The first time Chaplain Steve came to CHOC Children’s, he had just found out his daughter Catie needed an emergency neurosurgery. Now, he’s back for good― as the newest chaplain on CHOC’s spiritual care team.
Ever since pre-school, Catie had experienced difficulties with body awareness, some motor skills, coordination, attentiveness in school and other challenges that didn’t seem to fit her developmental stage.
For five years, Steve and his wife Claudia explored everything: psychiatry, ophthalmology, behavior modification, medication, coaching, neurofeedback and more. Finally, when she was 8 years old they advocated for a referral to a pediatric neurologist, rule out the possibility that there was something wrong with her brain. Even though Catie didn’t show any of the physical symptoms typically associated with a mass in her brain, such as headaches, seizures, fainting or major motor problems, their neurologist ordered an MRI just to be safe.
After five years of trying new therapies and hitting dead ends, Steve and Claudia didn’t know what to expect from Catie’s MRI results, or if they were finally about to get answers.
Catie’s scans revealed that she had a large arachnoid cyst in her brain. The fluid-filled sac measured 10 centimeters, about the size of a baseball.
“I was in shock” Steve says of the moment his wife called him with the results. “I remember exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing at that time. I remember begging my wife, “Please tell me you’re kidding. Please tell me you’re kidding.”
“He told us that this was serious, but that they were going to take care of it right away,” Steve recalls. “He explained very clearly what he was going to do to drain the cyst and how he was going to do it.”
Steve and Claudia didn’t understand how a cyst could have been growing for years inside her skull undetected.
“Although Catie hadn’t yet shown physical side effects, she inevitably would have begun to decompensate, which would’ve greatly increased her risk of injury,” said Dr. Loudon.
Since Catie is the oldest child in her family and the first to undergo a major surgery, her parents were naturally worried, about everything from anesthesia to recovery
“Dr. Loudon told us that he would care for our daughter as if she were his own child,” Steve says. “Since working at CHOC, I’ve heard him tell other families in the emergency department the same thing. I know that he means it every time.”
Dr. Loudon performed a series of surgeries to open the cyst and allow it to drain internally, a procedure known as endoscopic cyst fenestration. He made a small cut in her skull and then punctured a tiny hole on either side of the cyst to allow the fluid to drain internally over a period of time.
Dr. Loudon’s commitment to Catie’s safety was deeply appreciated by her parents.
“I saw the way his team acted, and how they interacted with my daughter,” Steve recalls. “Dr. Loudon takes his job very seriously and he goes after the problem. We knew she was in good hands.”
With every hospital stay, Steve found that his own natural instinct was to offer support to other parents, whether it be in the waiting room or the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). By this point, Steve had been a chaplain in a hospice setting for six years.
“Even while we were the ones receiving care, my first reaction was always to rush to other families in need, but since I was there as a parent, there was only so much I could do,” he says.
Now that Chaplain Steve has officially joined the spiritual care team at CHOC, he is able to offer spiritual and emotional support to patients and families.
“I have my own beliefs and faith traditions, but these come secondary to what a family needs in a time of crisis,” Steve says.
Today, Catie is a high school student who loves science, space and kids. She hasn’t been hospitalized since her last surgery, although a few years ago she came back to CHOC with a broken foot that she got “pretending to be a ninja,” as her dad says. She still treasures the Choco bear that she received when she was a patient, but sometimes loans him to her little brother if he’s feeling under the weather.
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- Daniel, a CHOC volunteer, shares his story beginning with his experience as a neurosurgery patient at CHOC.