Etta Peterson is a 9-month-old girl who smiles and sits up just like any other baby her age. However, Etta has one mark that distinguishes her from other babies — a long red scar on her belly.
The scar is a reminder to her parents of the day Etta nearly stopped breathing and a day her mom Jami says “a hundred little miracles all lined up.” It was a miraculous day disguised as a nightmare.
The Peterson family, a family with five kids then ages 11 to a few weeks, were all at their home in Mapleton on a warm June day. While the father Nate wasn’t supposed to be home at the time (miracle 1), he was sitting in the living room with 2-week-old Etta lying in her bassinet, so when his 5-year-old daughter mentioned that Etta had a lot of spit-up, he was there to examine the alarming situation.
“If we had to do it all over again, we would still go to Utah Valley. We would still do the exact same thing all over again. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay there.” —Jami Peterson, Etta’s mother
As Nate took Etta to Jami, Etta’s little lips turned purple as she gasped for air every 15 seconds. Jami hurried Etta across the street to her neighbor, a retired RN who also wasn’t supposed to be home at the time (miracle 2), who worked on helping Etta breathe for seven minutes while the ambulance rushed to the struggling baby.
En route to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, physicians had phoned Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake warning them that they had a potential intestinal malrotation and that they might need a doctor. Luckily, Dr. David Skarda had felt like he needed to go to the hospital before he got the call (miracle 3). That move meant Dr. Skarda was pulling into Utah Valley Regional’s parking lot just as doctors determined Etta’s intestines had twisted.
“At that point even minutes make a difference because it’s all about the blood circulation,” Jami said.
Dr. Skarda, the pediatric surgeon at Utah Valley Regional, has rotations at both Utah Valley and Primary Children’s Hospital. When he arrived at the hospital, he evaluated the situation and whisked Etta off to surgery, but not before explaining to her parents the reality of the situation.
“At this point Nate and I didn’t know how serious this was going to be,” Jami said. “We thought, ‘Oh great, they fixed it.’ Then Dr. Skarda came in and said, ‘I may open her up and it may not look good. The blood may have stopped flowing and at that point I’ll have to come get you and you’ll have to say your goodbyes.’ We didn’t know it was that serious until he said that. I was glad he was very blunt because I would have been really upset if I had sent her off and not even been able to say anything to her.”
The Petersons then spent the next three weeks at Utah Valley Regional as Etta recovered. Things went smoothly outside of Etta’s wounds getting infected. Dr. Skarda saw the issue and opened her up again to clean her intestines and set things in order.
Lucky for the family of seven, the burden of three weeks away from home was eased because of the proximity of the children’s care at the nearby hospital.
“We would have had to go to Primary Children’s,” Jami said. “There is no other hospital around here that could have taken care of her as well as we were able to get at Utah Valley Regional. … Having four other fairly young kids, it really was a game changer for me to be able to run home, check on the kids or run and get a snow cone, and then for me to be back with Etta because I really felt like I needed to be with her.”
The family was able to spend the Fourth of July together watching fireworks from Etta’s hospital room so the older kids could visit their baby sister.
At the beginning of March, Utah Valley Regional announced that they had joined the Primary Children’s Network of care, meaning they are working closely with Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City to use the same standards of care, and even sharing some specialists such as Dr. Skarda. The hospital has slowly been implementing this partnership for the past five years, but now the public knows — and Jami believes it is well deserved.
“It validates the good things that they are doing,” Jami said. “They can now officially affiliate themselves with Primary Children’s because they are doing so many good things there. … I couldn’t have asked for better nurses. And I know they’ve gone through a lot of training and you can tell. They, in my mind, were top notch; I really couldn’t have asked for better care.”
Now eight months later, Etta is a happy baby.
“So far she’s been fabulous,” Jami said. “You look at her and you would never know that she had such a rough start.”
“In my mind, I wouldn’t even call it a tragedy because there were so many miracles all along the way. I don’t know if I would call it a blessing, but it was a blessing. We learned so much. I feel like we can talk about it in a positive way because the outcome was great and the entire process was a good process, even though there was a lot of two steps forward and one step back. We have her and it was amazing to go through. And we met so many good people through the whole thing.”
And the Peterson family is still grateful for the service they received at Utah Valley Regional. They even send the nurses and doctors Christmas cards.
“If we had to do it all over again, we would still go to Utah Valley,” Jami says. “We would still do the exact same thing all over again. We wouldn’t hesitate to stay there.”
Learn more about Utah Valley Regional’s Primary Children’s Network of care at utahvalleyhospital.org/primary.