On the Pulse

A Day in the Life of Hank the Therapy Dog

Ever wonder what it’s like to walk in the ‘shoes’, or rather the ‘paw prints’, of a furry friend? In honor of National Dog Day, On the Pulse is featuring one of the incredible canine and human companion pairs that bring joy and comfort to the hospital each week through Seattle Children’s Visiting Dog Program.

Hank, the 5-year-old, 78-pound Old English sheepdog, may seem like an unlikely visitor strolling through the colorful halls of Seattle Children’s, but he’s there for one important reason — to put as many smiles on the faces of young patients as possible.

The shaggy canine with a slow strut makes his rounds visiting patients in different units of the hospital every other Thursday of the month alongside his trusty human companion, Tom Whalen.

During their visits, the “Tom Hanks” duo carry a celebrity-like status, frequently being stopped in the hallways by patients, parents and staff for a quick pet on the head or simple greeting.

From his calm demeanor, soulful stare and wag of the tail each time he encounters someone, it’s clear that Hank, a registered therapy dog who has been visiting the hospital for two years, is skilled in comforting those that he meets.

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Researchers Find Herpes Strain in the Nervous System

In this lab stain, the small orange-spotted cell on the far left shows a nerve cell infected with herpes virus in an animal model.

There are a couple strains of herpes so common that researchers estimate 90% of the human population have them. These strains, human herpes 6 and human herpes 7, usually do not cause severe symptoms when people acquire them. But researchers know that under certain circumstances, dormant herpes viruses in the body can unexpectedly come roaring back and cause complications not typically associated with herpes virus.

Dr. Serge Barcy studies herpes viruses at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. In a paper published in the journal Virology he describes finding the herpes 7 virus hiding in a surprising place: the nervous system of an animal model.

“It’s common to find herpes virus in salivary glands of humans and animals,” Barcy said. “But we found herpes 7 in the nervous system of animal models, which was a surprise because that strain of herpes has not been detected in the nervous system before. We want to understand what it does in the nervous system, if the virus is also in the human nervous system and if it could be associated with nerve diseases.” Read full post »

Lights Out: Sleep for Health, Safety and Success this School Year

It’s that time of year again – time to prepare for the new school year. Soon-to-be kindergarteners are getting familiar with their new playground and are shopping for crayons. Older grade schoolers are guessing what teacher they’ll have and hoping their best friend will be in their class. Middle schoolers and high schoolers are anxiously awaiting their class schedule and are picking out an outfit for the first day. Meanwhile, parents are planning for the fall schedule and thinking about how to best set their child up for success in the new school year.

“Before parents get too far down the road of scheduling the carpool or adjusting their work schedule, take a minute to know what time your child’s school day starts. Some school districts have made significant changes to their bell schedule in a move to align the school day with the time of day that kids are the most alert and focused,” said Dr. Maida Chen, director of Seattle Children’s Sleep Disorders Program.

She shared more on the reason some districts are making changes to start times and provides tips for helping your child get enough sleep. Read full post »

Seahawks to Fund Certified Athletic Trainers Program at Four Local Schools

Athletic TrainersGeniqua Harris, a Seattle Children’s athletic trainer in the Tukwila School District at Foster High School, has spent the last four years on the sidelines of practices and sporting events helping to keep young athletes in the game and injury-free.

“I’ve seen many athletes grow up right before my eyes,” said Harris. “I’ve been working with them since they were small ninth graders. Now, they’re graduating. It’s really rewarding to hear the kids and coaches tell me how much they appreciate me. I’m just doing my job, but I know it means a lot them.”

Throughout the years, Harris has seen a lot of injuries, from common sprains and strains to devastating season-ending fractures. She’s worked with athletes from a wide variety of sports and has helped them get back to the field as safely and quickly as possible after injury. However, there has always been one thing she’s always needed more of: time – time to serve more athletes, tape more ankles and help more kids through rehabilitation.

Today, thanks to the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL Foundation, time will no longer be an issue for Harris. Read full post »

Electrical synapses in the brain offer new avenue for epilepsy research and possible treatment

Dr. Philippe Coulon thinks electrical signals directly exchanged between brain cells may hold promise as a potential target for absence epilepsy treatments.

A child with absence epilepsy may be in the middle of doing something—she could be dancing, studying, talking—when all of a sudden she stares off into space for a few moments. Then, as quickly as she drifted off, the child snaps back into whatever she was doing, unaware that the episode occurred.

That brief moment of disconnect from reality is called an absence seizure, and according to the Epilepsy Society, childhood absence epilepsy accounts for 2-8% of all epilepsy diagnoses. Most cases of childhood absence epilepsy end after puberty, but about 30% of cases continue into adulthood or lead to other forms of epilepsy, says Dr. Philippe Coulon, a neuroscientist at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

“Some kids can have hundreds of these brief seizures a day,” said Coulon. “I can only imagine how hard it is for them to function and have a normal childhood.”

