Celebrating Spiritual Care Week October 24-30, 2021

Meet our spiritual care team at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. These men and women work alongside our doctors and nurses to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.

The celebration of Spiritual Care Week provides an opportunity for chaplains and our chaplains-in-training to share their story and to celebrate their ministry. The chaplains at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio are dedicated to serving your spirit through passionate ministry with compassionate care. Through this blog, we will introduce you to the extraordinary chaplains who work alongside our physicians and nurses to deliver a health-care experience that embraces the mind, body and spirit of the individuals and families we serve.

Meet Chaplain Darren Bennett

Chaplain Darren Bennett was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Darren is a proud graduate of Kentucky State University, a historically Black university in Frankfort, Kentucky. He has lived in 10 U.S. cities. Darren moved to San Antonio this past summer after joining our Spiritual Care Team as a pediatric chaplain. Darren enjoys sports, cooking, reading and watching movies. “I like the opportunity to connect with people in some of the most authentic ways,” Darren said. 

Meet Chaplain Gabriela “Gabi” De Faria Lira

Chaplain Gabriela De Faria Lira was born in Recife, PE, Brazil, and has lived in San Antonio for the past 12 years.  Chaplain Gabi, as she is affectionately known, has served with compassion on our Spiritual Care Team for four years.  She completed both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree while in the United States. Her first language is Portuguese and she learned English and Spanish at the same time while studying in San Antonio. Gabriela is an ordained minister and is currently pursuing board certification for chaplaincy. Chaplain Gabi likes spending time with her husband and daughter, going to the beach, and listening to music. “What I love about chaplaincy is getting to know people, other cultures, and different faith traditions,” Gabi said.

Meet Chaplain Resident Nathan Magsig

Chaplain Resident Nathan Magsig was born in Anderson, Indianam but has spent most of his life in San Antonio. Nathan is currently a Master of Divinity student through Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity with additional course work from Anderson School of Theology. Nathan holds degrees in liberal arts and business marketing through Anderson University and has enjoyed a background in design and print production. Nathan also enjoys ministering through youth, worship, and stand-in preaching via his home church and family ministries. 

Nathan’s personal interests and passions range from art and design to outdoor activities, travel, and studies of history and culture. In his free time, Nathan loves being with his friends and family and creating art through both digital and traditional medium. “To me, chaplaincy is a powerful means of creating meaningful relationships through ministry service and intentional presence. I feel very blessed to be a small piece of the ministry here at CHRISTUS,” Nathan said.

Meet Chaplain Alyssa Maldonado

Chaplain Alyssa Maldonado is from San Antonio and had the blessing of completing her chaplain internship and residency at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Alyssa earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing from the University of the Incarnate Word and is completing a Master of Divinity with a concentration in chaplaincy in December 2021 from Chicago Theological Seminary. She is currently working toward both ordination and chaplaincy board certification.

Alyssa and has served with CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System as a part-time chaplain since January 2021, and also serves as a hospice chaplain. Alyssa recently began serving as the  Associate Care Chaplain for The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Chaplain Alyssa enjoys spending time with her family, serving others, watching movies and sports, listening to soft rock music and reading. 

“Chaplaincy speaks to my heart and spirit and I am passionate about it. At the end of my shift, I remember that I went nowhere by accident,” Alyssa shared.

Meet Chaplain Stephani Shumaker

Chaplain Stephani was born and raised in San Antonio. She completed her bachelors degree in Public Health at Schreiner University. Prior to entering ministry, Stephani worked as an emergency medical technician and an emergency room scribe in various San Antonio hospitals. Stephani lived Chicago for the past four years as she completed her Master of Divinity at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Chaplain Stephani is an Individual Mobilization Augmente (IMA) Chaplain Candidate in the United States Air Force Reserves and has completed tours at Offutt, Keesler, and Andrews Air Force Bases. She is a dog mom to Pico de Gallo and Frito Lay, enjoys Camp Gladiator and riding her Peloton. “What I love about chaplaincy is creating space for patients, families, and Associates to share their stories,” Stephani shared.

Meet Chaplain Boby Thomas

Chaplain Boby Thomas is a Roman Catholic priest, originally from India, serving in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago. He has been in San Antonio for the last year, pastoring at the local Syro-Malabar Catholic Parish. Fr. Boby holds bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and theology and Master of Hospital Administration and a Master of Business Administration.  He enjoys outdoor games, listening to music and reading. “Selfless love and support saves life,” Boby said.

