A special gift
Reedsville girl receives gift of life — and more — from surgeon
Editor’s note: This is a story about a little girl, Reagan Sheetz, of Reedsville, who went through two major surgeries and developed a special relationship with her pediatric surgeon, Dr. Moira Dwyer, and how Sheetz came to acquire her pet peacocks through the process. To document the girl’s health journey, her mother, Becky, wrote in her own words, the following account.
REEDSVILLE — In July of 2015, my daughter, Reagan Sheetz, then 5 years old of Reedsville, woke up screaming from left flank pain in the middle of the night.
I rushed her the emergency room of Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital where she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and was given IV antibiotics and then some to be taken by mouth for later.
Off and on again in the months leading up to that summer night and after, she had continued to complain of pain in her left flank. We had chalked it up to pulled muscles.
Then around Thanksgiving time of the same year, another screaming incident prompted us to call our pediatrician, Dr. Paul Brahmakulam. To our dismay, he was out of town and we ended up seeing another Geisinger pediatrician, Dr. Ozhan Dedeoglu. As it turns out, “Dr. D” just happens to specialize in pediatric nephrology and this appointment ended up being a life saver for Reagan. He said she has another UTI but said that he wanted to run further tests to rule out anything more serious. He ordered a renal ultrasound and bloodwork.
The very next day he had us in his office again explaining the bad news he had found. Reagan’s left kidney was atrophied (much smaller) than a normal kidney and her right kidney had hydronephrosis (excess fluid in the kidney) and was much larger than a normal kidney. He referred us to Geisinger in Danville to have more tests done by pediatric urologists and nephrologists.
This is where Reagan met the wonderful surgeon, Dr. Moira Dwyer, who would eventually save her life. We were scheduled to go to Danville for Reagan to be put to sleep and have a nuke med renal scan and a voiding cysto-urogram done so that the specialist could see what her kidney function was and what her exact problem seemed to be.
These tests revealed that her left kidney was essentially already “dead,” only functioning at 2 percent and that is why she was having pain, her urine had no way to drain into her bladder because she had what is called a UPJ stricture (a narrowing) in her ureter, which they could plainly see on the left side.
However, the right side showed no stricture although there had to be one somewhere, they explained, because her right kidney was following the same path her left one had already taken and would eventually be “dead” as well if something was not done. It was functioning at 92 percent, but the hydronephrosis was killing it.
Surgery was scheduled for March 2016 in Danville by Dwyer. It took a while to schedule because she wanted to do the surgery laparoscopically with robot assist.
Reagan was now 6. The plan was to remove the left kidney that was causing her unbearable pain. She would cry and cry from the pain and was prescribed narcotics to handle the pain, which would in turn knock her out. It was hard to watch and surgery day could not come soon enough.
When the day finally arrived, Reagan, along with her dad and me, drove to Danville early in the morning. Dwyer did not want for Reagan to be under anesthesia for more than five to six hours. In the holding area before the surgery, Dwyer explained to us that, with our permission, she would like to start off with running a camera up Reagan’s right ureter before she began removing the left kidney. She explained that if she could find the stricture there, she would proceed to try to fix it first so that the right kidney could hopefully be saved. Of course we were fine with that as it would be a priority to try to save her only functioning kidney before it was too late.
Reagan was terribly nervous; she threw a complete fit while they were try to give her something to calm her down before taking her back to the OR. I ended up having to get all suited up and ride back on the gurney with her so she would remain semi-calm. Once the surgery began, it was about a half hour later we received a call from Dwyer.
“I found it! I found the stricture!!,” said Dwyer. “It is going to be a hard procedure to do, but I am going for it.”
She explained that the stricture was located right where the ureter hooks into the cortex of the kidney, which just happens to be right underneath her liver. It would be tight quarters to work in, but she felt confident, with the robot assist, she could do it.
One slip in the wrong direction could be bad because there are very vascular organs in this area.
Dwyer or someone from the team called us every hour for an update. Five hours passed, six, seven, eight. Finally, nine and a half hours after starting, she was done. She felt confident she had fixed it. She ran out of time to remove the left one, but this was huge.
Poor Reagan looked like she had been through a war. Her little face was all puffy and she had developed a tiny pressure ulcer on her left big toe from being in one position for so long. They had to tape her to the table to get her in the correct positioning for surgery. Once she came around a little more, she was given a popsicle and taken to her room about 7 p.m. She was pretty drowsy and slept a lot.
At about 8:30 p.m., Dwyer’s student interns rounded. Dwyer still had another surgery after Reagan’s. At 11 p.m., there was a knock on Reagan’s door, to our surprise, Dwyer came in and bee-lined to Reagan’s bedside.
She was still in her surgical scrubs and had her little blue surgical hat on started checking everything out. I could not believe how caring this surgeon was. I mean genuine, honest care. It did not matter to her that her interns had already done her rounds hours earlier, she wanted to see her patient first hand.
She changed Reagan’s pain medicine to help her pain be more controlled throughout the night and said she would be back before office hours in the morning.
