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Thea Johnson

Thea JohnsonThea Johnson... Not Your Typical Toddler

When Coretta and Theo Johnson brought their two-year-old daughter, Thea, to the Emergency Department (ED) with pneumonia in March, they didnt expect to hear a chorus of "Its Baby Johnson!"

But they weren't entirely surprised; they had practically lived at New York Methodist Hospital when Thea was born, very prematurely, at 27 weeks.

From the Emergency Department, Thea was transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), to be treated for her pneumonia, where she was greeted with equal enthusiasm. The staff all knew her from a harrowing five-month stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the PICU earlier in her short life.

Thea weighed only 2.2 pounds at birth. That, however, was the least of her problems. She had severe respiratory distress and, over time, her condition evolved into chronic lung disease. In chronic lung disease, the lungs become very fibrous as damaged
tissue is replaced by stiff, less elastic tissue, making breathing difficult.

Thea's neonatologist, Nitin Ron, M.D., used increasingly sophisticated therapies to
improve the flexibility in her lungs to allow for better ventilation. Nothing worked; her lungs remained too stiff. It didnt look like she was going to make it.

Dr. Ron reached out to Felix Khusid, RRT, director of respiratory therapy, to see what else might be done to help her. Due to the severity of her condition, Mr. Khusid suggested a non-conventional use of the volumetric diffusive respirator (VDR), a life support system that delivers a unique form of ventilation.

However, such action was nearly unprecedented and had been utilized on premature infants only in a specialized NICU in Belgium. But Thea's condition was desperate, and with the approval of Madhu Gudavalli, M.D., chief of the neonatal intensive care unit, and Thea's parents, they decided to move ahead with this innovative therapy.

The VDR expanded Theas lungs, where the previous therapies had not. Finally, after all the preparation, the baby was transitioned to the VDR and she remained on it for the next five days. A respiratory therapist stayed at her bedside around the clock to provide all the necessary advanced ventilatory support.

We were the only hospital in the tri-state area that had this very sophisticated technology. Although Thea's lungs were now able to expand adequately enough for sufficient ventilation, she received a tracheostomy to ensure successful breathing.

After more than five months in the NICU / PICU, Thea was discharged. Dr. Ron remembers, "Thea was a fighter since day one. The entire experience may have been overwhelming for another premature infant, but not for Thea."

It was her fighting spirit which was so fondly remembered when Thea was admitted
to the PICU after her March visit to the ED for pneumonia. Jane Fong, M.D., chief of pediatric critical care, says "It is not uncommon for us to see a child that has such a stormy beginning come back to the Hospital on occasion. When we saw Thea, it was
so rewarding. She was this wonderful, playful little two-year old, with her own personality and reaching all of her developmental milestones."

A Happy Four Year Old

So much has changed since Thea's story began in 2007. Her days of hospital stays, frequent doctor appointments and breathing apparatuses are over. She has overcome severe acid reflux, paralyzed vocal cords and airway reconstructive surgery. And the sleepless nights and endless hours of worry on her parent's part have passed.

Thea Johnson

Click on the Photograph to view Thea today!

Today, Thea is breathing on her own and enjoys the life of a typical four year old. Her New York Methodist medical team was by her side every step of the way – all these years. And her pediatrician will continue to be by her side to see her through a healthy, happy childhood and adolescence.

As Thea's mom, Coretta, will tell you, "At this point, Thea has no limits. All the things we were told she would never do she is now doing… she loves dancing, playing music, riding her bicycle, just everything a normal child would do."

As for Thea, she's simply looking forward to her next birthday celebration. Happy Birthday, Kiddo!


Read more about Thea Johnson in the 2009 NYM Annual Report.