On the Pulse

Promising Drug Combination Silences the Rage of Graft-Versus-Host Disease

London Bowater fought for her life for nearly 180 days in the hospital when she developed severe GVHD after a cord blood transplant.

To pass the nearly 180 days she was a patient in Seattle Children’s Cancer Unit with graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), London Bowater took orders from her doctors, nurses and other patients and families for friendship bracelets that she would braid from her hospital bed.

While her handicraft would help fill the time between treatments, it did little to help ease the severe GVHD she developed after a cord blood transplant for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“Her hair was falling out and her intestines were hemorrhaging blood, yet somehow my little ray of sunshine still managed to stay positive and touch all the amazing doctors and nurses with her kindness,” said Nicholas Bowater of his then 8-year-old daughter. “At one point the hemorrhaging was so bad, I melted.  I went into the empty room next door and lost it. I knew we would need a miracle.” Read full post »

A Month of Hope for the Gwilliam Family

Atticus Gwilliam was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2016.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. But What does ‘awareness’ really mean?

To become aware? To obtain new knowledge? To gain a new perspective? To become informed? To become concerned or even empathetic to an unfamiliar situation?

The concept of awareness can take on many faces, and its perception can change depending on the person you talk to. To the mother who spends her days at a children’s hospital, it’s a sense of defeat and desperation about the path that life has taken her. To the father who lost his son, a harrowing and solemn reminder of a fierce battle once fought. To the general social media patron, it may be a month of raw images that they don’t fully understand.

This was the crossroad we found ourselves in as we entered the doors at Seattle Children’s Hospital 12 long months ago. The world of childhood cancer was not something that was on my radar as a mother of three (with one on the way), let alone with regards to one of my own children. Read full post »

Wyatt’s Creativity Cruises Onto Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Race Car

The design 9-year-old cancer patient Wyatt Zender created for Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 race car.

In just three days, 9-year-old Wyatt Zender and his family will see his artwork come to life on the Chicagoland Speedway.

Wyatt, a cancer patient at Seattle Children’s, was the lucky winner of a coloring contest presented by Great Clips to design the paint scheme for Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Great Clips Strong Against Cancer Chevrolet SS, which Kahne will drive at the first playoff race of the NASCAR Cup Series, The Tales of the Turtles 400, on Sept. 17.

“Our family is so excited to see Wyatt’s colorful design speed down the racetrack,” said Wyatt’s mom, Heather Zender. “This has been a great opportunity to give Wyatt the chance to do something fun and share his story as well.”

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3-D Simulation Before Difficult Surgery Helps Erin Breathe on Her Own

Dr. Kaalan Johnson leads his team through a surgical simulation

Erin McCloskey, 11, has been a regular at Seattle Children’s her entire life. First diagnosed with a rare heart defect, a genetic specialist at Seattle Children’s later discovered she had fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP). FOP is a complex condition that turns tissue, ligaments and tendons into bone that is outside the typical skeletal structure. Eventually, a person’s joints lose their mobility and it can cause breathing, movement and eating difficulties.

In August, Erin’s mother, Suzanne, sat with her in her hospital room as she did almost every minute of every day since April. Erin’s bed was stacked with stuffed animals and cards sent from members of the online FOP community who showered her and her family with support.

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Stepping Out of the Shadow of Cancer

This August, my kids and I were among the millions of people watching the solar eclipse with awe. At the apex, in that moment of relative cold and darkness, I tried to lighten the mood with a bad mom joke: “It must be hard for the sun to feel so powerless today, huh?”

But rather than laugh or roll his eyes, my 10-year-old son replied with innocent wisdom.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” he said. “It will pass. All shadows do.”

He’s right. One thing I’ve learned from working with families facing childhood and adolescent cancer is that the shadow of cancer – that loss of control, that fear, that stress – does eventually lift. In fact, the history of human experience includes a myriad of examples of overcoming adversity. Think of the wars, natural disasters and other serious illnesses humans constantly encounter. In general, we recover, and ultimately learn from the experiences.

