Volunteering helps former patient find her calling

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Coming to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite feels like coming home to Amelia Holley.

"It's magic, when I walk through the door, it really is," the 22-year old says. "I love walking in the door and just knowing names and faces and knowing people."

It's all familiar because the University of Georgia sophomore has been a patient at Children's since before she was even born.

"I have had 58 brain surgeries, and one stroke," Holley says.

Her mom was still pregnant with her in 1997, when Amelia she was diagnosed with Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a congenital brain malformation, that causes fluid and pressure to build up at the base of her skull.

Holley also has hydrocephalus, a build up of fluid in the ventricles deep within her brain.

Children’s pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. William Boydston performed Holley's first surgery when she was days old, placing a shunt to drain the fluid from her brain. 

It was the beginning of a long series of operations.

"Shunts have been around since 1955, and they still malfunction like they did in 1955," Boydston says.  "So, Amelia underwent a number of procedures."

"I really grew thinking I was no different from anyone else," Holley says.  "I just had to go into the hospital and have surgery."

But, in high school, things grew complicated.

The pressure and pain intensified. 

At 18, Holley suffered a stroke.

Unable to walk, she didn't want to get out of bed.  

That's where Button and the other Children's dogs came in.

 "So, they figured out that I really, really enjoyed dogs," she says. "So, they'd say, 'There's a dog downstairs!' and I was like, 'Okay, I'm there!'"

Button helped Holley get through some tough times, and inspired her to come back to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta last fall.

This time, Holley wasn't a patient, she was a volunteer.

And that very first day, she says, she found her calling.

"I left, and I was, like, this is what I have to do, I've found it," she remembers.

Dr. Boydston says Holley can offer a kind of been-there empathy that is unique.

"She's done super," he says.  "You just look at her.  Medical care is one part of it.  She had a great family."

Now she considers Children's part of that family.

"It was honestly the best part of my job was getting this badge right here," she smiles.  "Being able to go into the parking deck and park. I was just so excited that I get to do all that, and be like a Children's employee, even though I wasn't; I was a volunteer, but still."

These days Amelia Holley has a new goal. 

She wants to be a child life specialist.

Her dream is to return to Children's Healthcare, one day.

"That is the dream," Holley says.  "I can't imagine anything better than waking up every morning and saying, 'I work at Children's!'"