For sisters Demi and Tory Ross, not too many places feel as magical as Walt Disney World. It’s where the girls and their parents travel every year from Tallahassee during the holiday season, a cherished tradition that started soon after Tory’s birth.
“We started embracing those things and really having fun escaping reality,” said Caroline Ross, Demi and Tory’s mother. “Because during those first six months after Tory was born, it was just these emotional highs and lows of, ‘Will she be normal? Will she be able to play sports and have fun?’”
Six years ago while checking on 3-month-old Tory, Caroline was startled to find Tory turning purple. She picked her up, and Tory’s body went limp. Thankfully, Caroline was talking to her husband, Michael, on the phone.
“I was not rational at that moment,” Caroline recalled. “I was terrified to hang up.”
Michael was nearly 500 miles away because of a business trip in Nashville, Tenn. He had been CPR-certified since he was 18 years old and earned a bachelor’s degree in applied physiology and kinesiology from the University of Florida.
“He’s literally the yin to my yang,” Ross said. “Having him on the phone helped me manage my adrenaline rush.”
At their local hospital in Tallahassee, doctors concluded that Tory had a near-miss sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) episode. Near SIDS didn’t add up for Caroline. She was not the only person with skepticism.
Her daughter’s pediatrician, Anna Koeppel, M.D., also wanted more answers. Koeppel referred Tory to UF Health where the infant started receiving care from pediatric pulmonologist Mutasim Abu-Hasan, M.D.
Abu-Hasan recommended Tory undergo bronchoscopy, a procedure that would allow him to examine her airways and lungs. It would require Tory, 6 months old at the time, to be placed under anesthesia. Although Caroline was concerned, she understood this procedure would help diagnose Tory’s illness.
When the bronchoscopy finished, Abu-Hasan left the operating room and hugged Ross. It is a moment the mother of two will never forget.
“It was kind of like this compassion from an amazing specialist,” Ross said. “He understood I’m a mom who’s freaking out.”
When no one in Tallahassee could, Abu-Hasan and UF Health provided an answer. Despite both girls being vaccinated, Abu-Hasan found traces of pertussis, or whooping cough, with Tory. The Ross family was sent home with albuterol, steroids and — believe it or not — peace of mind.
Abu-Hasan did more than diagnose Tory with virus-induced asthma. Abu-Hasan taught Tory to tap her chest and tell an adult, “My breathing hurts,” whenever she needs her inhaler.
Now a healthy 6-year-old, Tory has not needed to visit UF Health for nearly two years. She manages her virus-induced asthma well, evident from her choreography as a flyer on the cheer team. And Tory never limits her voice — she has started negotiating her move to the next skill level in cheer.
“UF Health gave my child this ability to assert her health to adults, and adults understand what she’s saying,” Ross said. “For her to be able to do that, that’s huge.”
With the holiday season approaching, Tory has not forgotten about her upcoming trip to Walt Disney World. Of course, that is possible thanks to UF Health’s care.
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