Nurse practitioner gives heartbeat animals to heart patients in memory of her son

A local heart nurse practitioner lost her three-month-old son to a heart issue and other complications. Some might have stayed away from the hospital where he died but Kelsey Mercer is not only back on the job, she's giving away a special gift to other families in honor of her son.

If careers could be on Mapquest, the destination for Nurse Practitioner Kelsey Mercer, was always the 7th floor of St. Louis Children's hospital.

"I've been a nurse in the heart center since I graduated from nursing school, "she explains.

It's scary for any patient or family here, so Kelsey does her best to make the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, a comfort zone.

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"In the heart center, "she notes, "we have some longer term families so you really get to know them and really get to know their children.

Children like 7-month-old Anthony Johnson.

"Anthony was born with down syndrome. He has three congenital heart defects. Pulmonary hypertension and chronic lung disease, "explains his mom Teresa Johnson.

No one so small should have to go through so much, but the doctors and nurses here have given Anthony a fighting chance. Something Kelsey's own son never had.

When Lincoln was born in 2015, Kelsey and her husband knew that he might have to spend some time in the very unit where Kelsey worked.

"We found out during an ultrasound that he could potentially have issues with his heart, recalls Matt Mercer, Kelsey's husband.

But on the doctor's chart, it turned out that the heart was just the first line on a long list of complications.

"He had a type of juvenile leukemia and he had a lung disorder. Essentially, his lymphatic system was abnormal, "Kelsey tells us. "It sort of the feels like a bad dream that you don't think is real."

Parents are supposed to plan their children's future, they aren't supposed to plan to say good-bye. Little Lincoln fought hard for three months until he couldn't fight anymore.

Having been through something like that, most people would have probably stayed as far away from the hospital as possible but Kelsey isn't most people.

"I wanted to be able to come back for the other patients and families here as someone who would have an idea of what they're going through, "says Kelsey.

And now she comes into each room, not with a stethoscope but with a stuffed animal that has something special inside.

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With the parent's permission, Kelsey records the heartbeat of sick babies and children on a small device that actually looks like a heart. It's then placed inside the toy that she gives away.

"They're children have to go through so much as it is and their individual heartbeats are special, says Kelsey.

On this floor, with their babies connected to so many machines parents often hug their child's stuffed animal. This way, it's almost like, they hug back.

"We don't know what Anthony's future is going to be, "says Johnson. "We don't know how long we will have with him so it's kind of nice to know we have this."

If you peek in the rooms here on the 7th floor, you're likely to see a stuffed frog or stuffed elephant. Kelsey and Matt have now given comfort to more than 50 families."

The first one actually went to the newest member of Kelsey's family. 10-month-old Graham now has a small part of his older brother.

"This is just one way that I get to continue loving him and carrying on his memory, "explains Kelsey.

Lincoln was here just a short time but he's clearly making a big impact.

"I mean it definitely makes everything feel like Lincoln's death like he's still helping even though he's not here with us today, "says Matt.

One family taking a painful memory and turning it into a work of heart.