August 12, 2014


Young Mia Spargo clutched her stuffed animal from her seat to the microphone stand where she gently placed the stuffed cat on the floor, picked up a purple microphone and began to sing. She looked out at the audience filled with her doctors, nurses and other staff from Texas Children’s Cancer Center and sang with emotion. Her first song was titled, “God help all the kids on the planet.” The lyrics portrayed a day without cancer and a time without mothers’ tears.

“I want the staff to know they helped save my life,” said Mia in an interview before the concert.

If it weren’t for her beautiful bald head, you would never know little Mia was a cancer patient. She seems strong and energetic. Prior to the concert she was running around at full speed. She said she will never forget her doctors and nurses. Several other cancer survivors joined Mia for the Purple Songs Can Fly staff appreciation concert. The Concert was organized by the Purple Songs Can Fly group which allows children to record songs during their hospital visits on the 14th floor of the Clinical Care Center. Stephen Makia is a nine year cancer survivor who took the mic next.

“Every time I heard the word cancer, I heard death,” said Makia who credits the staff and his grandmother for helping him through the toughest days of his life.

Former American Idol contestant Christian Spear now works for Purple Songs Can Fly in a fellowship. She was a patient at Texas Children’s and dedicates her days now to the patients and staff here by using her talent of singing to bring small moments of joy.

“The work of the doctors and nurses at Texas Children’s is what saved my life 15 years ago,” said Spear who brought the audience to tears with a song dedicated to the staff.

The concert concluded with all the participants standing up to sing to the staff that has helped them make it to today followed by a standing ovation by all of the parents who stood up to thank the staff. A room filled with happy tears for the survivors who have so much to be thankful for.


The chikungunya virus has been identified in the U.S. – and more specifically, in Houston – which has medical professionals here on alert said Dr. Kristy Murray, director of Texas Children’s Laboratory of Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases.

“Considering the number of travelers coming from the Caribbean by plane and by sea, as well as the vast mosquito populations that are more than capable of transmitting chikungunya, we have high concerns that the disease could take hold and begin its spread here in the United States, particularly in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York,” Murray said.

Chikungunya – pronounced like “chicken goonyah” – is a crippling virus that is spread by mosquitoes. The virus has no known treatment and can cause fevers, headaches and painfully debilitating joint pain that lasts for months to years. The word “chikungunya” is African (Makonde) in origin and translates to “that which bends up.” People infected with this virus are literally “bent up” from the extreme joint pain they experience, Murray said in a recent blog post she wrote about the virus.

In early December of 2013, chikungunya was found to be circulating in the Caribbean, the first evidence that the virus made the massive jump to the Western Hemisphere. Now, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 countries are reporting local transmission, with more than 135,000 suspected or confirmed cases.

Several imported cases have already been reported in the US. The first case in Texas was reported on July 7, 2014, and according to information from the Texas Department of State Health Services, as of last week, 10 confirmed cases have been reported across the state. In each of the cases so far, the patients had contracted the virus outside Texas, while traveling to overseas regions where the virus is more common.

So far, there is no evidence of transmission from the mosquito populations here in the Houston area. However just last week, health officials in Harris County say a mosquito tested positive for the chikungunya virus. It is the first chikungunya-positive mosquito detected in the state of Texas. Health officials have not determined whether the mosquito carrying chikungunya in Harris County obtained the virus from an infected person already in Texas, or if it traveled to the United States trapped in large cargo.

“We need to be proactive in our approach to this new disease threat, and think not ‘if’ it will hit but ‘when,’” Murray said.

Texas Children’s is among the state’s first health care organizations to take a proactive approach, conducting active surveillance to identify any positive chikungunya cases in children who come to the emergency clinic with a fever. Murray and her team have already tested hundreds of children with potential warning signs. So far there are no positive test results, but Murray explains that quick and early detection of cases will be critical for an adequate public health response to prevent an epidemic.

“We are laying the groundwork to educate both the public and physicians about this potentially serious disease and create a surveillance network among affiliated hospitals in Texas in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” she said.

Thanks to the hospital’s efforts, word is already starting to spread. USA Today and local KPRC Channel 2 interviewed Murray and published stories about chikungunya virus just last week. Murray is hopeful that increased awareness will lead to preventing bites and slow the spread of the disease.

“It is critical that physicians recognize the clinical features of this disease and keep it on the forefront of their minds when treating a child with a clinically-compatible febrile disease,” Murray said. “Considering the fact that we have the right mosquitoes and conditions here in Houston, we must not exclude chikungunya as a possibility in a child with no history of travel.”

Prevention tips from the CDC

No vaccine exists to prevent the chikungunya virus infection or disease. However, you can take steps avoid mosquito bites which could lead to infection. The mosquitoes that spread the chikungunya virus bite mostly during the daytime.

