Award recognizes “angels” in the NICU

Megan Hall, founder and CEO of Avery’s Angels Gastroschisis Foundation, recently returned to N.C. Children’s Hospital to present the organization’s Award of Excellence to members of her late son, Avery’s, Newborn Critical Care Center team.

Award recognizes “angels” in the NICU click to enlarge From left: Dr. Sophia Aliaga, Dr. Diane Warner, Meghan Hall, Dr. Karen Wood, and Dr. Wayne Price.

Before her pregnancy with son, Avery, Meghan Hall had never heard the term “gastroschisis.” When Avery was born with the condition in April 2009, she remained hard pressed to find much information or resources related to the birth defect, which causes the intestines to protrude from a hole in the belly. The void led her and Avery’s father, Jared Rauen, to put complete faith in their son’s UNC Children’s care team.

“(They) took care of our son and us in a way that assured us that our son was being left with family when we were not able to be in the unit,” reflects Hall of the 15 weeks her son spent in N.C. Children’s Hospital’s Newborn Critical Care Center.

When Avery passed away from unforeseen complications in July 2009, the family took refuge in his neonatologists.

“Dr. (Sophia) Aliaga and Dr. (Diane) Warner's presence in the final moments of Avery's life were particularly impactful,” says Hall. “Had they not been so patient in the moments of Avery's life, and so present in the moments he passed, the peace we have now would not be what it is.”

Heartbroken at the loss of her baby, Hall envisioned becoming a resource to other families facing a gastroschisis diagnosis. This passage from the Avery’s Angels website describes the formation of the foundation:

Inspired by the “angels” that had been present in their own experience and fueled by the hope that was Avery’s life, Meghan began blogging about forming a foundation to promote that community of support, education and awareness for others affected- providing the same angels they had, for others. With the encouragement of “Avery’s Angels” the team at UNC Chapel Hill, their family and community, Meghan launched Avery’s Angels September of 2009.

In the years that have passed since, Avery’s Angels has developed a resource hub and grown to offer support programs for parents and patients, which include a network of regional contacts to assist families.

Hall has helped countless families, but she says she will never forget Avery’s team at UNC and the way Avery’s caregivers impacted his all-too-short life—and her own, particularly at the time of his death and the days that followed. To acknowledge that impact, Hall nominated four members of Avery’s neonatal team for the foundation’s annual Award of Excellence: Sophia Aliaga, MD, Wayne Price, MD, Diane Warner, MD, and Karen Wood, MD.

“Not only were they so supportive of the time and involvement we needed during Avery's life, but just as present in his death,” she wrote in her nomination. “They extended care into his passing and helped create and offer the right options for us to achieve peace in his death. There was never any removal of care. The care absolutely endured—from allowing us the time (at night, away from the day crowds) and space (outside at the butterfly garden with candles) to allow our involvement and peace in Avery's passing.”

“I can still remember the very human moment I had with Dr. (Karen) Wood when she handed me a pin to place in Avery's casket that reassured me how much she cared and was invested in my son,” the nomination continues, “and how invested Dr. (Wayne) Price was for our efforts to start a support organization for families such as ourselves.”

Hall came to N.C. Children’s Hospital to personally deliver the award to the doctors, explaining to the group gathered to commemorate the occasion that the award honors physicians that exemplify clear communication, empathetic bedside manner, and a long-term dedication patients and families.

“The loss of a child is not something time changes,” says Hall. “But we have peace and love as memories because of these physicians' attentiveness to detail, attentiveness to the human moments in Avery's are, and their presence in our experience in the NICU.”