August 30, 2016

83116Wesson640By Andrew Kragie, Houston Chronicle

Pediatric surgeon Dr. David Wesson talks to the Houston Chronicle about gunshot wounds in children.

Dr. David Wesson points to a spot below his belly button. That’s where the .22-caliber bullet pierced the abdomen of the first pediatric gunshot victim he ever treated.

The boy was 1 month old. He was perched on the kitchen table. His father had been cleaning a rifle when it unexpectedly discharged. The bullet ricocheted through the infant’s body.

The surgeon’s finger traces upward across his white coat, zig-zagging like a child’s pencil following the lines of a maze: through the abdomen, into the liver and out the back.

The baby survived, Wesson said, but the Texas Children’s Hospital trauma surgeon still remembers the bullet’s path three decades later – and it still bothers him.

“When you treat somebody for cancer, you really feel that there’s not much anybody could have done to prevent that,” Wesson said. But not so with a child who’s been shot.

“You’re always thinking that, well, that could easily have been prevented,” Wesson, now a grandfather of six, said during an interview in the emergency department’s exam room.

In the last six days of July, three Houston-area children – boys 5, 7 and 11 – accidentally shot themselves in separate incidents, authorities said. Two died. Doctors and gun-safety experts say these events are doubly tragic because they are avoidable.

Houston doctor gives inside look at trauma center

The boys joined the list of 139 children accidentally shot by themselves or by other children in the first seven months of 2016, figures show. In Harris County, accidental gunshot wounds kill more children than any type of accident except vehicle crashes, according to a Chronicle analysis of medical examiner’s records from 2011 to 2014 – an average of 27 children a year.

Authorities gave the following accounts of the most recent shootings:

On July 26, Edgar Padilla, 5, shot himself in the face at his grandfather’s home in Harris County. He died two days later when life support was removed. On July 27, a 7-year-old boy shot himself in the forehead in Alvin after finding the key to his grandfather’s gun cabinet; Brazoria County police said he was expected to survive, after the bullet traversed his scalp without entering his skull. And on July 31, an 11-year-old boy shot himself in the neck while playing with his uncle’s gun in east Houston. Police said he died August 9 when he was taken off life support.

These local incidents are typical of accidental shootings by children, according to data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group. Most of the more than 100 children killed accidentally in 2013 were shot in family homes with legally owned guns. At least two-thirds could have been prevented by safe storage, the group found.

Gunshots stand out as causes of injury, Wesson said, because they are more likely to require surgery than car crashes or falls. Gunshots are more likely to be life-threatening and more likely to be fatal.

And while a bullet wound is a medical emergency regardless of age, gunshots are even more devastating to children’s small bodies. “Young children have a different sort of vulnerability,” Wesson said.

Gravitate to guns

A pediatrician in southwest Houston, Dr. Christina Propst, said children’s smaller abdomens raise the chance of a bullet hitting key organs, blood vessels or the spine.

Dr. Fernando Stein, a critical-care specialist at Texas Children’s, said children’s lower body weights mean that bullets’ kinetic energy disperses across less mass.

Military researchers have experimented by firing bullets into gelatin blocks of varying sizes, Stein said. A block weighing 250 pounds – the weight of a large adult – can absorb a bullet. A 50-pound block, the weight of a young child, explodes.

Stein is president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has guidelines for gun safety.

“Firearms should be removed from the environments where children live and play, but if they are not, they must be stored locked and unloaded,” the policy reads. “Safe storage practices can reduce the risk of death or injury.”

Research shows that children gravitate toward guns and rarely handle them safely, Stein said. “When they see a gun, they take it and they hold it in the position of firing and usually the first thing they do is pull the trigger.”

If parents or relatives keep guns in homes where children live or visit, Stein said locks and safes are crucial. He pointed to fingerprint-activated safes that cost as little as $120 and allow quick access for self-defense.

Multiple safety systems

Paul Slogan, an employee at Lone Star Gun Safes in Houston, agreed that fingerprint-activated safes are more secure. However, he said, “with kids, anything’s better than nothing.” A simple gun lock, a cable that runs through the chamber and magazine, costs less than $20. A trigger lock’s price tag is about $10.

Stein recommends using multiple safety systems, such as locking ammunition and firearms separately while also keeping on a trigger lock.

However, the doctors said, locks are not foolproof. One of the Houston-area victims found the key to his grandfather’s locked gun cabinet.

“Kids are curious, and they will watch what you’re doing,” Propst said. If they can find a key, she said, “they will find their way, unfortunately, into locked cabinets.”

A National Rifle Association spokesman, Lars Dalseide, said the organization had no comment. The NRA’s “Eddie Eagle” safety website says children should be taught not to touch guns and to tell adults when they find them.

