At 15, Caitlin Pirello was an elite soccer player, on track to play in college and maybe even in the Olympics one day when a sudden health crisis changed her path in life.
In July 2010, Pirello, of East Cobb, woke up one morning struggling to breathe. She felt radiating pain in her shoulders.
Pirello’s parents rushed their only child to the emergency room at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Pirello was quickly diagnosed with multiple pulmonary emboli, a life-threatening blockage in the pulmonary arteries in her lungs. Pulmonary embolisms, rare among children, are caused by blood clots — usually blood clots in the legs that break loose and travel to the lungs.
She remained in the hospital at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for a month to get her blood clotting disorder under control, and she was then in and out of the hospital for the following year. Pirello’s soccer career was derailed. She would never compete at a high level again.
After an experience like this, many patients, “would come out of that thinking ‘I never want to be in the hospital ever again’ — which would be understandable,” her doctor, Dr. Carolyn Bennett, said.
But Pirello was a different kind of patient.
During her long hospital stay, Pirello decided that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta was exactly where she wanted to be – as a nurse.
Now 23, Pirello is doing just that, working at the Scottish Rite location in the surgical unit.
“I saw what happened to me as this is happening for a reason,” said Pirello. “Because this did disrupt my life. But I remember thinking this is what I am supposed to do.”
While hospitalized, Pirello was impressed by the care and attention given by the medical staff, including Dr. Bennett. The nurses answered her parents’ questions and provided a constant source of comfort.
“They were there for my parents,” said Pirello. “They really consoled them and really helped them get through it, which helped me get through it.”
After the extended hospital stay, Pirello experienced the same frightening symptoms occasionally – shortness of breath, pain in the shoulders. In the end, she didn’t have another blood clot, but she still needed to be evaluated to be sure. Each episode was terrifying and painful. A feeling, she said, of “impending doom.”
But over time, her health improved and stabilized. Her lungs are mostly healed, she added.
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Pirello joined the staff at Scottish Rite last July after graduating from Georgia Baptist College of Nursing.
Bennett said she was thrilled to see Pirello on staff at the hospital.
“It’s such a privilege to be with kids, and it’s tough to see what they have to go through but to see … them get better and thrive, it’s really an inspiration,” said Bennett.
Pirello, who works a night a shift, said she can’t imagine doing anything else. She said she loves her job. “It’s different every day. It’s challenging, and there’s a camaraderie with the staff.” And she adores her young patients.
On a recent afternoon, Pirello checked in on 7-year-old Noa Ginzberg. Noa had broken her arm a day earlier and undergone surgery that morning. The surgery had gone well, and Noa was sleeping. Noa’s mother, Meital Ginzberg of Dunwoody, said her daughter tripped on a classmate and fell on her right arm. Ginzberg raved about the staff, including Pirello, at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“[Pirello] was so sweet. She was so friendly and warm with Noa, it was like she had known her for years,” said Ginzberg. “l’ll tell you what, this is someone right here who is the right profession.”
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