Courageous Young Patients Inspire Healthcare Providers

Beating Liver Disease

Every superhero has a vulnerability, like Kryptonite for Superman. Yet character and courage allow him or her to overcome that weakness (and triumph over evil and injustice).

You might say that’s also true for 5-year old Ryan Ackerman,* one of the extraordinary superheroes at General Hospital for Children. Born with a severe liver malfunction, Ryan has been through major surgery, seven outpatient procedures and countless visits to physicians and surgeons. Yet Ryan has demonstrated heroic strength in fighting both illness and discouragement.

What’s his secret weapon? “I’m brave,” he says.

Each year, nearly 25,000 young superheroes make their way through General Hospital for Children. For some, it’s a straightforward visit, such as a checkup or an immunization update. Other children face daunting challenges, such as a cleft palate, a damaged heart or a liver in need of transplant. Designed to make children—and their parents—feel safe and welcome, the hospital has a specialized emergency department and the region’s only Level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which offers comprehensive care across all specialties and subspecialties for critically ill newborns.

“You can sense the difference the minute you walk off the elevator at General Hospital for Children,” says Henry Leavitt, medical director of pediatrics.

“Immediately, you are greeted by friendly nurses who put you right at ease. You’re in a caring environment with colorful artwork on the walls, and the comfortable rooms accommodate family members who want to spend the night with their child. And we have a playroom staffed by child-life specialists. But what really stands out is the quality care we give our patients. The depth and breadth of care we provide to babies, children and adolescents is second to none.”

Ryan agrees. “They take care of you and make you feel safe,” he says.

Ryan’s medical obstacles began just weeks after birth, when his mother, Lisa Ackerman, grew concerned about her newborn’s fussy behavior. Though friends assured her it was probably colic, Lisa sensed something more serious was wrong. She took Ryan to pediatrician Heather Bailey, MD, and asked her to take another look.

“I discovered that Ryan had an enlarged liver due to an abnormality in the bile ducts,” Dr. Bailey recalls. “He needed immediate surgery in order to survive.”

A cyst in the bile ducts had caused bile to back up and poison Ryan’s liver.

Pediatric surgeon Lester D’Arcy, MD, performed emergency surgery to unblock the bile ducts, but Ryan was left with permanent cirrhosis of the liver. Dr. D’Arcy thought a liver transplant might be needed, but Ryan made such a strong recovery that he has been able to put off that surgery for the time being. Today, Ryan lives a mostly normal life, attending kindergarten, playing with his favorite toys and entertaining his new baby brother. Yet his damaged liver occasionally brings him back to General Hospital for Children for further treatment.

“Ryan’s condition creates veins in the esophagus and spleen that become enlarged and bleed. These occasionally need to be banded to stop the bleeding,” Dr. D’Arcy explains. “Additionally, the enlarged spleen creates problems with immunity and can put Ryan at risk of infection. So we carefully monitor his liver function to make sure he is not at risk for serious complications.”

Lisa says the frequent trips to the hospital can be trying. But the compassionate physicians and nurses know when to let Ryan have some control over his care. In one case, Ryan told the nurses that he was afraid of the tape used to secure the IV to his hand because it hurt when they removed it. He promised he would not bother the IV if they would skip using the tape. The nurses offered a compromise: They would use less tape and then bandage his arm in stretchy blue athletic wrap. Ryan agreed, and the procedure moved forward tearlessly.

“The energy our patients put into getting better and the trust they place in us are inspiring,” Dr. D’Arcy says. “That’s why these kids are true superheroes.”

“Everyone has always been so kind and caring,” Lisa says.

Although patients and family members often express their appreciation to the men and women who care for them, the physicians and nurses say it’s the children themselves who are truly extraordinary.


*Based on a true story. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals.

An Extraordinary Young Girl Helps Pediatric Patients in Need

When Katie Aris*, nine years old, decided she wanted to help sick children, she started a collection. She asked family and friends to donate spare change, which she saved all year before giving the money to General Hospital. “I wanted to help kids because helping others is the right thing to do,” Katie says.