Federal statistics show that children are 25 times more likely to die in a car crash than by accidental gunshot. The Centers for Disease Control also reports that the rate of death by accidental shooting has steadily declined since 1970. That year, 1.6 children per 100,000 died by accidental shooting; by 2014 that number was 0.4 per 100,000.

However, Everytown for Gun Safety says it has found that the CDC vastly undercounts accidental shooting deaths – so many of which could be prevented by safe storage.

Learn to ‘respect gun’

Ken Stonebraker, a gun safety instructor in Dallas, agreed that hiding a gun or keeping it out of reach is not enough. For parents who want a gun handy in case of intruders, he suggested following his example: Keep one gun nearby in a fingerprint-activated safe and lock the rest in a complex gun safe.

Stonebraker said he believes familiarity with guns can diminish the risk. When his daughters turned 8, the Army veteran said, he took them out to shoot a .45 caliber gun at milk cartons. They felt the recoil and saw the damage done, he said. “They learned to respect a gun and they learned that a gun’s not a toy.”

In classes he teaches to parents and children, he tells kids always to assume a gun is loaded and to tell an adult whenever they find a weapon.

But training can’t eliminate risk, Stein said. “There is no education that can prevent a child from doing what they do because they are children, which is hold the gun and pull the trigger.”

Sitting in the emergency department at Texas Children’s, just yards from the trauma bay where he directs the treatment of pediatric gunshot victims, Wesson remembers how many drivers refused to use seat belts when they were introduced because they considered themselves safe drivers. They knew about the recommendation; it just didn’t apply to them.

In the same way, Wesson said, “it’s hard for individual people to accept the general rule” that guns in family homes are more of a danger than a safeguard.

“People think, well, it won’t happen in my family, in my home,” he said. “But the fact is that if you look across the whole population, people are much more likely to hurt themselves or other members of their family if they have a gun in the home than they are to injure or stop some intruder.”

Lack of awareness

Wesson can’t say whether he treated any of the three Houston-area boys who recently shot themselves by accident. So instead he talks about the month-old child he treated all those years ago as a young surgeon.

To me it sort of epitomizes the whole issue,” he said in the ER, where young patients’ artwork decorates the hallways. “It wasn’t because of anything but carelessness, and maybe a lack of awareness.”

A little girl walks by, holding her mother’s hand. Before exiting the emergency department, she turns and waves to a nearby cluster of adults that includes the surgeon.

“Bye,” Wesson says quietly, raising his hand and returning her wave.

He seems energized after interacting with this small patient.

Then he thinks back to that baby and the bullet that ricocheted through his tiny abdomen.

“Why’d that have to happen?” Wesson asks. “It didn’t have to happen. It didn’t.”

View a testimonial from Assistant Vice President of Information Services John Henderson about what it’s like to work at Texas Children’s.

83116chronicleadGI250Texas Children’s is the honored sponsor for every Tuesday’s “Houston Legends” series. We will showcase the legendary care Texas Children’s has provided since 1954, and focus on milestone moments in our unique history. Also, a complementary website offers a more detailed look at our past, our story and our breakthroughs.

On the right is the Texas Children’s ad that is featured in this week’s Chronicle. Click the ad to visit our companion website at The website will change weekly to complement the newspaper ad, which will be published in section A of the Chronicle on Tuesdays for the next several weeks. We also will spotlight this special feature weekly on Connect, so stay tuned to learn and share our rich history.


Texas Children’s Pediatrics had a very special visit this week from Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel, the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal in a swimming event.

Shortly after returning from Rio to her hometown of Sugar Land, Manuel visited Texas Children’s Pediatrics Green Park to see her long-time pediatrician Dr. Michael Connelly.

“Our entire Green Park office was excited to see Simone and her 100-meter freestyle Gold,” Connelly said. “Last September she was kind enough to bring her gold medal from the World Championship in Barcelona (4X100 relay) for me to see. Admittedly, when I saw her on my schedule this week I hoped she would bring Olympic Gold, and she didn’t disappoint.”

Manuel set an Olympic record by tying Canada’s Penny Oleskiak in the women’s 100-meter freestyle, and she helped the U.S. take gold in the 4X100-meter medley relay. She also landed silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4X100-meter freestyle race.

“When she won the 100-meter freestyle, I must admit I got emotional, even a bit teary eyed – such an accomplishment for a wonderful young lady,” Connelly said of his patient of more than 14 years. “Simone is a world class athlete but also world class in every sense. She is smart, kind, always pleasant and a joy to be with. She was most patient and engaging with the staff while we admired her gold.”

Congratulations Simone from the entire Texas Children’s family!


The walls are painted, the carpet and tile have been laid, and furniture and equipment are being arranged inside the outpatient building of Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands.

