For 12-year-old Hannah, Care Alliance means more time for swimming, homework and family

By Kristy Bleizeffer Aug 20, 2018

Hannah Howe, 12, was born with complex congenital heart disease and receives specialized care at Children's Hospital Colorado in Denver several times a year. A new Care Alliance will help her and her family get more care in Casper.

At 2 months old, while waiting for her first round of immunizations at her pediatrician’s office, Hannah Howe turned the color of a plum.  Her doctor instructed her mother, Kara Howe, to get her to Wyoming Medical Center, and he’d start arranging for an emergency flight to Denver.

Jack Wold describes how the collaboration between WMC and Children‘s Colorado benefitted two of his children when he lived in Casper. He spoke a press conference on Aug. 14 at Wyoming Medical Center.

Hannah underwent cardiac surgery at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and the doctors there saved her life. Since then, Hannah, now 12 years old, has travelled to Denver several times a year for tests, many surgeries and follow-up appointments, and other care by Children’s network of pediatric specialists.

“Some of those visits are for things as simple as a 30-minute exercise test, or an echocardiogram that takes 15 minutes,” said Kara Howe. “Being able to save a couple of bucks on travel, lodging, meals and those things would be amazing.”

A new Care Alliance between Wyoming Medical Center and Children’s Hospital Colorado is designed help families do just that.

“This alliance will streamline the coordination of care between our organizations to ensure the right care, at the right time, at the right location,” said Michele Chulick, President and CEO of Wyoming Medical Center and press conference announcing the alliance.

“Expanding access to specialized pediatric services and coordinating care close to home means that our physicians and staff, along with Wyoming residents, can benefit from the expertise available at Children’s Colorado without the need to travel hundreds of miles.”

The two hospitals have formed a steering committee to study which pediatric services are most needed in Casper and around the region. Over the next few months, WMC and Children’s Colorado will work to:  

  • Increase access to specialty pediatric outreach clinics through in-person visits and telehealth technology.
  • Elevate care for children and babies at Wyoming Medical Center by sharing clinical guidelines, coordinating treatment plans and offering clinical training.
  • Supporting care coordination for neonates and children of Casper region between WMC, Children’s Colorado and referring providers

The alliance is not a merger, joint venture or economic partnership. It is a collaboration by two independent organizations in order to elevate care for children in Casper and Wyoming. Children’s Colorado is recognized as one of the country’s top pediatric hospitals.

“Children’s Colorado has a long history of serving children in Wyoming, and this care alliance will further solidify that commitment,” said Jena Hausmann, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital Colorado.  “We believe children across the region should be able to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of our pediatric experts regardless of where they choose to receive care.”

Kara and Hannah Howe pose at a press conference on Aug. 14 at Wyoming Medical Center.

Hannah, who starts seventh grade at CY Middle School in September, was born with complex congenital heart disease. Among other defects, her aorta and pulmonary arteries are connected to the wrong places in her heart, and her pulmonary vein was missing. She was able to get oxygen her first couple of months from a small duct connecting the aorta to the pulmonary vessel that typically closes shortly after birth.

At home, baby Hannah slept no more than 15 to 30 minutes at a time and would only nurse for 5 minutes, Kara said. She didn’t seem to be gaining weight and would get so cold whenever she wasn’t clothed and wrapped that she hated baths. Kara felt like something was wrong.

In the pediatrician’s office for her immunizations, staff undressed Hannah so she could be weighed. Hannah erupted in a vigorous cry, which closed the vessel that typically closed at birth. All at once, the abnormal connections in her heart could not circulate oxygenated blood, and she turned purple.

Since, Hannah has been under the care of several pediatric specialists at Children’s Colorado: Cardiologists, pulmonologists and GI specialists. She’s had several heart surgeries, some of which meant staying in Denver for weeks – away from her big sister, friends and other family. While she has been able to see some of her doctors at outreach clinics in Wyoming, she and her mother have spent thousands of hours away from home. 

While most surgeries and some procedures will have to be done at Children’s Colorado, this alliance will allow more children to get follow-up appointments, tests and check-ups in Casper. That means more time for Hannah to do the things she loves such as swimming, jumping on her trampoline and hanging out with her best friend – a girl she met through Make A Wish.

Plus, it will make it easier for the honor student to stay on the honor roll: “I miss a lot of school. I can get caught up, but it takes a while because I am gone so much,” Hannah said. “This will help a lot.”