A Children's physician assistant finds inspiration through her son's journey
My son Lee was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis (NF) Type 1 and a rare congenital disorder by the age of 2. Both of these diagnoses came with learning disabilities and developmental delays, so we spent a good portion of his childhood seeing doctors at Children’s at Scottish Rite or getting speech therapy at Children’s Rehabilitation Center on Mansell Road. It was hard, but Lee was a trooper. The Children’s staff became like extended family.
Lee remained mostly healthy for the next five years, until he came down with a bad case of strep throat when he was 7. His pediatrician sent us to Children’s at Scottish Rite for an initial CT scan. Lee was referred to the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service, where we went regularly that summer for repeat CT scans and lab work.
Finally, his blood counts warranted a bone marrow aspirate. He was admitted to the hospital three times during the next several months, losing more than 15 pounds. At that time, he also received a diagnosis of a rare form of leukemia with no known cure.
Despite everything, Lee was stable through most of the following year, and we managed to have some fun. He enjoyed the summer at the pool and beach, and was able to celebrate his 9th birthday. It wasn’t until the night before Thanksgiving that the bottom fell out. He died at the end of the following week.
For Lee’s entire life, I worked as a vice president for a local information technology firm. I did very well, and I liked my job. But, after Lee passed away, I felt like it just wasn’t right. With my husband’s encouragement, I decided to go back to school to become a physician assistant.
I was inspired by the Children’s PAs that had been with me and my family during Lee’s illness. I wanted to work with kids with special needs, just like Lee. I knew, with my past, I’d be able to connect with parents in a special way, truly serving as a parent and patient advocate.
Prior to graduating from the Medical University of South Carolina, I found out about an open position at Children's in Rehab/Physiatry. I knew I had to apply. And, in October of 2008, I walked through the entrance of Children's at Scottish Rite as an employee—not a parent—for the very first time.
People ask how I can work in the same hospital where my son died. It’s not always easy, and I have had my down days. But, even so, I’ve never regretted my decision. I love that I get to work with incredible people who believe so strongly in what they do. And, I love that I get to feel connected to Lee by being here every day. I know I’ve found my purpose.
- Lesli Woodall
Physician Assistant, Children's Rehabilitation Associates