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Former patient cuts ribbon on expanded pediatric intensive care unit where she recovered from brain surgery

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Hospital leaders watch Alexa Nixon and CHoR CEO Elias Neujahr cut the ribbon to the newly-expanded pediatric intensive care unit. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Relations)

Alexa Nixon is no stranger to the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. It’s where she spent some of her most difficult days and recovered following multiple surgeries during her fight against two brain tumors — first in 2005 when she was 11 years old, and again seven years later.

Nixon has grown up, and so has the PICU. On Wednesday, the now healthy, vibrant 24-year-old helped CHoR leaders cut the ribbon on the hospital’s newly expanded PICU, the largest in the region. This expansion increases the unit’s capacity from 14 to 21 beds, improving access to lifesaving care for the region’s most critically ill and injured children.

“This expansion marks an important milestone,” said CHoR CEO Elias Neujahr. “It’s about much more than additional space and the latest in technology. It’s a place where families can turn to our team for compassionate and expert care during some of the scariest moments of their lives. We’re committed to continuing to advance children’s health in our community, and this newly expanded unit will do just that.”

Patients are often transferred to the PICU from CHoR’s pediatric trauma center, the emergency room and other hospitals throughout the region. The clinical team, including board-certified pediatric critical care physicians, critical care registered nurses, respiratory therapists, child life specialists and social workers, works closely with surgeons, oncologists and other specialists throughout CHoR to provide coordinated care for the most complex needs.

“Last year we admitted more than 1,000 patients to our PICU. These were children facing critical situations — catastrophic injuries, serious illnesses and recoveries from significant surgeries,” said Dory Walczak, PICU nurse manager. “We anticipate that this number will increase as a result of our new space, which will mean the world to a lot of families.”

The expansion includes seven large rooms with private bathrooms and space for parents. The most fragile children and those who need respiratory care will be placed in those new rooms, which are equipped with the latest monitoring system and booms that allow care staff 360-degree access to the patient.

Alexa Nixon spent some of her most difficult days in CHoR's PICU recovering from multiple surgeries during her fight against two brain tumors — first in 2005 when she was 11 years old, and again seven years later. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Relations)
Alexa Nixon spent some of her most difficult days in CHoR's PICU recovering from multiple surgeries during her fight against two brain tumors — first in 2005 when she was 11 years old, and again seven years later. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Relations)

As patients gain strength and stability, they can progress in their recovery through inpatient care, outpatient medical services and therapy, which was an integral part of Alexa Nixon’s recovery. It helped her get back in the pool, on the volleyball and basketball courts and into college.

In just a few days Nixon will be back in the hospital, this time starting her career as a neurosurgery nurse at VCU Medical Center. She’s come a long way from the day doctors told her she may never walk again. Her personal journey and the care she received in the PICU inspired her to pursue a career of caring for others. 

“If there’s a storm, and these patients and families are experiencing storms, this is where you want to be,” said Nixon of the PICU she and her family know so well.