Baby Joel: A sick child returns to the hospital on Christmas

January 04, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

In most families, the youngest child has it the easiest. Parents aren't quite as nervous as they were with their first, in part because they have older children to act as helpers and play with the baby.

No such luck for Joel Berkeley, a 4-month-old Hagerstown child. The youngest of Anna Barbour's six children, Joel has had more medical problems in his short life than many people have in several decades.

Born four weeks premature, his medical problems include: Two failed hearing tests, stridor, a bilateral inguinal hernia, feeding difficulties and recurrent bronchitis.

As a result, Joel's pediatrician, Dr. Emeka Obidi of the Hagerstown practice Partners in Pediatrics, told Barbour's employer she could no longer work because the child's "current state of health requires mother's supervision at all times."


In addition to his Hagerstown physician, Joel is also being evaluated by doctors at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Barbour and Dr. Obidi said the child has a fairly full schedule of appointments at the big-city hospital this month.

Dr. Obidi said that Joel has problems swallowing, has failed several hearing tests and has fluid in his ears.

As a result of an LTE - a life-threatening event - Joel is on an apnea monitor, to make sure he doesn't stop breathing during the night.

"He had one such event," Dr. Obidi said, adding that to be on the safe side, the monitor will remain until Joel's evaluations in D.C. are complete.

To probe the possible source of breathing and eating problems - Barbour said it can take more than an hour to feed him because he has so much difficulty swallowing - Dr. Obidi said physicians in D.C. will put him under anesthesia and "do a proper exam."

At some point, Dr. Obidi said, there will also need to be an operation to remove fluid from the child's ears.

Whether that will improve Joel's hearing remains to be seen, Dr. Obidi said.

"The hope is that it will help," Dr. Obidi said.

The vision loss that Barbour feels the child has suffered may not be a reality, Dr. Obidi said.

"It doesn't seem that way to me," he said.

One of the frustrating things for parents of a sick child who can't talk is that there is little the tiny patient can do to help in his or her treatment.

If there is an underlying, related condition causing all the child's medical problems, it hasn't been identified yet, Dr. Obidi said.

Before that determination is made, Joel will be seen by a number of specialists in D.C., according to Dr. Obidi.

Those include: An ear, nose and throat specialist, a pulmonologist and a pediatric surgeon.

"She does have quite a few appointments," Dr. Obidi said.

That brings me to how readers can help. Barbour needs assistance with getting to D.C. Previously she's gotten a ride or her insurance company has paid for the trip, but it's quite a production to get Joel and the rest of the children into a borrowed vehicle.

If you can help, donations are being handled by Jill Campbell-Palmer, director of the parent aide program at the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. You may call her at 301-791-2224.

And how was Joel's first Christmas? The child was admitted to Washington County Hospital on Christmas Day with breathing difficulties. It might be a late present, but I hope Dr. Obidi and his counterparts in Washington, D.C. can deliver a diagnosis that will give Joel a clean bill of health by Christmas 2006.

Next Wednesday, Jan. 11, I will provide a final report on the donations and disbursements related to the "A Better Christmas" letter-writing contest.

Hopefully, I'll also be able to share any thank-you notes we've received at that time.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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