July 28, 2016

Elevator maintenance is scheduled for Texas Medical Center garage 2 for the next two weekends beginning at 6 a.m. Saturday, July 30.

The west side elevators (St. Luke’s end of the garage) will be unavailable from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 30. Both elevator cars will be out of service.

The east side elevators will be in service and available during this time.

Employees who normally park in garage 2 can park in Clinical Care Tower garage 16 on weekends.

July 26, 2016
Samantha Stover (above right) and Andi Lewis (below right) provide genetic counseling and support to their patients.

If you ask Samantha Stover what she enjoys most about being a prenatal genetic counselor, her answer is simple – empowering her patients with the knowledge and emotional support they need to make an informed health care decision.

Whether it’s ruling out a specific genetic condition or explaining all the genetic risks associated with a current or future pregnancy, Stover is a tireless advocate for her patients helping them navigate through this emotional journey of information gathering and genetic testing.

“Disclosing abnormal results or talking about potential syndromes or problems for a pregnancy is never easy,” said Stover, a genetic counselor at Texas Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine clinic. “We owe it to our patients to answer their questions and help them come to an informed decision about whether or not they want to have a genetic test and how they want to manage their care after the test results.”

As a liaison between the physician and patient, genetic counselors are an important part of the health care team. Specially trained in the areas of basic science, medical genetics, psychology and epidemiology, genetic counselors work closely with our physicians from various pediatric subspecialties to evaluate a family’s risk of an inherited medical condition, decide what genetic tests to order, and interpret and use the test results to provide guidance to patients and their families. With over 20 genetic counselors at Texas Children’s alone, spread across many subspecialties, genetic counselors play a unique role that illustrates the importance of genetics in all areas of medicine.

Genetic counseling can be a very time-intensive process with a new patient appointment typically ranging from 45 to 60 minutes. Much preparation occurs prior to the appointment, which involves gathering a patient’s medical records and history, drawing the family tree or pedigree, and researching various possible diagnoses and recommendations for genetic testing options for the family.

“Since genetics is a very fast-paced and rapidly evolving field, we have to stay up to date with current genetic research and testing to provide patients with the most accurate information and best care possible,” said Andi Lewis, a Texas Children’s pediatric genetic counselor in the general genetics, neurofibromatosis, and cardiovascular genetics clinics.

While Stover provides genetic counseling for pregnant patients and women who are planning to start a family, Lewis lends her expertise to families of children with suspected genetic disorders by guiding them through the process of achieving a diagnosis of a genetic syndrome.

In addition to meticulously reviewing genetic test results with a geneticist before sharing the results with families, Lewis writes genetic counseling letters to families explaining genetic diagnoses and their impact on the patient and family, as well as drafting letters of medical necessity to insurance companies to explain the rationale and need for genetic testing for each specific child.

As genetic counselors, Stover and Lewis don’t just provide information – another essential part of their responsibility is delivering emotional support to patients and families and connecting them to support groups and other resources during what can be a challenging and confusing time.

“I have been a shoulder to cry on when no one else could relate to the specifics of a patient’s case and they had no one to turn to,” Stover said. “I’ve seen families back for a new pregnancy after a devastating prior loss or a long battle of recurrent miscarriages or infertility. I’ve celebrated with some after great outcomes and I’ve secretly cried with others. But above all, the impact my patients have had on me is indescribable and that’s what makes this job so amazing.”

Whether delivering good or not so good news to patients and their families, empowering them with the knowledge to make an informed decision lies at the heart of genetic counseling.

“With genetics being a growing component of many other subspecialties, and a rapidly evolving field, there is a huge demand and need for genetic counselors to work within all areas of medicine so that we can help our patients and families understand the potential impact that genetics can play on their lives while supporting them throughout the process,” said Pilar Magoulas, pediatric genetic counselor at Texas Children’s and chief of the Division of Genetic Counseling at Baylor College of Medicine, Department of Molecular and Human Genetics.

“Assisting families with obtaining genetic testing requires dedication, but it is also worth it when we can either rule out a condition or end that family’s “diagnostic odyssey,” Lewis said. “My goal is that the information I give empowers the families I serve at Texas Children’s.”

train 640

Almost 14 years ago, Dr. Jamil Azzam waited in anticipation for the dedication of what he now calls his legacy – the Texas Children’s Choo-Choo Hut, an intricate model train exhibit nestled into a wall at the entrance of the Abercrombie Building.

A boy attending the ceremony with his mother drew the curtain on the hut to reveal what Azzam and his wife, Charlotte, donated to the hospital in hopes of enchanting both the young and the young at heart. Almost instantly, the Azzams’ wish became a reality.