Hospitalized patients in our pediatric and women’s service units may request a visit from a chaplain by asking their nurse. The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is part of CHRISTUS Health, San Antonio’s only Catholic faith-based hospital system. During Spiritual Care Week, we offer our sincere gratitude to our team of chaplains who answered the call to serve our ministry and to fulfill our mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.

Blessing in Disguise

A complicated pregnancy led Sabrina to seek care at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio for herself and her baby boy.

Sabrina Vides and her husband, Ernesto, always planned to have more kids, but they didn’t think it would happen so soon. When their oldest son was 4 years old, Sabrina discovered she was pregnant with a second baby, a surprise to both her and Ernesto.

Her pregnancy was going well, and she was not having any horrible morning sickness. It was smooth sailing until she had an anatomy scan.

Sabrina’s pregnancy was progressing well until she was diagnosed with both placenta previa and placenta accreta.

“I knew something was wrong because the ultrasound techs kept dropping clues,” said Sabrina. “They kept telling me that they couldn’t get an accurate read and that they couldn’t see the placenta well.  The whole experience made me so anxious, and I just wanted to know what was going on.”

She finished her appointment and went home, apprehensive about the results. About a week later, Sabrina learned she had a condition known as placenta previa, where the placenta is situated low in the uterus and covers the cervix. It can make for an extremely dangerous delivery. They also suspected Sabrina had placenta accreta, where the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall, which could put Sabrina at risk of hemorrhaging during delivery.

“I was completely overwhelmed. I hadn’t heard of those conditions before, and I didn’t know what it all meant,” said Sabrina.

Doctors put Sabrina on bedrest. She was instructed to “take it easy” and stay off her feet as much as possible.

About five weeks after her anatomy scan, when she was about 27 weeks, Sabrina started cramping and experienced some bleeding. She thought she was having Braxton Hicks contractions. At that point, she decided she did not need to go to the hospital and instead needed to hydrate and go to bed.

The following day, she felt something and thought her water had broken, but it was blood. Sabrina’s worst fear was that she had miscarried her baby boy, who she already named Aldo. Ernesto whisked Sabrina to the hospital, which thankfully was only about 15 minutes away.

Upon arrival, Sabrina was admitted to labor and delivery. By the time they inserted an IV to help stop the contractions, she had stopped bleeding. Sabrina ended up staying in the hospital for three days but was told that if she were to have a second bleed, she would need to be in the hospital for the duration of her pregnancy.

So, she came home and went back on bedrest. But sure enough, two days later, she had her second bleed. She knew what she needed to do – and that was to get back to the hospital.

“When I got to the hospital, it hit me that I was not leaving for a while. I was going to be there until I delivered Aldo, and I couldn’t hold back the tears,” she said.

And this is when Sabrina’s path intersected with Dr. Emma Rodriguez’s at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio (CHofSA).

Sabrina had finally met a physician who could explain to her exactly what was happening and who had a plan to deliver Aldo safely. Dr. Rodriguez reassured Sabrina that she and the rest of her team would be there for her and explained every scenario – both the good and the bad – so that Sabrina could understand exactly what was going on.

Sabrina was grateful for the way Dr. Emma Rodriguez helped her understand the risks associated with her pregnancy and that an entire team of specialists would keep close watch over her with plans in place to provide a safe delivery.

About 32 weeks in, while one of her nurses was giving Sabrina her prenatal vitamins, she had her fourth bleed. The nurse acted quickly and knew exactly what to do.

“Dr. Rodriguez and her team did not want to risk me hemorrhaging, which is a huge risk of placenta previa. So, they got me prepped to do a C-section,” said Sabrina.

Because her doctors suspected she had a placental accreta, they decided the best course of action was to do a vertical incision. Doctors had also explained there would be a chance Sabrina would have to have a hysterectomy to prevent hemorrhaging – something that is often done when women have placenta accreta. The team at CHofSA had everything prepped in case a hysterectomy was necessary.

When they wheeled Sabrina into the operating room, the entire team was ready for her – her obstetrician, Dr. Hatem Hatem, the maternal-fetal medicine doctor, the anesthesiologist – everyone was prepared for whatever Sabrina needed. 

“Even though it was a scary experience, it was so comforting that everyone knew what to do. They were so prepared,” said Sabrina.

