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Two families create strong bond during hospital stays

Jul. 19, 2012, 9:27 AM

Three-year-olds Grace Hamilton, left, and Maggie Meador catch some shade on the outdoor play area at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The families of the two girls became close while they were being treated at the hospital. (photo by Anne Rayner)

If not for their daughters’ illnesses, Laura Meador and Amy Hamilton probably would never have met. But their paths crossed in an unlikely venue — the sixth floor of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt — and a burgeoning friendship was born.

Grace Hamilton, 3, was diagnosed with high-risk pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March 2011. Although Grace’s treatment calls for 2 ½ years of chemotherapy, her prognosis is good, according to her mom.

Maggie Meador, 3, was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, a rare disease that attacks the kidney’s filtering system causing serious scarring that leads to end-stage renal failure. Maggie underwent a successful kidney transplant on June 25, the only curative treatment for the disease. She was released from the hospital on July 7 and returns twice a week for lab tests and doctor visits.

Three-year-olds Maggie Meador and Grace Hamilton play with their mothers, Laura Meador, left, and Amy Hamilton on the outdoor play area on the sixth floor of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Despite living more than 40 minutes apart and having daughters with different diagnoses, Meador and Hamilton developed a friendship they say is based on unconditional understanding.

“It was interesting because our moms met first and urged us to meet,” Hamilton said. “I was still in shock and didn’t really want to chat with anyone.

“But as soon as we met, we clicked,” recalled Hamilton. “We weren’t able to have much of a relationship outside of the hospital, like play dates and things, not that we didn’t try.
“With two sick girls, we never knew day-to-day what we were facing. There were a lot of cancellations, but we both get it.”

According to Julie Beatty, a licensed clinical social worker for Pediatric Neurology and Nephrology at Children’s Hospital, it is not unusual for families sharing the same diagnosis, clinics and hospital stays to develop relationships.

It is rare for families across medical disciplines to establish friendships and create support networks.

“We do see parents create friendships at the hospital, which is neat. We see that most often when patients are sharing common spaces, such as the Ronald McDonald Room or a playroom for long periods of time.

“In general, when parents are learning about a child’s condition it is unnerving because daily life that was familiar is changing,” said Beatty. “Couple that with the fact that most parents have multiple roles outside of caring for a critically ill child.

“There can be a lot to juggle and parents can become isolated from their peers. It’s wonderful to see such a level of acceptance and willingness to share and support among families here,” Beatty said.

The two girls spend most of their time sitting side-by-side in the infusion clinic, playing in the playroom or on the outdoor play area — all on the sixth floor. When not at the hospital, the moms stay connected via phone, text and email. Meador said their friendship comes naturally.

The Meador and Hamilton families grew close while their two young daughters were being treated for different illnesses at Children’s Hospital. (photo by Anne Rayner)

“We don’t have to give explanations or make excuses. We both support each other without having to ask what is wrong.

“It’s as if we have been friends long before we even met,” Meador said.
Prior to Maggie’s life-saving transplant, the girls would meet most weeks during an infusion clinic, where Maggie received doses of albumin and iron and Grace continues to get her chemotherapy.

While Meador and Hamilton have stayed in close contact, Maggie and Grace haven’t seen each other for a while. They will be able to spend time together once Maggie is further along in her recovery.

Both Meador and Hamilton are looking forward to a blossoming friendship.

“Everyone is in different phases of life,” said Meador. “Even though kidney disease and cancer are totally different, we have many similarities and share the same hopes for our girls.”
Hamilton agrees.

“I imagine that we will be friends forever … our connection is strong enough to last a long, long time.”

Children’s Hospital provides many services to help families cope with the stress and uncertainty that goes along with caring for a sick child.

For more information about the hospital’s family support services, go here.

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