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A Picture Worth 1,000 Words

By Leslie Hill
January 2011

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Caitlin Lovejoy had Angelman Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes developmental delays and typically results in a happy demeanor with frequent laughing and smiling. It’s the way her family will always remember her.

Her oldest sister, Sarah Huckabay, said that although Caitlin couldn’t speak or walk without assistance, she never missed out on family activities.

“Growing up, my sister Rachel and I knew Caity was different from others' siblings. But she was never treated any different. She rode rollercoasters, went swimming, and went on airplanes to vacations just like any other family member. She was just one of the gang – always along for the ride,” said Huckabay, who is a nurse on the surgical step-down unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Caitlin also had scoliosis and came to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in February 2008 to have rods placed in her spine.

“After the surgery her back looked awesome, and we were joking we would have to buy her longer pants because she was so much taller,” Huckabay said. “On post-op day one or two she wasn’t waking up. The doctors were worried she was over-sedated, but a CT showed she had had a stroke and she just went downhill from there.”

Caitlin, 22, died from complications following surgery.

The family asked that donations be made to the Children’s Hospital in her memory and spent a lot of time deciding where to designate the funds.

“My parents were proactive that the donations go toward something meaningful. It is nice to see it materialize into something that can have real results, and it is nice that Cait is remembered in that way,” Huckabay said.

Memorial contributions were given to Jon Schoenecker, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, to purchase the Synergy 2 plate reader for his lab. The $40,000 machine has aided his research in coagulation, which could have effects in health issues as far reaching as cancer metastasis, infection and wound healing.

Caitlin’s father, Steven Lovejoy, M.D., a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital, had mentored Schoenecker when he was a resident at Vanderbilt. When he found out Schoenecker was returning after a fellowship at Children’s Hospital Boston, there was no doubt where the memorial funds would go.

“My one little exposure to research at [the University of Kentucky] was to count bacteria, and that machine would never work,” Lovejoy said. “I’ve always remembered that, and I wanted Jon to buy something that would help him work and make his research easier.”

Right above the lab bench holding the plate reader, beside pipettes and microscopes, hangs a framed portrait of the Lovejoy family – three beautiful, smiling daughters, their mother, Carolyn, and father, Steven.

Each time a researcher loads a new plate into the machine, they are reminded of the generosity that is making their work possible.

Schoenecker said having the plate reader has accelerated his work tremendously.

“Before, we had to beg, borrow and steal a plate reader to get anything done. The Lovejoys have been incredible in what their donation has allowed us to do. It is inspiring to see their picture right above the machine and really makes us feel like we have a purpose in what we are doing,” he said.

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