WALLINGFORD >> Even in a hospital floor full of nurses, a mother of a teenager recovering from a spinal cord or brain injury never wants to be far away.
I can hear mom in my sleep, said Shirleyann Pompea, whose daughter fractured her neck and injured her spinal cord in April. I can get there before the call bell.
Pompeas daughter, Janelle, lived at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare for close to two months while she recovered from the injuries she suffered in a car accident in Redding. And every night of her stay in Wallingford, Pompea or her husband, have been right next door.
For the 49 days shes been here, weve been here, Pompea said on a recent day her daughter was set to finally go home.
The Adolescent Spinal Cord Injury Unit at the Gaylord Hospital was recently recognized by the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerces Health Care Council for its innovative approach to caring for teenagers and their families. Gaylord Specialty Healthcare/Gaylord Hospital serves approximately 1,400 inpatients and 6,000 outpatients every year. The hospital specializes in care for complex injuries where patients require intensive rehabilitation.
The Adolescent Spinal Cord Injury Unit opened last spring and is complete with two family suites that allow parents or other family to sleep right next door to the patient. Kimberly Thompson, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said someone is always waiting to fill a suite as soon as it empties.
The two rooms of the suite are connected by bathrooms, so theres no need to go into a hospital hallway in the middle of the night if the patient needs something, Thompson said.
Youve already had something traumatic happen to your family, Thompson said. The family suites were created to help limit further trauma by letting parents be nearby, she said.
In addition, each patient in the unit has access to Wi-Fi and a Netflix subscription. Theres a game room called The Loft complete with video games, board games, and extra chairs for visiting friends.
Pompea said she and her husband, and sometimes their older sons, took turns staying overnight in the suite so their 16-year-old daughter would never be alone there overnight. Having easy access to their daughter and a place to stay was invaluable for them as a family, especially given her length of stay at the hospital, Pompea said.
Prior to moving into Gaylord Hospital, their daughter spent the 11 days immediately after her car accident in an Intensive Care Unit in New Haven followed by nine days in a burn unit in Bridgeport. Prior to coming to Wallingford, family members had to stay in nearby hotels and couldnt be with her all the time.
The most important thing was keeping her in good spirits, Pompea said. Having that adolescent room, you cant go wrong.
Being able to stay right next door helped Pompea be able to help her daughter get ready for bed each night, and dressed and ready each morning. The comfort of the suite allowed her to stay up and watch television with her daughter until she was ready to go to sleep, paint her nails to keep her spirits up, or even hold pizza parties for her friends
Were definitely catering to (the teenager) population now more than ever, said Heather Hancort, a nurse manager on the adolescent brain and spinal cord unit at Gaylord Hospital. Now, were able to properly care for the patients and their families.
An aspiring interior decorator or event planner, Janelle Pompea said she also spent time to decorate her room and make it feel like her own.
I didnt feel like I was in a hospital, she said. I was not claustrophobic or like I wanted to get out or anything.
But, she also made sure she wasnt spending too much time there. She liked to keep her days full at the hospital, scheduling therapy sessions or time in the gym as often as she could so her days were packed and she avoided just sitting in her room.
Ive wanted to be busy, she said. I was trying to get as much in as possible.
Though Pompea left the hospital, she said she would be back to continue outpatient therapy. Pompea has limited arm mobility, her left arm must stay in a sling, and she still wears a neck brace. Of the seven teenagers that were piled into the car that crashed in April, all without seatbelts on, Pompea is the last to be leaving a hospital.
Since being at Gaylord Hospital, Pompea said she was grateful to have her mom right next door in case she needed anything, especially in the middle of the night.
I prefer my mom helping me, because shes my mom, she said. She kept my company.
Pompeas mom would even scroll through her iPad for her in the evenings when she wanted to use it. At least she did until Pompea learned to use her feet to do it on her own.
As for advice for other teenagers who might find themselves in the brain injury and spinal cord unit of a hospital, Pompea said its always best to think positively.
On the bright side, youre alive, she said. I probably wouldve died if no one was there to get us out of the car.
While she finally got to go home from Gaylord Hospital, 69 days after the accident, Pompea has another countdown going.
On July 12, shell finally get to remove her neck brace, another milestone to look forward to in her long road to recovery.