Two-year old Hannah and her mother Meghan waited in line to see Santa. Hannah never had been sick in her life, but in the middle of that festive holiday story time, she screamed in pain.


Care providers at the closest emergency room couldn’t pinpoint the cause. Hannah was sweaty and pale. Meghan convinced them to let Hannah stay for observation. She started screaming again at 4 a.m. A dose of morphine brought no relief. “She kept saying that her belly was cold,” Meghan recalls. Doctors called Children’s National Hospital for our rapid helicopter transport service.


“Hannah was deteriorating,” Meghan says. “I was convinced my baby wouldn't make it.”


They landed on the helipad in the dark, as snow began to fall. Dr. Evan Nadler and his team prepared for an emergency exploratory surgery they warned might last eight hours. “He was very serious,” Meghan recalls. “It could be a perforated bowel or a ruptured spleen. I begged him to save her.”


Good news arrived two hours later. Hannah would be fine. She had swallowed an unknown object that burned holes in her stomach. Dr. Nadler had repaired the damage and she’d need to spend 10 days in our pediatric intensive care unit. Four days after she went home, she was readmitted for an infection and needed an additional surgery.

“Her nurses had her room ready with a doll and books,” Meghan says. “The little things helped us get through.” Hannah went home on Christmas day with an armload of donated, wrapped gifts—a gesture that Hannah’s parents appreciated since they’d had no time for holiday shopping.


Hannah came back to Children’s National for months of follow-up appointments. “Every visit, I was blown away by the staff’s care and thoughtfulness,” Meghan says. When Hannah needed an endoscopy, Dr. Nadler was present in case she needed surgery. Other surgeons and staff checked in to make sure she was ok.


These days, Hannah is a healthy 9-year-old in third grade. She loves to sing, draw and do gymnastics. At Christmastime, “Hannah Claus” (as she calls herself) and her family collect gifts for patients at the hospital. They always make time to visit their doctors and nurses, Meghan says, “to celebrate all the miracles that happen at Children’s National.”   

A young patient at Children's National Hospital.

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A young patient at Children's National Hospital.