Zoe Jeffcoat was born by emergency Caesarean section on Oct. 24, 2003, when her mother suffered a placental abruption at 36 weeks. Deprived of oxygen for an undetermined length of time, Zoe began having seizures within hours after birth. She weighed just 4 pounds, 7 ounces.
“They told me Zoe might not make it through the night,” recalls her mother, Veronica Jeffcoat.
Doctors and nurses in the neonatal intensive-care unit worked to control her seizures and help Zoe maintain her temperature. A feeding tube provided needed nutrition, while a ventilator helped her breathe. Zoe’s specialized medical team included a neurologist, an orthopaedist, a gastroenterologist, a pulmonologist, an otolaryngologist and her primary-care doctor.
After discharge from the hospital, severe reflux prevented Zoe from gaining weight. She continued to struggle with seizures and sleep apnea, and at six months, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Veronica placed Zoe in a medical day care for special-needs children, but the solution was temporary. At 4 years old, Zoe was ready for school. Knowing she could not go alone, Veronica turned to the Christiana Care Visiting Nurse Association for help.
“Zoe is a happy child, but her fragile health requires continuous monitoring,” said Vickie Duke, LPN, a private-duty nurse with VNA. In addition to muscle spasticity from cerebral palsy, Zoe suffers from tracheomalacia, or a floppy airway. She has been hospitalized more than 30 times for aspiration pneumonia, and she underwent a tracheal diversion in December 2009 to redirect her airway and prevent further weakening of her lungs.
VNA private-duty nurses provide one-on-one interactive care for Zoe 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday. Daytime nurses provide personal and tracheotomy care before accompanying Zoe to school, to physical, occupational and speech therapy, and to doctor appointments.
“You can’t imagine the importance of knowing your daughter is safe when you’re not there,” her mother said. As a single mother of two who works full-time to support her family, Veronica relies on the VNA as an essential part of her daughter’s life.
While Zoe sleeps, nurses administer medication, monitor her ventilator, provide oxygen therapy and oversee continuous nighttime feedings.
“Having night nurses enables me to rest without having a second ear awake for Zoe,” she said.
Today, Zoe is a 6-year-old kindergartner with dancing eyes and a mile-wide grin. Since her tracheotomy, Zoe is more energetic, alert and engaged. She no longer requires oxygen therapy and has gained a healthy 20 pounds. She has been free of pneumonia for more than a year. With encouragement from her nurses, Zoe communicates at school using picture cards, eye contact and hand switches. She enjoys therapeutic swimming and horseback riding. Standing therapy is improving her ability to remain upright for extended periods of time, and she is learning to help transfer her weight from one position to another.
“Zoe is the best kid in the world,” Veronica says. “I could not have a better agency or better nurses to help me with her care.”