Trusting your instincts: One mom’s story

Serena with Julia and Sebastian

Serena Hadsell has no medical training. But when her 4-year-old daughter Julia got sick a few days after Christmas in 2013, something else kicked in – her mother’s intuition.

“Julia had a stomach bug and was having trouble keeping anything down,” recalls Serena. “It was very late and I was trying to go to sleep, but I got the sense that something was wrong: Her breathing wasn’t quite right.”

A frightening late-night hospital trip

Serena considered waiting out the night at home and calling their pediatrician in the morning, but she couldn’t stop watching Julia. So, despite the late hour, Serena decided to pack up the family, including 6-month-old Sebastian, and head to their local hospital. Once there, it turned out that Serena’s instincts had been right.

“The doctors said her breathing was too fast and gave her a breathing treatment, but her oxygen levels continued to drop and they told us we were being transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital.”

This was the start of several terrifying hours in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Julia’s breathing problems became so acute that she had to be intubated and put on a ventilator, only to go into cardiac arrest and be placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). This is an advanced life support machine that takes over the function of the heart and lungs.

A thankful recovery

“Thankfully, Julia recovered and was able to be taken off of ECMO after six days,” says Serena. “But she was still very weak, and was having trouble eating, so she had to remain in the hospital for another two weeks.” In total, the family spent 21 days at Boston Children’s.

After many tests,  doctors determined the cause of Julia’s breathing problems was most likely respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). “They believe she had a severe reaction to this common virus,” says Serena.

Today, Julia is a happy, healthy first grader. “To look at her, you’d never guess what she – what we all – went through,” says Serena.

But Serena is also acutely aware that Julia’s outcome may have been very different had she not gone with her gut and driven to the hospital that winter night.

Today, Julia is a happy first grader

“If I hadn’t brought her in and she’d gone into cardiac arrest at home, we’d have a very different story to tell,” she says. “As parents, we might not have medical knowledge, but it’s important to use our intuition if something seems off with our kids.”

Advocating for other parents

After her experience, and the extraordinary care her family received at Boston Children’s, Serena was moved to give back.

“I’m a dance movement therapist by profession, and I’m interested in the emotional needs of parents, so I applied to be part of the Family Advisory Council.”

Since joining the council, Serena has been very vocal about encouraging other parents to trust their intuition.

“I want to do what I can to help parents speak up if they think something isn’t right,” says Serena.

Learn more about the Boston Children’s Family Advisory Council.