Talk to 6-year-old Scarlett McCarthy, and you’d have no idea the health battles she faced before entering the world.
How she weighed in at 1 pound, 12 ounces when she was born at 26 weeks.
How she stayed in the hospital for 10 weeks after being born.
How she relied on a feeding tube for the first three years of her life.
Scarlett, a “little spitfire,” as her mother calls her, with wispy blonde hair, is one of Penn State Children’s Hospital’s success featured as part of the telethon to benefit Children’s Miracle Network on Sunday, June 5.
Scarlett McCarthy was born at 26 weeks June 9, 2010, and weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces.
The telethon, one of Children’s Miracle Network’s largest annual fundraisers, aired on WGAL-TV. Money raised through the Children’s Miracle Network is used to fund equipment, patient programs and pediatric research. Last year, $270,000 was pledged before and during the telethon.
Scarlett’s story began in 2010. Elizabethtown resident Laurie McCarthy had a normal pregnancy with identical twin girls, Scarlett and Zoe, she told LNP recently.
But at about 19 weeks, McCarthy began to have complications.
The twins developed twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a condition where one twin takes amniotic fluid from the other one.
Around 22 weeks into her pregnancy, McCarthy was admitted to Penn State Hershey Medical Center. After about a month of bed rest, Scarlett’s heart started failing.
McCarthy decided to have the twins early after discussing options with her doctor. On June 9, 2010, she gave birth to Scarlett and Zoe. Zoe lived less than a month.
Over her first 10 weeks of life, Scarlett relied on a ventilator and feeding tube. She had surgeries on her heart and eyes.
Finally, on Oct. 11, 2010, mother and daughter were sent home from the hospital, McCarthy said.
The next few years were a battle to transition Scarlett from her feeding tube to normal eating, McCarthy said. Scarlett had developed oral aversion, a conditioned response to things being put in her throat after months on a ventilator.
It took lots of physical and occupational therapy including an intensive month-long program at Penn State Children’s Hospital in fall 2012, but Scarlett finally learned how to eat on her own.
“If you didn’t know her story, looking at her, I don’t think you would know. She has overcome most of her barriers.”
Since then, she’s faced other challenges, including getting her tonsils and adenoids removed, and undergoing routine checkups with a pulmonary doctor for chronic lung issues, McCarthy said.
“Now she’s like a perfect 6-year-old who runs and plays and goes to school,” McCarthy said. “If you didn’t know her story, looking at her, I don’t think you would know. She has overcome most of her barriers.”
“She’s a miracle, you know,” she said.
Today, Scarlett is finishing first grade at Rheems Elementary in Elizabethtown. She likes to play softball and dance.
“I want to be a ballerina when I grow up,” she told LNP recently.
And she likes to play outside with her friends and family, who include her dad, Chris, 7-year-old sister Emerson and 3-year-old brother Jack, she said.
Scarlett talks about going to a salon to get her nails painted with her mom when she turns 7 on Friday, June 9.
“Maybe purple with a design,” she said when asked what color she’ll choose.
McCarthy said Scarlett doesn’t quite understand all that she’s been through because she was so young. She remembers being in the hospital to get her tonsils and adenoids out, a procedure that is not uncommon for children but was more serious for Scarlett because they were blocking her airway.
As part of the telethon, Scarlett drew a picture for T-shirts given to people who donate $30 a month for a minimum of 12 months, or give a one-time gift of $360.
“(In the picture) I have a gown on. My doctor has her scrubs on. There’s a stethoscope,” Scarlett said.
Mother Is a Nurse
McCarthy has worked at Penn State Hershey Medical Center for 15 years.
Throughout Scarlett’s life, her work as a nurse has been a “blessing and a curse,” she said.
As a nurse, you help others in their health challenges every day, but you never think it’s going to happen to you, she said.
Her husband, Chris, is an English teacher at Manheim Township High School. He was the final editor of the Elizabethtown Chronicle, working there until it closed in 2009, and did freelance work for The Elizabethtown Advocate early in the Advocate’s existence. He had little personal experience with hospitals before Scarlett was born.
“From where she was 6, almost 7 years ago to where she is now, I don’t think I could have imagined it,” he said.
Chris and Laurie McCarthy hope Scarlett’s story is an encouragement to other families.
“The thing that amazes me the most is that Scarlett doesn’t make excuses for anything. She attacks every challenge as if she can achieve anything,” Chris McCarthy said.
“Once she realizes what she’s overcome and how inspirational she can be and she runs with it,” Laurie McCarthy said. “I think it will be awesome for other people and families who are going through this.”