09/27/10 — Help for any child

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Help for any child

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 27, 2010 1:46 PM

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Abbigail Overfelt

Kristy Sutton listens to her daughter, Bailey, 9, describe how her foot was straightened at the Shriners' Hospital. Bailey suffered from tarsal coalition, which fused the bones in her feet together.

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Megan Sutton, 3, sits on her father's lap at the Shrine Club in Dudley. Her parents, Chad and Leigh Ann Sutton, are thankful to the Shriners who have provided care for their daughter, who has transverse myelitis.

DUDLEY -- Megan Sutton squeals with delight as she shows how she can walk with a little help from her dad.

It is a big achievement. Two years ago, the 3-year-old couldn't move anything but her neck.

Bailey Sutton, 9, who is not related to Megan, can perform demanding clogging routines. A year ago, her right foot was rolled over on its side, making simply walking difficult.

The progress both girls have made can be traced, in part, right back to Wayne County -- and a plate of fried fish.

Proceeds from the Wayne Shrine Club's fall fish sale help support the Shriners' Hospitals, where Megan and Bailey were treated. Currently, 30 Wayne County children are receiving help from the program.

This year's event is set for Friday.

In Mount Olive, the sale will be located at the vacant lot next to Roberts Machine Shop on N.C. 55. The Goldsboro location will be at Herman Park. Eat-in plates only will be available at the Herman Park Center. There will be a drive-thru as well. The cost will be $7 for a plate of fish, slaw, salad and hush puppies. A bake sale will be held in Goldsboro, too. Plates will be sold from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. at both locations.

Megan, the daughter of Chad and Leigh Ann Sutton of Seven Springs, was 7 months old and at her day care on May 28, 2008, when her family first learned something was wrong with the little girl.

"She fell over one time," Sutton said. "They set her back up, and she fell over again. She just slumped over. She wasn't responding. She wasn't acknowledging. They called me by telephone. I rushed over there and she wouldn't respond to me, wouldn't look at me."

The Suttons drove Megan to Wayne Memorial Hospital and then to Pitt Memorial Hospital at Greenville where she was seen by a neurologist.

"By 11 o'clock (that night) we knew what was wrong with her. She had transverse myelitis," Sutton said. "It is neurological in which the autoimmune system attacks the spinal cord and interrupts nerve flow and causes lesions on the spinal cord. The spinal cord swells and damages the sheath around it. It usually starts in the lower extremities and works its way up, usually very rapidly."

Megan was hospitalized at Pitt through August.

Shriner George Raecher, who along with Tom Ferrell, is co-chairman of the Wayne Shrine Club's children activities groups that handles hospital patients, found out about Megan's condition and suggested the Shriners' Hospital in Greenville, S.C.

"When this first happened, the only thing she could move was her neck and the rest of it was totally paralyzed," Sutton said.

"She was like a newborn," her mother said.

"Little by little, little things started waking up, moving a little bit and now you see... we have started on walking a little bit now," he said.

At the Shriners' Hospital, one of the doctor's objectives was to prevent Megan from developing scoliosis. Every child recovers differently from the disease, Sutton said. Megan is one of the youngest to have been seen at the hospital.

"I love (Shriners' Hospital)," Mrs. Sutton said. "It is amazing what they do. You don't have to ask for help, they just offer."

"They don't ask for money, they don't ask for your insurance card. If they stick their hand out it is just to lead you where you need to go," Sutton said.

Bailey, the daughter of Kris and Kristy Sutton of Seven Springs, suffered from tarsal coalition in which the bones in her feet were fused together over the joints. She suffers the problem in other foot, but not to the same extent and hopefully will not require surgery, her mother said.

A dancer since age 3, Bailey could only sit and watch her fellow dancers. At school, classmates helped her on the stairs and with her lunch.

Now she has no trouble running.

"I am back in dance," she said. "I did a dance solo."

Her journey back to the stage was not an easy one, Bailey said.

"I was still afraid to put it down and apply pressure (after surgery at the Shriners' Hospital). I was like I don't want to. I put my foot down. We used a walker then we moved to a cane. I was afraid something was going to happen."

Bailey had been seen by doctors in Chapel Hill, Duke and at Durham where she underwent surgery to insert a plug and defuse the bones.

