On the Pulse

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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What to Know About New Guidelines for High Blood Pressure in Children

Flynn_hypertension

Dr. Joseph Flynn served as the co-chair of the national committee responsible for developing the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new guidelines on high blood pressure.

Parents may notice a renewed focus on screening for hypertension at their child’s next well-child checkup thanks to new guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

While hypertension, or high blood pressure, is common in adults, many people are unaware that approximately 3.5% of all children and adolescents also have the condition. If left untreated, over time hypertension can damage many organs of the body, including the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes.

“The goal is to ensure every child receives annual screening for high blood pressure starting at age 3,” said Dr. Joseph Flynn, an expert in treating children with hypertension at Seattle Children’s and co-chair of the national committee responsible for developing the new guidelines. “Evidence shows pediatricians aren’t routinely measuring blood pressure in younger children, or may not recognize when a child’s blood pressure is high, causing high blood pressure to go undetected and untreated.” Read full post »

Serious Illness Shapes, but Does Not Define Young Doctor

Dr. Alex Kula is a resident at Seattle Children’s. As a young adult, Kula was the recipient of a life-saving living liver transplant.

As a resident at Seattle Children’s, Dr. Alex Kula brings a unique perspective to patient care: his own history as a youth with a serious illness.

Here Alex shares how his uncle gave the ultimate gift, and why the experience drives him to help sick children live healthy and fulfilling lives.

I was 15 years old and a normal teenager: living in Phoenix, hanging out with my friends at school and running with the cross-country team.

Then a mysterious autoimmune storm interrupted the normalcy of my life. It left me with type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis and an inflamed liver. Blood tests later revealed primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a disease of the bile ducts, as the cause of my liver inflammation.

Prior to this, I had never really been sick — which was fortunate, considering how much I hated to go to the doctor. However, I quickly came to appreciate the complexity and wonder of medicine. Read full post »

Bike Trains Shown to Increase Physical Activity Among Children

Children who participated in the bike train study averaged an additional 21 minutes of exercise per day and increased cycling to school by 45%.

The path to healthier living for children could be the same one they take to school.

Children who participated in adult-supervised group bicycle rides to and from school increased their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by 21 minutes per day and daily cycling commutes by 45%, according to a pilot study recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The additional exercise study participants gained from riding in the groups, known as bike trains, accounted for 35% of the 60 minutes of physical activity recommended daily for children.

“Regular physical activity can help build muscle and bone strength, raise energy levels, and help reduce the risk of conditions like obesity and heart disease,” said Seattle Children’s researcher Dr. Jason Mendoza, who served as the principal investigator for the study. Read full post »