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Young Teen Survives Lung Collapse with Expert Treatment and Surgery

June 14, 2019

“Maybe you just really need to burp,” Deana Nall suggested to her daughter, Jenna, when the healthy, active 13-year-old complained of a tight, aching sensation in her chest one evening last February. When the symptoms didn’t decrease, Deana began to wonder if her teenager had a touch of pneumonia. By the time Jenna left their local emergency room at dawn the next day in an ambulance headed for Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Deana and her husband Chad had learned that Jenna's left lung had collapsed. They knew their daughter needed life-saving pediatric care.

“I couldn’t believe it. I thought you had to be in a car accident for that to happen. I didn’t know they could just collapse like that.” As the Nalls soon discovered, the condition is somewhat common in teenagers who grow very quickly, because the lung tissue can’t always keep up. 

On the heels of this unnerving news, Chad says, came a wave of relief, because “they knew exactly what had happened and that she was going to be okay. When you show up at the emergency department with your kid, you don’t know what’s happening, and you have so many questions and so much anxiety,” he recalls. “The way everyone treated her and acted towards us, we felt that anxiety lifting. That‘s something you can’t put a price on.”

Deana concurs. “Everybody was excellent about reassuring her and us. Everyone was so compassionate. They really know how to work with both kids and parents.”

When an attempt to get Jenna’s lung to re-inflate on its own didn’t succeed, the Arkansas Children’s surgical team quickly moved to Plan B. The surgery was successful, and Jenna was soon recovering in the surgical unit on the third floor of ACH. Chad says he was impressed with the level of support they received from the entire ACH team — staff, doctors, nurses, and social workers, Child Life specialists.

“They think intentionally about what a family might be going through when they enter the hospital for any reason. They do a great job of anticipating any concerns — everything from laundry needs and financial questions, to whether you need extra blankets and pillows because you’re all sleeping in the same room.”

While art-loving Jenna enjoyed painting with supplies provided by Child Life specialists, Deana appreciated the family amenities. “They had washers and dryers just down the hall from our room that we could use, which was great because when your kid is in the hospital, you really don’t want to have to leave. Parents also get two free meals a day in the cafeteria, and that was a life saver. You don’t budget for these kinds of things.”

Recovery took a week in the hospital, then Jenna was sent home to rest for a few weeks before resuming her usual activities. Then, on May 19, her right lung collapsed. Unlike the first incident, there was no question this time what was happening or what to do. The Nalls went straight to Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where the lung was inflated through surgery.

Having been through two rounds of surgery and recovery, Jenna wants other kids to know that being in the hospital isn’t all bad. “Parts of it were really fun,” she says. "Kids don’t need to be scared if they need medical treatment at Arkansas Children’s because there are lots of people there to help you.”

In particular, Jenna appreciated that the “surgical team would talk directly to me, not my parents.”

Deana says that impressed her also. “If we had questions, they answered them, but by talking directly to Jenna, she didn’t feel like she was invisible.”

The eighth-grader is now back to doing all the things she loves to do — ballet, tap and jazz dance, and painting with oil paints. She dreams of being a marine biologist someday. Deana is confident it would take more than a couple of collapsed lungs to hold this girl back.

“Her surgeon says she can do anything – she can go to Mars if she wants to.”


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