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Children's Neurology Care Answers Urgent Need

Children's Health
Author name: Lee Health

Harlee hicks photo

Teamwork, training, expertise, and caring. They were all combined recently to help save one young patient’s life through the marvel of the new Pediatric Neurosurgery Program at Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida. A collaboration with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, the program diagnoses and treats children with diseases of the brain, spine and nerves.

In April, 2-year-old Harlee Hicks underwent a series of doctor visits for evaluation of a chronic twitch she had in one eye. Those visits led to other tests, including an electroencephalogram (EEG). Test results suggested that seizures were causing Harlee’s facial twitching, possibly caused by a neurologic condition.

“Harlee and I were in the car, on our way home from the test, when the neurologist’s office contacted me to say her EEG was abnormal,” recalls Julie Hick, the toddler’s grandmother. “We turned around for the hospital and had her immediately admitted.”

Harlee was diagnosed with a cerebral cavernous malformation. The condition describes a group of irregularly shaped tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that form abnormally in the brain. The capillaries are prone to leaking (bleeding), which can irritate the tissues of the brain and cause symptoms like Harlee’s.

Surgery removed the vascular abnormality, and Harlee’s post-operative recovery was a breeze, according to Julie.  The toddler’s pre- and post-op experience didn’t seem to faze her one bit. She continued to amaze her medical team with her bubbly personality and inquisitive nature, even after waking up from surgery with gauze around her head.

“She came out of the surgery the same as she went in,” Julie says. “Everything happened so quickly. It was amazing, from start to finish, from admission to the nursing staff to the medical techs to the surgical team. We’re so grateful to them.”

Pediatric neurosurgeon Theodore Spinks, who heads the pediatric neurosurgery program and performed Harlee’s surgery, marvels at the quick timeline of his young patient’s case, from diagnosis to surgery, postoperative care, and discharge.

“Before this program, it would have taken weeks at least for all that to happen, maybe even longer. Whereas here, it happened within days,” Dr. Spinks said. “The surgery was successful and done locally, so Harlee’s family could stay by her side.”

Harlee hicks photo 2

Lee Health and Johns Hopkins Unite

The timeline of Harlee’s case started in April, but the top-notch care she received at the pediatric neurosurgery program had its beginnings in 2019. That’s when Lee Health and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital united to expand pediatric healthcare services.

Alyssa Bostwick, vice president of operations and chief nurse executive for Golisano Children’s Services, says the collaboration anticipates the current and future challenges of Florida’s incredible population growth.

“There’s a huge need in our region for pediatric neurosurgery, and more importantly, it’s growing every year,” Alyssa says. “Due to the population growth in Southwest Florida and younger families moving to the area, we’re seeing more and more children who need our services. This neurosurgery program, in affiliation with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, three years in the making, will have a major impact.”

“When we began this collaboration with Golisano three years ago, our goal was to help expand care for children across the west coast of Florida,” says George Jallo, M.D., neurosurgeon, vice dean and physician-in-chief at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and medical director of the hospital’s Institute for Brain Protection Sciences. “We’re proud of the work our team has done to train nursing staff and advanced practice providers and grow this program so that children in Southwest Florida have access to the right pediatric experts.”

Sharing expertise

A surgical procedure is complex, especially in a specialized area such as neurosurgery. For more than a year, over 100 members of Golisano Children’s Hospital’s clinical team received specialized training at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital main campus in St. Petersburg. Team members made the 120-mile trek so one day, families in Southwest Florida wouldn’t have to for exceptional pediatric neurosurgery services.

“We wanted to focus on anyone who would encounter a brain or spinal cord diagnosis,” Dr. Jallo says about the specialized training and learning sessions. “The teams learned about common brain and central nervous system conditions such as hydrocephalus, neural tube defects and cervical spine injury. Our teams even helped provide hands-on training through our simulation center and medical mannequins. We are so proud of all the hard work on both sides of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Golisano’s teams.”

A program designed to remove barriers to care

Dr. Spinks says the specialized training was critical toward achieving what the program “was designed to do,” which is allow families to stay in Southwest Florida and receive a high level of care.

“Location should never be a barrier for families,” he says. “Before this program, kids who needed that higher level of neurological care likely would have had to go to St. Petersburg or Miami, but now, they’re able to receive that care here at Golisano Children’s Hospital. We are so proud to be able to offer this life-saving service to the kids in our community.”

Alyssa says before the program began, Golisano Children’s Hospital was transferring more than 100 children each year out of the area for neurosurgical services. Families would have to travel two hours or more for care or were transferred by ambulance or helicopter, costing local families more money and time.

Dr. Spinks added that traveling for care can take a toll on a family. “Taking the child away from their family, their support structure, sometimes even taking families away from their jobs and choosing between working and taking care of their child is not a good choice,” he says. “So having those children stay within their support system is important and a focus here.”

The program currently focuses on the management and treatment of brain and spine tumors, spina bifida, Chiari malformation, tethered cord, minimally invasive brain and spine surgery, and complex spine surgery. Additional services will be added over time.

Harlee, who turns 3 in November, started daycare this fall. Julie describes her granddaughter as “the happiest kid ever.” For now, Harlee remains under Dr. Spinks’ care for follow-up imaging studies to ensure she continues thriving.

Watch this video to learn more about Golisano Pediatric Neurosurgery Services.

The team at Golisano Children’s Hospital addresses:

  • Management and treatment of brain and spine tumors
  • Spina bifida, including myelomeningocele and tethered cord
  • Chiari malformations
  • Spinal injuries and deformity/scoliosis
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Epilepsy
  • Peripheral nerve problems
  • Minimally invasive brain and spine surgery and complex spine surgery

For a consultation or to schedule an appointment with a pediatric neurology expert, call 239-343-6050.