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Heart to Heart: Cody’s Medical Journey

Like other boys his age, Cody Buchanan is quick to crack a smile. In fact, it is one of Cody’s most endearing qualities according to those around the community who interact with Cody on a daily basis.

Cody is loved by his classmates and fellow students at Newland Elementary School. Cody, 11, prefers hugs over handshakes, as well as cracking up his fellow fifth graders. Newland Elementary’s Principal Monet Samuelson says that Cody is very much a comedian.

“Cody is like a rock star at the school. Everybody knows Cody. When they see him in the hall, all the kids want to say ‘Hi’ to him and give him a high five. He’s very, very popular,” Samuelson said.

Cody is a lot like many children his age, in more ways than one. Moreover, who doesn’t remember a point in their own childhood in which they had an illogical obsession with a toy, TV show, movie or musical number that was played on “repeat.” For Cody, one of his favorite things is “The Wizard of Oz,” in particular the Tin Man, and Cody can repeat the Tin Man’s introductory scene in the movie by heart.

Cody’s teacher, Cassie Hoge, will play the movie on the multimedia board in Cody’s classroom. Cody will then stand in front of the board with his back turned to it and repeat the exact moves to the music that the Tin Man performs, because Cody has memorized every motion. One year, Cody dressed up as the Tin Man for Halloween, and there is even a small Tin Man on his family’s porch that was made by Yellow Mountain Enterprises.

Like other children, Cody loves his family. He loves his sister, Brook, his teachers at school and his parents, Tim and Kim Buchanan. Yet there is one thing about Cody that makes him especially unique: Cody has Down’s syndrome, and, like many other children with Down’s syndrome, Cody has a heart defect.

According to the National Down’s Syndrome Society, approximately half of all infants born with Down’s syndrome have a condition related to the heart. In Cody’s case, he was born with a condition known as double outlet right ventricle, which is a rare congenital heart defect that circulates oxygen-poor blood throughout the body due to the heart’s two major arteries being connected to the right ventricle, or the chamber that pumps blood to the arteries.

Cody had his first two open heart surgeries before he was a year old, and spent the first two years of his life on a feeding tube. On June 3, Cody had his most recent surgery in which doctors placed a stent in his pulmonary artery. Since returning home, Cody has already gone back to being his normal, fun-loving self. However, Cody will need further procedures in the future as his body continues to grow.

“He didn’t have but three chambers when he was born, two on the top and one big one on the bottom. They had to go into his heart and build a wall, and when they did, the pulmonary valve was deformed. They had to cut it out, and where they cut it out it stretched [one of the vessels], and the next time they’re going have to go in and put a valve in,” Tim said.

Cody will have another open heart surgery either in the spring or summer next year. However, if all goes well, Cody may not have another major heart surgery for the next 10 years.

“After they get that one in, they’re saying [the stent] lasts around 10 years,” Kim said. “In the spring, we’re going to go for an MRI to compare with the last MRI. If his heart has started to enlarge then they’re going to go ahead and do the valve replacement. It will definitely have to happen, just when is the question.”

Fortunately, Cody has successfully recovered from his surgery. Tim said that Cody is stable, but the family remains cautious in the event that something flares up.

“He’s a trooper. He’s been through a lot in his 11 years,” Kim said.

During the family’s recent trip to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, the family had to stay in a hotel since the services offered by the Ronald McDonald House were unavailable to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Ronald McDonald House offers comforts by letting families stay in a communal setting while their children are being treated at nearby hospitals, Cody’s ultimate source of comfort, his sister, was unable to make the trip due to visitor limitations set by the hospital.

“She had to stay here and just rely on texts to check on him, and that was hard for him. He couldn’t understand why she couldn’t be with him. That’s his favorite person in the world,” Kim said.

Brook attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is studying media and journalism.

In order to help the family with the expenses related to travel and lodging, Lynn Bailey, Cody’s occupational therapist at Newland Elementary, began distributing red wrist bands with the words “Cody’s Heart” imprinted on the side. The wristbands are available at Newland Elementary Monday through Thursday in exchange for a donation.

“Lynn’s the one that headed the whole thing up. She’s been real persistent, checking on him, wanting to know how he’s doing and what the doctor’s saying,” Kim said.

The school has also set up a PayPal account to help collect funds through the family. After a report on Cody and his family premiered locally on television on June 11, the school received a sizable donation from a woman residing in Charlotte. So far, the school system has raised at least $2,000. Those interested can donate by clicking to paypal.me/newlandelementarypto.

While the money certainly helps, it cannot replace the support from the community that the Buchanans have received. The support from the elementary school has been invaluable, and Cody cannot wait to go back and see his friends and his teachers in the fall.

