Woman thrives 40 years after CMH saves her life

Posted at 4:52 PM, May 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-21 09:53:01-04

To some, a hospital may be a strange place for a homecoming. But for Shawna Manley, it's reunion she's waited four decades for.

"I wanted to see where I was at the whole time," said Manley. "I wanted to see what happened during the stay and to come back and see where everything transpired from the beginning of my life."

Because she was born several months early and weighed less than two pounds, Manley spent the first three months of her life at The Children's Mercy Hospital. On Friday, for the first time since 1976, she walked inside to see the life-saving hospital for herself.

"It's overwhelming," she said. "It's exciting. It's captivating to take the steps again where once my parents did walk and my family members to see me."

While none of the staff who cared for Manley while she was a newborn still works at the hospital, one of the most experienced NICU physicians did meet with her during her visit.

"It's very encouraging to see Shawna come back and look so great and be so vibrant and focused on trying to help others. It's amazing, to be honest, that she has done so well," said Dr. Howard Killbride, the director of neonatality at Children's Mercy. "Neonatology is a challenge but it's also very encouraging because we do see these great outcomes. Babies can be very sick, but they can get well, and those who do have a long life ahead of them, and it's a wonderful thing to be a part of."
Today, Manley, a mother of two teenage boys, works in the medical field herself. Her eldest son even wants to follow in her footsteps.

"Very few babies survived at that extreme low birth rate before the early 1980s," explained Dr. Killbride. "And very few physicians actually tried to save such small babies because they were really concerned about the medical complications that would follow them."

Nowadays, Dr. Killbride said babies weighing less than two pounds have a survival rate of 50 to 80 percent, up from less than 10 percent a few decades ago.

"The doctors had told [my family] that it was one in a million chance at survival, and I fought to beat the odds," said Manley.

One in a million -- something so many parents say to their children. For Manley, it just happens to be true.

Now that she's toured Children's Mercy Hospital, Manley said she has one more goal: to work there so she can make a big difference in even the tiniest of lives, just like the medical staff did for her 40 years ago.

Children's Mercy NICU Quick Facts

U.S. News and World Report recognizes Children's Mercy as one of the top 15 programs in the nation. To learn more about the NICU at Children's Mercy, click here.