Alyssa was on several chemos and steroids, which was very hard on her, Andy said. “The nurses were always there to help with suggestions to make taking the medicine easier.” We had several episodes of “unexplained fever” which would require Alyssa to be admitted to the hospital for observation, Andy said. “The entire staff at ACH makes you feel like your child was their number one priority, but they also go above and beyond for the parents and even grandparents.”
On one occasion, Alyssa had been admitted to ACH over the New Year’s holiday. The staff brought Dustin and I a celebration basket with sparkling grape juice, wine glasses, and even noisemakers, Andy said. “They tried in every way to make us feel as much at home as possible. On the days we were back home, I didn’t hesitate to call Alyssa’s nurse, Amy, with any questions or concerns no matter how insignificant I thought they were. She was always there to help in any way.”
Alyssa has been off all chemo and medicines since March 2011. She currently makes trips every 3 months to ACH Centers for Children in Lowell. We also go to ACH in Little Rock once a year to see all the friendly faces, Andy said. “Anytime she hears or sees the name or emblem of ACH, she refers to it as ‘her’ hospital.”
Since she was so young, there are several things about her journey that she does not remember. But a few of the nurses and doctors made such an impact on her that she looks forward to seeing them.
Through prayer and the support of our family, friends, church, and community, we made it through the heartbreaking battle of chemo, steroids, spinal taps, bone marrows, and countless needle sticks for blood work, Andy said. “The overwhelming support of love and care from each and every staff member at ACH continued to give us that support when we were away from our family and community. I have always known it would take a special person to work at a children’s hospital.”
To witness these heroes in action is a miracle, and my family could never say “Thank You” enough, Andy said. Not just the doctors and nurses, but even house cleaning, and “the guy” we had to call the get the temperature adjusted in the room, she added.
“Even the entertaining artist who came to Alyssa’s room to let her paint and helped me see something I hadn’t seen in a while, a smile from my little girl. ACH gave us hope when we needed it most.”