The Staffords have stayed at Houses in Nashville, Cincinnati and here in Chattanooga.
While pregnant with their first child, Ashley and Harold Stafford were told their little girl had a tear in her esophagus. Doctors didn’t seem worried and assumed it would heal by the time she was born. When Bristol Stafford was born, all results showed her to be a healthy baby, weighing 7 lbs. 7 oz. without complications. At 6 months old, Bristol started showing signs of having a dairy allergy. Once that was confirmed, they were careful not to give her anything with dairy in it. From then on the issues continued and the Stafford’s were taking Bristol to the hospital at least every month. Around a year old, Bristol began throwing up blood. “No child is supposed to throw blood up,” so at 14 months, Bristol was allergy tested and had her first endoscopy.
It wasn’t until Bristol was 18 months old that the Stafford’s received an answer to what was happening to their little girl. Bristol was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE). EoE is an allergic reaction and inflammation of the esophagus that can cause a range of symptoms. On top of having EoE, she is also deathly allergic to peanuts and has asthma from the acid reflux with her condition.
Over the past 6 years of Bristol’s life, her parents have taken her from hospital to hospital looking for the right answers and specialists to help their little girl. While many answers were solved and they were helped at Vanderbilt for two years, doctors wanted to send Bristol to specialists in Cincinnati. Ashley shared how much stress was relief they have felt over being able to stay at a “home away from home” in both Nashville and Cincinnati. Though Nashville was 1-2 hours, Cincinnati was a 10 hour drive.
“When she has her procedures, we’d rather stay closer to the hospital, because you never know what can happen,” shared Ashley. “Bristol’s also more relaxed. It’s more relaxing for her and she’s calm and not scared. If your child is relaxed that means you, as a parent, are more relaxed and less stressed!”
Bristol’s EoE is dealt with through elemental feeding, which eliminates the top six to eight foods in her diet to try to navigate the allergic reaction. When she has to have procedures done the Stafford’s are normally at the hospital to check in with doctors before, Bristol goes in and then there is a recovery period. Though it’s only a few days, they have been able to stay close to the hospital in Nashville, Cincinnati and now Chattanooga.
Though they won’t be staying at the Chattanooga Ronald McDonald House every time they come to town, when Bristol does need a procedure Children’s Hospital at Erlanger now has a specialized doctor that can treat her.
Over time, the Stafford’s have learned to help their daughter and see the signs if they have something to be concerned about. This year, they began to navigate what it would look like for Bristol to go to school. Although they are homeschooling her, seeing how Bristol interacted with other kids at the various Ronald McDonald Houses they have found learning programs and helped educate those in their community about Bristol’s condition.
In the end, several Houses have helped this family feel safe and comfortable, but lifted the burden of finances and stress by keeping them close to a hospital when their daughter needed to be there.