“She selflessly saved her money and came to the hospital to personally deliver her heartfelt donation,” says Pam Lang, director of development with General Hospital’s Department of Philanthropy. “It was inspiring to see this quality at such a young age.”

Katie’s mother, Kelsey Aris, says her daughter has always been deeply compassionate. “I was sick with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and lost all my hair,” Kelsey says. “I would sleep on the bathroom floor and she would pat my back and sleep on the floor next to me.”

In addition to collecting money, Katie has never had a haircut. She’s growing it out to donate to Locks of Love and help children who have lost their own hair to cancer. “I want to be a doctor when I grow up and thought it would be good to start helping now,” Katie says. “If we all helped each other, this world would be better.”

*Based on a true story. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals.

An Inspiring Young Advocate for Organ Donation

General Hospital’s Multi-Organ Transplant Institute is one of the nation’s leading transplant centers. Since its inception, the General Hospital Multi-Organ Transplant Institute has performed more than 6,000 lifesaving transplants.

Robbie Jacobs* Knows This

“It takes lives to save lives,” said 14-year-old Robbie Jacobs* during a segment on Good Morning America. “That means if people go out and donate anything like blood, organ, kidneys or liver, then they can save somebody else’s life.”

The topic of organ donation is all too familiar to Jacobs. Diagnosed at an early age with biliary atresia, a rare chronic liver disease in which one or more bile ducts are abnormally narrow, blocked or missing, he had a liver transplant when he was 1 year old and is currently on the waiting list for another.

Despite everything, Jacobs hasn’t allowed his illness to hold him back. When Passena Panthers players visited General Hospital for Children a year ago, Jacobs impressed them with his constructive criticism and great attitude; he began attending their practices, where he soon became known as the team’s “hype man”.

Jacobs was even invited on Good Morning America, where Panthers coach Paul Sante presented him with a contract making him an honorary Panther. Sante also invited Jacobs and his family to join the team for that weekend’s game and act as their guest social media correspondent.

“We love having Robbie out here. He’s such an inspirational young man,” says quarterback Brent Darren. “His strength, his attitude—he’s welcome out here anytime. We love him.”

Jacobs is taking advantage of his football fame to promote organ donation.

With more than 120,000 people on the waiting list for a new organ nationwide, organ donation is a pressing need. Children are especially at a disadvantage, due to the shortage of pediatric donors. Just one donor can save up to nine people’s lives.

Register today to become an organ donor here.


*Based on a true story. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals.

Advanced Care for High-Risk Pregnancies

Maternal-fetal medicine specialist help ensure a healthy pregnancy

Early in her pregnancy, Carrie Stuart* got the news she had been praying for: A routine ultrasound revealed she was expecting identical twins.

“My husband, Carl, and I were so excited,” says Stuart, 32. “I’ve seen the special bond that twins share—my mother is a twin and so are my nieces. I wanted that closeness for our children too.”

A registered nurse, Stuart also understood that her twins (like all multiples) shared unique health and developmental risks before and after birth, including higher odds for growth challenges, tangled umbilical cords, amniotic fluid problems, early delivery, and low birth weight. Carrying multiples also raised Stuart’s own risk for pregnancy-related high blood pressure and gestational diabetes.

When her obstetrician recommended consulting a maternal-fetal medicine specialist to ensure a healthy pregnancy, Stuart agreed. Physicians Mary Mulligan, MD, and Jack Barry, MD, of Maternal-Fetal Medicine Services (MFMS), affiliated with General Hospital, tracked the twins’ progress and Stuart’s health closely through the rest of her pregnancy.

“The doctors were concerned that I might go into labor very early,” Stuart says. “Every additional week of growth in the womb for the twins became a milestone. The whole staff cheered us on. They were very kind and gave us top-notch care, keeping my own obstetrician informed every step of the way.”

On Feb. 6, 2016, Hank and Victor Stuart were delivered by Stuart’s obstetrician. “Our girls were healthy and beautiful—born at nearly 37 weeks,” Stuart says. “Dr. Mulligan and Dr. Barry worked so closely with my own obstetrician that I was always confident I was in very good hands.”


Special Care, Close to Home

Established in 2013, MFMD provides advanced care for a wide range of routine and complicated pregnancies.