To say that Cody and his family have been through a lot would be an understatement, but the Buchanans would not change Cody for the world.

“I wouldn’t change anything about him,” Kim said. “If I could, I would take away his heart troubles. Aside from that, I wouldn’t change him for anything.”

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” (Psalm 51:10).

Cannon Memorial Hospital opens new medical surgical unit

LINVILLE — After three years of planning and development, Cannon Memorial Hospital’s new medical surgical unit will officially open on Thursday, June 25.

The new unit adds eight additional beds to the hospital’s inpatient care facility, thus allowing the hospital’s staff to better care for patients while the next phase of its long-term plan, the extension of its behavioral unit, begins in the opposite sector of the hospital.

The new behavioral health unit is expected to be completed in August or September of 2021, according to Cannon Memorial Hospital President Carmen Lacey, and the expansion will add 27 beds to the existing 10 in its behavioral health unit.

For now, the new eight-bed unit should more than suffice, as the hospital on average cares for four to five patients a day in its medical unit, while its behavioral health unit consistently remains at capacity.

“Primarily, the patients that we’ll be taking care of [in the new unit] have medical needs. We will have some surgical patients, postoperative patients like a gallbladder patient. We have a physician who does plastic surgery, so we may keep those overnight. Dental surgeries usually go home the same day. We have a very robust outpatient surgery program, and the majority of them go home these days. However, there are some that we keep,” Lacey said.

Additionally, the rooms in the surgical medical unit are dual-certified for acute care patients or swing-bed patients, which is a long-term care designation similar to a nursing home designation.

“For example, if someone has a knee replacement over at Watauga [Medical Center] and they need rehab for seven to 10 days postoperatively, instead of going to a long-term care unit or another rehab unit, they can come here to spend that seven to 10 days working with physical therapy here,” Lacey said.

Christy Ollis, Medical Surgical Unit Manager, expects physical rehabilitation to important service for the hospital moving forward.

“That’s going to be a really good service for outpatients who have surgery at Watauga that just need a couple of days [of rehabilitation]. We have this big, beautiful unit. We have physical therapy here. Our orthopedic surgeon is really doing a lot catching up on elective surgeries,” Ollis said.

The hospital also cares for patients who are at “end of life” and can administer comfort care or pain control. Lacey said that the hospital receives a lot of patients who are considered hospice general inpatient, or patients who have elected to have hospice in their lives or the lives of family members.

“We encourage family members to stay with their loved ones while they’re here,” Lacey said.

Each new medical room is spacious and family friendly. Family members can comfortably stay overnight in the same room with a patient by simply folding the back cushion of the couch over to easily turn it into a bed.

The new rooms has come with built-in technological capabilities that enable doctors and nurses to access a patient’s medical records and display them to the patient and his or her family instantaneously.

“If the provider wants to pull up a CT scan to show a patient or family and say, ‘we found a spot right here in the base of your lung,’ we can show them rather than just telling them. We can also do our patient education on [the new technology],” Lacey said.

Telemetry capabilities are featured in each room, allowing hospital staff to supervise patients who are in critical condition or need their heart monitored. A patient’s vital signs can also be taken without nurses needing to drag a machine from room to room.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System received $6.5 million in grant funding for the project from the Department of Health and Human Services, which was made available after the Dorothea Dix Hospital site in Raleigh sold for $52 million in 2015.

“What we’ve seen over the last several years, and this is not unique to Cannon, is that the inpatient needs for small rural hospitals for medical surgical patients are decreasing. When the Dix grant opportunity came around three years ago, what we thought the community needs and what will make us as a facility sustainable while still being able to offer medical surgical care, was to flip the beds to increase our behavioral health capacity while decreasing our medical surgical capacity, while still meeting the needs of the community,” Lacey said.

In order to go through with the project, the hospital was granted an exception from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which does not normally let a critical access hospital operate a behavioral health unit with more than 10 beds—the first one in the country.

“It’s a rather unique thing that we’re doing here,” Lacey said. “We continue to offer the same services that we’ve been offering for the past several years. We’re not decreasing any services.”

Second Primary Election teaser

Governor to announce decision of state COVID phase movement this week

RALEIGH — Governor Roy Cooper has not announced a decision regarding whether a number of businesses closed due to COVID-19 will be allowed to reopen as of press time, but has indicated that a decision will be announced within the week.

Under Cooper’s current executive order, restaurants can offer dine-in seating, and barber shops and hair and nail salons are open, but all at reduced capacity. Bars, movie theaters, bowling alleys and gyms remain closed, and Cooper has to decide whether to extend the order, which expires June 26, or modify it in some way.

