On a typical June morning in 2015, Michele Toia entered her daughter’s room to wake her for school and found 11-year-old Lauren unresponsive. Shocked and terrified, Michele called 911 and her daughter was rushed to a local hospital where they determined that Lauren was suffering from a spontaneous intracranial hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain.
She was placed on a ventilator and immediately referred to Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital (YNHCH) where physicians inserted a drain to relieve pressure in Lauren’s brain and put her in a medically induced coma. Lauren’s father, en route to Florida, rushed back to be at Lauren’s side.
Michael DiLuna, MD, YNHH chief of pediatric neurosurgery, coordinated the team that worked to stop the bleed and determine its cause. “We use a team approach to treat every patient,” explained DiLuna. “In a case like Lauren’s, where so many disciplines are involved, it is more important than ever to coordinate care as a team, with the patient – in this case the parents – at the core of that team.”
After about six days, Lauren began to regain consciousness. “Those were the longest six days ever,” commented Michele. “We had so many questions – what caused Lauren to be stricken? Is she going to recover? Can this happen again?” Even though Lauren had been a figure skater since the age of four, Michele recalls wondering if her daughter would ever walk again, let alone return to the ice.
During her two weeks in YNHCH’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, thankfully, Lauren’s condition began to improve. She worked with nurses, therapists and Child Life specialists to begin the arduous tasks of learning to walk and talk again. A few days after coming out of the coma, Lauren was able to take her first steps, despite weakness on her right side. After another two weeks in a rehabilitation hospital, Lauren spent the rest of the summer working diligently in outpatient therapy to regain her strength and coordination, and to literally find her voice again.
Even though Lauren had missed her elementary school graduation, she was able to enter middle school on time in September. Miraculously, she was even able to lace up her skates again – just three months after being stricken.
“We were thrilled that Lauren was able to return to ice skating – doing what she loves. She is a very determined young lady!” said Michele. “Over the following year, she began to compete again, winning state and regional competitions and she was even selected as 2016 Nutmeg State Games Athlete of the Year.”
“Even though we were traumatized by our daughter’s condition, we were impressed with the care she received at YNHCH,” recalled Michele. “The attention to detail among the caregivers, their perseverance and the way they kept us informed about Lauren’s condition and treatment meant the world to us.”
After a series of angiograms, MRIs and brain scans, the cause of the hemorrhage was ultimately determined to be an arteriovenous malformation or AVM – a malfunction of a blood vessel in the brain. Thankfully, further testing revealed no lesions, tumors or tangled vessels in Lauren’s brain.
In gratitude for all that hospital staff had done for her, for her 12th birthday, Lauren asked family and friends to donate to YNHCH’s Child Life department in hopes of bringing smiles to other pediatric patients.
“We can’t say enough about the medical staff and caregivers at Yale New Haven Hospital. They truly have a calling,” said Michele. “The skilled physicians who did all they could to give Lauren the chance for a full recovery, the kind nurses who went above and beyond at every turn, the talented therapists and Child Life Specialists who worked with Lauren to regain her strength – we are forever grateful to them all.”
“Thanks to them, we have our happy, healthy little girl back again!”