Daughter’s neurosurgery inspires mom to give back

Kannon, who had hydrocephalus, is now a happy 5-year-old.Danielle Parkman isn’t a doctor or nurse. In fact, she’s not a clinician of any kind. And yet every day she makes the lives of patients in the Boston Children’s Hospital Division of Pulmonary and Respiratory Diseases a little bit easier.

As the Senior Administrative Associate for Pharmaceutical Benefits and Prior Authorization Specialist, Danielle is responsible for getting approvals for pharmacy benefits and prior authorizations for all pulmonology patients. It’s a daunting task, but she doesn’t take no for an answer.

“I love my job, and I love fighting for my patients,” says Danielle. “I know I’m making a difference. I can also empathize with many of the parents because I’ve been in their shoes.”

Four years ago, Danielle was on leave from a corporate job after giving birth to her daughter Kannon.

“She was born healthy, beautiful and perfect,” says Danielle. “Everything was going great and I was getting prepared to head back to work.”

Mother’s instincts kick in

Then, one morning when Kannon was about 4 months old, Danielle noticed her head looked a bit swollen.

“At first, I thought maybe I was imagining it,” Danielle says. “Then I noticed she seemed to be looking down quite often, like she had a downward gaze. I watched her throughout the day, and although she seemed a little fussy, she didn’t seem to be in any distress.”

That night, Danielle put Kannon down to sleep but couldn’t stop worrying about her, so she decided to look up her symptoms on the internet. What she found was not reassuring.

“I learned that a swollen head and downward gaze were signs of hydrocephalus,” says Danielle. Hydrocephalus is a buildup of fluid in or around the brain.

“I was restless and terrified. It was 2 a.m., but I woke her up and took her to the emergency room at Boston Children’s.”

After some initial vision tests, the doctor sent Kannon for an MRI. As it turned out, Kannon did have hydrocephalus. She would need to undergo surgery to place a shunt in her brain to drain the excess fluid.

Kannon, who had hydrocephalus poses with her mom.

“As soon as I heard the words ‘brain surgery,’ I totally lost it,” says Danielle. “I remember glancing at Kannon and she looked so happy, she was eating and smiling and seemed fine. But I was falling apart.”

Gentle words of reassurance

The staff saw that Danielle was having a hard time and asked one of the neurosurgeons to speak with her. She doesn’t remember his name, but still remembers his exact words.

“He said, ‘This is a very simple procedure for a neurosurgeon, like the placement of an IV is to a nurse. We’ll take great care of her, and your daughter will be fine.’ I remember taking a deep breath after that and feeling OK, just because of those words. I needed that reassurance.”

The procedure was indeed as simple as the doctor had promised.

“She was only in surgery for 30 minutes,” says Danielle. “I had my whole family around me. When they told me she was done and doing great, I was so relieved that I started crying again.”

Five years later, Kannon is a kindergarten fashionista who is off the charts in terms of development.

“She’s an amazing kid, and I’m so proud of her and inspired by her,” says Danielle.

Inspired to give back

It was Kannon’s experience that gave Danielle the inspiration to make a career change.

“When I started thinking about where I would want to work, I thought about Boston Children’s because they treated me so well and I wanted do something that mattered.”

When she heard about the job opportunity in pulmonology, she applied right away, and has been working there ever since. Many of her patients have cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic condition that requires many medications and treatments.

Kannon, who had hydrocephalus, poses for the camera.

“We are one of the largest CF centers in the country and see patients of all ages,” says Danielle. “These patients and parents are already dealing with so much, I just want to make getting their approvals as easy as possible. Everyone knows me and knows that I don’t take no for an answer when it comes to my patients. I’ve been labeled “the hammer” in my office because I always go above and beyond to make sure our patients receive the treatments they need.”

Caring for others is a trait that runs in the family. Although she’s only 5, Kannon already has plans for a career helping others.

“She loves moms and babies and wants to be a singing baby doctor,” say Danielle. “And I know she’s got the determination to do it.”

Learn more about the Boston Children’s Hydrocephalus Program.