Children and their families who were walking in the halls near the newly opened Choo-Choo Hut flocked to the display, pressing their faces against its glass wall to get a glimpse of the detailed scenes that range from a carnival, an urban area with skyscrapers, a castle and a fishing harbor.

One patient in particular, however, stood out to Azzam, who, at the time, was a pediatrician with Baylor College of Medicine. This patient, Azzam said, had cancer and did not have long to live. As a result, the patient told Azzam and his wife that her dying wish was to be the first person to push the buttons on the display to activate the trains running through the various scenes.

The little girl got to push the buttons. She died the next day.

“Every time I think about the train I think about that young girl and I get tears in my eyes,” Azzam said during a recent phone interview. “I am happy that I could grant her a dying wish and I am left with heartfelt enjoyment that I gave something worthwhile to Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine and the City of Houston.”

The Choo-Choo Hut recently got national accolades from popular sideline reporter Craig Sager during his acceptance speech for the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards, or the ESPY Awards. During his speech, Sager talked about his journey battling cancer and the comfort he’s found in the model train exhibit at Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Now I don’t know why I am so brought to this train set,” Sager said. “Perhaps it’s my life coming full circle. Maybe it’s just the kid inside all of us. Or perhaps it’s a few minutes of my life that leukemia can’t take from me.”

Don Bozman, the professional model builder Azzam hired to construct the train at Texas Children’s Hospital, still helps manage the maintenance of the train and said during a recent interview that over the years he’s seen both children and adults receive a moment of refuge from engaging with or simply watching the display. Some of the people he’s seen come in wheelchairs, others use walkers and at least one patient came with a prescription from a doctor who ordered her to go see the display.

“Even though it’s brief, it’s an escape,” Bozman said. “And people, especially children, have great memories, so it stays with them.”

Like Azzam, Bozman said making the Choo-Choo Hut a reality for Texas Children’s Hospital has been the most rewarding thing he’s done in life and that it’s mean a great deal to see the look in people’s eyes when they see it.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “I’m glad it’s positively affected so many people.”

train story - inside pics

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During his annual Department of Surgery year in review, Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Charles D. Fraser Jr. proclaimed that anything can be done if you work together toward a common goal.

“It isn’t enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison,” Fraser quoted from The Boys In The Boat, a book he read and referenced several times during his talk on July 22 in the packed Texas Children’s Hospital auditorium. “Their hearts and minds must also be as one.”

Teamwork, Fraser said, is the secret to the success of the Department of Surgery, which is composed of 600 employees and nine subspecialties with support from many other teams that are dedicated to caring for and improving the health of children through patient care, education and research.

The department’s team has grown exponentially during the past few years reaching 94 surgeons and 94 advanced practice providers in 2016. Many of those clinical staff members are in leadership roles, have academic responsibilities at Baylor College of Medicine and have earned awards for their service. The department also has the support of one of the largest pediatric anesthesiology departments in the county and dedicated perioperative services.

Two of the department’s newest leaders – Chief of Neurosurgery Dr. Howard Weiner and Chief of Otolaryngology Dr. Ellis Arjmand – took the podium during Fraser’s presentation to talk about their vision for the divisions and accomplishments to date.

Weiner, who started at Texas Children’s Hospital in May, told the audience he joined the team for various reasons including the fact that his core values and leadership style – which encompasses outstanding surgical care, attentive service, quality and integrity, innovation and investigation – mirrors that of the Department of Surgery’s.

“When I came to visit here, I was blown away by the vision to be the national and international destination for the most world class innovative, high-quality, attentive neurologic care for children,” Weiner said. “In addition, the leadership here demonstrates an unselfish service to the team and believes group accomplishments and success are primary.”

Weiner, whose clinic interests include medically refractory epilepsy and tuberous sclerosis complex, said he hopes to use his own success to empower and support an outstanding team.

When Arjmand took the stage, he outlined the tremendous growth of his team and their proven ability to widen the scope of otolaryngological services to the greater Houston area. With more than 20 otolaryngologists, seven advanced practice providers and three fellows, members of the otolaryngology team have increased the number of outpatient visits 74 percent since 2013 to more than 35,000.

“We have made maximum use of the Texas Children’s community to reach people throughout the greater Houston area,” Arjmand said, adding that Texas Children’s has tremendous leadership and a pool of talent that is seizing opportunities each day to better serve our current and future patients.

Fraser agreed and said he couldn’t possibly list all of the department’s accomplishments but highlighted the following:

  • Outpatient visits increased 11 percent compared with last year totaling 149,937.
  • Surgical cases increased 7 percent during the same time frame to 30,696.
  • Texas Children’s Transplant Services was named the most active pediatric program in the country in 2015.
  • U.S. News & World Report rankings were strong with cardiology and heart surgery as well as neurology and neurosurgery coming in at No. 2, urology at No. 5, gastroenterology and GI surgery at No. 6 and orthopedics at No. 21.
  • The hospital was verified as a Level I Children’s Surgery Center by the American College of Surgeons.
  • Department members gave almost 300 presentations, published almost 250 papers, wrote 18 book chapters and edited and/or wrote eight books.