They proceeded with the C-section and delivered Aldo, and then informed Sabrina that a hysterectomy was inevitable to control the bleeding due to the placenta invading the uterus and cervix.

Recovery was a bit hard since she lost 2.5 liters of blood during delivery, she would faint each time she got up out of bed to start walking. Sabrina ended up having to get a blood transfusion on her third day of recovery.

A few days after her recovery, Sabrina was able to meet Aldo in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Right after he was born, he had some issues breathing, so he was put on C-pap oxygen. Aside from that, he had no major problems, and the focus was to get him to eat and grow so he could go home.

In total, Sabrina was in the hospital for a month before her delivery – a long time to be away from home and her family. During this time, Sabrina forged relationships with the CHofSA chaplain and social workers, who provided her with a network of support. She also found comfort in joining several Facebook groups of mothers who had gone through similar experiences.

“I tried to keep myself busy but I did cry a lot,” remembers Sabrina. “I turned to the Bible during that time and would read verses. I tried to remind myself that God wasn’t going to give me more than I could handle.”

Through it all, Dr. Rodriguez rose to the occasion to take care of Sabrina and navigate her through a highly challenging pregnancy.

“She was a blessing during my darkest times. It was Dr. Rodriguez who helped me truly understand what was going on and reassured me that everything would be OK. She would never rush and always take time for me,” said Sabrina. “She was my angel.”

As for the rest of the team, Sabrina can’t say enough about them either.

“The nurses were amazing and truly made my long stay unforgettable – not in a bad way but in a really good way. They took their time with everything, and even after I had the C-section, some of them would come to check on me,” she said. “The nurses who took care of me after my hysterectomy were just as wonderful and caring.”

Having a baby in the NICU was something new to Sabrina, so she was extremely grateful for the nurses who explained everything to her and eased her fears about seeing her baby on tubes and machines. They would tell her that it all would be OK and became an integral part of Aldo’s journey.

Born at 32 weeks gestation, Aldo needed help getting oxygen. Sabrina was uneasy seeing all the tubes around him, but the NICU nurses reassured her that he would be just fine.

“I can’t say thank you enough to Renee and Becky. When I first saw Aldo with all the tubes, I was so scared and they told me everything was going to be OK,” said Sabrina. “Everyone is amazing, and we will always be so grateful for their professionalism, kindness, and outstanding care,” she said.

Aldo stayed in the NICU for 51 days and officially graduated on September 29. Sabrina is very excited and relieved to finally have him home and reunited with his older brother, Adrian, who loves helping take care of Aldo and is a great help. Aldo recently had his two-month checkup and weighs almost nine pounds and his pediatrician said he is meeting all his milestones.

When he was 51 days old, Aldo graduated from the NICU at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. His mom Sabrina is grateful for the care she received at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, which also became the best place for Aldo to get the care he needed when he was born prematurely.

If you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy or pregnancy complications, please contact the Centers for Maternal and Fetal Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio to make an appointment with one of our specially trained and highly experienced physicians. For more information, visit our webpage: https://www.christushealth.org/childrens/services-treatments/womens-services/maternal-fetal-medicine

Weston’s NICU journey: All the angels among us

When Weston was born with merconium aspiration syndrome, he needed the highest level of newborn care offered in San Antonio. That’s why he was transported to the NICU at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.

Blog Author: Kendall Ouellette, Weston’s mom

My pregnancy was smooth and enjoyable. I never got morning sickness, and I was extremely cautious about every move I made. I made sure to eat right, exercise, and wouldn’t even let my phone near my belly. My husband and I would talk to our baby every day, telling him we loved him and that he was a “big, strong boy.”

It was Mother’s Day Sunday, May 9. I was 39 weeks and four days pregnant. At about 2:00 a.m., my water broke.  

My husband was at work, so I called him to let him know. He excitedly jumped in his car and rushed home to pick me up and take me to the hospital. We were like two giddy kids in the car on the way, so excited and ready to finally get to meet our baby boy! 

The nurses commented on how strong my baby’s heart rate was and how well he was tolerating labor. Twenty-two hours into labor, and it was time to push. My husband and I could barely contain ourselves we were so excited, and I could not wait to finally have my baby on my chest, skin-to-skin and in my arms, staring into his eyes, the way I had been envisioning that moment for so long. 

