A Full Circle Moment: Nurse Meets Her Namesake
It’s a story of life and death, bringing together a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse and grieving parents. A child that only lived a few days at Cook Children’s Medical Center in 1996 and her legacy still thriving 25 years later. A story of love, pain, and passion, with a beautiful ending.
Kaitlyn Smith was born to Bill and Jennifer Smith at Harris Southwest on Jan.18, 1996. After months of a perfectly healthy pregnancy, the couple learned Kaitlyn was arriving early. When she was born, she was transported to Cook Children’s by Teddy Bear Transport, and her parents learned the severity of their daughter’s condition.
“When we got to see her, the doctors let us know her condition was critical. They didn’t offer us much hope, but as a first-time mom, I knew we had to try something. I was pleased they were willing to do what they could,” Jennifer recalls.
The first indication something was wrong with Kaitlyn was when the doctors noticed she was unable to pull in air through her nose, they later diagnosed her with CHARGE Syndrome. After more tests, the doctors informed the couple Kaitlyn had three holes in her heart and they would need to perform heart surgery.
Kaitlyn was alive 19 days before she ultimately succumbed to complications with her heart surgery. Throughout her time in the hospital, the family met a young nurse named Candace Alphin. Alphin cared for Kaitlyn during her shifts, and when she died, Alphin was there for the family.
“Kaitlyn needed multiple surgeries. Unfortunately, she was one that we couldn't fix, and I’m a fixer, “Alphin said. That was hard for me. As a newer nurse, it was hard to realize we couldn't make everybody what we wanted them to be.”
The Smith family understood their daughter couldn’t be “fixed” and their faith got them through the trying moments. They believed if the doctors could learn anything from their daughter, then everything they endured was worth it.
“Candace helped prepare us for what the doctors were going to want to do. She explained everything thoroughly and made sure we understood what was taking place as Kaitlyn’s conditions worsened,” Jennifer said.
Just over a year after losing their daughter, the Smith family welcomed another baby girl. Honoring the nurse who took such good care of Kaitlyn, they named her Candace.
The couple said agreeing to name their daughter after Alphin didn’t come with any hesitation.
“I asked Jennifer what she thought about naming her after Candace because of the connection we felt with her, and she agreed that it would be a nice way to tie everything together,” Bill said.
As their daughter grew up, Bill and Jennifer consistently reminded Candace where her name came from and shared stories about their stay at Cook Children’s. Candace studied nursing, got married, and became Candace Lapointe. In a full-circle moment, after graduating from nursing school, Lapointe began her career at Cook Children’s. Lapointe was hopeful she would be able to connect with Alphin and share the news.
Once accepting the job, Lapointe learned Alphin still worked at Cook Children’s and was excited to share the news with her in person.
Twenty-three years later, Alphin describes the reunion as a moment that felt 'just right.’ Alphin says the moment was amazing, and she was speechless.
“I came around the corner, and I didn't have any expectations of what she would look like. As soon as I saw her, I just recognized her. She looks so much like her parents and what I imagined Kaitlyn would look like,” Alphin explained.
Lapointe says although she never had a chance to meet her sister, Kaitlyn’s memory and Alphin’s support for Kaitlyn and her family during a difficult time is what pushed her to go to nursing school. As for coming to work at Cook Children’s, she said there was never a second thought about where she’d want to begin her career.
“I’ve always wanted to work for Cook Children’s. My parents remind me how much all the nurses and doctors supported them, and I want to do the same for other families,” Lapointe shared.
Alphin believes Lapointe will touch lives through her career. Lapointe is currently a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) and hopes to become a registered nurse and work in the NICU that took exceptional care of her family.
“I feel like I'm the one that's been 100% blessed by being a part of their lives, not the other way around, which is the way I'm certain that they'll try to tell it,” Alphin said. “It was amazing to walk up to a woman and know she has her name because of something I did.”
Everyone is optimistic that post COVID-19, they can meet in person to reminisce on the last 25 years and hope this story continues for many years to come.
“I want them to realize how special they are and although they may think I transformed their life, they changed my whole career,” Alphin explained. “I would have never been able to share the things that I've shared with other families, nor would I have been able to be as strong as I am."
“We love Candace Alphin very much. She has made an amazing impact and she will forever be with our family,” Jennifer said.
This story occurred before Cook Children’s enacted its boundaries policy. The policy prohibits staff from having ongoing relationships with families and patients past direct care.