Layla Gallagher

Child Health | 6 months ago

Free to Be Layla: Finding Independence After Urology Surgery

A complex urologic reconstruction procedure gave Layla control over her bladder – and freedom to live the life she wants.  

You can hear the emotion swell in her voice as Kara Gallagher, MD, describes her 5-year-old daughter. “Layla is an overcomer. She meets all challenges head-on, looks them square in the face and says, ‘How am I going to get around this?’”

A hospitalist at Atrium Health Mercy, Dr. Gallagher will never forget getting the call 4 years ago. It was from the social services system about a 15-month-old at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital who needed a foster home. The young patient was undergoing intensive rehabilitation therapies after she broke her back, damaged her spinal cord and was paralyzed from the waist down.

The Gallaghers welcomed Layla into their family immediately and adopted her a year later. 

By 2 years old, Layla had come a long way and was even learning to maneuver a wheelchair. But due to her spinal cord injury, she had neurogenic bladder – or lack of bladder control. Previous procedures had provided a temporary fix, but she still had to wear diapers and couldn’t go to school.

By chance, a friend told the Gallaghers about a specialist they’d heard of in Charlotte: Mark Williams, MD, chief of pediatric urology at Atrium Health Levine Children’s. From the first introduction, things just clicked. “You know when you meet someone and think, ‘This is exactly the way it’s supposed to be?’ We view our meeting with Dr. Williams as completely providential,” says Dr. Gallagher.

Dr. Williams informed the Gallaghers about a complex urologic reconstruction procedure, where you enlarge the bladder and repurpose the appendix. “This type of complex urologic reconstruction can change a child’s life by eliminating the need to wear a diaper and be chronically wet, which would be a life-long condition,” explains Dr. Williams.  

The procedure would give Layla better bladder control and the ability to catheterize herself safely, which meant she’d have more independence to do the things she wants.

In a twist of fate, Layla had the surgery on July 4, 2019 – her very own Independence Day.   

‘I can do this’

Layla spent just a few days at Levine Children’s Hospital for her surgery, but her time there was life-changing. “It’s revolutionized the way we can do things,” says Dr. Gallagher. “We couldn’t be more pleased with how professionally it was handled and how kind and sympathetic Dr. Williams was to Layla.”

In the years since her procedure, Layla has learned to do catheterizations by herself and enjoys activities that before seemed out of reach, like swim lessons with her sister Lily Jo. She’s even practicing walking for the first time, with the help of in-home physical therapy and crutches. “It’s a huge step – another thing that she can say, ‘I can do this.’ A lot of it’s possible because Dr. Williams and his team took some of the other limitations off the table,” says Dr. Gallagher. 

Fiercely independent, Layla lives without limits. And this fall, she reached yet another liberating milestone: the first day of kindergarten.