A breath of fresh air: Basalt boy repays hospital for saving his life
BASALT – Lars Skoric slips away from his family’s dining room table as some adults blather on one recent day, runs to the other side of the house and whips out a telescoping sword. With a few energetic swipes through the air, he vanquishes some unknown enemies.
It’s a role the 8-year-old is good at. He had to do it when he entered the world.
Lars wouldn’t cry when he was born at Aspen Valley Hospital at 1 p.m. Aug. 23, 2001. Doctors and nurses prodded him to take those first gulps of air, but his tiny lungs wouldn’t function right. He was placed under an oxygen hood a short time later, but there was initially no major concern. Everyone thought it was just an altitude thing. Lars weighed 8 pounds, even though he was two-and-a-half weeks premature.
“They said he was one of their biggest babies but one of the sickest,” said Jackie Parker-Skoric, his mom.
After a few hours on oxygen, Lars didn’t get better. His organs were shutting down. Jackie and her husband, Ivan, were worried their first born wouldn’t make it.
“Ivan kept saying, ‘My son’s out of your hands. What’s plan B?'” Jackie recalled.
Children’s Hospital in Denver was consulted, and doctors at AVH were advised to stick a tube down Lars’ throat to get him oxygen. His umbilical cord was tapped to provide antibiotics to his tiny, troubled body.
Children’s Hospital sent a Flight For Life team the night of Lars’ birth. An airplane was dispatched because other teams using helicopters were busy elsewhere. Special arrangements were made to allow the plane to land at Pitkin County Airport after its normal curfew. Nurses were shuttled to the hospital by vehicle.
The Flight For Life team was concerned Lars wouldn’t survive the flight to Denver. They worked to stabilize the baby until 1 a.m., then the plane departed for Centennial Airport in Denver with Lars and Ivan, and got the baby to Children’s Hospital. (Jackie checked out of AVH the following day and flew to Denver, despite giving birth less than 24 hours earlier. Staying back wasn’t an option when her baby’s life was on the line, she said.)
Lars was born with pneumonia. Children’s Hospital doctors put him on three different types of ventilators to assist his breathing, but his lungs kept collapsing. They eventually applied nitric oxide, a gas that is an important signaling molecule in humans. With the help of the gas, they hyper-inflated his lungs.
“It was a week and a half before we really knew he was going to make it,” Jackie said. “They saved him more than once.”
Lars remained at Children’s Hospital for 34 days before returning home. He was on oxygen full-time for seven months, and partially on it for another five months. His parents kept him isolated at first to avoid exposing his frail lungs to trouble. But by the time Lars was 3 1/2 years old it was apparent he was a happy, healthy boy.
Lars, now a third-grader at Basalt Elementary School, shows no signs of his early troubles. He plays basketball, “a little bit of football,” creates cool forts in his lawn at the Willits subdivision in Basalt, and plays games in the woods.
His only memory of his lung problems comes from photos and videos his parents have shown him.
That’s what makes his story so compelling for Children’s Hospital. Lars was selected this spring as one of six ambassadors for the hospital. He attends as many fundraising events as his family can make, so they can share their story. Through his appearances he has met everyone from the Denver Bronco cheerleaders to Dinger, the mascot of the Colorado Rockies, as well as some players from the Avalanche Rockies.
Jackie said it is “a huge honor” for her family to give something back to Children’s Hospital after the staff there saved their son’s life. It is especially gratifying to share their success story with other families that have a child facing a tough medical problem.
“These children bring hope to other families,” Jackie said. “They show there are miracles happening every day.”
Ivan and Jackie said their positive experience at Children’s Hospital extended beyond Lars’ medical care. The hospital provides a “big support system” for sick children’s families, including an opportunity to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides an alternative to hotels for families with a child in the hospital.
Les Lee, philanthropy director for The Children’s Hospital Foundation, said the facility plays an important role for kids in the Roaring Fork Valley. In the last decade, 111 infants and children from the valley were cared for in the Children’s Critical Care Unit, where the most serious cases are treated. Over the last 11 years, Children’s has cared for 70 newborns from the valley in its neonatal intensive care unit.
Before Lars’ tenure as an ambassador ends, he will attend the Children’s Hospital Gala 2009, a black-tie event Oct. 24 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. There is a silent auction, dinner, and music by Loggins and Messina. But the most important highlight will be a short film featuring the story of Lars and the other ambassadors. “It’s about the kids,” Lee said.
The Skorics are happy to share Lars’ story to help Children’s.
“Without them, the long and short of it is we wouldn’t be sitting here with him – at least not like this,” Ivan said. “It’s a miracle on all levels.”
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