Gabe Pitman, born premature and weighing 1 pound and 14 ounces, 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 discharged from the NICU years ago, Gabe has continued to require specialized care for his cerebral palsy and other health conditions. His family moved from the Charlotte area to western North Carolina. But when Gabe needs a doctor, they can only go to one place.
“Hemby Children’s Hospital has all the specialists Gabe needs,” says mom Stephanie Pitman, explaining her 2-hour drive to see her son’s team of trusted caregivers. “It’s our home away from home, and we love them dearly.”
Gabe Pitman (center) with his mother and father.
Novant Health has had roots in Charlotte since 1903, when what was then the Presbyterian Hospital opened in Uptown. The hospital has grown over the years and reflects the community. Over the past five years, Novant Health has expanded its focus on pediatrics, investing significantly in Hemby Children’s Hospital and expanding services to meet the community’s evolving needs for children and their families. Novant invests approximately $38 million annually in pediatric care.
“We have shown that we are committed to pediatrics as we have grown tremendously,” said Dr. L. Eugene Daugherty, medical director of 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 improving 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 to provide children with access to both St. Jude and the Children’s Oncology Group clinical trials.
“Hemby has done a great job meeting the needs of the community,” said Dr. daugherty. “There’s a flexibility and agility to adapt to changing situations, and it ties into the whole patient- and family-centered approach we have here.”
Hemby Children’s Hospital has become a second home for Gabe and his parents and the family has built a lasting bond with those involved in their son’s care.
“(Gabe) was a very sick and fragile baby, and today he is a feisty, headstrong 9-year-old because of the care he received at Hemby,” Pitman said.
Take care of the whole family
Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital opened in 1995 to focus on the needs of children and their families. In 2001, Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital’s St. Jude Affiliate Clinic began treating children with cancer and a wide variety of blood disorders.
Located at the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center on Hawthorne Lane and designed as a hospital-within-a-hospital, the 76-bed Hemby focuses on caring for the whole family, not just the patient.
It was a stressful time for the Young family when Mother April was hospitalized with pregnancy complications in early 2021. Yet she fondly remembers the care she and her newborn daughter received. Young had developed preeclampsia, a serious blood pressure disorder, and gave birth to daughter Alix prematurely at 23 weeks. Alix would spend four months in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before being released from the hospital without complications on her original due date of August 27.
Alix Young, daughter of April Young
During Alix’s stay, Young appreciated the extras the NICU caregivers gave her baby girl, such as making her a tiny bikini, keeping her in dress up, and bringing bows to decorate Alix’s tiny head.
“The dedication to care is immeasurable,” said Young. “I was extremely ill and the nurses there not only took care of my daughter, but they also took care of me. They always asked how I was doing. They comforted me when I cried. They laughed with me and prayed silently with me. Even in 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 the company’s medical director. The NICU, a level IV facility, the highest possible level, has an average of 60 patients per day. A neonatologist is available 24/7, which according to Dr. Kothadia helps families feel supported. The NICU is expanding next year to add more beds and is expected to expand the workforce of 13 neonatologists, 16 pediatric nurses and more than 50 neonatal nurses.
“One of the unique things we do is that we have contact with the parents almost every day. We continue to update and educate them, and that helps everyone understand where they are. It is a differentiator and provides high levels of parental satisfaction,” said Dr. Kothadia.
A warm, friendly feeling
Erica Smith was hired five years ago to make Novant Health’s radiology department as child-friendly as possible. Certified pediatric life specialist, Smith, said children used to walk into the MRI room and were terrified of the equipment, making a stressful situation more difficult for everyone involved.
“Even after seeing pictures of the machine and hearing what they’re doing, the patients were scared like deer-in-headlights,” she said. “Kids have a great imagination and that magical thinking, and often they created this big, mysterious scary thing in their minds.”
Smith teamed up with a company to redecorate the MRI room and paint a vibrant and cheerful underwater scene on the walls and equipment. It was ready in January.
The “underwater” MRI room.
“The ability to redesign this room to make it look kid-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 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 radiologic procedure,” she said. “Here you get a more intimate, family atmosphere. Our returning kids know the technician who takes 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 feeling while receiving an excellent quality of care.”
Another special touch only available at Hemby is Caroline’s Corner, an area in the hospital where families gather, relax, eat and even do their laundry or shower while their child is being cared for. The space, which opened in January 2021, was made possible by a local family working with hospital partner Ronald McDonald House. The family created the space in memory of their newborn daughter Caroline, who died of 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 major hospital systems. He said Hemby patients and parents benefit from direct access to the best trained doctors, something often lacking at large institutions.
“This is where you go to the attending physician, the one who has completed 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 best trained person.”
Gabe Pitman, who started his life in Hemby’s NICU, is now 9 years old and loves hockey, music and adventures. Due to complications at birth, Gabe has short bowel syndrome and requires hospital care on average once a year.
Gabe continues to be treated by the Hemby specialists who have cared for him since he was born. His mother said she and her family have experienced other hospitals over the years.
“None of them compared to Hemby,” she said. “In some cases, we felt that the doctors were not listening to us. The staff listens to us at Hemby. They don’t talk over our heads and they genuinely care about Gabe and our family. We trust them.”
Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital has invested heavily in pediatric care in the Charlotte area.
About Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital
38-bed General Pediatric UnitEight-Bed Pediatric Intensive Care Unit38-Bed Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit 15-Bed Adolescent Behavioral Health Care Unit 24/7 Pediatric Emergency Department
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