“We have a lot going on,” Fraser said. “You are doing so much every single day, and for that I thank you.”

The future, Fraser predicted, will be more of the same with several promising research programs in the works, surgical seed grants awarded, expanded service areas, innovation opportunities and more.

“We have a lot to look forward to,” he said. “The future of the Department of Surgery at Texas Children’s is very bright.”

To watch the 2016 year-in-review presentation, click here (link will redirect to Connect).


On Friday, July 22, the Still Strong Foundation hosted a Spa Day for Texas Children’s Cancer Center patients and their families. Houston Texans defensive lineman Devon Still and his daughter, Leah, created the foundation in 2015 following Leah’s diagnosis with neuroblastoma.

During the event, patients enjoyed face painting, decorating flip flops and face masks, and spending time with Still and Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Parents relaxed with manicures and massages and shared common experiences with Still, the father of a cancer survivor.

The Still Strong Foundation provides grants to families affected by childhood cancers to allow them to spend less time worrying about non-medical bills, like mortgages and utilities, and more time supporting their child to a victorious fight against cancer.

Click here to watch the Houston Texans video highlighting Spa Day at Texas Children’s.



Texas Children’s Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Unit hosted its first annual BMT Teen Lock-in from 7 p.m. on Friday, July 15, to 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 16. Patient played tons of games, had fun in the photo booth, had their face pained on a rock, watched movies and learned how to make Texas Roadhouse bread.

Transplant patients undergo a long period of social isolation and that’s why peer-to-peer interactions and socialization are so important. Hosting an event to foster socialization with others who are experiencing a similar life event, gives transplant patients a chance to meet and have fun with peers also experiencing some of the challenges of a bone marrow transplant.

July 19, 2016

72016WoodlandsDonation640When Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands opens its doors next year to provide dedicated pediatric care to the fast-growing population of The Woodlands and beyond, it will be the result of a tremendous team effort, including those who donated funds to support the cause.

“Over the past several years, Texas Children’s has received both big and small donations to help build and support Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands,” said the community hospital’s president Michelle Riley-Brown. “Our donors have worked behind the scenes to make this multimillion dollar effort happen and we appreciate everything they have done.”

The Wieghat family recently united to that collaborative effort when their four children pulled together a portion of their allowance money, walked into the Welcome Center in The Woodlands and presented their donation of $78 to Dr. Charles Hankins, chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands.

The children – Cora, 6, Hannah, 9, Ruth, 9, and Carson, 11 – decided to give to the hospital when a group at their school had discussed making a contribution to Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands.

“The group decided not to donate the money, so the girls wanted to do it on their own,” said the children’s mother Sarah Wieghat, who, along with her husband, often stress the importance of giving as a way to help others. The girls decided to move forward and combine a portion of their allowance to donate. Their parents also joined in by matching the donation.

The Wieghats, who live in the Woodlands, are not strangers to Texas Children’s. They have used Texas Children’s pediatricians for more than 11 years and recently Texas Children’s physicians were able to help their youngest child, Cora, when others could not.

“She has been seen by Texas Children’s physicians in urology, otolaryngology, ophthalmology, cardiology, orthopedics and genetics,” Wieghat said, adding that having a hospital just minutes from their home will have a great impact on their family, especially Cora.

Another small but meaningful donation to the hospital will soon be made by the very people who are building it. During a recent walk-through inspection of the hospital, Tellepsen Builders Senior Superintendent John Brock, pulled Eric Allum, assistant director of Support Services, aside and indicated the construction crew and many sub-contractors had expressed a desire to pool their personal money to make a small donation to the hospital.

“In his humble way he indicated it wouldn’t be a large amount, but it was clear the money was coming directly from those who have the least to give,” Allum said. “I was blown away by the gesture but I was not surprised knowing that many of the contractors working on the Woodlands campus are proud to be involved in a project that will help so many.”

Riley-Brown said the expansion of Texas Children’s Hospital continues to remind us that our work is a collaborative effort no matter how big or small the contribution.

This fall Texas Children’s will open its doors to the outpatient building of Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands. Soon thereafter in the spring of 2017, Texas Children’s second community hospital will be ready to serve The Woodlands and beyond.

The 560,000-square-foot complex will offer inpatient and outpatient specialty pediatric care, and facilities will include 72 outpatient exam rooms, 25 emergency center exam rooms, 28 critical care rooms, 32 acute care rooms, 12 radiology rooms and four operating rooms.