However, events unfolded differently than I anticipated.  As soon as I started to see my baby, I also saw him take a big gasp and inhale amniotic fluid. This time, it was a brownish color, and not clear like it had been when my water broke. I was overcome with shock, worry, and fear. My baby was set on my chest for maybe half a second and then whisked away to the other side of the delivery room where they suctioned him and assessed what was going on. One of the nurses explained to me that he had swallowed some of his poop but did not seem overly concerned. 

Not long afterward, the respiratory therapists (RT) were called in, and little did we know, that’s when we began witnessing God work alongside Weston as He began working miracles and placing angels in our path along the way. After assessing my baby for a couple minutes, one of them came over to me to explain that Weston wasn’t breathing adequately, and the equipment available in the delivery room wasn’t enough to give him the help he needed. I remember kind of cutting her off and telling her, “Please just do what you need to do.” I’d say she was the first angel we met through this journey. There was something about her that made me feel like Weston would be in good hands as they took him out of the delivery room and to their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Later, I was able to go see Weston and remember vividly what he looked like. He was sedated, intubated, and had a bluish/purplish color. 

I was a complete mess and in so much emotional pain and hurt. So many thoughts were running through my mind, and I worried if I had done something wrong. I wished so much that I could switch places with him, and that I was the one laying there intubated, not him. 

The doctors explained that Weston had a condition known as meconium aspiration syndrome, where a baby passes their first stool in the womb and then inhales it. While the syndrome didn’t typically cause as severe symptoms as Weston had, it was quite possible there was something congenitally wrong with his heart or lungs. The doctor explained that they were going to transport Weston to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio (CHofSA) where they had a treatment available called ECMO. ECMO is a life supportive machine that acts as artificial heart and lungs, allowing one’s own heart and lungs time to rest and heal. 

Another rush of emotions hit me like a big wave. I had no idea what to expect, how to handle all of this. I knew nothing about NICUs. I knew my baby was strong and a fighter, and I would do everything in my power to help him fight this fight. 

When it came time for CHofSA’s transport team to take Weston, my husband and I went to be with him as they worked with the RT team to get everything they would need. My husband and I held our breath as we watched them leave with our baby to transport him to CHofSA, and we didn’t stop holding it until we got the news that the transport to CHofSA was successful and Weston was now at CHofSA’s NICU. As soon as we got that news, my husband went over to be with Weston as I had to stay at the other hospital until I was able to be discharged.

Weston’s primary NICU doctor at CHofSA was Dr. Pratik Parikh, a neonatologist, and another angel placed along our path and an absolute true blessing. From the very beginning, he went above and beyond to communicate directly and thoroughly with both of us even while we were both in two different places at first.

Dr. Parikh explained to us that Weston was really sick. He and his team thought Weston might have a serious infection in and around his lungs, and on scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being healthy and well, and 10 being death, Weston was at a 7 or 8. 

My heart sank once again and another level of fear, shock, worry, and pain cast over me. Dr. Parikh went ahead and got our consent for ECMO in case it became necessary. Not too long after that, I received another call from him letting me know that they needed to go through with putting Weston on ECMO and didn’t want to wait any longer. 

Weston was born with meconium aspiration syndrome. He was transported to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and placed on the ECMO device to help his lungs and heart rest and heal.

I soon received a call from my mom. My husband who had stayed so strong and led the way as I struggled to not completely break down had called my mom to let her know I needed her. Right then and there she dropped everything and was on her way from Houston to San Antonio. She came immediately to the hospital where I delivered Weston, and after I was discharged, we headed to CHofSA together, not quite sure what to expect. 

Once I got to the NICU at CHofSA, I was relieved to find out that I could go see and be with my baby as much as I wanted and needed to. Meanwhile, my husband had figured out the ins and outs of the NICU, and along the way, he encountered a couple more angels. One of these individuals was a social worker who helped him get us connected with the Ronald McDonald House – a place for us to stay close to the hospital. The first location was about 20 minutes from CHofSA and while there, we met another angel who helped us get into the location within the hospital, just one floor from the NICU and Weston. 

I can’t even begin to describe what a blessing this was. With all this help and support, I then was able to give 120% of my focus and energy to our baby and doing everything in my control to help him get better. 