How do we do it? The answer is “resilience” and it is what I study. Allow me to share some of what I have learned through my conversations with patients and families. Read full post »

Teen’s Determination After Brain Tumor Surgery Takes Her to Harvard

Liesel Von Imhof, 18, doing one of her favorite activities – cross-country skiing.

Liesel Von Imhof, 18, came to Seattle Children’s from her home in Anchorage after learning the reason for her migraines: a ping-pong ball–sized tumor in the middle of her brain. In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, here she shares her journey of diligently working to achieve her goals despite recovering from brain tumor surgery during her senior year of high school.

How long does it take to recover from brain surgery? What does “recovery” really mean? Would I be the same as before, or to what degree would I be different? These were the many questions swirling around in my mind on July 12, 2016, when I sat next to my pale-faced mother in the hospital as we learned I had a brain tumor. I was diagnosed with a Pilocytic Astrocytoma tumor in the third ventricle of my brain.

With this diagnosis, I was soon on a journey of self-discovery to learn just how much grit and determination I really had. Whether I liked it or not, I was going to have to go through two brain surgeries. My life depended on it.

I gripped the thin hospital bed and prepared myself for the ride. Read full post »

Program Prepares Future Nurses to Care for Children in Yakima Valley

Nursing students (left to right) Collette Flinkfelt, Julie Rodriguez, Sandra Sanchez, Stephanie Jimenez and Josephina Salazar were part of a pilot to provide hands-on pediatric nursing experience.

A lot can happen in a month. A patient can beat their illness.

A crawling baby can take their first steps. And a nursing student can learn skills that will save lives.

The latter is certainly happening with students from Heritage University, who have visited Seattle Children’s in two waves this summer.

The university, which is located on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Toppenish, Washington, partnered with Seattle Children’s for the first time.

“It’s different here than anyplace else we’ve been,” said Claudia Padilla, one of four students who came for training in June. “The support from nurses was amazing; I felt trusted to take full care of patients and encouraged to try new things.” Read full post »

Seattle Children’s Longest-Working Therapy Dog Bids ‘Furwell’ For Retirement

In honor of National Dog Day, On the Pulse is recognizing a special four-legged volunteer who has provided comfort to patients at Seattle Children’s every week for more than 11 years.

If Abe had the ability to talk, he would likely share powerful stories about the thousands of kids he has met throughout his 11-year career as a registered therapy dog.

The road to becoming a therapy dog isn’t easy for most loyal companions, but for Abe, it was his calling.

“I always said he was born to be a therapy dog,” said Judith Bonifaci, Abe’s owner and trusty handler. “From the moment I met him, I could tell he was an old soul who had a special purpose in life.”

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Smooth Milestone Transitions for the New School Year

With fall around the corner, families are preparing for the new school year. Whether you have a child headed to preschool or kindergarten, or a tween or teen making the jump to middle or high school, Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s, provides the following tips to help milestone transitions go well for the whole family.

“Parents set the tone for how well the transition to a new school goes,” said Breuner. “When parents are worried about the transition and put too much focus on it, children take notice of the anxiety and feel that they should be worried, too. The best approach is to talk about the transition as a normal next step, prepare for the year and take time to ask about what’s exciting and what’s concerning to your child.” Read full post »

Meet a 6 Year-Old Philanthropist

Ryker Ringstad on his first day of preschool

Someone forgot to tell Ryker Ringstad that he was a patient at Seattle Children’s, not a fundraiser.

A happy, gregarious kiddo with blonde hair and a playful spirit, Ryker bounces around his room at the hospital. He climbs on his dad, Paul, and mother, Sarah. Watching him move, you’d never guess that he just underwent his 14th procedure for the lymphatic anomalies in his tongue and neck. Wearing a Seahawks t-shirt, I ask him who his favorite player is and without missing a beat, he answers “Russell Wilson!”

Ryker hasn’t had an easy path, but as his mother says, “he is one strong, resilient little man.”

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