February 16, 2016

A year ago, Knatalye and Adeline Mata lay on an operating table at Texas Children’s Hospital conjoined from the chest to the pelvis. For the next 26 hours, a team of surgeons and support staff separated the girls in an historic and intricate procedure meticulously choreographed to ensure that each step of the process would lead to and support the steps to come. Throughout the procedure, the Mata family stood by, waiting and praying for good news.

Just before 10 a.m. on February 18, 2015 the family counted their prayers as answered when they saw their girls, apart for the first time in adjacent rooms in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where they were cared for by a team of specialized nurses. Since then, the almost 2-year-old twins have been discharged from the hospital and are living relatively normal lives in Littlefield, Texas with their parents Elysse and John Eric, 6-year-old brother Azariah and 5-month-old sister, Mia.

“The girls are both doing awesome,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, one of the lead surgeons in the separation case. “Neither have experienced any complications and both are making steady progress.”

Knatalye is beginning to walk, talk and eat by mouth. Adeline is meeting milestones as well. Her lungs are continuing to improve and she is slowly being weaned from ventilator support. Both girls are still undergoing physical and occupational therapy.

Several members of the medical staff involved in the girl’s care got to see how much Adeline and Knatalye have grown and how far they’ve come during a recent visit the Mata family made to Texas Children’s for follow-up appointments with pediatric subspecialists monitoring the twins’ health and development.

Aimee Renaudin, one of Adeline and Knatalye’s primary nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, said she is amazed that the girls are doing so well.

“You would never know how they started off their lives together,” she said. “Elysee and Eric have taken such good care of them.”

Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, the other lead surgeon in the separation case, said it’s a blessing to see how far Adeline and Knatalye have come.

“It’s always a joy to see the changes that have gone on,” he said. “They’ve gone from just being little babies to now trying to walk and talk and interact with you.”

John Eric said his daughters have far exceeded his expectations and that he and Elysee are enjoying being able to care for the girls at home.

“It’s nice to be able to have all of us together and to be able to wake up and know that they’re there,” Elysee said. “It’s fun to be able to be mom and dad, which we didn’t get to do for the first 10 months of their lives.”

The Mata family will return to Texas Children’s this summer for a checkup. During that visit, surgeons will operate on Knatalye, removing the metal struts used to stabilize her rib cage and to close her chest wall.

To read more about their journey click here. See photos from the Mata family’s latest visit to Texas Children’s below.

21716Texansinside640On February 10, in honor of Heart Month, Houston Texans Brian Peters and Jon Weeks, Houston Texans Cheerleaders and TORO brought smiles to patients at Texas Children’s Heart Center. The players, cheerleaders and TORO also got into the Valentine’s Day spirit as they posed for shots in a photo booth, made cards, signed autographs and brought smiles to patient families. To see more pictures from the Texans visit, see below. To watch a video of the visit, click here.

An armadillo with thick, long eyelashes whistles as she notices a problem with the blood flow in a child’s heart. Almost immediately an army of robot-like caregivers race into the hospital room and fix the problem.

No, this is not your typical medical setting. This is an imaginary world made to help children with heart problems better understand their diagnosis and potential treatment options. Created by a team led by Chief of Cardiology Dr. Daniel Penny, the series of almost 40 animated videos features Ruby, an armadillo; Beau, a bison; and a group of caregivers called Blings.

Ruby and Beau’s role in the videos is to identify the problem with a child’s heart, call in the Blings for help and explain – in very simple terms – what’s happening and how it’s affecting the patient. The Blings fix whatever is wrong while hopping in and out of colorful cars and using a cadre of MacGyver-like tools.

“The aim of our project is to improve the health literacy of the children and parents who come to us with heart disease,” Penny said. “If we can empower them through information, we can likely improve their treatment outcome and overall quality of life.”

To effectively communicate complex issues such as ventricular septal defect and patent ductus arteriosis, Penny is working with Michael Liddy, a friend and Australian animator, to script the 4- to 7-minute videos and create their characters, sound effects and musical score, all of which are done very intentionally and with the young age of the viewer in mind.

An additional bonus to the production of the videos, which is being funded by a grant from ExxonMobil, is the voices of Ruby and Beau are recorded at Texas Children’s Hospital by employees Hasti Taghi and Dr. Stuart Hall.

“We were very lucky to get the voices of Ruby and Beau in house,” Penny said. “They definitely add a special touch.”

To date, six of the videos in the series have been completed and were unveiled at a February 15 red carpet premier at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women (click here to view a video). Doctors, patients and families across the organization and beyond can access the videos via Texas Children’s website at http://www.texaschildrens.org/hearteducation.

Penny and his team will continue to add to the animated series and work on another series of videos that educate patients on certain types of routine procedures done at the average heart center.

“We hope that having a program like this any child who enters a heart center will be able to get a feel for what they are going to experience,” Penny said.

Texas Children’s wants its employees to know their service and long-term contribution to the mission is appreciated. That’s why once a year at the annual Employee Recognition Celebration the organization rolls out the red carpet and pampers those who have been with Texas Children’s for 15 plus years.

This year, the event was held on February 9 at the Bayou Event Center amid a sea of round tables decorated with candelabras and 3-foot-tall flower arrangements. As the more than 500 honorees arrived, they fanned out across the ballroom, mingling, posing for photos and noshing on a sit-down lunch before the official program began with a performance from the Bayou City Brass Band.

