What makes 14-year old Josh an Outstanding Eighth-Grade Student at Tyrone Middle School in St. Petersburg? His grades are solid. He has many friends and sets a good example for others. He’s come a long way since starting at Tyrone in sixth grade.
But his life outside of school probably has just as much to do with this honor. Josh has worked hard to excel despite regular absences. He spends at least one day each month at the Outpatient Care Center of All Children’s Hospital getting blood transfusions.
Josh was born with sickle cell disease. The abnormal-shaped red blood cells his body produces cause him tremendous pain when they clog his veins and decrease the flow of oxygen-rich blood through his body. Along with the pain comes the risk for serious complications. Josh suffered a heart attack when he was just a baby—and a stroke when he was three years old.
Last November, the spicy foods that Josh loves seemed to be causing him stomach trouble. Even after his mom cut back on the seasoning, Josh kept getting severe bellyaches on a regular basis. At first, his family thought it might be sickle cell pain. But a talk with his doctors at All Children’s Hematology/Oncology Program led to scans of his abdomen.
Turns out—Josh had developed gallstones. His gallbladder would need to be surgically removed.
“Right away,” mom LaVette remembers, “he was asking—am I going to have a big scar on my stomach? He already feels scarred by the sickle cell disease and he didn’t want any more scars that would point out he’s sick.”
Luckily, the surgeons with All Children’s Specialty Physicians are experienced with something dubbed “stealth surgery.” Only a handful of children’s hospitals nationwide are able to offer this surgical approach. Using tiny instruments guided by an equally small video camera, surgeon Nicole Chandler, MD removed Josh’s troublesome gallbladder through a single incision in his belly button.
“Everyone wants the smallest scar possible,” Chandler notes. “So that’s a big benefit from the patient’s standpoint—the scar virtually disappears as it heals up within the belly button. You can barely even see it two weeks after surgery. For someone like Josh, where pain is a very big issue with potential for further complications because of his sickle cell disease, it’s even more beneficial. The fewer incisions we make, the better our chances to reduce pain after surgery.”
“You can’t even tell I had surgery,” Josh reports with a smile. “No scar— it’s amazing!”
His recovery was equally amazing. After just two days in the hospital, Josh was back to his usual, energetic self—minus the pain. And his mom couldn’t be happier.
“Dealing with a sickness on top of dealing with teenage peer pressure—that’s a whole lot. It tore me apart to see it in his face everyday. But he kept his head up and kept moving forward. I’m just so proud of him.
“When I got the news about his Outstanding Student award, I not only called all our family, I called the nurses at All Children’s— the ones that helped him with his sickness and going through different teenage phases. They were just as happy as I was. That’s how much they care!”
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