Story by Alice Warchol

NICU graduate returns as volunteer

It’s hard to imagine Sage Mitchell was once one of the tiniest patients at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.

Nearly 15 years to the day after Sage was discharged from CHKD’s neonatal intensive care unit, she was back at the hospital as a volunteer in CHKD’s junior volunteer program.

Sage applied to volunteer as soon as she turned 15, the minimum age to participate in the program. She hopes that sharing her story will encourage families who have babies in the NICU. “I just know that I’m really blessed to be saved by the doctors and nurses at CHKD,” says Sage, now a high school sophomore in Virginia Beach.

Sage was one of 200 junior volunteers last summer. The program, which started in the 1970s, places young volunteers in more than 50 departments throughout CHKD Health System. For three weeks, Sage worked at the main hospital campus, filing paperwork, cleaning toys, and playing with some of the young patients.

On her last day as a volunteer, Sage and her mother, Victoria, were able to visit the NICU, where they were reunited with Cynthia Elliott, a neonatal nurse practitioner who was a part of Sage’s care team all those years ago and still works on the unit. “I remember her!” Elliott says. “I thought she was the cutest little girl.”

Victoria remembers Sage’s stay in the NICU like it happened last week.

Born four months early and weighing barely more than a pound, doctors did not expect Sage to survive. She surprised them all. At 4 weeks old, she was strong enough to undergo surgeries to repair a valve in her heart, and later to correct issues with her vision.

“A lot of the nurses considered me a miracle baby,” Sage says.

Victoria and her husband, Bill, traveled back and forth from their home in Virginia Beach to CHKD for three months, spending as much time with Sage as they could. When they were exhausted, the nurses made sure they went home to rest.

“The real heroes are the nurses,” Victoria says. “My initial instinct was never to leave Sage, but the nurses told me: ‘We’re going to take good care of her, just like she was our own.’ ’’

Today, Sage is a typical teenage girl. She loves to play tennis and is working toward getting her driver’s license.

Although she will always have medical issues related to her prematurity – chronic lung disease and lens implants in both eyes – she manages fine and is able to participate in normal activities. To the Mitchells, these are minor health problems.

“She’s doing really well,” Victoria says proudly. “Other than me telling you, you would never know she was so tiny and sick when she was born.”

This story was featured in the Winter 2019 edition of Kidstuff magazine, a quarterly publication from CHKD that features inspiring stories about patients, physicians and friends of CHKD.