During the holiday season, Cook Children's Medical Center takes decorating to new heights, from twinkling lights and festive ornaments to a magnificent tree. They make it so special, knowing that for many families, there is where they'll spend their holiday.
"I would hear that song 'I'll be home for Christmas' in my head, and I'm like, 'I'm not going to be home,'" said mother, Carol Vallecalle.
It was a tough notion for Vallecalle to accept, but not as tough, she says, as what her 6-week-old daughter Ella has been through.
"It feels like it's been a year," she said.
In the days after Ella was born in Tucson, Arizona, where the family lives, Vallecalle noticed her baby was constantly hungry.
"She would get jittery. She would scream," she said.
It turned out Ella's blood sugar was dangerously low. She was then diagnosed with Hyperinsulinsim (H.I.), a rare condition found in fewer than 100 newborns in the U.S. each year.
"This is profound low blood sugar causing seizures and brain damage," said Dr. Paul Thornton, a pediatric endocrinologist who is an expert in the HI field.
Ella's doctors in Tucson recommended she come to Cook Children's to be treated by Thornton. Once they arrived, Thornton warned Vallecalle that treating her baby could take weeks.
"In this case, the pressure of Christmas was ticking like a clock over our backs," he said.
With new information about the baby's condition in hand, Ella went into surgery to remove the affected lesion in her pancreas. The surgery was a success. Her blood sugar levels have returned to normal.
"It was one of those days you work all year to see," Dr. Thornton said.
The baby was cured, and in much less time than anticipated. And in the days after baby Ella's life-changing surgery, her mother got the news she didn't think she would get: that she could finally take her baby home for the very first time -- and it would be in time for Christmas.
"Just knowing that I was going to finally be home, and she was finally going to be all mine, was the best gift I could've received," she said.
A healthy baby and a holiday to remember.
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