How to protect yourself and your family:

  • Use air conditioning or window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. If you are not able to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your home or hotel, sleep under a mosquito bed net.
  • Help reduce the number of mosquitoes outside your home or hotel room by emptying standing water from containers such as flowerpots or buckets.
  • When weather permits, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use insect repellents

Symptoms of chickungunya include fever, rash, severe joint pain and fatigue. To read more about the virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


The Family Fertility Center recently hosted an open house to showcase its impressive, state-of-the-art laboratory and in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic located on the third floor of Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women.

Dr. William Gibbons and his team provided tours to demonstrate how the laboratory’s high-tech equipment is helping couples reach their dream of starting a family.

“We use the most advanced fertility treatments available to help families achieve healthy pregnancies,” said Dr. William Gibbons, director of the Family Fertility Center and chief of reproductive endocrinology services at Texas Children’s. “We want our patients to know they’re not alone in this journey, and that our highly-skilled team of endocrinologists and obstetric anesthesiologists will provide the most comfortable treatment possible to meet each couple’s individual needs and concerns.”

81314FertilityClinicinside640Unlike other fertility clinics out there, Texas Children’s Family Fertility Center is the first in Houston to offer the EmbryoScope, an embryo monitoring system that provides continuous moving time-lapse images of embryos as they grow. This technology allows our physicians to identify the healthiest embryo to transfer to the patient, which has been shown to improve IVF success. Our facility also features micro-incubators equipped with fiber-optic, real-time pH monitoring to protect the quality of the embryo environment.

Additionally, the Family Fertility Center has partnered with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to help cancer patients achieve their dream of conceiving a baby; Women faced with cancer have the option of preserving their fertility before they undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments.

“Building families is what our mission is all about,” said Gibbons. “We’re here to serve you, and we look forward to offering the most advanced fertility treatments available in our new state-of-the-art facility.”

Click here to view a video tour of Texas Children’s Family Fertility Center. If you have questions, want to schedule an appointment, or learn more about the benefits available to full-time Texas Children’s Hospital employees, call Ext. 6-7500.


Dr. Tamara Todd was 5 months pregnant when she found out her unborn daughter had a heart defect and would most certainly need surgery within her first moments of life. Her maternal fetal medicine specialist in Hilo, Hawaii told Todd and her husband that their baby girl, whom they planned to name Kirana, had Tetralogy of Fallot. Hilo does not have a children’s hospital, and the one in Honolulu does not have regular cardiothoracic surgery services, so they decided the best option was to head to the mainland U.S for delivery and post natal care.

They chose Texas Children’s Hospital for a variety of reasons. At the beginning of her career as a doctor, Todd was a part of Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) from 2006 to 2008 in Botswana and Lesotho so she was familiar with the reputation of both Baylor and Texas Children’s.

“I knew Texas Children’s would be a great place to get the best care,” says Todd of her choice to move to Houston. “Not only is it ranked as one of the top pediatric hospitals for cardiology and heart surgery, but also my parents live in the Houston area, so it really just felt like home.”

Once the decision was made, Todd connected with Christie Moran, nurse coordinator from the Texas Children’s Fetal Center, and transferred her OB care at 36 weeks of pregnancy, and arranged prenatal consult with pediatric cardiology and pediatric surgery.

“Every single person that we interacted with during outpatient visits, my admission for induction and ultimate c-section, our time in the NICU with Kirana and, of course, the surgical team were all outstanding,” says Todd of her time in Houston. “Texas Children’s quickly felt like a home away from home for my family.”

Kirana was born on December 31, 2013 at the Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women and taken immediately to surgery to repair the defect in her heart. Dr. Charles D. Fraser led a team of specialists in surgery, including Dr. Shaine Morris from Cardiology and Dr. Erin Gottlieb from Anesthesiology. The team at the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit managed Kirana’s post-surgical care.

“We were very fortunate that Kirana’s tetralogy of fallot was prenatally diagnosed by her doctor in Hawaii. Her family was able to temporarily move to Houston and deliver at the Pavilion for Women,” according to Kirana’s cardiologist, Dr. Morris. “Kirana’s heart condition is one that we treat often at Texas Children’s, and thanks to a multidisciplinary team, led by Dr. Fraser, we were able to provide her with the best care, and Kirana’s prognosis is very good.”

Kirana’s surgery was a success, and now just a few months later, the family is back home in Hawaii with their beautiful, healthy daughter

Watch the newest “I am Texas Children’s” video featuring employee Dana Gonzales in West Campus – Diabetes/Endocrine Care Center. “As a pediatric nurse, I love taking care of children and providing support to their families. There’s always room to grow and learn new things at Texas Children’s.” Check out her video, and find out how you and your coworkers can be featured in the “I Am Texas Children’s” section on Connect.


