Giving credit to God, SF fifth-grader overcomes life-threatening obstacles
By: Chris Menees Messenger Staff Reporter
By CHRIS MENEES
Messenger Staff Reporter
When 11-year-old Ashley Hedgepath of South Fulton faced potentially life-threatening brain surgery last year, her mother Cathy made one promise.
From the start, no matter what happened, she told God that she would give Him the glory.
“We want people to know that God and Vanderbilt are the reasons Ashley is here,” Mrs. Hedgepath said. “We know that Ashley is our miracle.”
Ashley’s problems began in early 2007, when the then 10-year-old daughter of Gary and Cathy Hedgepath began having severe headaches and flu-like symptoms. At first, Mrs. Hedgepath wasn’t overly concerned, since headaches run on her side of the family.
But the headaches became more severe, the flu-like symptoms worsened and Ashley began experiencing double vision that resulted in her making faces and giving strange looks to her family. Mrs. Hedgepath said Ashley’s local physician, Dr. John Clendenin of Union City, felt the family didn’t need to delay in finding out what was causing Ashley’s problems. An initial CT scan done locally revealed two lesions on Ashley’s brain that appeared to have hemorrhaged.
Ashley was immediately taken to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vander-bilt in Nashville, where an MRI showed eight cavernous malformations in young Ashley’s brain — including a large one on her brain stem that appeared to have bled.
After she spent a few days at the children’s hospital, Ashley’s physician there, Dr. Matthew Pearson, assistant professor of pediatric neurosurgery, decided he wanted to watch her for signs of the malformations’ becoming active again before he recommended surgery, since the area of the brain where the lesions were located is not an area neurosurgeons want to go into unless absolutely necessary, according to Mrs. Hedgepath.
In fact, Mrs. Hedgepath said Dr. Pearson had only seen a few malformations in this particular area of the brain and had never done surgery on one on the brain stem.
Over the next several weeks that followed, the Hedgepaths made many trips to the emer-gency room and even took Ashley to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a second opinion. Mrs. Hedgepath said by the time Ashley arrived at the Mayo Clinic, her symptoms were almost stroke-like, causing difficulty with her balance and causing her face to be drawn up.
Ashley’s condition continued to deteriorate. Ultimately, during one of their local emergency room visits, physician Dr. Jennifer Bryan called Ashley’s local doctor and a new MRI was ordered, according to Mrs. Hedgepath, who also told of the caring and compassion offered by the local doctors.
“(Dr. Bryan) sat and cried with me. I told her, ‘My baby is dying piece by piece,’” Mrs. Hedgepath said.
Unfortunately, the MRI showed that Ashley’s lesions were bleeding again and that the malformation had grown. Dr. Pearson recommended surgery to remove the malformation on her brain stem due to concerns that additional bleeding could cause severe problems or even death.
Mrs. Hedgepath said a big consultation — which included Ashley — was held and it was decided to do the surgery in order for her to live and out of concern that she wouldn’t survive a third bleeding episode. Ashley agreed to the surgery, telling her parents that she wanted what was best for her and that she wanted to be “regular Ashley” again.
Mrs. Hedgepath said even though Dr. Pearson had never done surgery in this area of the brain before and had concerns, he always remained “upbeat” about Ashley’s prognosis. Mrs. Hedgepath said the family never doubted that they were in the right place in being at the children’s hospital at Vanderbilt.
The delicate surgery — which Mrs. Hedgepath said involved “the best of the best” of thehospital’s team, including Dr. Pearson and fellow pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. John Spooner — lasted eight hours and went extremely well. In fact, she said it actually lasted less time than the family expected.
“(The golf ball-sized malformation) literally presented itself and he scooped it out,” Mrs. Hedgepath said.
The day of the surgery, the Hedgepaths were joined at the children’s hospital by more than 30 members of their church family from Fulton First Baptist Church and they knew that many other local churches, including Mrs. Hedgepath’s former church home of Second Baptist Church, were praying for Ashley.
Immediately after the surgery, Mrs. Hedgepath said Dr. Pearson gathered everyone in a huddle and gave them the good news that the surgery had gone smoothly. When he did, one of Mrs. Hedgepath’s good friends began singing “God Is Good.”
There were concerns that Ashley would come out of surgery with facial damage, hearing damage or in need of a feeding tube, but those concerns were for naught. Mrs. Hedgepath said Ashley’s face was “back to normal” and was no longer drawn immediately after the operation. An optic nerve that was damaged after her first bleed has since been repaired and, although there will always be some permanent damage, she no longer suffers from double vision. A little weakness that remains on one side of her body is being addressed through physical therapy.
It has been suggested that Ashley’s malformations are possibly genetic. Mrs. Hedgepath also had brain surgery at the age of 13 to remove what doctors then believed was arterio-venous malformation and she said Dr. Pearson believes she likely suffered from the same condition as Ashley. Tests since conducted on the Hedgepaths’ younger daughter, 6-year-old Sara Cathryn, show no malformations.
God is good
Mrs. Hedgepath said Ashley hasn’t complained throughout her ordeal and is starting to return to being her old self again, although she is now required to wear a helmet to protect against head injuries while doing many of the activities she enjoys and her family continues to closely monitor her health. The South Fulton Elementary School fifth-grader enjoys riding her horse, playing softball and singing.
As icing on the cake, Ashley accepted Jesus as her savior shortly after the surgery.
Mrs. Hedgepath said God showed the family so much during Ashley’s ordeal and they were touched by the many acts of kindness — from people giving money to help with expenses, to her husband’s never missing a paycheck from his job with Gordon Food Service, to Dr. Clendenin’s asking his church to pray for Ashley, to the excellent facilities at the children’s hospital that enabled the Hedgepath family to stay with Ashley the entire time she was hospitalized.
“God provided. We didn’t want or need for anything,” she said. “You find out the goodness of people.”
The excellent facilities at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt receive funding from the annual Iroquois Steeplechase, which also raises funds for research, according to Mrs. Hedgepath. This weekend, Ashley and her family will be special guests at the Steeplechase, which Ashley is representing as this year’s child ambassador.
In her capacity as an ambassador, Ashley will have the opportunity to present a trophy during one of the races and has been invited to several special events. Her participation in Saturday’s race will come on the heels of a check-up with a neurologist Friday in Nashville.
Ashley’s ordeal has also opened doors and presented special opportunities for Mrs. Hedgepath, who recently shared teh family’s experience when she spoke at a volunteer luncheon. It provided the perfect opportunity for her to give credit where credit is due.
“I told God, from the start, I would give Him the glory at every opportunity,” Mrs. Hedgepath said. “We want people to know that God is the reason.”
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 5.7.08