May 23, 2017

Drs. Hsiao-Tuan Chao and Laurie Robak, physician-scientists at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (NRI) at Texas Children’s, received scholarship grants from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) to support studies on neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases.

Chao, a postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Dr. Hugo J. Bellen was awarded the 2017 Neurology Research Training Scholarship for her proposed study titled, “Transcriptional Dysregulation of Neural Circuits in Neurodevelopmental Disorders.” Using the laboratory fruit fly and mouse, she will explore how changes in the function of master regulators of gene expression, like EBF3, can cause childhood neurologic diseases. Chao’s discoveries will provide some answers and improve the quality of life for many of these children and families.

Robak is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Joshua Shulman. She was awarded the 2017 Clinical Research Training Fellowship in Parkinson’s Disease for her proposal titled, “Elucidating Genetic Links Between Lysosomal Storage Disorders and Parkinson’s Disease.” Her study will identify lysosomal storage disorder genes as risk factors for Parkinson’s Disease, which will hopefully lead to improved diagnosis and risk assessment, and development of novel therapeutic strategies.

Twenty award winners, including Drs. Chao and Robak, were recognized at the 69th Annual Meeting of AAN, the world’s largest association of neurologists in April.

Click here for more information about their proposed research studies.

Three distinguished faculty members from Texas Children’s Hospital Department of Surgery have been given the Master Clinician Award for Excellence in Patient Care from Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Ellen Friedman, Dr. Edmond Gonzales Jr., and Dr. David Wesson are among the recipients of this award in 2017.

“Drs. Friedman, Gonzales and Wesson are accomplished academic surgeons who exemplify the ideals of the Master Clinician award,” said Dr. Charles D. Fraser, Jr., Texas Children’s surgeon-in-chief. “Each of these surgeons lead in their clinical specialties through excellent patient care. They are each model surgeon educators as well.”

The Master Clinician Award is Baylor’s highest institution-wide honor for faculty contributions to patient care. To be considered for the award, the faculty member must be an associate or full professor and have 15 or more years of clinical service as Baylor faculty. Consideration is given to the physician’s enduring contributions to clinical excellence, expertise in patient care as recognized locally, regionally or nationally, professionalism and communication, leadership, mentoring, clinical innovation, and continuous service to the Baylor community.

Friedman is a pediatric otolaryngologist at Texas Children’s and a professor of otolaryngology and the director of the Center for Professionalism in Medicine at Baylor. She previously served as chief of Otolaryngology at Texas Children’s and held the Bobby Alford Endowed Chair in Pediatric Otolaryngology at Baylor for 24 years from 1991 until 2014.

Friedman is a respected leader in the field of otolaryngology serving at a national level in many professional societies. She was the first woman to be president of the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology (ASPO), and the American Broncho-Esophagological Association (ABEA) renamed a national award for Friedman. The Ellen M. Friedman Award for Excellence in Foreign Body Management is given for excellence in innovation, skill and education in the management of aero-digestive foreign bodies.

Gonzales is a pediatric urologist at Texas Children’s and a professor of Urology at Baylor. He served as chief of Pediatric Urology at Texas Children’s from 1974 until 2012. He was named Chief of Surgery serving from 1988 to 2012 and was the hospital’s first Surgeon-in-Chief guiding surgical efforts from 2008 to 2010. He was then named Director of Surgery at West Campus from 2010 until 2014. In his nearly 40 years at Texas Children’s, Gonzales has established a legacy of excellence for which the hospital and Baylor College of Medicine honored him by creating The Edmond T. Gonzales, Jr., MD, Chair in Pediatric Urology which he held from 2004 until 2012.

Within the field of urology, Gonzales has been a leader in the establishment and expansion of pediatric urology fellowship programs across the country. As a result of his work, pediatric urology fellowship positions have more than quadrupled since the early 1980s. In 2012, he was the recipient of the Urology Medal, the highest accolade bestowed by the Urology Section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, because of his pioneering work in pediatric urology and education. In 2001, the Scott Department of Urology at Baylor College of Medicine honored Dr. Gonzales with the F. Brantley Scott, Jr., Award for Innovation and Creativity in Urology.

