Nov. 26, 2016, is one Michelle and Jason Giovannone of Lexington will always remember. Their daughter, Gabriella Holland Giovannone, 5, had been complaining of earache pain and was taking antibiotics.
“After a visit to her pediatrician, she improved, but at bedtime, she began having a seizure. “She had a gaze that went right through my soul and I will never forget it, said Jason.”
They called 911 and Gabriella Holland was first taken to a nearby hospital, then rushed to the Children’s Emergency Center at Palmetto Health.
Around 3:30 a.m. pediatric intensivist Robert Hubbird, MD, told the Giovannones that Gabriella Holland’s brain still showed seizure activity. He explained that an induced coma would allow her brain and body to rest. “He was very frank about how sick she was and we were terrified,” said Michelle.
“The doctors and nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) assured us they were doing everything medically possible,” said Jason. “We came in on the worst day of our lives and experienced some of the best care we’ve ever received. Dr. Hubbird was phenomenal.”
In addition to the care provided by Hubbird, Stacey Humphreys, MD, Jason Hawn, MD, and the PICU team, the Giovannones were impressed by the attentiveness of pediatric neurologist Harley Morgan, MD, who checked on Gabriella Holland even when not on duty. “He was researching cases as far away as Colorado and Germany,” said Jason. “He did everything he could to help her.”
“I was on call that Thanksgiving weekend and I remember that night distinctly,” said Morgan. “Our EEG tech, Jamie Brown, called me when he had Gabriella Holland’s EEG up for viewing. She was in continuous seizures. We had to get very aggressive with medically stopping the seizures.”
“The PICU team did an outstanding job. Putting a child in a barbiturate coma is not something you enter into lightly. The first 72 hours are critical,” said Morgan. “We had to share with her parents the serious nature of what we were dealing with. We had a lot of discussions at her bedside.”
Morgan said Gabriella Holland’s seizures were extremely complex to treat. There was no way to give a good prediction on how things would progress. “It’s a very critical period when a child comes out of the coma. You really don’t know how things are going to go, despite your best efforts. As a physician, your spirits soar when you see the EEG improve. You are coming out of an incredible battle,” said Morgan.
Gabriella Holland was diagnosed with encephalitis, which had caused brain inflammation and severe irritation. “Seeing our daughter intubated and on a ventilator was heartbreaking,” said Michelle.
Gabriella Holland was in the PICU for two weeks, then spent a week on the fourth floor.
Because Gabriella Holland was immobile for weeks, simple activities like sitting up, walking and eating were now difficult. She required intensive multi-disciplinary inpatient rehabilitation services to regain her strength and skills. She went to Charlotte for inpatient rehabilitation as this service was not yet available in South Carolina. The Giovannones are pleased that Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital is beginning construction on a new inpatient rehab unit.
“Soon, children in the Midlands with intensive rehabilitation needs, like Gabriella Holland, can stay close to home when they need these services,” said Colleen A. Wunderlich, MD, MSc, who will direct the new inpatient rehabilitation center at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital. “This will help South Carolina children and adolescents recover and maximize function after brain and spinal cord injuries, neurological conditions, multi-trauma, and other physical conditions that require intensive rehabilitation – in their home state,” she added.
Gabriella Holland had no serious complications from her illness and her brain showed no signs of injury or damage. Now 6, she continues to be followed by the pediatric neurology team. “Everybody at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital embraced us,” said Michelle. “It opened our eyes to what the doctors, nurses and Child Life Specialists do every day to care for children.”