True to her word, she came. She came again on her lunch and announced that she was thinking and wanted to take Reagan back to the OR for a procedure where she would place a nephrostomy tube in Reagan’s left kidney to help the urine drain out and relieve her pain until she could remove it six weeks later.
Again Reagan was placed under anesthesia and whisked away to surgery. This time they could put her right under since she already had an IV and Reagan was still pretty much out of it from the prior day’s surgery that she did not put up much of a fight.
An hour and a half later, my baby girl had a tube with a drainage bag coming out of her back. Dwyer came again in the evening. She gave us her personal cellphone number and told us to call or text her any time of the day or night. Two days later we were discharged and the next surgery was scheduled for six weeks, in May.
During the time between surgeries, someone had referred Reagan to Make a Wish. Dwyer called and explained that since she did not receive a kidney transplant yet that she did not qualify, however, Dwyer stated that she wanted to grant her a wish.
I explained this to Reagan and she stated that she wanted a peacock! Reagan has always loved peacocks. We had recently moved to a small farmette and that is what she wanted. We all had a good laugh, I never really thought Dwyer would be able to find a peacock, but little did I know what was to come.
During this time, Reagan learned to care for nephrostomy tube. She would flush it every day with our supervision and help me change the dressing once a week. Her belly had five stab wounds from the surgery and she was so worried she would look like that forever. The pain was gone because the nephrostomy tube was doing its job and keeping the urine drained out of the dead kidney.
Finally surgery day number two was here. We went to Danville the night before and stayed in a hotel so we would be there bright and early. This time, while in the surgery holding area, Dwyer came in and plopped a huge brown bag into Reagans lap as she went about busying herself with paperwork and getting signatures. Reagan opened it and gasped. There was a beautiful peacock puppet. Reagan was so happy.
As she played with it, a nurse came in and was hooking up the IV and said, “Hey Dr. Dwyer, did you tell Reagan about her surprise?” I said, “Yes, she got it, look at her gorgeous puppet!” The nurse said “Oh yes, that is very pretty, but I meant the real one.”
Dwyer got a smirk on her face and said, “Well, I haven’t asked her parents yet, but if Reagan is allowed, one of the nurses here raises poultry and it just so happens her peacock is laying on a nest of eggs right now. If Reagan is allowed, I have reserved two of them for her.”
Reagan was ecstatic.
“Of course she can!” I said.
We thanked Dwyer. What a special doctor to go out of her way and do something amazing for a little girl who has already been through so much. Dwyer thought that Reagan would be in surgery three to four hours tops this time. The plan was to remove her left kidney and ureter and nephrostomy tube, as well as a stent that was placed into the repaired kidney from the first surgery.
As the hours ticked by, we were growing concerned. At hour number six when they called us to say they were still operating, we questioned what was taking so long. They said that Dwyer would talk to us about it once she was finished. Seven and a half hours later, Dwyer appeared in the waiting room and took us into a conference room. She looked very tired. She said that she ran into some trouble during this surgery, but that everything was done and OK now.
Apparently Reagan has two vena cavas. Less than 3 percent of people have this anomaly. This was not known prior to this surgery. Reagan’s vessels bifurcate off of the duplicate one, making it hard to sort out what veins go to which organs.
Once in there, she had to dissect through all of vessels and then call in another surgeon to be absolutely sure she was cutting the correct ones. That is what took so long.
Once again, through Reagan’s hospital stay, Dwyer came several times a day herself to check on Reagan. Reagan would light up when she walked into the room.
After the surgeries, Reagan continues to be monitored every three months with a renal ultrasound and bloodwork. Dwyer and I stay in touch through frequent texts and photos. Reagan’s peacocks were hatched and we made her a huge peacock pen and outside aviary. We drove to Danville once they were old enough to be picked up. We have since added three more for a total of five. They are beautiful.
I wrote to Geisinger Medical Center and told them that under their motto of “Caring,” there needs to be a picture of Dr. Moira Dwyer, for she is that and more. She exemplifies the true meaning of caring. I was asked to do a commercial interview for the employees of Geisinger. I traveled to Danville and did a television interview about Dwyer and Reagan’s care. It was a fantastic opportunity to let the “higher ups” at Danville know what an outstanding surgeon and physician they have in Dwyer.
We received a text from Dwyer after her last set of tests on Oct. 31 of this year stating that Reagan’s bloodwork numbers are all completely normal now and her hydronephrosis of her right kidney that they thought would never go away, has resolved according to radiologist’s report. Reagan was so elated that she was doing cartwheels in her Halloween costume when I told her.
Reagan and Dwyer often get each other gifts and cards, usually peacock related. The two of them have a special bond to this day.
We essentially owe Reagan’s life to Dwyer, who has saved her from dialysis or a transplant. To see Reagan today, one would not know she has ever had an issue. She is an active 7-year-old involved in ballet and Supreme Spirit All Star Cheerleading. She is a healthy and happy little girl.