Tales From the Emergency Room: Dr. Hazel Giunto-Ocampo, Nemours duPont Pediatrics, Bryn Mawr

For this year’s Top Doctors, we turned to emergency room doctors to share their stories of adrenaline, patience and grace under fire.

Photo by Jared CastaldiIt was the fever that concerned her the most. It had lingered a week, despite the 2-year-old boy being given Tylenol. The child’s pediatrician thought blood tests should be done, and the results could be obtained faster if they were done at an ER. So the parents had brought their son to Bryn Mawr Hospital and its chief of pediatric emergency services, Dr. Hazel Guinto-Ocampo.

The parents spoke Spanish and very little English, so Guinto-Ocampo used Main Line Health’s medical translator service. But even that didn’t lead to a clear diagnosis. “All of the symptoms were nonspecific,” she says. “But his parents were certain something was wrong—something more than a cold. I kept asking questions.”

The mother said her little boy was lethargic and not eating well. She told the doctor that she thought his legs were sore. “I could see that he was walking on his own,” says Guinto-Ocampo. “But the mother said, ‘He usually runs.’”

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Guinto-Ocampo saw bruises on his legs—fresh bruises made by her own hands minutes earlier during the exam. “And then I thought, ‘Oh, no,’” she admits.

Guinto-Ocampo ordered emergency blood work. The results confirmed her hunch: The boy had leukemia. Telling the parents through a translator that their son had cancer was grueling. Guinto-Ocampo had to make them understand the condition and the severity of it. The blood test also showed that their son was severely anemic and had an infection that he couldn’t fight because of the leukemia. “If untreated, he could’ve died within a month from an infection, or bled out from a low blood count,” says Guinto-Ocampo.

But the good news was that leukemia is a curative disease. Guinto-Ocampo arranged for the little boy’s transfer to Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., which specializes in pediatric cancers, and he immediately began chemotherapy.

Three years later, Guinto-Ocampo walked over to an ER bed to treat a cut on the head of a 5-year-old boy. Before she could ask any questions, the child’s mother began to sob as she hugged Guinto-Ocampo. “She turned to the boy and said, ‘This is the doctor who diagnosed you with leukemia. She saved your life,’” the doctor recalls. “His cancer was completely gone. I thought, ‘This is why we do what we do.’”

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