WILLSBORO - It was a cold January day seven years ago when then pre-kindergartner Rachael Burt - suffering from flu-like symptoms - collapsed in her Willsboro home and stopped breathing.
Burt's mother, Tina Evens, immediately rushed to the side of her fallen 4-year-old and frantically performed CPR while Rachael's dad, Jim Burt, called 911.
Evens was able to resuscitate her daughter and rushed her to the emergency room in Elizabethtown where they were met by a pediatric critical transport team - one of the unique services offered by the Vermont Children's Hospital.
The team immediately stabilized Rachael and she was transported to Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vt.
"The doctors there are absolutely amazing," Evens said this week. "I credit them with saving my little girl's life."
Rachael had been a perfectly healthy child until that day in 2002. It was later determined by doctors at Vermont Children's Hospital that what Rachael had contracted was a rare bacterial infection that attacked her trachea and caused her airway to close.
Doctors induced a coma to fight Rachael's high fever and placed her on a respirator in the pediatric intensive care unit, where she would remain for weeks.
A cutting-edge ventilation technique using nitrous oxide instead of oxygen helped save Rachael's life. Still, the odds of a full recovery were against her.
"She beat those odds," Evens said triumphantly. "We call her our miracle."
"It truly makes you appreciate every moment you have together."
Since Rachael awoke from her coma, she has spent quite a bit of time in the pediatric intensive care unit at Fletcher Allen, and suffers with life-long issues with breathing.
Rachael visits the hospital quite often for pneumonia and has a form of asthma that came about as a result of the breathing medications she takes.
The extensive amount of time she spent on a respirator and life support has led to further complications.
The doctors removed her tonsils and adenoids to help increase her airflow and are going to remove bones on the inside of the nose this summer to help her breathe better.
The specialized care of
Vermont Children's Hospital
While it was state-of-the-art technology and highly skilled medical staff that helped save Rachael's life, Evens said a number of other caring initiatives at Vermont Children's Hospital played an equal part in her daughter's recuperation.
Laura Simmers, director of Operations and Research at Fletcher Allen, said child life and pediatric nurse specialists offer comfort to sick children through therapeutic play as well as talking about and practicing some of the things a child will go through during a medical experience.
"For example, Rachael hates IVs, but 'Jen the Hen,' one of the child life specialists at Vermont Children's Hospital, sits through it with her and shows her the doll that she can practice IVs on," Simmers said.
Evens agreed and said child life was particularly important to Rachael because of her love of drawing.
"They comfort with crafts and activities. Therapy dogs and interactive dolls," Evens said.
"Child life helps make these awful things children and parents are going through more bearable," Evens said.
At the same time, the staff never looses focus of the fact that they deal each day with people enduring the unimaginable - a sick child.
"They truly cater to the family as a whole. You have access to the Ronald McDonald room for staying over, access to a shower, to snacks and even a computer. Anything to make someone able to stay if need be and be comfortable," Evens said.
One large family
Rachael said it is the people at Vermont Children's Hospital and the lasting friendships she's made that she'll most remember about her stay there.
While she said it is a bit harder to play sports with her condition, Rachael said she enjoys an otherwise active and normal lifestyle.
Asked what she'd most like the folks at Vermont Children's Hospital to know about how they influenced her life, Rachael said, "I'd have to think for a long time to answer that."