When she steps onto the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at MU Children’s Hospital, Maya Quattrocchi is among friends. And it’s not just because she’s carrying two dozen doughnuts each time she visits.
The 8-year-old Columbia girl spent nearly two months in the unit after a March 2014 automobile accident. During that time, she developed lasting relationships with members of the care team who helped her recover from multiple traumatic injuries.
The story of her care and remarkable recovery is considered a shining example of how an intensive care unit should serve patients and was recognized in February 2016 with the ICU Heroes award from the Society of Critical Care Medicine.
Each Saturday since her discharge, Maya has visited the unit to thank “the angels” — the health professionals who were there when she needed them most.
“We come here every week to feed the angels,” Maya said. “I love coming here.”
Each week, those same health professionals who cared for Maya marvel at her recovery and are reminded why they chose careers in health care.
“In those visits she brings doughnuts to the entire unit and tells us all about her Barbie doll collection,” said Abdallah Dalabih, MD, the pediatric critical care physician who nominated Maya, her family and the care team for the award. “In her first visits, she had a significant limp. We were able to witness this changing to running in the hallways of the PICU and jumping to give high-fives and hugs to her nurses and doctors.”
From cardiac arrest to skipping outside
Maya was run over by a vehicle on March 30, 2014, when she was 6 years old. She was rushed to MU Health Care’s Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center with multiple bone fractures and injuries to her heart, lungs, esophagus, liver and kidney. She received multiple blood transfusions and underwent surgery to stanch severe blood loss. After she was stabilized, Maya was transferred to the MU Children’s Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the sickest, Maya was a 9. For the first two weeks, we didn’t have a lot of positive news, and we didn’t know if she would make it.” Venkataraman Ramachandran, MD
Upon arrival at the PICU, Maya went into cardiac arrest. Her heart function returned after brief CPR, but this was just the beginning of what doctors called a “rough” two months.
Venkataraman Ramachandran, MD, a pediatric surgeon at MU Health Care, said he was unsure whether Maya would survive her injuries.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the sickest, she was a 9,” he said. “For the first two weeks, we didn’t have a lot of positive news, and we didn’t know if she would make it.”
Ramachandran said the care Maya received in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit was a team effort and was built on the standards instituted by Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, a forefather of modern trauma care at MU. They are regularly refined by trauma surgeons at MU Health Care today.
“One person cannot do this,” he said, noting that dozens of people contributed to Maya’s care and rehabilitation.
Maya breathed with the assistance of a ventilator for four weeks, with the final two on minimal sedation, before receiving a tracheostomy. All told, she underwent more than 40 procedures during her 59 days in the unit.
Ramachandran, whom Maya calls “Uncle Ram,” performed more than 30 of Maya’s procedures. He said hiyoung patient’s personality shined through during her time at the PICU.
“She was always bubbly and outgoing, and that’s what kept her going,” he said.
Audi Ruffel, RN, one of the nurses who cared for Maya, was on the receiving end of several hugs and high-fives during a recent visit. Ruffel said the care team, which numbered more than a dozen, did well, but the outcome might not have been the same with a different patient.
“We provided the care, but it was really Maya who did the hard work,” she said. “Maya always exceeded our expectations.”
Heroes among us
Maya’s family traveled to Orlando, Florida, in February to receive the ICU Heroes award with hospital staff members. During the awards ceremony, which was part of the Society of Critical Care Medicine’s Critical Care Conference, Mayastrode onto the stage confidently and gave the presenter a high-five before her parentsand caregivers joined her. Maya and the ICU team leader were awarded “ICU hero”medals as well as plaques.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of doctors in the audience,” Frank Quattrocchi said. “She did great; I was bawling like a baby.”
Frank said his daughter loved the trip to Orlando, especially getting to see all of her friends from MU Children’s Hospital and getting to eat alligator for the first time.
Maya is like many other girls her age; she loves to dance, play with her Barbie dolls and watch movies. She’s an above-average student and attends school full time. The only visible signs of her ordeal are a few scars.
When Maya describes her long hospital stay, she likens it to a hotel where she watched movies and made new friends. She has no fear of the hospital and looks forward to bringing doughnuts to “the angels” every Saturday.
“I love it,” she said of the visits.
Carroll King, MD, marveled as she watched Maya skip around the unit during a visit in March. King was one of Maya’s doctors when she was a patient in the PICU.
“It’s amazing,” King said. “You can’t even tell she was severely injured. Maya is ourtotem for hope. When things are bad, we think of Maya.”