"But that didn't fix the problem and her foot rolled over really, really bad," Mrs. Sutton said. "She was having a lot of pain from it. (Shriner) Harvey Stroud goes to church with my mommy and daddy. He came up to me and asked if I had ever thought about the Shriners. I said it had never even crossed my mind."

From there, she contacted Ferrell to make the arrangements.

The Suttons went to the Shriners' Hospital in Greenville in January and Bailey had her surgery in February. She was hospitalized for four days.

"No charge at all. It is awesome," Mrs. Sutton said. "When you go you keep your receipts for like your gas and they set you up with a motel room as far as with us being so far away. They paid for our motel room. We sent our gas receipts in. The whole time she was in the hospital they paid for our meals. I am probably going to cry on you. Bailey says, 'don't cry mama,' but every time I tell it....

"We were in a mess. We have always done the fish fry, but I thought you had to be a certain financial status. You don't. It doesn't matter how little money you've got or how much money you've got. If they think they can help the child, they are going to take you. If they don't think they can help the child, it is not a cut and dried thing, they are going to try and find someone who can help. It was a totally great experience."

"I thought it was really nice," Bailey added. "Mama started crying and I said, 'mama it is all worth it' when I came out surgery.' I didn't cry.'"

Mrs. Sutton recalls Bailey saying, 'look, Mama, look that is the first time I have seen my foot straight."

Mrs. Sutton said her family has already referred one little girl to the program.

"More people need to know about it," she said. "We talked a lot before I went down there. I was kind of skeptical you know. How can all this be free, but it was."

Ferrell agreed.

"People today have reason to be skeptical about things, but it is absolutely the truth, it doesn't cost a penny," he said. "The parents who want to drive, they can, though if they don't have the means, we will get them down there.

"We have men right here in Wayne County that... Ray Potter drove down there three times last week, taking children and parents three trips in seven days. No matter how many times you need to go, we will get you down there one way or the other."

Once completed the application is sent to New Bern where the Sudan Shrine headquarters is located.

"If there is not a lot of medical history, then it takes a little longer," Ferrell said. "If you pretty much have your medical history in hand, a lot of times we can bypass sending it to New Bern and send it straight to Greenville. They set up a consultation. The family will go down and meet the doctors and the doctors will assess the conditions and tell them forthright if they can help them or not.

"A lot of times they can, but in certain cases when they can't, they have ties with other hospitals for children that they can recommend that are more suitable for certain disease than the Shriners are. There is always that element of hope. They are not going to send any kid away without something positive."

The first Shriners' Hospital opened in 1928 in Shreveport, La. There are currently 22 in North America. Orthopedic, burns and cleft palates are the main areas Shriners' Hospitals work with, Ferrell said.

"It costs millions of dollars every day, but there are a lot of endowments that the hospital have, but on a local basis it is through fish fries and efforts of local clubs, donations," Ferrell said. "We had a reverse drawing not long ago to help raise money for our facility (club building) so that in turn we could help other organizations raise money by having those events out here and we actually raise money for the hospital (by renting the building)."

While proceeds from the fall fish fry go to the hospitals, proceeds from the spring fish fry go to upkeep of the Shrine Club building and local charities.

"We try to keep as much money in the county as possible," Ferrell said.

Also, proceeds from rental of the building and catering by the club at events there also support the hospitals and local charities, he said.

"There is no better feeling in the world," Ferrell said of being able to help a child. "You develop a relationship with the children, especially like George with Megan. He knows her very well and I feel I have grown to know Bailey very well. When you have that opportunity to work with a child, first of all it makes you realize how thankful you are when you have children who are healthy, but it also takes it another step further -- it almost gives you the same feeling of gratitude and hope when you can see that you have helped make a difference in a child's life."

Ferrell said he just wished more people knew about the hospitals.

"It seems despite our best effort that people are still not aware of the hospitals," he said. We don't have enough patients down there. I don't mean that in the sense that we want children to need it, but I can't help but think that with the population that we have in just Wayne County there have to be so many children that we can help if they only knew about us or if we knew about them."

For more information contact Ferrell at 919- 223-2301 or Raecher at 919- 394-3379 or 778-4124.