When nurse Autumn enters the room, young patients smile. Not only is she a talented and dedicated pediatric nurse, but she knows what they’re going through on a most personal level. At age 12, Autumn was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood cancer. ALL is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, characterized by the proliferation of immature white blood cells that make the body unable to fight infection.
Autumn’s mother, Liz Henry, was a nurse at Scott & White at the time. One night at dinner, she noticed a mass in her child’s neck when her daughter turned her head. The next day, Mrs. Henry took Autumn to the family’s physician for evaluation. The blood work revealed an elevated white blood cell count, and other tests showed that the mass in her neck was wrapped around her trachea. Although Autumn was not experiencing shortness of breath or any other symptoms, she was immediately admitted to the intensive care unit at Scott & White.
The biopsy was positive for ALL. Autumn underwent steroid therapy to shrink the tumor. She also endured a grueling schedule of chemotherapy for two and a half years, under the direction of her oncologist, Lawrence Frankel, MD. Along the way, she developed additional complications, but with the expertise of Dr. Frankel and pediatric surgeon Monford Custer, MD, she was able to overcome them as well. She also kept up with her schoolwork. Autumn feels grateful to have had a great team of caregivers who were willing to work with her school and teachers to ensure that she kept pace with her classmates. She was also impressed with the hospital’s commitment to provide for all of her needs, not just the physical ones she faced.
“It wasn’t easy, but I was fortunate because I didn’t have any neurological problems with my diagnosis, so I could stay the course with school,” she says. “I definitely had a few bumps in the road with infections and reactions to medication, but I had a wonderful group of people at Scott & White who took care of me.”
Autumn’s ties to Scott & White run deep. Her stepdad is Robert Henry, DO, medical director of the new Scott & White Westfield Family Medicine Clinic. Her mom has retired from her nursing position after more than 23 years, and her sister January Kovacevich works in the administrative office at Children’s Hospital. In addition, her brother-in-law, Kyle Kovacevich, works in Risk Management.
Many of Autumn’s childhood caregivers are still caring for children today—like nurse Barbara Baugh, who has remained a close friend and who has served as a mentor for Autumn as she pursued a career as a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) nurse at the Children’s Hospital Scott & White. “I knew I wanted to make a difference in the life of a child,” Autumn says. “It’s neat in a way to come here, to come home again. It gives me a new perspective about how to practice nursing. It makes me want to do the best possible job with the kiddos I’m treating and their families.”
Her recent 30th birthday was reason enough to celebrate her success, and a Jamaican getaway with friends did just that. “I spend a lot of time with my family and friends,” she says. “And I love what I do. The bottom line is I want to take care of kids.”