Thursday, November 9, 2017

Seawell Student Inspires Others in Her Published Book

A few years ago, Seawell Elementary School student Paige Sullivan was happily attending school in Kannapolis, North Carolina, spending lots of time with extended family and lifelong friends, involved in gymnastics and other activities. But several times a year, she and her parents made the two hour trip to Duke Hospital, where she was receiving expert care from a pediatric cardiology team. Paige was born with an extremely rare condition, anomalous origin of the left artery, and she, her family and her doctors all knew that she would eventually need open heart surgery to repair the defect. Until the doctors decided she was old and strong enough to undergo the surgery, she lived in danger of going into cardiac arrest.

In August 2015, Paige’s family moved to Chapel Hill in order to be closer to the medical team at Duke, and she enrolled at Seawell. The first weeks were very hard for Paige; she missed her friends and relatives in Kannapolis, and she felt shy and anxious about her new school and the looming surgery. Frequent nightmares and difficulties getting up and out of the house many days made the transition even more challenging. “I was scared,” Paige said in the matter-of-fact tone she uses when discussing her ordeal.

Paige’s parents worked hard to ease the transition, and her mom Racine McCullough praised the team effort from the staff at Seawell who sought strategies to help Paige become comfortable in her new school. “Paige is an incredible girl!” said Marny Ruben, former principal at Seawell and now at the Hospital School. “She is a hard working, quiet soul that is wiser than her years - attentive and kind to her peers.”

As the June 2016 date for Paige’s surgery grew closer, her mother talked to her about her ability to embrace a superhero attitude. She sewed a bright red cape for Paige to take to the hospital. The medical team at Duke helped her understand each step of her care and stay in the hospital, and Paige kept a journal throughout that time. That journal became a book, Embrace Your Cape, designed to help other children calm their fears and answer questions about impending hospital experiences. It was published in February 2017.

Dr. Angelo Milazzo of Duke’s Pediatrics-Cardiology wrote in the foreword to the book, “To say that Paige faced her challenge like a superhero would be a significant understatement. She emerged from the operating room healed, and also transformed, her superpowers activated and in full bloom. For Paige, her future victories are sure to become the stuff of legends.”

The metaphor of embracing her cape has become the central image that Paige shared through her book as well as the organization The Heart of Paige. Each person who buys a book has an option to order a special superhero cape, but Paige and her mother also make many capes at home to donate to children who are undergoing any stressful experiences, not just health crises. Recently they provided over 100 capes to the Salvation Army in Charlotte. They’ll be making capes alongside volunteers in Raleigh on November 18 during Activate Good’s Family Volunteer Day: Craft for a Cause.

On Saturday November 11 at 10:30 a.m., Paige will be signing copies of Embrace Your Cape at the Barnes and Noble in New Hope Commons. Part of the proceeds will go to Seawell Elementary, as well as to the ongoing Cape campaign. One of Paige’s favorite sayings is “Team work makes the dream work,” and from all appearances, this young woman is just getting started with her dreams. Someday she hopes to train and practice as a heart surgeon but until then, she’ll continue sharing her mantra, “To be brave, be bold and believe… Embrace your cape.”  To learn more, visit Paige's website.