11/14/04 — Remembering the 'Merryfield baby'

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Remembering the 'Merryfield baby'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 14, 2004 2:08 AM

Eighteen years after being born at Wayne Memorial Hospital, LaNell Merryfield didn't expect to be recognized when she toured the nursery as part of clinical training with her high school class.

But she was.

Nurse Gray Eason said she only hesitated a moment before approaching the Spring Creek High School senior.

"I said, 'Honey, you look so familiar,'" she said.

"When she told me her name, I like to fell out."

She had also seen LaNell several times over the years while working at Goldsboro Pediatrics.

Other nurses soon gathered around to remember the "Merryfield baby," born in their midst on Nov. 11, 1986.

"She had such a rare procedure," recalled nurse Diane Thomas. "We were all reading everything we could on it."

LaNell, the middle child of Ronald and Rose Merryfield of Dudley, was born with heart and lung problems. She was immediately put on 100 percent oxygen and the respirator.

Within a few hours after birth, LaNell was transferred to Greenville, where her condition was found to be too critical for the neonatal unit there. An experimental procedure was suggested, Mrs. Merryfield said, but there were only three hospitals in the country that did it.

"One was in California, another in New Orleans, and one in Washington," she said.

Getting a jet to transport the baby was the next step. At 2 days old, the baby was flown to Washington.

"She got there and her lungs had collapsed four times," Mrs. Merryfield said.

The artificial heart and lung procedure, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, was done.

It entailed severing LaNell's carotid artery on her right side in order to hook her up to the machine.

Mrs. Merryfield said doctors told the family having infants on the ECMO for more than five days was risky. LaNell had to be on it for eight days.

"It was like a nightmare," her mother recalls. At one point, the infant experienced bleeding from the brain, one of the risks of being on the machine.

Despite being full-term at birth, LaNell only weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces. Doctors suggested she might have experienced a form of stress during the second trimester.

LaNell stayed in the Washington hospital 13 days before being flown back to Wayne Memorial, where she remained for eight more days.

Once released, she stayed hooked up to an oxygen and apnea monitor for the next eight months.

Her mother says LaNell frequently experienced breathing problems as a baby. They eventually became more controllable. Today she only has occasional problems.

Mrs. Merryfield firmly believes her daughter's life is a gift.

"When she was 12 months old, we took her to Greenville for evaluation," she said. "LaNell was up and walking around, just a happy little baby.

"The doctor came in, thought he had the wrong room, and walked out. ... A little while later, he came in and told us he didn't believe in God, but said 'something of a higher power has definitely been in control of your daughter's life. I didn't expect to see a child up and walking around after going through this.'

"My husband said, 'God has had His hand on her.'"

Mrs. Merryfield said she has learned that 96 percent of the children that went on the ECMO during that era wound up with some sort of handicap.

"LaNell fell into the 4 percentile of those that didn't," she said.

"The statistics were just mind-boggling," Nurse Thomas said. "I'm so glad to see her now."

Now that LaNell has grown up, she is considering a profession that may lead her to help other children with medical problems.

For all four years of high school, LaNell has taken health classes under teacher Pam Lewis. Mrs. Lewis was also a nurse at Wayne Memorial Hospital when LaNell was born.

"I remembered her as soon as I heard her name" in class four years ago, she said.

LaNell will complete her clinical training soon and, along with other students in the program, take the exam in December to become a certified nursing assistant.

LaNell says she wants to become a pediatric nurse. She plans to attend Wayne Community College after graduation for further training.

She says she can't say she made the choice because she remembers anything about her own care while in the hospital, but she did feel drawn to the profession.

"When I was little, my mom would take me to the doctor's office and I used to wonder what nurses did," she said. "I was kind of curious about it."

She said that when it came time to put the classroom lessons into practice in the field, she knew she had made the right choice.

"Going into this, I didn't know how challenging it was going to be," she said. "When I got to the hospital and the nursing home, I enjoyed it."