Family’s PICU experience sparks commitment to givingby Christina Echegaray | Nov. 10, 2016, 9:44 AM
Two years ago, Laura and Justin Burney faced the unthinkable: almost losing their infant daughter, Brooklyn.
Now a spirited, loving 2½ year old, Brooklyn survived a perinatal stroke at birth, followed by a ruptured brain aneurysm at 1 month old, and has since battled a form of epilepsy that involves periodic involuntary jerking motions.
Through it all, the Burneys have put Brooklyn and their faith in the hands of care teams at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The couple has graciously given back by sharing their daughter’s success story, stressing to people in the community that having access to a comprehensive pediatric health care facility like Children’s Hospital is the reason their daughter survived.
Laura Burney said they knew, even before Brooklyn left the hospital, that they would give back to the people and place that made it possible for her daughter to be alive — those who made it possible for her daughter to have a future.
“As life went on we knew we needed to give back, and specifically to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit,” Laura Burney said. “We have a passion for the department, the staff and everything everyone has done.
“If you had to depict our experience there and what that place is to us, they essentially gave us hope in an extremely scary time, and they continue to give us hope on a daily basis. Brooklyn was facing some very serious odds.”
Working with Medical Center staff members, the Burneys launched “Hope Grows Here,” a fundraising event to raise awareness in the community about the expert, personalized care that Children’s Hospital provides to children from Tennessee, the region and across the nation. Proceeds from “Hope Grows Here” will benefit the Growing to New Heights Campaign, which supports the four-floor expansion atop Children’s Hospital.
The inaugural event was held in May at the Charles Hand Farm near the Burneys’ home in Clarksville, Tennessee, with friends, local business executives and members of Brooklyn’s care team in attendance. The Burneys hope it will become an annual event.
Brooklyn Burney’s journey began on July 17, 2014, when for 24 hours the Burney family felt as if their world stood still. Brooklyn, cradled in her mother’s arms, had stopped breathing for brief moments, multiple times, and her lips turned blue. At the suggestion of their pediatrician, they went to Children’s Hospital, where a CT scan revealed a ruptured brain aneurysm, a weakened area of a brain blood vessel that fills with blood.
In that first day at Children’s Hospital, Brooklyn would have two emergency craniotomies — a procedure during which a bone flap of the skull is removed to allow for access to the brain. Blood was pooling inside her skull and putting pressure on her brain. The surgeries would help relieve the pressure and prevent brain damage.
Following the first surgery, Truc M. Le, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Neurological Surgery, who was the on-call intensive care physician at the hospital that night, said Brooklyn “wasn’t out of the woods yet,” Laura Burney recalls. The goal was to keep her stable. When the Burneys tried to get some rest, a nurse came in with unexpected news.
“She said Brooklyn’s heart had stopped and they had to do CPR for 2 minutes,” Laura said. “I didn’t hear anything after that for about 5 minutes.”
Doctors believed the brain aneurysm re-ruptured, and that’s when Jay Wellons III, M.D., MSPH, chief of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery, came in for a brief introductory conversation.
“He said, ‘This is not a sit-down conversation. If we want to save her life, I have to go now,’” Laura recalls. Surgeons removed two blood clots and part of Brooklyn’s frontal lobe that day.
“In the days and weeks that followed, I was afraid every time a doctor walked into the room that they would tell me her heart stopped again — that was by far the scariest part of all of it,” Laura Burney said.
Brooklyn spent two weeks in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and quickly earned the nickname “Super B” for her remarkable recovery.
Brooklyn’s entire care team, including Wellons, attended the Hope Grows Here event.
“The Burneys are special people to have done what they did, to give back in this way,” Wellons said. “Our team met them at the hardest of times for parents, the major illness or possible death of a child. They eloquently are able to reach back to that time, to draw from that feeling and that experience, and to speak to others so that they can truly understand.
“From there, they have brought about joy and a desire to give back and bring others along in that journey. What a wonderful thing to do, bring joy from sadness, hope from hopelessness.”
The Burneys hope other families will participate in future Hope Grows Here events.
“Our goal and my wish for this is that children who have intimate experience at Children’s Hospital for whatever reason — be it childhood cancer or another patient in Pediatric Neurology — will share their stories as well. This wasn’t an event for Brooklyn. This is for the future Brooklyn Burneys of the world who need the same care, and for parents looking for the same care and hope that the doctors gave us,” Laura Burney said.
Christina Echegaray, (615) 322-4747