St. James Elementary School principal Felisa McDavid and her husband, Ray, were crushed when their son, Treylind, arrived stillborn.
Every year on her stillborn son’s birthday, Felisa McDavid blesses an unsuspecting mother and her newborn son with a gift bag full of baby items.
McDavid’s son, Treylind, was delivered on Sept. 26, 2001, in a hospital near Charleston, her hometown. McDavid and her husband, Ray, were crushed when he arrived stillborn.
“I had a couple of miscarriages before we conceived him,” says McDavid, now a Forestbrook resident. “Losing him left me very distraught, of course. And I was not able to conceive after that; I’ve not been able to have children.”
As she mourned the loss of her son, friends and family tiptoed around her wounded heart. She couldn’t bear to hear about other pregnancies or deliveries, attend baby showers or share in the joys of other mothers with newborns. She steeped in grief for years.
“It’s been quite a process to get to the point where I could even talk about it,” she says. “Even members of my family were reluctant to tell me about their pregnancies.”
The McDavids desperately wanted children after they married on June 20, 1998.
An educator with a love for youngsters, McDavid has worked with children for 28 years. She now serves as the principal at St. James Elementary School in Myrtle Beach.
After several miscarriages, the loss of Treylind following a full-term pregnancy left the couple bereaved and broken.
Felisa McDavid questioned how losing her son fit into God’s plan for her life. She asked God for direction on how to deal with the void and her feelings of hopelessness.
Although others in her situation might have chosen to adopt a child or give to charities, McDavid says she didn’t feel led in either of those directions.
Instead, she was pulled somewhere else – to the hospital where she’d lost her son.
“I wanted to know what I could do about this void,” she says. “I’m always trying to give back, and I’ve always loved children.
“God spoke to my heart. He wanted me to revisit the hospital where I’d lost my child. While I was there, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to give something to one of these children?’”
As difficult as it was to walk into the nursery that first time since losing her son two years before, McDavid knew it was exactly where she needed to begin healing.
On the third anniversary of her son’s death, McDavid brought a gift bag to the hospital and gave it to a woman who had given birth the day before.
“We talked and I shared with her my experience,” McDavid says. “I had the gift in my hand. I asked her if she’d receive the gift. She said, ‘Yes, and thank you.’ I cried. She cried.”
A ministry was born.
The following year, McDavid, who moved to Horry County in 2003, reached out to the team at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital to tell her story and explain her interest in continuing her work at the hospital.
“They just received me so well,” she says. “The nursing team made me feel good about what I was doing.”
Her visit in September 2019 marked the 14th year McDavid has stopped by Tidelands Waccamaw on the anniversary of her son’s stillbirth to deliver a gift bag filled with rattles, bibs, onesies, stuffed toys and other items.
Every bag also contains an inspirational message from McDavid about the loss of her son and how the gift bag is a way to honor his memory by blessing another child.
Susan Follrod, a charge nurse at Tidelands Waccamaw, works with McDavid and the hospital’s labor and delivery team to arrange the gift deliveries year after year. Follrod also knows McDavid in her role as principal at St. James Elementary, where Follrod’s children attend school.
“It demonstrates that tremendous good can come from tremendous loss.”
“I am amazed and humbled by Felisa and her faith, as well as the way she turned a tragedy into a blessing for others,” Follrod says. “It’s truly inspiring. I feel very fortunate knowing her, and how lucky the students, parents and staff of St. James Elementary are to have her as their principal.”
Shelly Laird, director of women and children’s services at Tidelands Health, says McDavid’s efforts speak to the resiliency of the human spirit and helps raise awareness about the tremendous impact of losing a child.
“I was touched to hear about it,” Laird says. “It demonstrates that tremendous good can come from tremendous loss.”
One mother’s loss is another mother’s blessing
For McDavid, the most rewarding part of her mission is the opportunity to meet the mother and infant who will receive her gift bag.
“There’s a connection I make to each child every year, and I pray for them on that day,” she says.
McDavid believes God allowed her loss so she could minister to others experiencing the pain she knows all too well. When a friend lost her child a few years ago, McDavid used her experience to offer comfort and support.
“I know the Lord does things for a reason,” she says. “I’ve gone through this process so I can help others. It truly makes me feel good that I can bless another mother.
“And actually, it blesses me more than I can ever bless them.”
MyCarolinaLife.com is a news service of Tidelands Health.
India Hardy has lived with pain since she was a toddler — ranging from dull persistent aches to acute flare-ups that interrupt the flow of her normal life.
The pain is from sickle cell disease, a group of genetic conditions that affect about 100,000 people in the U.S., many of them of African or Hispanic descent.
Sitting in the afternoon heat on her mom’s porch in Athens, Georgia, Hardy recollected how a recent “crisis” derailed her normal morning routine.
“It was time for my daughter to get on the bus, and she’s too young to go on her own,” Hardy recalled. “I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk. So, she missed school that day.”
Sickle cell disease affects red blood cells, which travel throughout the body carrying oxygen to tissues. Healthy red blood cells are shaped like plump and flexible doughnuts, but in people with sickle cell disease, the red blood cells are deformed, forming C-shaped “sickles” that are rigid and sticky.
