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By Kyran Pittman, Champions magazine January/February issue 2021
Sheralyn Beck vividly remembers her breaking point. Her toddler Gracelynn was an inpatient at Arkansas Children’s suffering from chronic lung disease and pulmonary hypertension. The pulmonologist was not telling Sheralyn what she desperately wanted to hear—that she and her daughter could soon return home.
“Stresses and emotions were high,” Sheralyn remembers. “I told her doctor, ‘I have three kids. I am only being mommy to one of them, and I’ve got to be able to be mom to all three again. I can’t keep doing this.”
Sheralyn’s breaking point became a turning point when the physician sat next to her and, one parent to another, told her about his own special-needs child. “I felt like he understood why I was pushing. It changed things. From there on, we began to have a real relationship.”
It’s one of many cherished relationships fostered at Arkansas Children’s during Gracelynn’s extended stays. Sheralyn was only 25 weeks into her pregnancy when the triplets were born. Gracelynn, who weighed just 1 lb., 8 oz., was the healthiest of her siblings. As a premature triplet, Gracelynn spent 89 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). According to her mom, the stay in the NICU was “relatively smooth sailing.”
Then, at 18 months old, Gracelynn was rushed to the ER at Arkansas Children’s with flu and a respiratory tract infection called RSV. Gracelyn was admitted and put on ECMO—a machine used in critical care situations that allows the blood to bypass the heart and lungs, giving them time to heal—for five days. She spent several months in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) before finally going home.
“We thought the worst was over,” says Sheralyn. But worse was still to come when, just after Thanksgiving 2018, an ordinary cold sent Gracelynn back to Arkansas Children’s. Sheralyn was home alone with the then 3-year-old triplets when Gracelynn began having respiratory distress. Sheralyn called the hospital and was grateful for the sense of calm and control the Arkansas Children’s Angel One ambulance team imparted when they arrived on the scene.
This time, Gracelynn was on ECMO for 10 days and would spend six months in the PICU. Sheralyn and her husband Jason then made the decision to proceed with a tracheostomy. The procedure allowed Gracelynn to get ventilation without being sedated, but she had to re-learn to walk. It took a few months, but once on her feet again, Gracelynn was up and running—literally—with Sheralyn trying to keep up while holding Gracelynn’s feed pole and oxygen tank.
Today, Gracelynn is a spunky five-year-old who still keeps her mom running. She uses a ventilator at night, but a recent sleep study suggests she may be able to come off it very soon. “Gracelynn has no limits,” laughs Sheralyn.