A Surgical Journey: Highlights
Over two decades, Children's patient Dulcie Valusek would undergo nearly 30 surgeries and hospital stays. View the video above to learn more about her journey or read the full story.
- "The first surgery took place about five days after we received her and they removed her bladder, which was on the outside of her body and he also removed one of her kidneys and that was the beginning of the journey," says Kathy Valusek, Dulcie's mom. Dulcie has had approximately 30 surgeries now.
- What had made these surgeries bearable? "It's that feeling that they really care about you, that you're not just a number, you're not just someone who's on the schedule. And when they remember things, stupid little things. It surprises me that they remember something like that or how is school going and they know what school it is. It's shocking to me and it feels really nice. It feels like you're coming back to a place that knows you and knows your little quirks and you know them," says Dulcie.
A Surgical Journey: The Full Story
Making surgery the best it can be
Kathy Valusek thought her experience as a nurse would prepare her for the arrival of her 19-month-old adopted daughter from Korea in 1991. She had been told that Dulcie had a bladder extrophy – a rare birth defect that causes lower organs to develop outside the body – but she could never have imagined the long and difficult path ahead.
"When we received her at the airport, we realized that she was one very sick baby," says Kathy. "We drove straight to Children's. It was very scary."
Within five days of her arrival, Dulcie underwent major surgery to begin the arduous process of reconstructing and realigning her vital organs. Over the next two decades, there would be nearly 30 surgeries and hospital stays – oftentimes lengthy – at Children's.
A bigger space for better care
In the early days, Dulcie recalls that the operating room seemed small. There was little privacy, especially when she and her parents consulted with her doctors. She sometimes shared a room with as many as three other children and their families. Her parents had a recliner chair for those overnight stays.
How does Children's surgery center of today compare to its previous space? "It's like comparing Delaware to Texas," says David Vandersteen, MD, pediatric urologist at Children's and Dulcie's surgeon for the past decade.
Large operating rooms easily accommodate modern equipment and technology. Combined pre/post-operative rooms allow parents to stay with their child before and after surgery, without having to move. High-tech communications systems keep staff in better touch with families during surgery.
Dr. Vandersteen credits Dulcie with helping influence Children's recent redesign of its patient rooms and public spaces. As part of the Patient Advisory Council, Dulcie voiced the needs of Children's patients that led to spacious new private patient rooms – large enough for family members to stay nearby – as well as private consultation areas and brighter, welcoming reception areas.
The people make the difference
The real beauty of Children's, however, says Kathy, are the people inside. "One of the waiting room volunteers has been there for every one of Dulcie's surgeries," she says. "The nurses are incredible. I feel comfortable that I can turn over to them the greatest gift I have in my world and they will take good care of her."
Adds Dulcie: "Children's truly cares about you. When someone knows your name right off the bat, or actually sits down talking to you, it just feels nice."