The first time I walked into the NICU to see Weston, it was again a scary, heart-dropping sight. The ECMO machine was a large machine with two tubes that had been surgically placed into blood vessels of his neck. One was to pump blood out of Weston for carbon dioxide to be removed and oxygen to be added by the machine and the other was to pump that oxygenated blood back into his body. He also had all kinds of other lines and things on and around him, and he was still intubated and sedated. While we still couldn’t hold him, we were able to hold his hands and talk to him. Each time we went to visit Weston, we’d do just that and tell him he was a “big, strong boy” just as we had done every day during my pregnancy. 

Weston’s dad was able to hold him despite all the tubes and electrodes he was hooked up to.

The second day in the NICU, we met yet another angel that God placed along our path, a nurse named Heather who we had an instant connection with. She was the kindest, most caring, uplifting, and smart person we’d ever met, and we were so glad that Weston was being cared for by her. She had gone out of her way to have a heart-to-heart with me as a mom and reassured me that I had done nothing wrong. She was also open to every question that we had and explained thoroughly what was going on with all the machines and how Weston had been responding to the treatments. 

At this point, we still weren’t sure if ECMO was going to work. While Dr. Parikh was hopeful that Weston’s symptoms weren’t being caused by something genetic, he still wanted us to do some testing. 

On the third day of Weston being on ECMO, we called the nurse to check in, and she let us know that he was doing well, and they were thinking about taking him off ECMO that day. That meant Weston was getting better, and the rest and healing that ECMO was allowing for his heart and lungs was working. We were almost sure at that point that it wasn’t something genetic and the test results that were later received confirmed this for us. They ended up taking Weston off ECMO on the fourth day. We still had a long road ahead of us for Weston’s healing and recovery process, but we had made it through the most daunting part of our journey. 

As we got to see more of Dr. Parikh throughout our journey, I soon saw that he wasn’t just an amazing doctor; I could also tell that he was an amazing and humble human being by his energy and the way he communicated with us. Each day he was working, he’d meet us by Weston’s bedside to give us an update. He’d communicate with us with such genuine care and empathy just as if Weston was his own child, and his positive and down-to-earth energy around Weston and his true and genuine belief in him, I believe, played a huge part in Weston’s response to his treatment and recovery. We were so beyond blessed to have Weston under Dr. Parikh’s care. 

After Weston was taken off ECMO, the next six weeks involved what we soon began to call “the NICU rollercoaster.” Weston was slowly being weaned off all the sedatives and medications he was on along with the oxygen support he was receiving and then learning how to feed as well. The need to hold our baby had finally been met. However, the need to have a happy, healthy baby ready to take home and show the world was something we would have to continue to wait for as Weston continued to recover and heal. During this time of healing and recovery, there was another angel, a nurse named Brittany. While we only got to have her as our nurse for one day, she was truly special, and I hope she knows how much her care and efforts mean to me and what a positive impact and difference she made in our journey.

In time, Weston was able to tolerate his feeds and by the seventh week, he was feeding like a champ. That’s when we got to go home with our happy, healthy baby! We were discharged on Saturday, June 26. I’ll never forget that date. That’s when we got to take our baby home and truly be a family, outside of the hospital, as we had been dreaming of doing so for so long. Before leaving, the team at CHofSA connected us with helpful resources and programs that we’d have available to us as we transitioned to home life and into the future with our NICU baby.

Weston was happy to be home after spending his first weeks of life in the NICU.

We understand that not all NICU parents get to leave with the same outcome. We have been soaking in every moment and will never take one second for granted. We are so incredibly and eternally grateful to all those that made it possible – God, all the angels he placed along our path, especially the doctors, nurses, and NICU staff at CHOSA, all our prayer warriors, and the staff members of Ronald McDonald House. 

While I did not get to spend those precious first moments and days with my baby on my chest, looking into his eyes, I now get to do so every day because of this amazing team that worked and prayed so diligently for Weston. I can’t even put into words how grateful we truly are. We’d also like to give a special thanks to Dr. Parikh, Dr. Cheryl Motta, Dr. Cody Henderson, Dr. Maria Pierce, Dr. Sowmya Mohan, all the incredible nurses that took such great care of Weston, and Sandy and Bianca at Ronald McDonald House Charities. 

To learn more about the NICU at CHofSA, please visit our webpage: https://www.christushealth.org/childrens/services-treatments/nicu

To learn more about ECMO, please see: https://www.christushealth.org/childrens/services-treatments/ecmo-program