Lawnwood makes pediatrics a priority

Pediatrician Giraldo Cepeda

Pediatrician Giraldo Cepeda examines patient Leighton Pressley at Lawnwood Medical Center & Regional Heart Institute, whose services for patients include the only pediatric emergency room on the Treasure Coast.

Hospital features only pediatric ER on the Treasure Coast


It was every mom’s nightmare. Harper Johansen, just 27 months old in July, raced across the room, slipped and went down with a crash, slamming her little head hard on the tile floor.

“At first she seemed all right,” her mother, Katie Johansen said. “We watched her for a while and then she seemed sleepy. But then she threw up, and we left for the pediatric emergency room at Lawnwood.”

Sleepiness and vomiting are two cardinal signs of concussion. Already aware of that, the child’s mother was immediately prepared to gather up her little girl and make a run for it if necessary. At Lawnwood, Harper was examined and tested. “They did a CT scan to check for bleeding, but there was none,” she said.

The doctors concluded that Harper had a concussion, but didn’t need to stay in the hospital overnight.

Johansen, who lives in the Tradition community in western Port St. Lucie, bypassed two closer hospitals on that July day to go to Lawnwood because an earlier visit, when Harper was ill from a virus, had convinced her that “that was going to be where we’d go from then on,” she said.

Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute in Fort Pierce is the only hospital on the Treasure Coast with an emergency room specifically for children. Staffed with pediatric specialists, it comes with child-sized gowns and equipment, colorful, child-friendly furnishings and walls, and a backup of pediatric specialists in 14 areas of expertise, including anesthesia, cardiology, critical care, neurology and neurosurgery, plastic surgery and more.

The children’s ER, which opened in June 2014, was an immediate hit, said chief executive officer Greg Lowe, with thousands of patients coming as word got out to families.

“Families no longer have to travel outside of the Treasure Coast to find these services for children,” Lowe said, “This is a growing area with more children as we grow and this made pediatric services a priority. We pride ourselves in taking care of the smallest, as well as the sickest, in our community.”

In fact, the ER for children was so successful that it expanded from 11 beds to 13 private rooms, 6 months after it opened. The nearest ER dedicated to children, other than Lawnwood, is 60 miles away in western Palm Beach County.

“I first took my daughter to Lawnwood’s ER for children when she was almost 2,” Johansen said. “She was dehydrated from the effects of a virus and they put her on an IV and admitted her for overnight. My first impression of the ER that day was of bright colors and Finding Nemo characters and a television with cartoons was on for those who could watch it.”

As an anxious mom, Johansen was happy to discover that the doctors and nurses were right there in front of her. “It was huge to me that I could poke my head out and talk to someone at the nurses’ station, and the doctor could just stop in and talk for a minute and let me know what was going on. It made me feel comfortable.”

Lowe, father of four active little boys, has been a strong advocate for increased children’s health services since he became CEO of the hospital in December 2013.

“As a parent, I know I need to feel comfortable and trust in our medical community,” he said. “The safety of my boys is always a concern as they grow. To hear some of the parents tell their stories can just bring tears to your eyes.”

Lawnwood has the whole package of children’s services, from newborns to adolescents. “Most hospitals don’t have all these pediatric specialists,” Lowe said.

Mothers, like Katie Johansen, can deliver their babies at Lawnwood, knowing that if there are any problems there is a level two neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), plus a level three NICU that can handle extremely high risk newborns.

While there is another level two in St. Lucie County, there is no other level three in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River or Okeechobee counties. Before Lawnwood’s level three opened in December 2013, the closest options were hospitals in West Palm Beach or Orlando.

“When our emergency room for children opened, we hired a whole team — physicians, physician assistant, nurse practitioner,” Lowe said. “We’re always assessing our needs and planning ahead for growth. We’re also always looking to recruit those pediatric specialists who help us to put the patient first.”

Dr. Julia Retureta, assistant medical director of the pediatric emergency room, said the doctors and nurses who staff a pediatric ER must be specially trained. “Children are not little adults,” she said. “They can have different diseases from adults, or diseases present differently from the way they present in adults. Doses of medicine are different, equipment sizes are different. Pediatrics is its own little world.”

Retureta said she knew she wanted to go into pediatrics when she was still in high school. Children are special, she said. “No disease they have is their fault. They are trusting, they are just the best. There is nothing like a pediatric patient. When an intervention is successful, I think to myself that this patient is why I was here today.”

Word of the emergency department for children has spread among Treasure Coast parents, she said. “The mom network (word-of-mouth networking) is well educated and I know moms have conversed on social media.”

Babies who need level three care are transferred to Lawnwood from other Treasure Coast counties, said Lawnwood spokeswoman Ronda Wilburn. A specially trained neonatal transport team can move critically ill infants to Lawnwood from other regional hospitals.

Children in need of intensive care but who are no longer babies go from the pediatric emergency room to the pediatric intensive care unit, or PICU. Having a child in a hospital is a nerve-racking experience for most parents. But at Lawnwood, both parents and children are looked after by a child-life specialist who provides emotional support, helps to make sure parents are kept up to date and works to reduce the child’s anxiety.

Lawnwood also has a general 16-room pediatric unit for children who are sick but don’t require intensive care. The rooms have accommodations for parents.

“When you walk onto this special floor dedicated to our youngest patients, it reflects a jungle theme that is child-friendly, bright and cheerful for those spending time here at Lawnwood. We believe your child should feel that their room is special, making what can be an uncomfortable experience into one that feels a little brighter,” hospital spokeswoman Wilburn said. “Our computers on wheels are actually in the shape of jungle animals.”

Lawnwood has pediatric specialists on staff and others who are available when needed. The attending physician in the ER consults with the appropriate specialist first, but the specialist comes to the patient if needed. “Most hospitals don’t have all these pediatric specialists,” Lowe said.

When a child is ready to leave the hospital, parents have help making the transition to home. A social worker will assist in finding home care, arranging for medical equipment or locating a facility suitable for the child, if needed.

“Our emergency department and children’s services unit has been a fantastic success,” Lowe said. “And we’re always planning ahead, watching the growth, and thinking about what we need to do a year, three years, five years from now.”


Anesthesia, Cardiology, Critical Care, Endocrinology, Gastroenterology, General Surgery, Hematology/Oncology, Neonatology, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Ophthalmology, Plastic Surgery, Urology

24-hour Holter Monitors, Birthing Center, Child Life Specialist, Conscious Sedation, CT Scan, NICU, Level III & II, Outpatient Electroencephalogram, Outpatient Electrocardiogram, Outpatient MRI, Pediatric Emergency Department, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Pediatric Pulmonary Function Test, Pediatric Rehabilitation — speech, physical and occupational

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