Alyssa Hennessey

Mere Moments Can Affect Survival

Alyssa Hennessey

Lori Hennessey of Jersey City kept vigil at the bedside of her 4-year-old daughter Alyssa, who lay in a coma in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (CHoNJ). Alyssa had nearly drowned after accidentally falling into her family’s backyard swimming pool.

The fear that had gripped Lori for days turned to joy at the sound of her daughter’s voice. “There she was, sitting up. There was a tube in her throat so she couldn’t talk yet, but she was crying,” Lori recalls. “I can’t describe how wonderful it was.”

Just four days earlier, Alyssa and her sister were home with her father Mark, a Jersey City police officer, eating lunch together at the kitchen table. Mark had to step out of the room for a few minutes and returned to see Alyssa was missing from the kitchen. Moments later he found her face down and motionless in the pool. He immediately called for assistance and began to perform CPR.

Paramedics rushed Alyssa to the nearest hospital, where doctors saw her lungs were seriously injured as a result of being submerged in the water. They sedated Alyssa, put her on a ventilator to help re-inflate the collapsed sections of her lungs, and prepared to transfer her to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (CHoNJ).

In near-drowning cases, factors such as the duration of submersion and how soon resuscitation begins influence a victim’s chance of survival. At CHoNJ, the team of board-certified pediatric intensivists led by Meena Kalyanamaran, MD, worked to further stabilize Alyssa, inserting tubes in her lungs to drain fluid and prescribing tests to search for any signs of neurological damage.

At CHoNJ the Hennesseys and those closest to them were encouraged by hospital staff to stay with Alyssa. “I tell everybody what a wonderful place Children’s Hospital of New Jersey is. We have a large family and lots of friends, and they were very good to all of us,” says Lori.

Alyssa Hennessey

The quick action taken by Alyssa’s father that terrible day, followed by the expert care she received during two weeks at CHoNJ, enabled her to achieve a full recovery. Alyssa has not had to return to CHoNJ for any further treatment. A school evaluation revealed that she is developmentally sound, despite her accident.

Alyssa’s accident and recovery are reminders that appropriate and timely responses can drastically change outcomes, and Lori urges everyone to learn CPR. “Accidents can happen to anyone. We were lucky,” she says.

The Hennesseys are grateful for the expert care their daughter received at CHoNJ, and the sensitivity shown to them throughout their ordeal. “The staff at Children’s Hospital was phenomenal. To know we were treated this way, and that other families are treated the same, is a great comfort.”

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