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Raising the Bar

Rini Olson, now 5, was dying in a Chinese hospital when she was adopted by Andrea and Eric Olson and brought home to the United States with hopes for a heart transplant. Dr. Erin Albers (left) and transplant nurse coordinator Pam Hopkins are part of the team that guides Rini and her parents through the follow-up care that keeps her new heart healthy.

When Andrea and Eric Olson adopted their daughter, Rini, from China, she was 22 months old and needed a heart transplant. But pediatric heart centers across the United States told the Olsons, who live in Salem, Ore., that Rini was too malnourished to endure the operation.

“We got ready to say goodbye,” Andrea Olson remembers. “Then Seattle Children’s called and said they would consider Rini for a transplant. I couldn’t stop crying — I could tell from Rini’s eyes that she didn’t want to give up.”

Families travel from around the world to Seattle Children’s Heart Center because, like the Olsons, they’ve been told their child is too medically complicated or too fragile to survive a transplant. Seattle Children’s is using innovative approaches to expand the boundaries of heart transplants and give these families hope. The center’s survival rates are among the nation’s best — more than 92% of patients live for more than three years after heart transplants.

“Sometimes you have to try something new or a child is going to die,” says Dr. Michael McMullan, who directs the transplant surgery program. “Those kids deserve a chance to live, and we believe we have the expertise and experience to be successful even when we’re doing something that hasn’t been done before.” Read full post »

A Miracle in the Making

Greta Oberhofer’s leukemia is in remission thanks to T-cell immunotherapy developed at Seattle Children’s.

Greta Oberhofer survived a bone marrow transplant for leukemia when she was just 8 months old — but the side effects nearly killed her. Then, six months later, her family’s worst fears came to life.

“My husband put the doctor on speaker phone — he told me Greta relapsed and that her prognosis was bad,” remembers her mother, Maggie Oberhofer. “She had already suffered so much with the chemotherapy and transplant, and we didn’t want to put her through that again. We didn’t know what to do.”

The Oberhofers — who live in Portland — were considering hospice for Greta. Then they heard that Seattle Children’s Dr. Rebecca Gardner was testing a therapy that uses reprogrammed immune cells to attack certain kinds of leukemia.

“Dr. Gardner said not to give up because her therapy was putting kids like Greta in remission, and that the side effects were often a lot easier to tolerate,” Oberhofer says. “We suddenly had a way forward.”

A few months later, the Oberhofers watched Greta’s reprogrammed cells drip into her body. Two weeks after that, her cancer was in remission.

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Researchers Use Social Media to Gauge Suicide Risk

social mediaA Seattle Children’s researcher is chasing an elusive goal: finding a way to know when adolescents and young adults who contemplate suicide might actually try to harm themselves.

“Suicide risk rises and falls but it’s really hard to tell when it’s rising, even when you’re regularly seeing a patient,” said Dr. Molly Adrian, a psychologist at Seattle Children’s and investigator in Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development.

Now, Adrian is pursuing an innovative solution – a computerized system that would search adolescents’ social media posts for signs of crisis and alert a medical specialist or family member when someone needs immediate help. Read full post »

Starting Out Strong

Chief of cardiology Dr. Mark Lewin leads the Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment team at Seattle Children’s. He specializes in fetal diagnosis and the ongoing care of children with congenital heart defects.

Chief of cardiology Dr. Mark Lewin leads the Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment team at Seattle Children’s. He specializes in fetal diagnosis and the ongoing care of children with congenital heart defects.

When pregnant couples discover problems with their babies, Seattle Children’s Prenatal Diagnosis and Treatment Program helps them make some of the toughest decisions they’ll ever face.

When an ultrasound revealed a problem with her baby’s heart, Melinda Deitz – then five months pregnant – was referred to Seattle Children’s for a fetal echocardiogram – a test to pinpoint what was wrong.

Deitz could feel the baby moving in her belly as she and her husband, Rich, waited for the results. They hoped everything was OK or that the problem was easy to fix. But when they saw the look on Dr. Mark Lewin’s face they knew it was serious. Read full post »

Discovery could help prevent shunt infections, improve treatment for children with hydrocephalus

Thousands of children are diagnosed each year with hydrocephalus, a condition in which the body can’t properly drain the fluid that builds up around the brain. Physicians commonly treat hydrocephalus by implanting a shunt in the brain to carry the excess fluid to other parts of the body.

Shunts save lives, but too often they also lead to infections that can require multiple surgeries and leave patients hospitalized for weeks.

Physicians don’t know why shunt infections are so common, or why they sometimes come back over and over again. But an investigator at Seattle Children’s Research Institute may have found a clue to this longstanding mystery.

In a study published today in PLOS ONE, Tamara Simon, MD, MSPH, and her colleagues outline a discovery that could help understand, treat and prevent future infections. Researchers used genetic sequencing to conduct the first-ever inventory of microbiota – the complex assortment of bacteria and fungi – found in the cerebrospinal fluid of eight children with shunt infections. They identified a surprisingly large and diverse variety of pathogens, including many never before associated with shunt infections. This suggests that many different pathogens may conspire to drive the infections.

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Going old school: Researcher encourages walking school bus to prevent childhood obesity

Walking school bus

More than one third of children and adolescents are obese or overweight, and more and more families are coming to Jason Mendoza, MD, MPH, for advice on how to help their kids lose extra pounds. But obesity treatments can be difficult to complete and are often expensive. Mendoza is testing a new approach that aims to prevent obesity using ideas from eras when obesity was uncommon.

“I’m looking at whether getting children to walk or ride their bikes to school can increase children’s physical activity and reduce their risk of obesity,” said Mendoza, a principal investigator in the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and associate professor at the University of Washington.

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Magnets pose an increasing risk to children

MagnetsAn 8-year-old girl comes to the emergency room with what her parents think is stomach flu, then is rushed into surgery after X-rays show she swallowed three tiny magnets. A toddler eats magnets that look like candy, then has part of her bowels removed after the magnets click together inside her.

They’re stories that make parents squirm – and they’re becoming all too familiar to Julie Brown, MD, co-director of pediatric emergency medicine research at Seattle Children’s. Brown treats children in Seattle Children’s Emergency Department and is seeing more and more cases where kids accidentally swallow magnets or insert them into their nose, ears or other orifices, with potentially life-threatening consequences.

In a study published Aug. 6 in Annals of Emergency Medicine, she and her colleagues found that this is a national trend: From 2002 to 2011, there was a significant increase in kids receiving emergency care after accidentally taking magnets into their bodies, indicating that magnet-related injuries are an increasing public health problem for children.

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