Ashley - The Perfect Choice For A Child

With children, sometimes logic is hard to follow. Emotional attachment and a desire to care for the innocent sometimes outweigh reasoned decisions.

For pediatric nurse Camille Echols, a decision of the heart had to be made. A malnourished, physically abused child was admitted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Little Ashley was developmentally delayed, the result of her abuse. To make matters worse, she needed a kidney transplant. Children’s decided not to place her on the waiting list for a kidney because they feared she would not receive the proper follow-up care.

Echols was assigned as Ashley’s primary nurse. Ashley spent many hours alone in her crib at Children’s, as she had no visitors. Echols would pull the crib to the doorway of her patient room so that Ashley could see Echols more often. “She constantly said ‘Hi’ to all the staff when they walked by her room. I felt bad for her, so I tried to make her feel less lonely,” Echols said.

She did so by visiting Ashley on her off days and convincing her partner, Julie Dobbs, to come along. Ashley’s condition eventually improved, and she was cleared to go home. One stipulation caused a snag: Ashley’s biological mother had to come to the hospital four consecutive days before Children’s would release the child. This did not happen, and the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) took custody of Ashley.

Logic then took a backseat to the heart. Ashley’s mom approached Echols and asked that Echols become the child’s foster mom temporarily. Echols agreed.

“Children’s was nervous about my decision. They needed to make sure this wasn’t a conflict of interest,” Echols said.

For Echols, the decision was a no-brainer. It also was not hard to convince Dobbs, who had grown attached to the sprightly little girl. After hiring an attorney, Echols and Dobbs adopted Ashley.

That was when reality hit. Ashley still needed a kidney transplant. She visited Children’s for dialysis three times a week, with Echols and Ashley rising at 4:30 a.m. to make their 6:30 a.m. appointment. The little girl also had to take medicine intravenously twice a day. Ashley waited for a kidney for almost a year.

Then, Ashley was given a second chance. She received a kidney from a deceased donor. When the transplant coordinator called Echols and Dobbs to say a kidney had come through, they did not believe it. Echols said she had mixed emotions about the way in which Ashley received her kidney.

“On one hand, I was elated that Ashley had a kidney,” Echols said. “I was saddened, too, by the family’s loss, and I wanted to be respectful of their situation.”

Although Ashley’s transplant surgery at Children’s was successful, today she takes a lot of medicine and has to have labs done twice a week. Echols said that doctors “tweak” Ashley’s medicines and treatment each visit to address changing medical needs. She always will need checkups, Echols said, at least once a month for the rest of her life.

Today, Echols stays home with Ashley during the week and works weekends at Children’s. Her and Dobbs’ lives have changed completely. Ashley’s energy level is way up, and Echols said she spends a lot of time chasing her around the house.

Echols thinks her experiences with Ashley have helped her improve as a nurse. She now can better empathize with patient families in a way she was not able to before the adoption. Since her story was published in the news, Echols said families are more likely to ask her questions about transplants that she is happy to answer.

Perhaps the most important gift to come from this experience, Echols said, is the perspective it has given her.

“When I come home tired from work, Ashley is my cure-all. Her attitude is so wonderful; she’s so full of life,” Echols said. “Where she’s come from, what she’s gone through, it makes my problems seem small. I feel like I can’t complain.”

Sometimes, the most logical decisions are not made with the mind.

    Donate LifeHelp respond to a growing need for transplant care
    for children:

    -Visit Donate Life Georgia to register to become a donor.

    -Support Children’s pursuit of excellence in transplant services, allowing us to increase our medical staff, expand our services to provide more transplants to a growing number of children and discover the next breakthroughs in transplant medicine through research.

    -Check out just a few of Children's courageous transplant recipients on Facebook and other patient stories.