Living Our Values More Important Than Ever—A Parent’s Perspective

Gretchen Steward has had more than her share of struggles this past year, but she still finds multiple reasons for gratitude—and one of them is the care she and her infant son, Benjamin, have received at Cincinnati Children’s. Benjamin was born on February 11, 2019, with Down syndrome and a collapsed lung. He was rushed to the NICU here, where he spent the first four months of his life. “He was being followed by Pulmonology and Cardiology and had to undergo all kinds of procedures,” said Steward, “but through it all, I felt very comfortable and confident with the staff—the doctors and nurses were wonderful, especially Dr. Dan von Allmen. When it looked like Benjamin was going to have to be discharged with a trach, he intervened and performed a surgery that relieved the pressure on his airway and made the trach unnecessary.” Still, Benjamin’s doctors cautioned her that even something as minor as a cold could put him back in the hospital. Steward and her husband, Ben, were thrilled to bring Benjamin home to his three older sisters, ages 5, 12 and 14. Steward settled in as his full-time caregiver.

COVID-19 on the Scene

The new year arrived amid whispers of a novel coronavirus that had infected the people of Wuhan, China, and was spreading rapidly. Baby Benjamin was admitted to Cincinnati Children’s three times between February and April for respiratory issues, and always, the specter of COVID-19 hovered in the back of Steward’s mind. “But in the pulmonary unit on A7, I felt reassured,” she recalled. “Benjamin’s room was neat and clean. The staff knew my baby and his history, so they were on it.” Early in March, Steward had to call 911 for Benjamin. One of the EMTs who responded called ahead to Cincinnati Children’s so that when the ambulance pulled up to the Emergency Department, her son was taken immediately to the Trauma Bay where specialists were waiting to care for him. “A liaison for the hospital met me and sat with me the whole time,” said Steward. “I was just outside the bay and could see all the doctors gathered around my baby. She explained what was happening and who everyone was. It calmed me down.” Benjamin was admitted a second time to the pulmonary unit on A7 that day, and Steward noticed that staff were wearing more PPE this time. “I felt reassured by the extra measures they were taking to protect my child amidst our increasing fears about him contracting COVID-19,” she said. Just a week and a half after that hospitalization, on March 29, Steward had a day she will never forget. Both her husband, Ben, and little Benjamin began having trouble breathing and had to be taken by ambulance to separate hospitals within a span of 30 minutes. Both were suspected of having contracted COVID-19. “This time, when we got to Cincinnati Children’s, things had changed,” Steward recalled. “Staff was wearing more extensive PPE, and visitors were restricted. They tested Benjamin for COVID-19 and admitted him to a special unit. When I came to visit him, there was a special area in the lobby of Location B for screening visitors for symptoms before anyone could go up the elevators. These restrictions were reassuring. It was a very scary time. I wondered if the staff would be as kind and tender when delivering care to my baby or if they would be more removed for fear of catching the virus themselves. I was happy to see that they were as kind and gentle as always.” Benjamin’s COVID-19 test results came back negative, and he and his dad were able to return home fully recovered 10 days later. “I rely on my faith to get me through these times,” said Steward. “And when you’re the mother of a child with complex conditions and you are dealing with a pandemic like COVID-19, it is especially comforting to have Cincinnati Children’s close by. The staff is amazing, and they really know my baby. They live their values so well, which makes all the difference to me.”

Gretchen Steward and her son, Benjamin, are back at home with the rest of the family--his dad, Ben, and sisters Charlotte, Eden and Selah.

“Cincinnati Children's staff live their values so well, which makes all the difference to me.”

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