In a study published in the Journal of Physiology, Coulon and his colleagues suggest that electrical signals directly exchanged between brain cells may hold promise as a potential target for absence epilepsy treatments. Read full post »

Keeping Mosquitoes Away: Insect Repellent and Children

Summer is here and backyard barbecues, camping trips and youth camp sessions are in full swing. Amidst all of these fun activities is often a far less welcoming sign of summer: mosquitoes.

While the Pacific Northwest is not home to the type of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus, on very rare occasions, mosquitoes here can carry the West Nile virus. Most often, however, mosquitoes simply leave people with uncomfortable, itchy bites. To help protect your family from mosquitoes as you enjoy the outdoors, Dr. Suzan Mazor, medical director of Toxicology at Seattle Children’s, shares the following advice. Read full post »

Researcher Studies Common Bacteria to Give Babies a Fighting Chance


Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the most common life-threatening bacterial infection in newborns worldwide. GBS typically resides in the lower genital tract but does not cause infections in healthy women. But if the infection is transmitted to an infant during pregnancy, it can lead to preterm birth or stillbirth. If the infection is transmitted to a newborn, it can cause pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis, all of which can occur within the first week of life or within 90 days of birth. The goal of my research is to prevent maternal to infant transmission of GBS.

But not all babies become infected. In the U.S. and other developed countries, pregnant women are screened for GBS around the 37th week of gestation. If found positive, a pregnant woman is given antibiotics during labor to prevent the newborn from being infected, and that has reduced transmission of GBS from mothers to infants during birth. However, infections that occur earlier than 37 weeks or after 1 week of birth are not prevented by these measures. Read full post »

Princesses in Elaborate Outfits Bring Joy to Patients

Cheal PrincessOnce upon a time, in a hospital not so far away, a princess came to spread joy to kids at Seattle Children’s. Wherever the princess went, smiles followed. For one little girl, seeing the princess was a dream come true, and soon – the patient and the princess – became the best of friends.

This is the type of tale that plays out each month at Seattle Children’s thanks to volunteer Chael Stenchever who wears many crowns, transforming herself into a variety of princesses before visiting patients.

Stenchever’s elaborate costumes are nothing short of magical. Just watch her walk through the halls of the hospital during one of her visits and you’ll see that a princess costume can truly brighten a child’s day.

For 8-year-old Daisy Hader, that’s the experience she has when Stenchever comes to visit.

“Characters and stuffed animals are Daisy’s world,” said Lolly Hader, Daisy’s mother. “Meeting the princesses in real life connects her two worlds together – fairy tales and reality. It’s truly magical for her.” Read full post »

Researchers Discover Area of Brain That Controls Breathing

This image shows neurons in the newly identified PiCo region of the brain. The researchers used staining techniques to identify the chemical identity of the neurons, which helps give insight into their function.

This image shows neurons in the newly identified PiCo region of the brain. The researchers used staining techniques to identify the chemical identity of the neurons, which helps give insight into their function.

Neuroscientists at Seattle Children’s Research Institute have discovered an area of the brain that plays a key role in breathing. In a study published in the journal Nature the researchers describe the newly identified area of the brain, which they found plays a key role in exhalation.

“In healthy people, breathing is something we do whether or not we consciously think about it,” said Dr. Nino Ramirez, Director of the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. “This paper describes a part of the brain that is active during passive exhalation, which is important for swallowing, speaking, coughing, and other behaviors that occur after an inhalation.”

The researchers called this region of the brain the postinspiratory complex, or PiCo. Further study and understanding of how this region of the brain works could lead to the development of new treatments for certain neurodegenerative diseases that involve breathing abnormalities.

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Boy With Rare Craniofacial Condition Inspires Others With a Simple Message

Charlie Portrait

Charlie Nath, 11, has a simple message to share with the world.

Charlie Nath, 11, is many things. He’s funny. He’s smart. He’s articulate. He’s courageous. He’s a surfer. He’s a snowboarder. He’s a drummer.

What he’s not, is defined by his rare genetic condition: Crouzon syndrome. He says he wants the world to know, “It’s what’s on the inside that matters the most.”

Changing the world one speech at a time

Crouzon syndrome is estimated to occur in about one of every 62,500 people. It affects each person differently and the severity varies widely. The condition occurs when there is an abnormal fusion of the facial bones and skull, which affects the shape of the head and the appearance of the face. For Charlie, his eyes are set wider apart than normal, he has prominent eyes and his upper and lower jaws don’t align properly. Read full post »