Patient Stories: Joshie

Joshie’s Journey to Healing

Joshua (“Joshie”) Vicars loves all things Paw Patrol and Bluey. On a typical day, the active 5-year-old can be found riding his scooter outside and playing with his six older siblings in their small hometown of Tifton, Georgia. But one of his biggest loves is his carefully curated collection of stuffed sloths.

Today, Joshie’s animated and playful personality shines bright. (He will light up at the chance to introduce you to each member of his sloth family – including “Honey,” “Cinnamon,” “Daddy,” “Pickles,” and “Pepper.”) But just a few months ago, Joshie and his parents, Helen and Ryan Vicars, were fighting through some of the darkest days of their lives.

More than a virus

One Sunday evening in September 2023, Joshie suddenly spiked a fever of 103. Helen was concerned and called their pediatrician’s after-hours line. The nurse on call said to give him an over-the-counter pain reliever, keep him hydrated, and monitor his fever.

Joshie was doing a little better the next day, but they took him to the urgent care nearby to have him checked out. There, they ran tests for the flu, COVID-19 and strep throat. All came back negative. They returned home, but Joshie’s fever was still not budging, and he said it was painful to urinate, so they took him to the local emergency department to rule out a urinary tract infection. Joshie received fluids to help with dehydration, and Ryan and Helen were told that Joshie had a virus.

“We talked with his pediatrician, and they agreed that it was just a bad virus, and he would probably be turning the corner in the next day or two,” Helen says.

But unfortunately, Joshie did not turn the corner as everyone had hoped. He was still vomiting, and his fever was still high.

“We knew something wasn’t right,” Helen says.

Joshie went back to the local emergency department, where a CT scan determined that his appendix had ruptured. They immediately sent him by ambulance to Atrium Health Levine Children’s Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital in Macon, Georgia, for a higher level of care.

“We were finally getting our son back”

Once Joshie arrived at Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, the pediatric surgical team assessed him. They quickly determined that an infection had spread so badly they needed to start him on antibiotics before they could safely perform an appendectomy.

The antibiotics worked to combat the infection, and Joshie was able to have surgery the next day. But one week later, there was no change. His abdomen remained hard, his fever was still high, and a CT scan showed an abscess – or fluid-filled growth – had formed post-surgery. They placed a drainage tube to empty the abscess, administered antibiotics and continued to monitor his progress.

About two weeks after his first surgery, Joshie still had a fever and was not eating or drinking. Dr. Joshua Glenn, director of pediatric surgery at Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, made the decision to perform another surgery and assess the situation.

During the surgery, it was discovered that additional abscesses had formed, including some that had grown around the small intestine.

“They had to remove those two sections of small intestine where each abscess had formed,” Helen explains. The surgery lasted four hours. Dr. Glenn said he “wanted to be as thorough as possible and make sure nothing was missed.”

From there, Joshie was monitored to ensure the connections in the intestines held and there was no leakage. His parents and care team began to see his personality return almost immediately.

“Once the surgery was complete, within about 48 hours, we saw a night and day difference,” Helen says. “The nurses noticed he was perking up, and we could see we were finally getting our son back again.”

Helen says they didn’t quite realize how bad Joshie’s appendix episode was until they were in the playroom with other children who were also in the hospital being treated for appendicitis.

“They were in and out so quickly,” Helen says. “We knew Joshie’s was bad, but we didn’t really have anything to compare it to.”

An extra level of care

Joshie spent just under a month in the hospital. In addition to his surgeries, he had a nasogastric tube (NG tube), endured multiple CT scans and had a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC line) placed. But Helen says his care team was patient with him throughout the process.

“They comforted him and gave him space to work through his apprehension,” Helen says. “They were transparent and explained what they were going to do and why they were doing it. The nurses all fell in love with him, and you could just tell they enjoyed playing and talking with him.”

“The way Joshie was treated went above and beyond what we could have expected,” Ryan adds. “The reason we had to be there was bad, but the level of care he received was amazing.”

Joshie was discharged a week and a half after his last surgery. When he left the hospital, Ryan remembers the staff giving Joshie high fives and being excited for him that he got to go home.

“He developed a lot of friendships during his time there,” Ryan says. “It was really special to see how much they all cared about him.”

But it wasn’t just Joshie who felt the compassionate support of the team.

“We were anxious and terrified,” Helen says. “But everyone was very kind and super supportive. We never felt like we were being brushed off or talked down to. They listened and took us seriously and were quick to answer our questions. We constantly felt reassured that we were in the right place for Joshie to receive the best care.”

Bouncing back

At his two-week follow-up appointment, Dr. Glenn told Helen and Ryan that Joshie was recovering well and there were no concerns about his intestinal healing or potential GI issues in the future.

“He said there was a very minor chance that Joshie could have some GI side effects, but it was such a small percentage that it wasn’t something to be worried about now,” Helen says.

Since being home, Joshie hasn’t missed a beat. He is back on his scooter and continues to add to his sloth collection. At last count, he’s up to about 12 stuffed sloths (plus a sloth-themed blanket, towel and T-shirts!) And if you ask him about them, he will happily tell you about each one.