During a recent media briefing, the governor said the decision will be based on science and data. He said he remained concerned by the continued uptick in cases and hospitalizations. Overall, the number of positive COVID-19 cases have exceeded 53,000 according to state health data. More than 1,220 virus patients have died since the pandemic began and almost 870 people are currently hospitalized as of June 23.

“Right now, they’re not trending in a good direction, but we still want to give this more time,” Cooper said.

Cooper and NC Department of Health and Human Resources Director Dr. Mandy Cohen continue to advocate that residents remain vigilant in practicing social distancing, as well as wearing of face coverings.

“The face covering really shows its effectiveness when many, many folks are doing that altogether,” Cohen said. Cohen and Cooper each also continue emphasizing the utilizing of the 3 W’s: wear a mask, wait six feet apart, and wash your hands frequently throughout the day and particularly when you’ve been in contact with items of concern as the best defense for containing the spread of COVID-19. Cohen said the state can still flatten the curve if it takes steps collectively.

Latest county and statewide statistics

As of Tuesday morning, June 23, North Carolina health officials report there have been a total of 53,605 lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state, according to statistics posted from NCDHHS. The state also has reported 1,220 virus-related deaths.

NCDHHS reports 870 people are currently hospitalized.

The Raleigh News & Observer newspaper reported that 1,223 individuals have died from the virus, with 53,605 cases statewide as of Tuesday morning, June 23.

The numbers reported by the newspaper, which is compiling the numbers of cases announced by counties throughout the day, vary from the daily reports provided by N.C. DHHS. N.C. DHHS has emphasized that not all people with symptoms of COVID-19 are being tested, and the numbers reported by county and state health departments do not represent the total number of people infected throughout the state.

Nationwide, Johns Hopkins University & Medicine reports a total of 2,313,445 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. as of noon on June 23, with 120,451 reported deaths and more than 640,198 individuals reported as having recovered from the virus.

A total of 757,345 tests had been completed by the N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health and reporting hospitals and commercial labs as of Tuesday morning, June 23, according to N.C. DHHS. The estimate of people who have recovered from the virus as of June 22 is 36,921, with the estimate provided each Monday by NCDHHS. NCDHHS estimates a median time to recovery of 14 days from the date of specimen collection for non-fatal COVID-19 cases who were not hospitalized, or if hospitalization status is unknown. The estimated median recovery time is 28 days from the date of specimen collection for hospitalized non-fatal COVID-19 cases.

“North Carolina is experiencing significant community spread of the COVID19 virus, and many of our metrics are headed in the wrong direction, with increased ER visits, hospitalizations increasing, and the percentage of positive tests is also high, at 10 percent,” a social media post from the Avery County Health Department on Monday, June 22 stated.

The health department also reiterated the impact of the virus upon local minority communities.

“COVID19 is hitting NC’s Hispanic/Latinx population hard. Many work in essential services and industries that our state relies upon like construction, child care, and food processing, and may not be financially able to stay home when they are sick,” the post noted.

Toe River Health District reported on Monday, June 22, that Avery County has a total of 10 positive cases, with five active and five having recovered. The department added that a total of 1,002 people had been tested in Avery County, with 949 negative results and 43 pending results. The health department conducted a pair of drive-through testing events earlier this month, one on June 9 and another on June 11.

According to TRHD, 822 people have been tested in Mitchell County, with 751 negative results, 46 results pending and 25 total positive cases (12 active, 13 having recovered). Yancey County reports 1,161 people tested, with 981 negative results, 145 results pending and 35 total positive cases (8 active, 27 having recovered).

In neighboring counties, Watauga County has 50 positive tests among residents, Caldwell County has 322 positive tests as of June 23 with four deaths, while Wilkes County has 557 reported cases and six deaths, according to NCDHHS. Ashe County has 49 cases and one death, and the department reports McDowell County with 202 cases and one death. Burke County reports 918 cases and 17 deaths attributed to the virus, according to NCDHHS.

In Tennessee, Johnson County reports 26 cases, while Carter County reports 30 cases and one death as of June 23, according to statistics from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Statewide, Mecklenburg County has reported the most cases with 9,086. Wake County is reporting 4,106 cases and Durham County reports 3,244 cases, according to June 23 NCDHHS statistics.

The reported testing numbers could be incomplete due to differences in reporting from health departments and other agencies. Sources include Toe River Health District, AppHealthCare, NCDHHS, Caldwell County Health Department and Tennessee Department of Health.

For more information on COVID-19 and the state’s response, click to covid19.ncdhhs.gov.