Wesson is associate surgeon-in-chief for academic affairs at Texas Children’s and professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at Baylor. He also serves as interim surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Wesson served as chief of Pediatric Surgery at Texas Children’s from 1997 to 2012. He led the efforts to grow and obtain Level I accreditation for the Texas Children’s Trauma Center and served as its director from 2007-2014. Dr. Wesson was also instrumental in building other Texas Children’s programs such as the Fetal Center, bariatric surgery and surgical oncology. At Baylor, Dr. Wesson is director of Faculty Education and Development for the Department of Surgery. He was also interim chair of the DeBakey Department of Surgery from 2011 to 2012.

Wesson is well known internationally for participating in some of the earliest definitive studies on the non-operative treatment of solid organ injuries in children. His research brought about a new method of treating splenic trauma non-operatively, and resulted in this protocol becoming the standard of care not only for children but also for all age groups. Wesson received the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma Millennium Commitment Award in 2000 and the Safe Kids Canada Founder Award in 2006. As a member of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, Wesson is a survey team member for Trauma Center designation. He is a founding member of the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention, and serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Trauma.

All three surgeons receiving the Master Clinician Award have also received the Distinguished Surgeon Award from Texas Children’s Hospital.

May 16, 2017

Dr. Sundeep Keswani, surgical director of Basic Research and pediatric surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital and associate professor of surgery in the Division of Pediatric Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, was recently awarded a $300,000 grant over a period of three years for his project “Targeting the Extracellular Matrix: an Innovative Strategy to Improve Pulmonary Hypertension in Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia.”

The award was from the March of Dimes Foundation, which supports research consistent with its mission to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. Less than 10 percent of applications submitted annually to the foundation are awarded.

The focus of Keswani’s awarded research is to understand the molecular mechanisms of neonatal pulmonary hypertension and develop new innovative therapies for these patients.

“The data and ideas in this application were developed here at Texas Children’s and are a direct result of the support we have received from the Department of Surgery and the hard work of our team,” Keswani said. “This work illustrates the need for surgeons to engage in basic science research to take observations from the bedside to the bench with the overall goal of improving patient outcomes.”

Keswani is a member of the pediatric surgery and fetal surgery teams at Texas Children’s and the principal investigator for the Texas Children’s Laboratory for Regenerative Tissue Repair. His NIH-funded laboratory was launched about two years ago and spans all 10 surgical divisions at Texas Children’s. Researchers in the lab study the molecular mechanisms of regenerative fetal tissue repair and are actively developing novel therapeutics to achieve postnatal regenerative wound healing.

“Conducting research is essential to provide new techniques and treatments for children’s surgery,” said Texas Children’s Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Charles D. Fraser Jr. “Dr. Keswani’s recent award from the March of Dimes is an example of how the Department of Surgery is continuing to grow in this area, bringing in new funding and contributing significant research findings. We are committed to basic and translational research by supporting surgeon-scientists at Texas Children’s Hospital.”

Other recent awards garnered by researchers in the Regenerative Tissue Repair Lab include:

Balaji receives Wound Healing Foundation Research Grant

Dr. Swathi Balaji received the 2017 Wound Healing Foundation-FLASH Clinical Wound Healing Grant Award for her proposal titled “Pathogenesis of Cutaneous Fibrosis and Scarring.”

It is unknown why some individuals heal with robust fibrosis and scarring while others heal from similar injuries with less scarring. Balaji and her colleagues want to understand how immunoregulatory factors, particularly lymphocytes, make decisive contributions to dermal fibrosis. They propose that there are fundamental biologic differences in how fibroblasts and lymphocytes crosstalk to influence scar formation in different people. At the completion of this study, their team hopes to better understand how inflammation shapes scar formation and start working towards the development of innovative tools to promote immune regulatory responses in wounds to prevent dermal scarring as well as help other disease processes characterized by excessive fibroplasia.

The Wound Healing Foundation (WHF), through the support of the Wound Reach Foundation presented this award to Balaji at the 2017 Wound Healing Society Annual Meeting in San Diego.

Basic science research conducted by Balaji received national awards

Balaji was this year’s recipient of the ACell Young Investigator Faculty Award presented to a junior faculty member for a research abstract at the Regenerative Medicine Workshop at Hilton Head. Balaji presented a keynote lecture on her work titled “Effect of Stretch on Extracellular Matrix and Morphology of Fibroblasts in Regenerative Wound Healing.”

Tissue repair after an injury can have a spectrum of fibrosis outcomes, and fibroblasts are the major cell type that regulates the extracellular matrix and fibrosis. Even within a single tissue, fibroblasts exhibit considerable functional diversity in response to different environmental factors such as biomechanical tension and inflammation.