“A pregnancy may be considered high risk for a range of reasons, including if a woman is older; has a pre-existing health condition such as asthma, lupus or diabetes; or develops a health issue during pregnancy,” Dr. Mulligan explains. “Maternal-fetal medicine specialists also work with women who are carrying multiples, who develop complications during pregnancy, or whose babies have birth defects or genetic anomalies. We take care of the mother and her baby (or babies).”

Accredited by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM), MFMS offers the region’s most advanced ultrasound system, in addition to providing a wide range of monitoring and testing options.

“All fetal ultrasounds are not the same, and MFMS uses the best machines for fetal evaluation,” Dr. Mulligan explains.

“Our practice employs specially trained ultrasound technologists. Most of our moms experience routine pregnancies, and their babies grow normally; however, our goal is to catch problems early and incorporate the best scientific evidence into a treatment plan for maternal and fetal care.

“We also provide genetic counseling and screening if needed so that parents and doctors know what to expect and what care will be needed before and after a baby is born,” Dr. Mulligan adds.

The MFMS maternal-fetal medicine specialists no longer deliver babies; their focus is pregnancy itself.

“We are obstetrician/gynecologists with four years of OB/GYN training plus three years of specialized training in prenatal diagnosis, genetics, ultrasound diagnosis, and the management of high-risk pregnancies,” Dr. Barry says. “We work with a variety of healthcare providers, including a woman’s own obstetrician, midwife and other specialists. We coordinate care with a woman’s obstetrician for an optimal pregnancy and delivery, and to plan for care after birth for babies who may need to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or require medical treatment.”

MFMS is within easy driving distance of many communities in the area. Now, MFMS and General Hospital plan to expand these important services by adding an MFM specialist—making this specialty care convenient for even more mothers-to-be.

“Families appreciate that they don’t have to travel several hours to see a specialist face to face for exams, advanced ultrasound checks and other monitoring, and for careful, in-person assessment of test results by a specialist,” Dr. Mulligan notes.


Testing and Measuring

When Kathleen Marks, 39, became pregnant in her late 30s, her obstetrician also recommended adding Dr. Mulligan and Dr. Barry to her care team.

“As an older mom, I was considered higher risk for issues such as Down syndrome,” explains Marks, head softball coach at the local university. “Early tests were normal, but the doctors recommended a more advanced blood test for trisomies [extra chromosomes] that can predict Down syndrome and other conditions. It came back positive.”

The maternal-fetal medicine specialists followed her son’s growth with careful measurements. Following fetal growth is important since placental failure can lead to stillbirth, which may be avoided by an early delivery.

“They tracked our son’s bones, his heart, his head, and much more, and they looked for early signs of developmental problems that could affect him throughout his life,” she says.

“If Dr. Barry hadn’t suggested that test, we would not have been ready for our son’s special needs. It could have been devastating. The team did a wonderful job preparing me and my spouse, Bethany.”

Milo Marks was born in the summer of 2016. At 6 months old, he was rolling over, eating mashed avocado and sleeping through the night. “He has the most infectious smile,” Marks says. “It would brighten anyone’s day.”


Caring for Moms, Dads and Babies

General Hospital offers advanced care for mothers-to-be and their babies at every stage of pregnancy, labor and delivery.

  • Level III NICU: General Hospital has the region’s only level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and is equipped to care for babies as young as 25 weeks gestational age. In addition, it is one of the only NICUs in the area with private rooms for babies and their families.
  • Birthing rooms and suites: Spacious labor/delivery/postpartum rooms at General Hospital provide the comforts of home in a medical setting.
  • Board-certified obstetricians and certified nurse midwives: A range of care options, including holistic and emotional care, are available at General Hospital.
  • Lactation consultants: Board-certified lactation consultants provide assistance, support and information on nursing your new baby.
  • OB/GYN hospitalist program: Obstetrician/gynecologists on staff at General Hospital care for pregnant women admitted to the hospital for any reason—including emergency care in Labor and Delivery.
  • Classes: Prepare for your child’s arrival with classes in parenting, childbirth and breastfeeding.


Here’s a checklist for first-time pregnancy.


*Based on a true story. Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals.