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Calling All Angels

Indianna's Story

When 14-year-old Indianna Graves recalls her time at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, she doesn't focus on missing three weeks of summer vacation or multiple blood and platelet transfusions. Instead, she remembers the people.

From Melissa Veach, R.N., bringing Indianna movies from home to Anna Taylor, child life specialist, making bracelets with her every day, Indianna's experience at the hospital seems more like a slumber party than a trip to the hospital.

Indianna Graves

"Everyone here is bursting with joy," the Maryville Junior High School student said. "They are so willing to help you. They saved my life."

This positive attitude and Indianna's reliance on faith were essential tools in her recovery from hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is caused by e. coli. At the time, Indianna was an active 7-year-old on vacation with her family in Myrtle Beach. After swimming in a pool, she became sick to her stomach and couldn't retain any food.

Her family rushed to the nearest hospital. "They just gave her medicine and sent us back," LeAnn Graves, Indianna's mother, said. "After a few days it got much worse, and Indianna was vomiting everything up again."

Instead of returning to the local hospital, the Graves family packed up the car to head back to East Tennessee. "I knew what we had to do. I told my husband, 'We're going to East Tennessee Children's Hospital,'" LeAnn said. "We drove straight for six hours and only stopped once for gas. By the time we got there, Indianna didn't have the strength to walk inside by herself."

Indianna was quickly diagnosed with acute renal failure, or kidney failure, caused by the hemolytic uremic syndrome, which had clogged her kidney's filtering system as it destroyed her red blood cells. LeAnn hadn't realized how sick her daughter was.

"When they pulled me into the hall and told me, it was like a movie," she said. "Indianna's grandfather has always been strong emotionally but began to cry. I didn't want to accept the situation, but when I saw my father-in-law's tears, I knew Indianna was a sick little girl."

For the next 21 days, Indianna was a patient in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). She had surgery to insert a pediport for dialysis, which helped control blood pressure and removed waste from her body. Because the local pediatric nephrologist was out of town, Mihail Subtirelu, M.D., from Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga drove to Knoxville to do the surgery.

LeAnn also focuses the positive force of people surrounding Indianna during this chaotic time. "Kevin Brinkmann, M.D., Bill Chesney, nursing staff development specialist, and Dr. Subtirelu didn't leave her side for three days," LeAnn said. "I knew they were exhausted, but they were wonderful about keeping us informed and taking care of her."

As she regained strength, Indianna quickly became the generous elementary school student she had been. At night, she heard a baby crying from the room next door. Indianna persuaded Chesney to wheel her to the gift shop, where she bought a rattle and stuffed animal for the infant.

"That's just who Indianna is," LeAnn said. "She has such a sincere compassion and love for life, and she just took life by the reins in this journey. She is such a leader."

As a teenager, Indianna continues to give back to the hospital that gave her so much. She donates stuffed animals and silk pillowcases to current patients, and visits whenever she can. Without any residual effects from her illness, Indianna is able to excel in dance and goes on mission trips across the country. Her experience at Children's Hospital has stuck with her, though.

"I definitely want to go into the medical or mission field and work with children," Indianna said. "My experience showed me that I want to help others in the future and make sure that they get the same care I did."

For now, a message Indianna left in the PICU will assure patients that they're in good hands. Before she left, the staff allowed her to sign the ceiling tile above her bed. Indianna left two handprints in paint on the tile and signed her name. Next to it, she wrote: "There are angels here."