By Shelly Lopez-Gray

August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and every time I go online, I’ve seen pictures of different celebrities breastfeeding their babies. The last one I saw was of Olivia Wilde, perfectly perched in what looks like a diner’s booth, her dress flowing around her, breastfeeding her naked 4-month old baby. The picture is really, really lovely, but I never had one of those moments.

The first time I breastfed my NICU baby, I was so nervous. He was so little, and he was covered with all these wires and tubes and I was afraid I’d hurt him. But I knew that he needed me and I really felt like my breast milk was the medicine he needed to get better. I was so thankful that he was such a great breastfeeder for such a little guy! As a registered nurse and lactation consultant, I know breast milk alters to meet your baby’s needs. I genuinely believe that I helped him get better faster by breastfeeding him.

When I went back to work, breastfeeding became more of a challenge. There were times I couldn’t wait to give it up. Because Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women offers designated spaces for employees to pump, it was never hard finding a place to pump once I came back to work. But it took so much effort to clean the parts, store the milk and make the bottles. It was so much easier to just put him to my breast! But I kept breastfeeding and pumping because I loved being able to do something that would give my baby the very best start.


My baby is almost a year old now. He is no longer breastfeeding, but I miss it, and if I could still do it, I would. Although I know I never looked like Olivia Wilde perched in that chair, I loved having him so close to me. I loved feeling every breath he took. I loved feeling the weight of his little baby body next to me, and I loved the way he fell asleep in that breast milk coma after I nursed him.

Breastfeeding is beautiful and selfless, and it’s a gift that only a mother can give to her baby. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, it’s not always the most convenient, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for you baby.

If you know in advance that you are going to have a NICU baby, or if you are surprised with one after delivery, the most important thing you can do is pump as soon as possible after delivery to help establish your milk supply. If you are considering whether or not to breastfeed your baby, know it’s not as glamorous as it might look in some pictures. But every ounce of effort is worth it when you hold your baby close and share a moment with him that can only be had between mother and her baby.

August 7, 2014


On the 12th floor of West Tower, in an eight-bed rehabilitation unit, the rehab team including therapists, nurses, neuropsychologists, child life specialists and physicians,  are helping children relearn how to do those things that we all take for granted; walk, talk, stand, eat, bathe and play. It’s the daily tasks that they once knew well but after being impacted by a disease or accident, these children must relearn the basics. Just two years after opening its doors, the unit has seen 262 patients many who, with intensive rehabilitation, progressed from little or no functional independence to actively participating in their lives outside of the hospital walls.

Watch a short video explaining why we opened the unit in May of 2012

Now, the unit is celebrating a major milestone after receiving the highest level of accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). It is the only pediatric inpatient rehabilitation facility in the state of Texas and one of only 31 worldwide with this level of accreditation. CARF international is an independent, nonprofit accreditor of health and human services.

“We built this unit with the understanding that we wanted to be leaders in the pediatric rehabilitation community and we wanted to lead in the nation,” said Dr. Christian Niedzweicki, medical director of inpatient rehabilitation. “We wanted to be a center of national prominence and CARF is the gold standard.”

The CARF accreditation means the rehab program has demonstrated significant conformance with at least 1,500 standards signifying quality care for children with multiple disabilities in the inpatient rehab setting. The CARF accreditation survey team who conducted the survey  interviewed physicians, nurses, therapists, patients and patient families as well as system-wide organizational representatives to determine the level of care and service that was being provided.. Accreditation is predicated at least in part on how well the rehab program addresses the individual needs of the patients and families.   Texas Children’s inpatient rehabilitation team creates an individualized and family centered plan of care for each patient based on their needs and levels of disability and ability. The rehab team sets daily, weekly and discharge goals unique to each child and their levels of progress. The child’s every activity from waking up in the morning and brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, attending therapy sessions, school, playing and each step until bedtime is dedicated to their recovery.

“Our team is passionate and dedicated to helping each child and their family achieve the best possible outcome,” said Shelley Ellison, director of physical medicine and rehabilitation. The team members, including the patients and their families, work collaboratively to achieve the identified goals throughout the day and night through hands-on intervention as well as ongoing progressive education to patients, families and others.

The program’s newest recognition is just the beginning of an on-going process of continuous performance and quality improvement. Niedzwecki said most programs don’t attempt accreditation until they’ve been open for at least five years. The Texas Children’s Hospital rehab unit submitted their letter of intent to be surveyed for accreditation at just 18 months.  The rehab team works collaboratively to embrace the culture of ongoing improvement while striving to be the best in the country.

“We will continue to constantly reassess the input from our patients and their families to continue improvement,” said Niedzwecki. “This accreditation means we are doing what is right for the patient and are now recognized by an international accrediting organization that helps us become a leader in the field.”

Niedzwecki and Ellison both emphasize the commitment of the entire IRU team and numerous others across the organization that made this major accomplishment a possibility.