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From patient to provider: CM experience comes full circle for Sydney Parker

Sydney Parker Hitting Picture used in PowerpointSix years ago, Sydney Parker was a healthy 15-year-old sophomore who loved softball when a severe case of pneumonia sent her to the hospital.

She had been sick at home for a week, and despite taking antibiotics, she was getting worse. Finally, her father took her to Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas. Soon after, she was admitted to Adele Hall, where she was transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) with respiratory failure. “I remember going in the ambulance,” said Sydney. “I remember that night, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I felt like I ran really fast and couldn’t catch my breath.”

Her condition worsened, with fluid filling her lungs. She was intubated and put on a ventilator. She remembers marveling at how carefully the nurses watched over her.

“You have these people who show up, they don’t know you, but they are trying to save your life, putting your physical needs before their own.” She recalled the night several days after she was admitted when a nurse noticed she was becoming anxious and breathing heavily. “The nurse was very observant – she made a call and within a minute all these people came in,” she said of the doctors, respiratory therapists, and pharmacists that came to help her. She remembers them needing to sedate her so that she would stop fighting the ventilator.

Sydney was experiencing a severe inflammatory response that was preventing her from getting better. After that, the decision was made to put Sydney on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO.

CM’s ECMO program provides long-term breathing and heart support for children with life-threatening heart or lung problems. It’s considered the highest form of life support and can be used for days or weeks while the underlying illness is treated. She was on ECMO for about five days while her body worked to heal.   

While her time on ECMO was a blur, she does remember the time afterward in the hospital as she recovered. “There was always a nurse with me, just talking about life outside the hospital to take my mind off things,” she said. “They were taking such good care of me.”

19 days after she was admitted, Sydney went home. It took another week before she returned to school and a lot of homework to catch up on. She was in physical therapy often to help her recover and had to slowly work back to softball.

“The nurses and physical therapists were really nice and encouraging,” she said, adding that the whole experience made her realize how much she took her physical mobility for granted. “I didn’t realize how sick I was,” she said.

When she returned to school, classmates asked if the experience made her want to be a nurse. It was sophomore year, and many students were exploring career options. Her first thought was that nursing was too hard. Not necessarily the work itself, but the emotional aspect that comes with taking care of other people. She thought of the little boy that had been in the room next to her in the PICU. He was only three years old and had been in a house fire and lost some of his family. “I was so concerned for him and his family,” she said, remembering that at the time, she thought she could never do what nurses do.

But something changed.

When it was finally time to decide on a career, Sydney did consider nursing as well as journalism or education, but wasn’t sure what to do. One evening, she prayed about it to help her decide. Shortly after, her mom brought up Sydney’s ECMO experience, seemingly out of the blue. Sydney took it at a sign. “That’s when I decided that I’m definitely going to be a nurse,” she said.

While attending college at the University of Kansas, she received her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and worked in a nursing home. After moving back to Kansas City for nursing school, she continued her CNA work at Providence Medical Center and then St. Luke’s Hospital. “I loved all of those experiences,” she said, adding that they helped solidify her decision to pursue nursing.

She wanted to keep her options open, but the more she moved into her career, the more she realized her interest was in children and critical care.

For her clinical experience, Sydney had to choose a certification or specialty and write about it. She ended up at Children’s Mercy doing her project on ECMO. While walking through the halls and speaking with her instructor, she was approached by Kari Davidson, Director of the ECMO Program. She asked Sydney for her name and when she told her, Kari stepped back and took a softball swing. To Sydney’s surprise, Kari not only remembered her being a patient on ECMO but had used her case in training and had a photo of Sydney playing softball in the training presentation. The rest of the day, Kari would introduce Sydney and ask staff if they remembered her.

“It’s been six years, I didn’t expect them to remember me,” said Sydney, adding that seeing the staff so happy to see her made it a “full circle” moment for her, and showed her how rewarding it is for nurses to see a patient fully recovered and healthy. “It made me want to work at Children’s Mercy because that’s the environment that meant so much to me and my family,” she said. “There’s something really special going on here.”

Sydney will start working at Children’s Mercy next month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). She’s excited to start there, and already has some experience working in the NICU for her capstone program at KU. “I think I have a passion for caring for those that are most vulnerable,” she said, adding that she hopes that her experience on ECMO will help to provide encouragement and hope to not only patients, but families as well.


Read other employee stories in celebration of Children's Mercy 125th anniversary.