Inspired by care, couple reach out to other families

by Maria Thompson

Inspired by the care they received from their care team when their daughter, Grace, was hospitalized at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, Kirsten and Dillon Okimosh, Coon Rapids, are reaching out to blanket other patient families in comforting support.

Grace Okimosh
Grace Okimosh

Soon after Grace was born May 20, 2012 at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, her parents, Kirsten and Dillon, had the usual new-parent worries, plus one. Grace was born with jaundice.

“For her first four or five days, it took all of our attention. We just wanted to get it leveled out,” Kirsten said.

But at a check-up with Grace’s pediatrician, they learned they had a bigger problem.

When Grace’s pediatrician heard a faint heart murmur, she sent them immediately to University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, where they learned Grace had a hole in her heart.

“It’s very hard to hear there’s something wrong with your baby’s heart,” Kirsten said. “We were very anxious to learn more about what was wrong and get it fixed. Most of the time, I didn’t seem as much of a wreck as I was.”

Their cardiologist, Dr. John Bass, division director, pediatric cardiology, University of Minnesota Medical School Department of Pediatrics, told them Grace would need surgery by the time she was one-year-old.

Monthly check-ups with Bass showed Grace was doing well. “She was growing just fine. We really hoped the hole would close by itself, that she wouldn’t need surgery,” Kirsten said.

At about three-and-a-half months, “Dr. Bass told us the hole was too big and wouldn’t close by itself,” Kirsten said.

“With flu season approaching, he wanted Grace to have the surgery sooner rather than later. We love him and trusted his diagnosis.”

Next, Grace’s parents met with her surgeon, Dr. James D. St. Louis, co-director, division of pediatric cardiology, University of Minnesota Medical School Department of Pediatrics.

“After we met him, we knew everything would be OK,” Kirsten said. “He comforted us. We knew he could do it.”

Five days after her successful heart surgery, Grace returned home.

But before she went home, Grace’s caregivers made sure that Kirsten and Dillon were prepared. “They made us feel comfortable about what Grace needed,” Kirsten said.

“Even the pharmacist made sure we knew what we needed to do. They definitely helped us feel we knew what we were doing. We left the hospital feeling comfortable with the plan.”

Grace won’t have memories of the children’s hospital, but Kirsten and Dillon want her to know how important it was to her family.

Kirsten decided to make and donate blankets to kids at the children’s hospital.

“I had surgery when I was younger,” says Kirsten. “Just before I went into the operating room, I was given a blanket made for kids about to have surgery. I still have it.”

She thought she’d make five or 10 blankets. After she posted her idea on Facebook, she heard from many family and friends who also wanted to give blankets.

One friend, a teacher, even had her students making blankets. “The five to 10 blankets turned into 60 or so,” Kirsten said.

Grace’s parents hope the blankets bring comfort to patients and their families.

“What helped us the most when we were in the hospital was knowing that people knew about and were praying for Grace,” Kirsten said. “We want other families to know that they are loved and cared for. We want to keep doing it.”

Grace is now doing well, crawling and making silly faces.

Although she still has high blood pressure and her heart isn’t working 100 percent correctly, “Dr. Bass is confident that, by time she’s a year old, it will,” Kirsten said. “All thanks to her care teams.”

“It’s such a great children’s hospital,” said Kim Ericson, Grace’s grandmother and vice president of finance for Fairview’s north region.

“It was a difficult time for our family, but Grace got to the right place at the right time. I feel proud to be employed by such a high-quality and compassionate health care system.”

Editor’s note: Maria Thompson is communications consultant with the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

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