Since 2002, Nicki Cartier has had a close relationship with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. She describes Connecticut Children’s as a “home away from home,” which makes perfect sense, given the amount of time she has spent there over the years, and the deep connections with staff she has made along the way.
Nicki was first brought to the Emergency Department in March of her kindergarten year with what seemed like the flu. Nicki’s parents thought they would be in and out of the hospital with a quick check-up and prescription for antibiotics. After doctors examined Nicki, they realized she was much sicker than her family originally anticipated. A polyp in her intestine had burst, causing a rare bacterial infection to spread throughout her body. She was rushed into her first emergency surgery, which lasted 22 hours. Doctors described her situation as “one-in-a-million” and worked relentlessly to stabilize Nicki, as she returned to the operating room each day for two weeks to fight the infection.
Doctors cautioned Nicki’s parents that they faced a long and difficult road ahead. Nicki spent the next five months in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Connecticut Children’s on life support as doctors continued to work to repair damages from the initial infection. Nicki lost a kidney, two-thirds of her diaphragm, her upper leg muscle, and her lower back muscle. As she slowly recovered and gained strength, she was moved to an inpatient floor and began countless hours with physical and occupational therapists to regain vital skills, including speaking, eating, sitting, standing, and writing, with hopes of eventually going home and returning to a more normal life. Despite the severe muscle loss in her leg, Nicki was able to defy expectations and, through extensive physical therapy, was able to train other muscles to compensate for those she lacked in order to walk.
After 225 consecutive days at Connecticut Children’s, Nicki was able to go home.
Spending seven months in the hospital is not typical for any patient, much less a 5-year-old, but the compassionate nurses, doctors, physical and occupational therapists and other clinical personnel at Connecticut Children’s supported and cared for Nicki and her family through each day.
“My experiences at Connecticut Children’s were some of the toughest parts of my entire life and I wouldn’t wish that upon any other child, but it has also changed my life for the better and changed my whole perspective on life, which is something I am incredibly grateful for,” Nicki said. “Every day is truly a blessing,”
Nicki has remained close with staff at the Medical Center, and she and her family have sought to give back to Connecticut Children’s over the years – sharing Nicki’s story at numerous fundraisers to benefit patient care. “They saved my life and the only way I know how to return the favor is to spread awareness of the amazing work they do there, in hopes of other little boys and girls being able to receive the same quality care I received when I was sick,” Nicki said.
In 2007, Nicki was selected as the Connecticut Champion for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, an honor that recognizes patient ambassadors who advocate for their local children’s hospitals. This was also the first year that Nicki was invited to attend HuskyTHON, an 18-hour dance marathon organized and led by students at the University of Connecticut (UConn). Looking back at her first HuskyTHON experience, Nicki recalls “As a 10-year-old child, I felt like a rock star having hundreds of college kids cheering for me and raising money for kids like me.” Growing up was hard for Nicki because not many children understood her physical challenges; spending time with UConn students who understood and were passionate about the cause touched her deeply.
Nicki never missed a HuskyTHON, and when it was time for Nicki to apply to colleges, UConn was on the top of her list. “Everyone always told me to pick a school where I felt at home. Out of all the colleges I’ve ever visited, UConn, especially during HuskyTHON, was where I felt most at home.” She received her acceptance letter three days after HuskyTHON weekend in 2014 and submitted her deposit that very same day.
During her freshman year, Nicki joined the HuskyTHON Management Team, seeing the dance marathon from a new perspective. “Thousands of UConn students have put in countless fundraising hours to support patients like me. It has been amazing to be on the other side and be able to dance in support of other kids at the hospital. I know exactly what they are going through and that just pushes me to work harder to make the event even more successful year after year.” Nicki has made lifelong connections with other families from the Medical Center, and HuskyTHON is the one event each year that brings them all together.
Nicki continues to be an inspiration to her peers. “It has meant the world to me to see so many other UConn students become so passionate about something that has been such a large part of my life,” Nicki said. “I’ve had an amazing success story through Connecticut Children’s and it is such a great example of the remarkable care that is provided there.” Currently serving as Vice President of External Relations, HuskyTHON 2018 will mark Nicki’s fourth and final year on the Management Team.
Thousands of children and their families will visit Connecticut Children’s Medical Center this year. And while their stories will be different, we will provide them the same pioneering and compassionate care that supported Nicki and makes Connecticut Children’s so special.
HuskyTHON’s Day of Strength: 130K Day on Thursday, February 8, 2018,
honors patients just like Nicki who would not be here today without people like you.