“Happy Fat Tuesday!,” President and CEO Mark A. Wallace told the crowd. “It is amazing to look around the room and see so many familiar faces who have been an integral part of Texas Children’s tremendous growth and success.”

“Did you know that all of you together in this room equates to nearly 9,000 combined years of service at Texas Children’s,” Wallace asked. “I am humbled by this staggering number but it does not even begin to measure the infinite passion you deliver for our mission each and every day.”

In addition to Wallace, honorees heard words of thanks and encouragement from Pathologist-in-Chief James Versalovic, Senior Vice President Linda Aldred and Board of Trustee Member Jodie Jiles before being led down the red carpet and on to a stage where leaders shook their hands and thanked them for their 15, 20, 25, 30 and 40 years of service to Texas Children’s. Recipients of the Best of the West, Mark A. Wallace Catalyst Leadership, Smiles and Super Star awards also were recognized.

“I’m proud to be part of this organization,” said 20-year honoree Richard Nguyen. “It’s all about the people and that’s what I really like.”

Congratulations to all of the honorees!

A copy of the event’s program can be found here and a photo gallery of the celebration can be found below.

21716grief640At Texas Children’s Hospital we live compassionately. We care and sacrifice, celebrate, and sometimes grieve. Grief is one of the primary reasons people access the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Simply defined, grief is the normal and natural reaction to significant emotional loss of any kind. The EAP offers support to those who are suffering from loss.

Grief is individual and unique and as varied as each of our personalities. But, to help move beyond that pain and loss, everyone needs specific tools, many of which can be found through the EAP’s Grief Recovery Group. Sharing your loss with others going through similar feelings is the best way to heal the pain associated with loss.

The free 10-week program is dedicated to helping people find the support they need to move beyond grief, whether it’s over the loss of a loved one, a divorce or a situation at work. Facilitated by EAP staff and open to all Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine employees, the program follows specific tasks outlined in The Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman.

Anyone who has experienced loss and is ready to move beyond it, should consider joining the next Grief Recovery Group. Meetings are from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays in conference room WC.0150.20 B at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus beginning Tuesday, March 22 through Tuesday, May 24. Another round of the group will be held at the Meyer Building in HR conference room 1 beginning Tuesday, September 6 through Tuesday, November 8.

To register please contact the EAP by calling Ext. 4-3327 or email eap@texaschildrens.org.

21716Jeopardy640Texas Children’s Hospital – specifically the Pediatric Simulation Center – was recently featured on the famous television quiz show Jeopardy! This is the first time in almost a decade the show highlighted something in the Houston area. Read a first-person account from Jeopardy! Producer Brett Schneider to find out how the show made its way back to Houston.

There’s always a story behind how we choose locations to record Jeopardy! video clues and the Texas Children’s Hospital category, which originally aired on January 22, with clues presented by Texas Children’s Pediatric Simulation Center Director Dr. Jennifer Arnold, is no exception.

It was July of 2015 and, as Jeopardy! had a new affiliate in Houston (ABC-13), our Promotions Department felt that a visit was long overdue. The Jeopardy! Clue Crew had last recorded clues in and around Houston (including Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston) back in September of 2002. We would love to have returned sooner, but having shot clues in every state, more than 300 cities and in 48 countries, our dance card had been rather full.

While looking into local events and attractions, our interest was piqued by Texas Children’s Hospital Pediatric Simulation Center. One of the largest in the nation, the center provides hands-on pediatric and obstetric simulation training in a realistic environment with the aim of improving patient safety and care.

In researching the Simulation Center – which offers the latest in cutting-edge research and training and features the use of high-tech mannequins as patients – we were impressed by the online videos of Dr. Jennifer Arnold, Neonatologist and the Center’s Medical Director.

Further investigation revealed that this same Dr. Arnold was the star of TLC’s “The Little Couple.” Given her expertise, the complexity of our clues and Dr. Arnold’s familiarity with being on camera, we invited her to present these “simulation clues” herself – a responsibility that would usually be assigned to Alex Trebek and/or the Clue Crew.

Dr. Arnold was not only agreeable to this, but the production behind “The Little Couple” asked if they might record footage for their own program. This was an unusual request, but the producers of “The Little Couple” assured us that they wouldn’t record, let alone broadcast, any of our actual “game material” prior to our own airdate.

Our clues were penned, approved by Dr. Arnold, and in September of 2015, a Jeopardy! crew descended upon Houston where we met at Texas Children’s Hospital with Dr. Arnold, her simulation team and the producers and crew behind “The Little Couple.”

It was a surreal experience for the Jeopardy! crew; being shot shooting clues, but everything went smoothly and Dr. Arnold proved as capable on camera as she is accomplished at her job.

The folks at “The Little Couple” also seemed pleased with what footage they walked away with and featured it on their February 2 show, giving viewers a double dose of Jeopardy! and Dr. Arnold.

21716KidsTriathlon640Want to help build a generation of healthy, active responsible children? Sign them up for the 2016 Houston Texans Kids Triathlon. Presented by Texas Children’s Hospital, the event will be April 23 and 24 at NRG Stadium.

Drawing more than 3,000 participants ages 6 to 15, the event is expected to be the largest USATriathlon sanctioned kids triathlon in the world.

Click here to register and here for more information.