It was a beautiful April afternoon when 9-year-old Zoe Kuriakose secured her helmet and hopped on her scooter. She and her parents had no idea their lives were about to change in an instant.
Anna Barglof suspected her infant son, Carson, had RSV. A routine trip to the pediatrician evolved into the scariest moments of her life.
Families turn to children’s hospitals for specialty care when they need it most
Zoe was cruising around her neighborhood, as she’d done countless times before, when she was hit by a truck. The EMS drivers debated taking her to a closer hospital, but they decided to go to Children’s Hospital of Richmond (CHoR) at VCU—a decision that proved pivotal.
After receiving surgery from the Level 1 pediatric trauma team, Zoe was in the PICU for a month. She wasn’t able to speak or walk, and her parents were unsure whether their daughter would fully recover. Nearly a year later, Zoe is walking, talking, singing and dancing.
Carson’s journey from his pediatrician’s office to intubation in an ambulance, arrival at the nearest hospital and ultimately traveling by helicopter “to a hospital that could handle his case,” resulted in a month-long hospital stay at CHoR. He spent his first birthday on a ventilator in the PICU. Like Zoe, now 19-month-old Carson is thriving—thanks, in part, to receiving the pediatric specialty care they needed at a moment’s notice.
An environment just for kids and families
Lifesaving care for Zoe and Carson wasn’t the only monumental happening in Richmond, Virginia, over the last couple years. Global pandemic aside, administrative, fund development, clinical and construction teams worked tirelessly to imagine, plan and construct a new Children’s Tower in the heart of downtown Richmond.
The Children’s Tower opened on April 30, bringing pediatric inpatient, emergency and trauma care from a hospital-within-a-hospital setting to a kid-focused building measuring the same height as 13 giraffes. When combined with the adjacent outpatient Children’s Pavilion, the Children’s Tower completes an entire city block, and 1 million square feet, dedicated to caring for kids. Inpatient bed capacity and emergency department access expanded by 40 percent on opening day. Access to imaging and CHoR’s Level 1 Children’s Surgery Center also increased.
“The conversations around a fully kid-focused children’s hospital in the region have been taking place for many years. When I came to CHoR, I joined the group of passionate advocates dedicated to making this dream a reality,” CHoR president Elias Neujahr says. “It’s still a bit surreal that our teams who have championed these efforts for so long are now in this new space, making a life-changing difference every day.”
The private acute and intensive care rooms—among the most spacious in the country—include distinct zones for families and team members. The trauma center has its own helipad and trauma bay that can flex to care for additional patients as needed. Pediatric ECMO specialists have the technology they need to care for critically ill infants and children. Ultrasound machines help with securing IV access quickly.
Special touches signify a commitment to caring
While these are the details that make a difference in the caliber of clinical care, it was the nuances that families shared would make a big difference for them.
A family gym and separate spaces for private phone calls, showers and food for caregivers. Free valet at the emergency department entrance. Playrooms and teen lounges for patients who are well enough to retreat from their rooms for some medical-free space. An indoor garden for a soothing escape.
“We know that being in the hospital can be scary, especially for kids—and parents. That’s why we sought input from patients and families and were sure to include the amenities and special touches needed to make the space more comfortable for them,” says Tracy Lowerre, RN and clinical liaison for the Children’s Tower. “Kids also helped us select the colors and animal mascots that assist patients and visitors with navigating the building.”
The Children’s Tower offers families the same level of care that Zoe and Carson received, but in a modern facility designed just for them. It also serves as a regional hub of care for children with burn, transplant, oncology and other complex medical needs.
“It’s laying the foundation for parents and families to put their trust in the workers in the hospital. A place for children to heal and forget about whatever they have going on,” says Carson’s mom, Anna.
While hospitals across the country are closing their pediatric units to make way for expanding adult care, kids and their caregivers remain front and center for dedicated children’s hospitals in Virginia and throughout the nation. This commitment is essential to ensuring the youngest among us can grow into our future leaders, care providers and difference makers.
Explore the Children's Tower and learn more at chrichmond.org/Tower.