Denise Mitchell was about 6 months pregnant when she began having complications during her pregnancy. A visit to the doctor led her to be diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening condition to both mother and baby.
A form of pre-eclampsia, HELLP stands for hemolysis, which is the breaking down of red blood cells, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count.
Upon receiving the diagnosis, Denise underwent a C-section immediately.
Kevin Mitchell was born on April 30, 1990, 3 months premature, weighing 2 lbs, 2 oz. He was sent to Akron Children’s neonatal intensive care unit, where he spent the next 3 months in an incubator and on a ventilator to help his undeveloped lungs grow to maturity.
With the permission of his parents, doctors also gave Kevin an experimental drug (now standard treatment) to aid in lung development.
When the Mitchells brought Kevin home, the house was quarantined and he had home care that included physical and occupational therapy. Eventually, the family was able to settle into normal day-to-day life with their new baby.
Fast-forward to today: Kevin is in his last year of graduate school at Ohio Northern University, studying to become a pharmacist. He has accepted a position at CVS Pharmacy upon graduation in May. He enjoys reading, doing crafts and fixing things.
He has no long-term medical issues from his premature delivery, with the exception of exercise-induced asthma.
And even though he’s come a long way since his NICU days, he still feels a strong connection to Akron Children’s. So when he returned to the hospital for a pharmacy rotation, he reached out to Mary Kay Walsh, a nurse his parents talked about often when telling the story of his time here.
“I remember my parents saying she was their age and could relate to them. She was always good, on top of things and very friendly,” Kevin said. “She was even part of my baptism. On my baptism certificate, she is listed as my godmother. I wanted to meet her.”
Walsh began working in the NICU in 1986. She left Akron Children’s in 1995 and returned in 2012 to join the Epic pharmacy team as a clinical application coordinator.
“I always wanted to come back to Akron Children’s,” said Walsh. “I love kids and loved working with babies. I felt I had a niche working in the NICU. I fell in love with my patients and their families.”
Walsh was shocked when she received a phone call that Kevin wanted to meet her. She wasn’t sure what to expect.
“When you work with patients in the NICU, you never know what medical issues they might face throughout their life,” she said. “When I walked down and saw him standing there, in a tie and a big smile on his face, tears filled my eyes and it took my breath away.”
Walsh couldn’t believe how perfect the timing was – that she happened to be back at Akron Children’s and answered her phone at the right moment.
“It meant a lot to me to see him, that he sought me out,” she said. “It is nice to know what happens to the babies you cared for. It was especially nice to see such a positive outcome. It makes me feel like my hard work and dedication paid off and I made a difference in his life. He turned into a fine young man.”
“I am convinced 100 percent that Akron Children’s Hospital saved my life,” Kevin said. “Mary Kay was a part of that and I’m eternally grateful. I am so glad I got to say thanks.”