Balaji and her colleagues want to explain the signaling mechanisms among fibroblasts that communicate and regulate their fibrogenic phenotype. Their group is studying the role of exosomes, which are microvesicles on the order of 30-150 nm and contain functional biomolecules such as proteins, lipids, RNA, miRNA, as biomarkers and/or targeted therapeutics to regulate the functional diversity of tissue fibroblasts and their cellular cross talk.

Dr. Monica Fahrenholtz, the postdoctoral fellow on this research project, received the Wound Healing Society trainee travel award at the conference. She gave a quick presentation at this year’s annual meeting.

Each year as we salute nurses across the country during National Nurses Week from May 6 to May 12, Texas Children’s celebrated our incredible team of more than 3,000 nurses for their many successes, accomplishments and contributions to our patients and their families.

This year’s theme for Nurses Week was Nursing: The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit. The Nursing Retention Council organized several activities that centered on health and wellness to remind our nurses how important it is to take care of themselves so they can provide the best care to their patients.

Nurses Week activities included educational presentations, grand rounds, blessing of the hands, meditation, massages, yoga, a healthy cooking demo and cake deliveries for all of the units.

On May 12, Texas Children’s Nursing Excellence Awards luncheon honored six recipients for their commitment to improving nursing care and patient outcomes.

The award honorees included:

Staff Nurse of the year: Sabrina Acuna
Preceptor of the year: Curt Roberts
Rookie of the year: Adeline Stephen
Leader of the year: Denise Tanner-Brown
APRN of the year: Kimberly Krauklis
Friend of Nursing: Dr. Jonathan Davies

Corie Harris became the first recipient of the 2017 David and Polly Roth Nursing Education Scholarship Fund during the awards luncheon. This education fund will provide tuition assistance for Texas Children’s employees who have worked in the organization for at least three years and are interested in pursuing a professional nursing degree. Click here to view photos of Nursing Excellence Awards.

The Houston Chronicle Salute to Nurses included nurse scientist Mary Gordon and Cindy Jordan from maternal-child health who were among the top 10 award recipients. Click here for more on the Houston Chronicle Salute to Nurses honorees.

In addition to the two nurses honored in the top 10, 27 Texas Children’s nurses were recognized as being among the top 150 in the Greater Houston area.

Busola Ariyo
Mary Abelt
Rose Calhoun
Angela Carriaga
Tamara DuBose
Barbara Elias
Marty Espina
Sara Fletcher
Mary Gordon
Jamey Griffin
Elizabeth Grover
Emily Herman
Margaret Hirsch
Chastity Jaime
Cynthia Jordan
Tina Kratky
Barbara Levy
Mona Lisa Macapagal
Sarah Marcion
Vanessa Phillips
Elizabeth Sasser
Brittany Turner
Christina Watson
Emily Weber
Ketrese White
Rebecca White
Amy Zodin

Congratulations to our Texas Children’s nurses for their commitment to our patients and families.

Hearing the words, “you’re pregnant” can be an exciting, life-changing moment. But for many couples struggling with infertility, the journey to parenthood is frustrating, stressful, and can at times feel hopeless.

For almost two years, Brooke Schmitt and her husband, Daniel, struggled to start a family, but infertility issues got in the way of achieving their dream of parenthood.

“My OB/GYN ran several tests, and it turned out that my numbers were really low,” Brooke said. “Since my ovaries were not releasing eggs, my doctor recommended that I consult with a fertility specialist.”

After consultations with other providers, Schmitt chose the Family Fertility Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, a regional and national leader in providing advanced fertility services to families who have had difficulty conceiving.

Since opening in July 2014, the center’s reputation was strengthened even more in 2016 when its success rates for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) reached a milestone – 47 percent of embryo transfer patients at the Center achieved clinical pregnancy.

Dr. William Gibbons, chief of Reproductive Medicine at the Pavilion for Women and founding director of the Family Fertility Center, credits the Center’s success to numerous factors – state-of-the-art technology, research and support of Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Texas Children’s allowed me to have resources that many IVF programs don’t have,” Gibbons said. “They enabled us to build the absolute best lab that we could have, and we have almost as much research lab space as clinical lab space.”

The Family Fertility Center is the first in Houston and among the early adopters in the U.S. to offer the EmbryoScope, an embryo monitoring system that provides continuous moving time-lapse images of embryos as they grow. This technology allows fertility specialists to identify the healthiest embryo to transfer to the patient to improve IVF success.

