Sahara McCulley photo
Six weeks after a painful and frightening arm injury, Sahara was back to herself again. Image by Justin Torner, UI Office of Strategic Communications.

Alexa McCulley, of Marshalltown, Iowa, remembers getting the call that every parent fears: Her six-year-old daughter Sahara had fallen during an out-of-town trip to a trampoline park.

Sahara’s arm was swollen and appeared to be badly injured, so Alexa rushed her to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Sahara had a broken wrist, a fractured elbow, and a severe break in her left forearm. Within hours, orthopedic surgeon Brendan Patterson, MD, and his team placed pins to repair Sahara’s multiple bone fractures.

Six weeks later, Sahara was cast-free and back to playing with her twin sister and three older siblings.

The surgical expertise came with a level of care and personal attention that made the whole experience less traumatic—for Sahara and for her parents.

“The entire care team did such a good job of reassuring me and putting my mind at ease,” Alexa says. “Because they were there for me, I was able to keep a brave face throughout the process for my daughter.”

Skilled, compassionate care

From the moment Sahara arrived, UI Health Care staff took extra steps to ease her fears.

“We were seen in the emergency room in a matter of minutes, despite the fact that it was very full that day,” Alexa says. “They could see Sahara was uncomfortable and scared, and we did not have to wait at all.”

The skill and compassion of the team helped make every scary situation manageable. The imaging staff invited Alexa into the X-ray room to help maneuver Sahara’s arm properly. When an IV was inserted into Sahara’s arm, the staff expertly diverted her attention so she didn’t feel the pain.

“Her ER nurse was so good to her,” Alexa says. “She sat right on her bed and explained everything that she was doing and why they needed to do it. And then she would turn to me and ask if I had any questions.”

To help ease Sahara’s fears about the surgery, Alexa and her husband, Nate, were allowed to accompany their daughter to the surgical area and stay by her bedside as anesthesia was administered.

“Dr. Patterson was very calm and reassuring for us throughout the whole process,” Alexa says.

Sahara McCulley jumps on trampoline
To help ease Sahara's fears about the surgery, her parents were allowed to stay by her side until anesthesia was administered. Image by Justin Torner, UI Office of Strategic Communications.

Patterson and his team worked late into the night to complete the two-hour procedure.

“Before we were discharged the next day, he made an extra trip to our room to answer all my questions,” Alexa says. “I really appreciated that he had been up in the middle of the night operating and then took that extra time to reassure us about her care before we went home.”

Family-centered approach

When treating a child who has suffered a traumatic injury, Patterson tries to anticipate parents’ worries and questions so he can address them fully.

“I have kids,” he says. “I think, ‘What would I need from their doctor if I had a concern?’”

To help deliver that kind of reassuring care, Patterson relies on Mary Christopher, ARNP, whose dedication to helping the patients and families she encounters is an essential part of the healing process.

“She’s an invaluable member of the team,” Patterson says. “She works tirelessly to help make sure that all of our patients’ questions are answered before they leave the hospital.”

That kind of extra care touches lives and makes UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital such a special place for the families who need it.

“A lot of times, you get into situations where you go to the doctor, and it feels like you’re waiting forever and you’re never quite sure what’s going on,” Alexa says. “I never felt like that. I never felt like I was waiting, and I always knew what was happening.”

Learn more about our expert, compassionate orthopedic care for children.

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