LYNN — Three years ago, neonatal doctors and nurses at Boston Children’s Hospital saved Autumn McCartney’s life. Each year, the family finds a way to show their appreciation.
Since Autumn’s birth, the McCartneys, mother Kristen, father Nick, and 5-year-old sister Mia, have put together an “Autumn Festival” every October, with all proceeds going to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This year, thanks to family friend Meredith Olsen, the Boston Children’s Hospital Bloodmobile will be in the Market Basket parking lot in Lynn from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 13.
Donating blood should only take half an hour, according to Olsen, and it ends with a snack. Attendees must be 17 years old, or 16 with a signed permission slip from a legal guardian. One donation can help as many as four children.
“Boston Children’s Hospital is a standalone hospital, so it’s not part of any of these health conglomerates, which means they work off of private donations,” said Olsen, a longtime nurse. “When Autumn was in the NICU, Kristen never had to pay for a copay, never paid for parking, they let their whole family stay in one of the rooms, and they made sure Mia had everything she needed so Kristen could focus on Autumn. I think it’s important for people to recognize the gift this hospital is to our community.”
Autumn was born at Winchester Hospital on Oct. 23, 2015, weighing 7 pounds, 9 ounces. The next day, she and her mother Kristen were discharged from the hospital. The McCartneys were ready to start their life as a family of four.
In her first few days at home, Autumn was struggling to eat and was slightly jaundiced. She was brought back to Winchester for a weight check and blood tests. Nick and Kristen had to wait for the results.
Soon after, the parents got a call from the doctor saying Autumn’s jaundice levels were too high and they needed to come back immediately. They pulled up to the hospital entrance and found a team of doctors awaiting their arrival.
“We got there and a team of people took her out of her car seat and rushed her in,” said Kristen McCartney. “One person from the Boston Children’s medical team came out and told me she was in the first stages of liver failure.”
Autumn had to undergo phototherapy, which involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light on a regular basis under medical supervision, and her bilirubin level was at a 29, compared to the normal level for a newborn which is 1. Bilirubin is an orange-yellow pigment that occurs normally when your red blood cells break down.
At one week old, some of the doctors thought the jaundice would go away on its own, according to Kristen. When it continued to get worse, the doctors couldn’t figure out why it was happening, even after consulting with a specialist in Italy.
“They couldn’t figure out why her bone marrow wouldn’t jump-start on its own, so she was under that blue light for days,” Kristen said. “I had to feed her through the incubator. It was horrible. My new baby was six days old and I couldn’t hold her.”
Even with the Boston Children’s team on scene at Winchester Hospital, they could not figure out what was happening with Autumn. Three days later, she was taken to Boston Children’s Hospital NICU via a middle-of-the-night ambulance ride.
Once Autumn was placed in the incubator, doctors hooked her scalp up to needles for blood transfusions, in hopes they would give her body the boost it needed to “rev up” her bone marrow, Kristen said. The doctors kept Autumn for another two days and checked her blood every two hours.
With a then-2-year-old Mia and a broken heart over what was happening with her newborn, Kristen said she didn’t sleep for what felt like days.
“It was a horror show,” she said.
On Nov. 11, the McCartneys were given the OK to go home. They expected Autumn to have hearing loss or experience developmental delays, but three years and hundreds of doctor’s appointments later, she is doing just fine.
“They have no name for her condition,” Kristen said. “It was a freak occurrence and there have been no problems since. To this day, they still have no idea why this happened.”
Looking back on it now, Kristen and her family still think of the first few weeks of Autumn’s life as a traumatic experience. But, they are beyond grateful for the care and support the entire Boston Children’s Hospital staff gave to them, she said.
Aside from ensuring all costs were covered, one staff member gave Autumn a quilt and the hospital gave the entire family food vouchers to the cafeteria.
“Not only were we getting the best medical care in the country, but they put in all their extra time, money and effort to make sure I was OK while they cared for my baby,” Kristen said.
Given the free hospital parking was a donation from a prior NICU family, Kristen said she felt inspired to help the hospital that went above and beyond for her family. They have held the Autumn Festival every year, the weekend before Halloween, since 2016.
Kristen said her family always wanted to put together a blood drive, but she never had the time or resources to put it together. When Olsen called her with the idea of bringing the bloodmobile to Lynn, Kristen said it brought tears to her eyes.
“We’re really lucky everything happened the way it did,” Kristen said. “And now, I’m just so excited for this blood drive. It’s just another way to give back to the hospital that did everything it could for my family.”