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    For Critically Ill Twins and Their Family, a Deeply Caring Environment

    Gabby Aitkenhead took one look at her infant son Mateo and knew the boy was seriously ill – literally fighting for his life. “He was pale and weak as a doll,” she says. “He looked really bad.”

    So began a medical saga that involved the San Francisco family and more than two dozen medical personnel at Sutter Health’s CPMC, a story that played out over two weeks before little Mateo and his twin brother, Diego, were able to fight off an acute, potentially fatal, viral infection.

    The saga began in late September 2014 when both boys, who had been born prematurely one month earlier at CPMC, developed mild symptoms – “a little cough and a runny nose, nothing serious,” Gabby says. By all appearances, the boys had a mild infection that would resolve itself in a few days.

    Gabby and her husband, Bobby Aitkenhead, monitored their sons’ symptoms closely, and little seemed to change for several days. But over the course of a few hours during a weekend, their condition worsened, particularly Mateo’s. On Sunday, he began to vomit, an ominous sign. It was evident to the Aitkenheads, as well as to Bobby’s parents, Richard and Sara Aitkenhead, visiting from Guatemala, that Mateo needed emergency care.

    “We took him to the hospital (CPMC’s Pediatric Emergency Department) right away,” says Gabby. “It was clear that his breathing had slowed down. Thank God we got there in time – as soon as we arrived, Mateo stopped breathing.”

    The Aitkenheads came to precisely the right place for little Mateo’s illness. CPMC’s Pediatric ED is staffed with specialists who are experts in both pediatrics and emergency medicine, a combination of skills that can make a critical difference in life-and-death cases like Mateo’s.

    Gabby says, “A nurse took charge right away. In minutes a team of 30 was on hand – the response was incredible. They got him breathing again, then transferred him to the (CPMC) Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.”

    Lorry Frankel, M.D., CPMC’s chair of pediatrics and director of the ICU, takes up the story: “While the emergency team was resuscitating Mateo, Gabby and her mother-in-law needed support as well. They were extremely upset. The director of nursing (Jessica Eads, R.N.) and I spent a lot of time with the family explaining what was happening.”

    Dr. Frankel says that what sets CPMC’s Pediatric ED and Pediatric ICU apart is that its personnel provide family support that goes far beyond delivering medical services. “For a family, the experience of having an extremely sick child can be overwhelming. We allow families to ‘move in’ to the hospital while their child is critically ill. They literally sleep in the same room as their child. We provide meals for them. This permits the family members to actively participate in the healing of their child,” he says.

    Once the ED team addressed Mateo’s initial symptoms – severe dehydration along with fluid buildup in the lungs that robbed him of his ability to breathe – the boy was transferred to the ICU, and later to CPMC’s Pediatric Ward.

    “That’s when they told us to bring his brother Diego in,” says Gabby. Sure enough, Diego was infected with the same virus, although not as seriously. The multidisciplinary team made sure Diego didn’t become as ill as his brother. Soon both twins were receiving care in adjoining rooms.

    Dr. Frankel explains that the boys had developed a common virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which mimics cold symptoms and normally responds best when the symptoms, not the underlying infection, are treated. For older children it’s usually a mild illness, but to babies like Mateo and Diego, born about one week prematurely, it can be far more serious.

    During the twins’ two weeks at CPMC, the care team’s top focus was on meeting the needs of the entire family. Says Dr. Frankel, “We go out of our way to ensure that family members have a home away from home while we are treating their children. It’s a team approach you don’t often find, even at teaching hospitals, which normally don’t have rooms for family members to stay close to their children.”

    Partway through the two weeks, Gabby’s father, Armando Araujo, and his wife, Cristina, also visited from Guatemala.

    Gabby says she especially appreciated the human connection from the caregivers: “They sang to our kids, caressed them, talked to them and brought them toys. They weren't only there to administer medications.’”

    She has nothing but praise, saying, “Everyone was fantastic. They were always on top of things. They were nurturing and sympathetic and really, really cared about the babies. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

    Today, the boys are fine, says Gabby, adding, “They’re big and healthy. There have been no lasting effects. I truly believe that the care team’s human touch made all the difference.”

    Visit babies.sutterhealth.org to learn more about Sutter pediatric specialty services or call 1-888-637-2762 to find a pediatrician near you.