These sickle-shaped cells can cause blockages in the blood vessels, slowing or even stopping normal blood flow. An episode of blockage is known as a sickle cell “crisis” — tissues and organs can be damaged because of lack of oxygen, and the patient experiences severe spells of pain.
‘It’s Like Torture’
Hardy tries to manage these crises on her own. She’ll take a hot bath or apply heating pads to try to increase her blood flow. Hardy also has a variety of pain medications she can take at home.
When she has exhausted those options, she needs more medical help. Hardy would prefer to go to a specialized clinic for sickle cell patients, but the closest is almost two hours away, and she doesn’t have a car.
So, Hardy often goes to the emergency room at nearby St. Mary’s Hospital for relief. Until recently, the doctors there would give her injections of the opioid hydromorphone, which she says would stop her pain.
Then, some months ago, the emergency room changed its process: “Now they will actually put that shot in a bag which is full of fluids, so it’s like you’re getting small drips of pain medicine,” Hardy said. “It’s like torture.”
It’s the same for her brother, Rico, who also has sickle cell disease and has sought treatment at St. Mary’s. The diluted medicine doesn’t give the same pain relief as a direct injection, they say.
Striking A Balance
St. Mary’s staffers explain that they’re trying to strike a balance with their new treatment protocol between adequate pain treatment and the risk that opioid use can lead to drug dependence.
It’s a local change that reflects a national concern. The U.S. is in the midst of an addiction and overdose crisis, fueled by powerful opioids like hydromorphone. That crisis has made medical providers more aware of the risks of administering these drugs. More than 47,000 Americans died in 2017 from an overdose involving an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That has prompted some emergency room leaders to rethink how they administer opioid medications, including how they treat people, such as Hardy, who suffer from episodes of severe pain.
“We have given sickle cell patients a pass [with the notion that] they don’t get addicted — which is completely false,” said Dr. Troy Johnson, who works in the emergency room at St. Mary’s. “For us to not address that addiction is doing them a disservice.”
Johnson proposed the ER’s shift to intravenous “drip delivery” of opioids for chronic pain patients because of personal experience. His son has sickle cell disease, and Johnson said he has seen firsthand how people with the disease are exposed to opioids when very young.
“We start creating people with addiction problems at a very early age in sickle cell disease,” Johnson said.
He brought his concerns to the director of the ER, Dr. Lewis Earnest, and found support for the change. Hospital officials say they also consulted national guidelines for treating sickle cell crises.
“We’re trying to alleviate suffering, but we’re also trying not to create addiction, and so we’re trying to find that balance,” Earnest said. “Some times it’s harder than others.”
St. Mary’s says the new IV-drip protocol is for all patients who come to the emergency room frequently for pain, and most of their sickle cell patients are fine with the change.
Caught In The Crossfire
The national guidelines cited by St. Mary’s also say doctors should reassess patient pain frequently and adjust levels of opioids as needed “until pain is under control per patient report.”
Some people who work closely with sickle cell patients, upon hearing about the new approach to pain management at St. Mary’s, called it “unusual.”
“When individuals living with sickle cell disease go to emergency departments, they are living in extreme amounts of pain,” said Dr. Biree Andemariam, chief medical officer of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America.
It’s more common for ERs to give those patients direct “pushes” of pain medication via injection, she noted, not slower IV drips.
People with sickle cell disease aren’t fueling the opioid problem, Andemariam said. One study published in 2018 found that opioid use has remained stable among sickle cell patients over time, even as opioid use has risen in the U.S. generally.
“If anything, individuals with sickle cell disease in our country have really been caught in the crossfire when it comes to this opioid epidemic,” Andemariam said.
She suggested that ER doctors and nurses need more education on how to care for people with sickle cell, especially during the painful crisis episodes, which can lead to death.
A study of some 16,000 deaths from 1979 to 2005 related to sickle cell found that men in the group lived to be only 33, on average. Women didn’t fare much better, living to an average age of 37. The same study suggested that a lack of access to quality care is a factor in the short life spans of people with sickle cell disease.
Researchers who study sickle cell say the opioid epidemic has made it harder for patients with the condition to get the pain medication they need. The American College of Emergency Physicians is focusing on the problem, asking federal health officials to speak out about sickle cell pain and fund research on how to treat it without opioids.
“We in the physician community are looking for ways to make sure they get adequate pain relief,” said Dr. Jon Mark Hirshon, vice president of the group. “We recognize that the process is not perfect, but this is what we’re striving for — to make a difference.”
Considering A Move To Find Relief
In the meantime, India Hardy said she feels those imperfections in the process every time she suffers a pain crisis, and she’s not alone.
In addition to her brother, Hardy said she has another friend in Athens with sickle cell disease, and that friend has also reported difficulty in finding pain relief at the St. Mary’s emergency room.
“It’s just really frustrating, because you go to the hospital for help — expecting to get equal help, and you don’t,” Hardy said, her voice breaking. “They treat us like we’re not wanted there or that we’re holding their time up or taking up a bed that someone else could be using.”
Hardy filed a complaint with the hospital but said nothing has changed, at least not yet. She still gets pain medication through an IV drip when she goes to the St. Mary’s emergency room.
At this point, she’s considering leaving her relatives and friends behind in Athens to move closer to a sickle cell clinic. She hopes doctors there will do a better job of helping to control her pain.
This story is part of a partnership that includes WABE, NPR and Kaiser Health News.