Despite doctors’ reassurances, Angelica Hale’s parents knew something was wrong. Their normally vivacious little girl was in pain and getting sicker before their eyes. During a Sunday evening trip in February 2012 to the Emergency Department at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, they found out her condition was more serious than they could have imagined.
“My wife called me Monday morning and told me they were already starting surgery to put in a chest tube,” said James Hale, Angelica’s father. “It was nothing but bad news.”
Physicians told James and his wife, Eva Norman, that their daughter had pneumonia. The infection was so severe that her lung had begun to bleed into her abdomen, and the 5-year-old developed sepsis, a serious blood infection that devastated her kidneys.
“Her blood plasma was polluted, and her lungs were just ravaged,” James said. “It was earth shattering. We were rocked.”
A Health Journey Begins
Angelica was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Scottish Rite hospital while her healthcare team worked for three days to stabilize her and fight the infection. James credits neonatologist Munir Kapasi, M.D., with saving Angelica’s life during those chaotic first days. Dr. Kapasi informed Eva and James that their daughter was facing triple organ failure and would need significant medical intervention.
Angelica was transported by helicopter to our Egleston hospital, home to one of the Southeast’s few ECMO centers, where she was put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for 12 days—“a lifetime,” James said. The heart and lung bypass machine took over Angelica’s lung function, allowing her damaged organs time to heal before surgery.
“We thought we were about to lose our daughter,” James said. “We had no idea how long this journey would be.”
Once Angelica was stable enough, Richard Ricketts, M.D., Chief of our Division of Pediatric Surgery, performed surgery to repair her lung, which had lost nearly half its function. The blood infection compounded her health battle: Pollutants had overwhelmed her kidneys, and she developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Her kidneys were barely functioning.
Amid the chaos, James said he was grateful for the extra care the healthcare team took to keep him and his wife informed. “I don’t like being in the dark, and the doctors and nurses absolutely kept us informed,” he said. “They were great.”
As Angelica recovered from her lung surgery, her parents held out hope that her kidneys would heal. She had been on dialysis since getting ECMO—for more than a year—in order to filter pollutants from her blood, but the damage was done. With her kidneys scarred, Angelica needed a transplant to recover from the harm her initial infection had caused.
After regaining her strength and continuing peritoneal dialysis over the summer of 2013, Angelica returned for a kidney transplant at Children’s, home to one of the largest pediatric kidney transplant programs in the country. The process moved quickly. James and Eva were tested, and they found that Eva was a near-perfect match to donate a kidney to her daughter.
Sept. 13, 2013, Angelica received her mom’s kidney and bounced back quickly, much to the delight of her family and healthcare team. Now a joyful 6-year-old, Angelica is ready to get back to focusing on school, friends and her future singing career thanks to her support group and her Children’s team.
“I’m really glad we brought her to Children’s,” James said. “We’re so, so lucky. Taking her to a pediatric hospital saved her life.”