Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
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Monroe Carell Jr.
Children's Hospital
at Vanderbilt
2200 Children's Way
Nashville, TN 37232

(615) 936-1000

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Meet Zoe

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Zoe Lovell's wide grin and big brown, wondrous eyes let people know she is full of life, and nothing can hold her back - especially not spina bifida.

One-year-old Zoe has pleasantly surprised even her parents.

Inside her mother's womb, Zoe was diagnosed with spina bifida, or myleomeningocele, a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal don't close before birth. Symptoms of spina bifida can include hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), full or partial paralysis, bladder and bowel control difficulties, learning disabilities and more.

Her mother, Hillary Lovell, thought she had done everything right. Her first pregnancy with daughter Faith, now 2, was healthy and uneventful. As a nurse practitioner, she knew to take prenatal vitamins with folic acid, a vitamin shown to be important in preventing birth defects. She never missed a dose.

"We felt she must have a purpose, and our family had been chosen to bring her into the world," said Hillary. "We wanted her to not just have a life, but have a full, abundant life, and we knew we would do whatever it took to give her that."

When Hillary and John Lovell received Zoe's diagnosis, they spent several long nights reviewing research material and potential hospitals for treatment, including the Junior League Fetal Center at Vanderbilt. Hillary said they had heard good things about Noel Tulipan, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt.

They had to decide if they would temporarily relocate from Morgantown, Ky., to be a part of a spina bifida study in another state on fetal repair surgery (when the defect is repaired in utero), or if they would have post-natal surgery when she was born. They chose to do the surgery after birth.

"Honestly, after that initial meeting at Vanderbilt, we felt hopeful once again," Hillary said.

During the pregnancy, the Lovells had appointments with Kelly Bennett, M.D., co-director of the Fetal Center. They met with a neonatologist and a social worker, toured the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and asked questions.

"All of these things helped reinforce the fact that we were having a BABY, not a spina bifida diagnosis," Hillary said.

Zoe was born Oct. 7, 2010, at 37-and-a-half weeks, and arrived into the world kicking and screaming. Her parents gave her a name with special meaning. In Greek, Zoe means life.

Less than 24 hours after birth, Zoe had surgery to close her spine. She spent six days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Currently, she receives weekly physical and occupational therapies, and never fails to surprise her therapists and family with something new and totally unexpected.
As Zoe grows, the Lovells hope to instill in her the same outlook Vanderbilt provided their family: "spina bifida is not that big a deal."

"You manage it, and you move on," said Hillary. "No, it is not always rainbows and sunshine, but it is far from the ‘no-quality-of-life' prognosis so many obstetricians tell parents. I have the same expectations for Zoe that I have for my older daughter, Faith."

"I have learned not to underestimate Zoe, what she is capable of, and to always have high expectations for her. She is opinionated and determined. Zoe, along with many other children, is part of a new generation redefining what it means to have spina bifida."

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