Local professor grateful for daughter’s open-heart surgery

Isla Vernon
Isla Vernon(Contributed)
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 12:59 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A professor of the Medical College of Georgia and the Georgia Cancer Center is thanking the Children’s Hospital of Georgia for performing open-heart surgery on her daughter.

Marlo Vernon has worked at the two for more than 20 years. Her work focuses on engaging with communities to address cancer health disparities in the community.

Isla is one of Vernon’s six kids and the first to be born at Augusta University Health. She was born with Down syndrome and with a balanced complete atrioventricular canal defect. This defect creates a hole in the atria of her heart, causing her blood to mix.

She has needed multiple surgeries, including a major open-heart surgery in December, which required Isla to be put on an ECMO machine.

Vernon says she was grateful to have been able to receive the help of the nurses and doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia in the neonatal intensive care unit for all they’ve done.

“The first word that comes to my mind is ‘gratitude.’ All the staff members, nurses, and doctors have been so kind and caring. It’s part of that focus on patient and family-centered care, and to experience it first-hand, I’m just grateful,” Vernon says.

Isla is back home and moving toward her new normal, but her journey was not easy. Vernon’s colleagues at the Georgia Cancer Center and AU Health stepped up to help out.

“My boss is Dr. Martha Tingen, and when I told her about Isla, she immediately started calling people and getting me connected. I’ve never had to take advantage of the services we have here, and sometimes it’s a weird feeling to walk on campus as a patient after being on campus so often,” Vernon said. “It comes full circle in a way.”

The Vernons were also grateful for the Ronald McDonald house. The family lives 30 minutes away, and while their daughter was in neonatal intensive care, they were looking at options to stay closer to the hospital. They were able to stay at the non-profit during Isla’s stay in the unit.

Vernon says she was only getting two to three hours of sleep a day but being closer to Isla and having some meals taken care of for them made a huge difference.

“We could just walk across the street to where she was when it was time to feed her and I could be right there to hold her. It made the whole experience better,” she said. “We did that until we got her discharged from the NICU. It’s such a stressful time and to be told you have to leave is heartbreaking, so I’m just grateful for how everything went.”