Realizing the uncertainties that often accompany fertility treatments, the Schmitts relied on the Center’s expertise and state-of-the-art capabilities to help facilitate their dream of becoming parents. After consulting with their reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Paul Zarutskie, Brooke and her husband elected to pursue IVF.

“I was really lucky – my numbers were great,” Brooke said. “They retrieved about 41 eggs, and 39 of them fertilized successfully.”

At the end of day five, 12 of Brooke’s embryos were still living. All of them underwent genetic testing, and five of them were healthy. She and her husband, Daniel, implanted an embryo. The other four healthy embryos were cryogenically preserved for future implantation.

Brooke was implanted with an embryo on February 5, 2016. After undergoing blood work to confirm the couple was pregnant, the test came back positive.

Their daughter, Sophia, was born October 19, 2016.

“It’s a surreal feeling to know that you’re a parent and you’ve made this baby,” Brooke said. “We know we couldn’t have made her without the help of Dr. Zarutskie and the fertility team. Between the talent and the state-of-the-art technology there, it was a perfect combination that produced a perfect outcome.”

To read more about the Schmitts’ story in Texas Children’s Annual Report, click here. To learn more about Texas Children’s Family Fertility Center, click here.

The moment Hellen Weberpal’s bow hit her cello, 13-month-old Kimberly Guerra was mesmerized. The little girl shot up in her seat in her inpatient room on the ninth floor of the Cancer Center and watched Weberpal as she played her instrument. During the 10-minute serenade, Kimberly smiled, giggled and clapped in joyous wonder.

Weberpal, a Houston Symphony Community-Embedded Musician, said she has had many experiences at Texas Children’s similar to the one she had with Kimberly.

“Every time I come to the hospital I enjoy it,” she said. “There’s never a day that I don’t have a good time getting to see these kids.”

Weberpal is one of four community-embedded musicians who come to Texas Children’s Cancer Center weekly as part of a partnership between the Periwinkle Arts In Medicine Program at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers and the Houston Symphony. During their visits, the string players perform at the bedside of inpatients, lead a small music education class with patients and their siblings, and work with Purple Songs Can Fly to create unique scores tailored for each child.

View photos below from some of the musician’s visits.

The purpose of the partnership is to expose children to classical music and give them a sense of normalcy they often don’t get in a hospital setting, said Emily Nelson, the manager of education and community programming for the Houston Symphony.

“One of the benefits we’ve heard from the hospital staff and families is that the musical interactions give the patients a sense of control,” Nelson said. “They get to choose if they want slow music, fast music or even no music at all.”

When Weberpal visited 8-year-old Eduardo Castro’s hospital room, he asked her to play something fast, something slow and then something very specific – the music played in Star Wars when Darth Vader is on screen. Weberpal delivered Eduardo’s request without a hitch, concluding her visit with a smile and a high five.

“I’m always happy to meet another Star Wars fan,” Weberpal said.

Through observations, Carol Herron, coordinator of the Periwinkle Arts In Medicine Program, has noticed the encounters between the musicians and the patients are much more than a show-and-tell type performance.

“There’s a connection that these musicians make,” she said. “That is what makes these relationships so special.”

To learn more about the Houston Symphony’s Community-Embedded Musician initiative, click here. To learn more about the Periwinkle Arts and Medicine Program at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, click here.

Texas Children’s joined forces with community leaders on May 5 to celebrate the opening of Specialty Care at Eagle Springs.

The clinic at 5514 Atascocita Road, Suite 190, in Humble is Texas Children’s newest pediatric specialty care clinic, offering convenient services to children and families in Humble and surrounding areas.

Services offered at the Eagle Springs location include:

  • Audiology
  • Otolaryngology (ENT)

Both services are available five days a week.

To make an appointment for Specialty Care at Eagle Springs, please call 281-666-5006.

Texas Children’s will continue to offer world-class care in the areas north of Houston at the health system’s Kingwood Glen location at 19298 West Lake Houston Parkway in the Kroger shopping center.

Services offered there are:

  • Cardiology
  • Full-Service Orthopedics
  • Sports Medicine
  • Pulmonology
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Pediatric Surgery
  • Allergy and Immunology
  • Urology
  • X-rays, EKG, ECHO, Ultrasound

To make an appointment for Kingwood Glen, please call 281-812-0280.