Lori and Clay Smothers were overjoyed. They finally got the news they had been hoping and praying for: they were expecting a baby.
Their excitement quickly turned to fear when an omphalocele — a birth defect of the abdominal wall causing some organs to grow outside the body — was identified on a 12-week ultrasound.
As a veteran nurse of 20 years, Lori was accustomed to caring for people, yet now Lori and her son were the patients who needed expert care. During her second trimester, she was referred to Le Bonheur Children’s Fetal Center Clinic. Lori underwent extra monitoring and ultrasounds to ensure her son was growing.
“From the moment I walked through the door of the Fetal Center Clinic, I had a whole new attitude. I went from being terrified to feeling at peace and comforted that my baby was going to be fine,” Lori said. “The way things were explained by the medical team at Le Bonheur made all the difference and everything looked reassuring from his monitoring and labs.”
The night before their son was born, Lori and Clay traveled to Memphis from their Martin, Tenn., home and were able to stay at FedExFamilyHouse — clean, comfortable lodging located across the street from Le Bonheur — free of charge. Jane Thompson, program manager of the Fetal Center Clinic, referred the Smothers family to FedExFamilyHouse so they would not have to drive several hours the morning of Lori’s C-section.
Lori delivered at Regional One Hospital in Memphis and her son, Easton, was transferred to Le Bonheur’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) via Pediflite when he was only one hour old.
Easton received critical care at Le Bonheur and Lori and Clay learned how to care for their son’s omphalocele and change his bandages.
Instead of commuting several hours back to their home each day, the Smothers family was able to stay at FedExFamilyHouse. As they rotated time at the hospital with Easton’s grandmothers, the family could rest at FedExFamilyHouse. Being able to have their family support system close by and not hours away was important.
“Having a clean room and a hot shower at the FedExFamilyHouse was a blessing,” Lori said. “Being able to take some time to relax, but knowing I was so close to the hospital in case Easton needed me was amazing.”
Easton spent two months in the NICU receiving expert care, while his family found a place of respite at FedExFamilyHouse.
Once discharged, Easton and his family returned to Le Bonheur every two weeks due to the complex nature of his omphalocele.
Like Lori and Clay, many families seek the expert care of Le Bonheur Children’s Fetal Center Clinic when they need complex fetal or obstetric treatment. As the only center of its kind in the area, families often travel great distances for care. FedExFamilyHouse provides free lodging for families like the Smotherses, so that paying for a hotel or traveling hundreds of miles between the hospital and home is not a concern. In 2021, Thompson referred 75 Fetal Center Clinic families to FedExFamilyHouse.
“FedExFamilyHouse is an important resource for our families that have to drive a long distance for their Le Bonheur Fetal Center Clinic appointments or have to stay in town for quick access to Regional One Hospital in case of preterm labor,” Thompson said. “Our moms typically have to be at Regional One Hospital at 6 a.m. for a scheduled delivery. The convenience of the facility not only decreases long distance driving stress but also the financial hardship of a hotel room.”
When Easton was 19 months old, his surgeon Dr. Eunice Huang — who had monitored Easton since he was in utero — determined he was ready for surgery to repair his omphalocele.
The Smothers family was planning to wake up at 2 a.m. in order to drive to Memphis. What if they hit traffic, had a flat tire along the way or were unable to depart on time? Luckily, Lori and Clay need not worry as there was another option.
The night prior to Easton’s life-changing surgery, the Smothers family stayed at FedExFamilyHouse. They were once again greeted warmly and were able to relax knowing the next morning they simply needed to cross the street. The Smothers family could focus on the upcoming surgery and preparing Easton rather than worrying about a middle-of-the-night journey from their home to Le Bonheur.
“We were so grateful to stay at FedExFamilyHouse the night before Easton’s surgery and in the days after,” Lori said. “We didn’t have to worry about rushing to get out of the door on time to make it to Le Bonheur the morning of Easton’s surgery. FedExFamilyHouse was a relief when we already had a lot to think about.”
Easton’s surgery was a success. Easton’s omphalocele was closed, his hernia was repaired and he was able to undergo a circumcision. Two days later, Easton was pulling a red wagon down the halls of Le Bonheur.
Later that year, Easton had to undergo another surgery to have tubes put in his ears. Once again, FedExFamilyHouse was there. When Easton arrived, he was warmly greeted with a bag of treats and coloring books and quickly ran to the basketball hoop in the play area.
Today, 5-year-old Easton is thriving. He loves being outside with his father, Clay, especially when they are hunting and fishing.
Easton was discharged from surgical follow-up care at Le Bonheur in 2021 and receives check ups for his ears with an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Jackson Le Bonheur Children’s Outpatient Center.
Thanks to your support, families like Easton’s know they can rely on FedExFamilyHouse to provide a place of respite and hope while their child receives the critical care they need at Le Bonheur.
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