In 2013, Kimberly Lancaster spent a full day every month driving her youngest son, Sammy, back and forth to Chapel Hill for the medication he needs to survive. Sammy was born with failing kidneys due to atypical hemalytic uremic syndrome, and he needs a twice-monthly dose of Soliris, which is administered by infusion.
The Lancasters didn't know it, but about that same time, Lowell Higgins, a pediatric nurse at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, was working on a plan that would save them countless hours of travel.
Higgins refused to accept that children like Sammy should have to deal with long car trips on top of their medical problems. So he devised a plan to bring pediatric infusions to the NHRMC Betty H. Cameron Women's & Children's Hospital.
Higgins started small, treating just a few diseases for a handful of patients.He worked to build relationships with doctors in Durham and Raleigh, convincing them that he could take excellent care of their patients. He also established relationships with local doctors whose referrals have helped build the program. Lowell has enlisted the support and medical expertise of Dr. Michael Stoiko, a pediatric intensivist who is the medical director of the program.
"Those doctors have come to trust Lowell, and they are happy to make life easier for their patients," said Vanessa Van Gilder, Manager of Nunnelee Pediatric Clinics at NHRMC. "Now that they are being treated closer to home, some of these patients can get an infusion in the morning and be back at school by lunchtime."
"It has been a lifesaver for us," said Kimberly Lancaster, who now lives in Jacksonville. "Our drive was 328 miles round-trip. Including the time for treatment, it could take up to 12 hours."
Now, the Lancasters can be back at home within three hours.
Higgins has years of experience performing infusions, but his real specialty is enthusiasm. Like a favorite uncle, Higgins greets the children with a magnetic smile that draws in even the most reserved child. He offers a snack; he pushes them around in a toy car.
His skill at removing the anxiety from the infusion appointment makes life easier for parents.
"Lowell is amazing," Kimberly Lancaster said. "This program has just been such a blessing."
"These kids are my superheroes," Higgins said. "Many of them are dealing with serious diseases that will affect them their entire lives, but they maintain such positive attitudes. When they run in here and give me a big hug, it's very gratifying."
Some of the conditions that are treated in the NHRMC Pediatric Infusion Program:
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Blood or genetic disorders
- Renal conditions
- Rheumatologic conditions
- Endocrine disorders
- Neurological conditions
- Dermatologic conditions
- Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- Cancers including neuroblastoma
- Atypical Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (AHUS- a genetic kidney disease)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Restless Legs Syndrome