Texas Children’s will open its doors to the facility this fall, marking a major milestone in the development of pediatric care offered to patients and families in The Woodlands and surrounding areas.

“We are putting the finishing touches on everything as we speak,” said James Yancey, manager of facility planning and development in The Woodlands. “I think everyone is going to be very pleased with the final product.”

Designed with a “spirit of the woods” theme to incorporate the lush, woodsy landscape that surrounds it, the six-floor building will house more than 20 areas of specialized care, including allergy and immunology, gastroenterology and nutrition, and sports medicine.

A dedicated medical staff will work in conjunction with the Texas Children’s system to provide top-notch medical care to the fast-growing population of The Woodlands, Kingwood, Conroe, Spring, Magnolia, Humble, Huntsville and beyond.

“We have recruited some of the best specialists pediatric medicine has to offer,” said Julie Barrett, director of Outpatient and Clinical Support Services in The Woodlands. “We are extremely proud of what this outpatient facility and its services will bring to the community.”

Located next to Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands – which is set to open in the spring of 2017 – the outpatient building offers a fresh, new kid-friendly environment to families seeking the best pediatric care for their children.

A state-of-the art sports therapy gym is on the first floor, check-in and check-out stations resembling a child’s club house are at the entrance of each clinic, and spacious exam rooms and provider work stations line many of the building’s halls.

Inside those spaces is furniture and equipment built with children and families in mind. In all of the exam rooms, the desk area where providers stand and enter their notes into a desktop computer is constructed in such a way that a provider’s back never faces the patient and their family. In most waiting areas, the chairs and couches are covered in a fabric that contains hidden treasures, such as drawings of maps, bears, guitars and binoculars. And, throughout the building’s main corridors are large windows that let in plenty of natural light and offer good views of the lush scenery outside.

“FKP Architects and Tellespen Builders have done a phenomenal job on this project,” said Dr. Charles Hankins, chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands. “All of us are looking forward to carrying out our goal of building on a decade’s worth of relationships Texas Children’s has built in The Woodlands community through our primary and sub-specialty care at Texas Children’s Pediatrics locations and the Texas Children’s Health Center The Woodlands.”

August 23, 2016

82416goforgoldinside640After a thrilling three weeks, the Olympic Games Rio 2016 ended with closing ceremonies on Sunday, but Texas Children’s Employee Health and Wellness team is challenging you to keep going for the gold. The Go for the Gold well-being challenge, which kicked off on August 1, encourages staff and employees to be physically active for 30 minutes a day for at least 20 days throughout the month. The challenge ends Wednesday, August 31, so there’s still time to finish strong.

To help give you that final push to the finish line, the Marketing/PR Department has partnered with Employee Health and Wellness, and is giving you a chance to win two tickets to the Houston Texans vs Tennessee Titans football game on October 2. The Texans-Titans game is sponsored by Texas Children’s Hospital and will celebrate the National Football League’s Play 60 campaign. Play 60 encourages children to be active 60 minutes a day to help decrease childhood obesity.

How do you win the tickets? Well, if the Olympic games and the Go for the Gold challenge got you moving, tell us how you’re doing. Let us know how you’re getting your minutes of physical activity in regularly. Are you taking bike rides with your family? Working it out in Zumba with co-workers? Or making laps around the medical center? Click here, and tell us how you’re getting physical, and you will be entered into a drawing for two tickets to the Texans vs Titans game at noon Sunday, October 2. So that’s it – tell us your game plan, and we will select 25 lucky winners to each receive a pair of tickets.

The deadline to enter the drawing for the Texans tickets is Wednesday, August 31. You must be enrolled in the Go for the Gold challenge to be eligible to win.

To enroll in the challenge, click here. Winners will be announced in September.
For more details about the hospital’s partnership with the Texans click here.

More about Play 60

As part of the Play 60 initiative, Texas Children’s and the Texans sponsor the Play 60 Challenge, a six-week program at Houston-area middle schools aimed at getting students excited about developing a healthy lifestyle. Also part of the Play 60 umbrella is the Play 60 Grant, which is $50,000 in grants designed to help schools with equipment for P.E., sports, or after-school programs that will get them moving.

82416ChroniclePhilanthropycharityad250Texas Children’s is the honored sponsor for every Tuesday’s “Houston Legends” series. For more than 20 weeks, we will showcase the legendary care Texas Children’s has provided since 1954, and focus on milestone moments in our unique history. Also, a complementary website offers a more detailed look at our past, our story and our breakthroughs.

On the right is the Texas Children’s ad that is featured in this week’s Chronicle. Click the ad to visit our companion website at The website will change weekly to complement the newspaper ad, which will be published in section A of the Chronicle on Tuesdays for the next several weeks. We also will spotlight this special feature weekly on Connect, so stay tuned to learn and share our rich history.

Click here to visit the Promise website.