When Noah Desserich didn't feel like taking part in the evening activities for Family Camp at St. Olaf College, his mom thought it was preteen moodiness.
Turns out it was his appendix.
Noah's stomachache got worse as the night wore on. By 2:30 am, his mom Tracy was Googling appendicitis symptoms . . . and hospitals.
"We were 10 hours away from home, staying in the college dorms," Tracy says. "We only saw cornfields as we were coming into town; we didn’t know where anything was."
At home in Indianapolis, Tracy would have chosen between two big children's hospitals. A small-town hospital felt foreign.
Google maps showed Northfield Hospital just three minutes away, and a bigger hospital 15 miles further. Tracy had already passed Northfield Hospital when a St. Olaf staffer recommended it to Noah's dad back on campus. "He said, 'It's a really nice hospital; my baby was born there,' so we turned around and went to Northfield Hospital," Tracy recalls.
Triage nurse Bob Kuklok and Dr. John Collingham, plus radiology technicians Sean Nowak and Sandy Willgohs, were all wonderful, Tracy says. "The way they interacted with Noah was great. Even though Noah was in pain, after he met the doctor he said ‘I like him.’"
Noah's CT scan and blood tests were processed quickly. His appendix was inflamed and his white blood cell count was 25,000. "He definitely needed surgery," Tracy says. "We were 10 hours from home, thinking 'Can we make it home fast enough to have surgery there? If he has surgery here, what about getting home?'"
Dr. Katya Ericson, general surgeon, removed Noah's appendix that afternoon, and he spent one night in the hospital before the journey home. Nurses tailored Noah's after-care instructions for travel – for example, stop every few hours and walk a bit to prevent blood clots.
"We definitely received personalized attention," Tracy says. "When new staff came on duty, they already knew something about Noah without us having to repeat everything."
And Noah's parents got good care, too – from recliners and warm blankets to parent meals. "We felt very supported in every aspect," Tracy says. "It was a scary situation that ended up going as well as it possibly could have."
"We wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of attention at a big hospital," Tracy adds. "We joke that there’s nice and there’s Minnesota Nice – this definitely made us feel that Minnesota Nice."
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