ARDMORE, Okla. -- Sonya Hunter wakes up each morning with a positive outlook in spite of the heartache and tremendous challenges she has experienced over the last 10 years.
On May 19, 2006, a car crash took the life of her husband, Kris, and oldest son, Adam, and left her then 20-month-old son, Conner McDougall, with a severe spinal cord injury.
“It’s been a tough road, but there have been a lot of miracles and blessings, too, along the way,” said Hunter.
By all accounts, McDougall should not have survived the accident, but Hunter did not give up and continues to fight for her son. Now 11, McDougall is a happy-go-lucky child, despite being confined to a wheelchair, depending on a ventilator for most of the day and undergoing other health challenges that require frequent trips to the doctor.
When Hunter brought her son home to Ardmore after a three-and-a-half-month hospital stay in Dallas 10 years ago, she searched for a pediatrician who felt comfortable caring for her son’s complex medical needs. About two years later, McDougall began seeing Dr. Derek Landis.
“Dr. Landis is amazing because he works so well with the specialists and we don’t have to constantly run to Dallas for every little test we need,” said Hunter. “He is very comfortable, knowledgeable and experienced with kids like Conner.”
Specialty Care for All Patients
Landis, a board-certified pediatrician, moved to Ardmore about nine years ago from Florida. He completed medical school at the University of Miami and his pediatric residency training through the University of South Florida at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
During his training programs, he cared for a diverse patient population from the United States, Caribbean, Bahamas, Central America and South America, and treated many complex medical problems that most physicians only see in a textbook.
It was this training that gave him the knowledge, expertise and confidence to treat the varying health care needs of all pediatric patients, including complicated cases.
“It’s patients like Conner who really keep you on your toes and keep you thinking,” said Landis. “In primary care and pediatrics, you see a lot of runny noses, allergies and perform a lot of well checks, but a kid like Conner absolutely makes you think and go back to your medical training to piece a puzzle together.”
When caring for patients with complex health needs, he said it is important to understand and discuss with parents what their child may encounter in the future and what to be on the lookout for so their child can receive the necessary medical care as quickly as possible.
Hunter has been impressed with how Landis and his staff go above and beyond to provide the very best care based on her son’s needs and always squeeze him in for a last-minute appointment. This quick action — along with the imaging and laboratory tests performed in Ardmore to monitor ongoing health concerns — have saved her family quite a few trips to Texas.
“With someone like Conner, you can’t wait a week to get into the doctor when you have a problem right now,” she said.
Recently, McDougall has been battling pancreatitis and doctors discovered a large stone in his pancreatic duct causing significant pain. Specialists in Dallas recommend surgery to remove the stone, but surgery is not ideal for McDougall because it raises his blood pressure and heart rate, leaving him at a high risk for stroke. Knowing these facts, Landis has been doing research to determine if there are other non-surgical options to remove the stone.
“He’s amazing like that,” said Hunter. “He cares about patients and their outcomes and is willing to go the extra mile to find other options if that’s what it takes.”
A True Miracle
Since McDougall had suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury, he started regaining some feeling in his arms and legs over the last two years. He and his family travel to Baltimore twice a year for a two-week outpatient spinal cord injury therapy program at Johns Hopkins Hospital to help him build strength in his arms, legs and core muscles. So far, Conner is able to stand up if someone holds his upper body.
“The prognosis for his future is very positive,” said Hunter. “Doctors are doing case studies on him now because they are blown away by the fact that he can do what he’s doing. He shouldn’t be able to based on his level of injury.”
McDougall has also been able to breathe well enough on his own to go off his ventilator for about seven hours a day. Hunter hopes he will eventually go off the ventilator completely. Time without the ventilator means McDougall can learn to speak. In fact, he will begin meeting with a speech therapist soon to work on his verbal skills.
As McDougall continues to make progress, Hunter knows her son will do so with Landis and his team at Mercy by his side.
New Office, Same Caring Service
This June, Landis and his team moved from the Mercy Clinic primary care location on 14th Avenue in Ardmore to a new clinic location specifically for pediatric patients.
He is excited about the new clinic and is grateful every day for his amazing staff.
“I have a solid staff who care as much about these kids and their families as I do,” he said. “They work diligently to make sure everyone has a smooth and pleasant experience and that kids get the absolute best pediatric care available.”
The new clinic, Mercy Clinic Pediatrics Ardmore, is located at 731 12th Ave. NW, Suite 104, in Ardmore, and features four exam rooms in a convenient location with its own outside entrance. Landis hopes to eventually offer extended evening and weekend hours to treat even more pediatric patients. To make an appointment with Landis, call 580-220-6092.