Rare Caliber of Care: Elise, Redwood City

Theresa Johnston
Sunday, May 1, 2011

Four-year-old Elise Cottonaro is a spunky little preschooler with bright eyes and swingy blonde hair. She loves to sing and dance. As for her social skills, “She’s a force to be reckoned with,” says her mother, Ryann. “At the park, she has no hesitation about running up to other children and asking them to play. She’s not shy at all.”

Hard to believe that at birth, Elise was so weak she could hardly move. The cause was severe fetal anemia, brought on by a tear in the placental lining about a month before her due date. “I’d had a normal pregnancy,” Ryann recalls, “and then at around 36 weeks I was sitting at my desk at work and thought, ‘She isn’t moving as much as usual.’”

A Packard nurse encouraged the first-time mother to come in for an ultrasound, and before Ryann knew it, she was being whisked down the hall for an emergency C-section. Her husband, Mark, saw the whole thing. “I was told that looking over the curtain was okay but not recommended,” he wrote shortly after the birth. “When I saw our daughter for the first time, almost completely lifeless, I could hardly contain myself. I had to keep giving my wife words of assurance that everything was okay, to get her past the last leg of her surgery.”

Elise, just hours old, received three blood transfusions that night. She spent the next 12 days recovering in Packard’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“It felt like a lifetime then,” Ryann recalls. “But everyone was just so wonderful to us, taking us step by step. There was never any question that they didn’t know exactly what was going on. I don’t know what the outcome would have been if she had been in a different hospital.”

After Elise went home to Redwood City, her mother brought her back at regular intervals to the Mary L. Johnson Pediatric Ambulatory Care Center at Packard, where doctors checked to make sure her growth and development were on target. The only hitch came at 15 months, when Elise seemed slow to talk. “They started her in speech therapy and by the time she turned 2 she was actually ahead of the game,” Ryann says. “It was so reassuring that we had Packard looking after her in those first months.”

As a sign of their gratitude, Ryann and Mark decided to support the Hospital with a Circles of Leadership annual gift. Mark also sent a heartfelt thank-you letter to Packard CEO Christopher Dawes. “It is rare and eye-opening,” he wrote, “to see people of this caliber selflessly helping our child recover. We are eternally grateful that people such as your staff exist and are so willing to do whatever it takes, day after day, with such devotion. We owe our daughter’s life to your hospital and extraordinary staff.”