February 13, 2018

On January 13, Texas Children’s successfully performed its fourth conjoined twins separation, giving identical twin girls Anna Grace and Hope Elizabeth Richards a chance at a normal life.

The 7-hour procedure was performed by a multidisciplinary team of nearly 75 surgeons, anesthesiologists, cardiologists and nurses from eight specialties. Click here to see a list of surgeons, clinicians and nurses in the operating room during the milestone procedure, and here to view a photo gallery documenting the twins’ journey the day of their separation.

“The success of this incredibly complex surgery was the result of our dedicated team members’ hard work throughout the last year,” said Surgeon-in-Chief and Chief of Plastic Surgery Dr. Larry Hollier. “Through simulations and countless planning meetings, we were able to prepare for situations that could arise during the separation. We are thrilled with the outcome and look forward to continuing to care for Anna and Hope as they recover.”

The girls were born on December 29, 2016, at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women to their parents Jill and Michael, and two older brothers Collin and Seth. Weighing a combined 9 lbs. 12 oz. and delivered via Caesarean-section at 35 weeks and five days gestation, Anna and Hope were conjoined at their chest and abdomen, through the length of their torso and shared the chest wall, pericardial sac (the lining of the heart), diaphragm and liver. In addition, they had a large blood vessel connecting their hearts.

The Richards family, from north Texas, learned Jill was carrying conjoined twins during a routine ultrasound. The family was then referred to Texas Children’s Fetal Center, where they underwent extensive prenatal imaging, multidisciplinary consultation and development of plans to achieve a safe delivery and postnatal care. They temporarily relocated to Houston in order to deliver at Texas Children’s and be close to the girls during their hospital stay. For the past year, Anna and Hope have been cared for by a team of specialists in the level IV and level II neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Planning and preparation

During much of that time, medical staff prepared for the separation, using extensive imaging with ultrasound, echocardiography, CAT scans, magnetic resonance (MRI) and even a virtual 3-D model of the girls’ anatomy. Closer to the surgery date, almost 50 medical personnel involved in the procedure participated in a lengthy simulation of the separation.

“These are the kind of procedures you plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Pediatric Surgeon and Co-Director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye. “We were blessed that this was the best case scenario. Everything went very well. The procedure was as well as we could have hoped.”

The Richards family is grateful to Texas Children’s for the care provided to their daughters since they found out they were expecting conjoined twins.

“We’ve thought about and prayed for this day for almost two years,” said the girls’ mom, Jill Richards. “It’s an indescribable feeling to look at our girls in two separate beds. We couldn’t be more thankful to the entire team at Texas Children’s for making this dream come true.”

Anna and Hope are recovering in the CVICU and expect to be released to a regular room soon. Both girls will face additional surgeries in the future to ensure their chest walls are stabilized. Otherwise, doctors expect them to lead normal lives.

“What we try to do here at Texas Children Hospital is essentially provide our patients with as normal of a life as we can,” said Pediatric Plastic Surgeon Dr. Edward Buchanan. “I think in this case with these two little girls we were able to achieve that.”

A history of success

The Richards separation is the fourth conjoined twins separation performed at Texas Children’s. The first pioneering procedure occurred February 16, 1965, when a team of surgeons separated 9-week-old conjoined twins Kimberly and Karen Webber. The Webber twins were connected at the liver and pericardium. The second separation happened on June 9, 1992, when Texas Children’s surgeons successfully separated Tiesha and Iesha Turner, who were 1 year old and shared a sternum, liver, entwined intestines and fused organs.

The third conjoined twins separation happened nearly three years ago on Feb. 17, 2015, when a team of more than 40 clinicians from seven specialties separated 10-month old Knatalye Hope and Adeline Faith Mata during a marathon 26-hour surgery. The twins were connected from the chest to the pelvis and shared a chest wall, pericardial sac, diaphragm, liver, intestinal tract, urinary system and reproductive organs. Today, Knatalye and Adeline are almost 4 years old and are doing very well, walking, talking, even learning how to ride a bike.

Since Texas Children’s opened its doors in 1954, multiple sets of conjoined twins have been referred to the hospital for consideration. However, in many of these cases, separation was not medically possible. Olutoye, who has participated in five conjoined twins’ separation surgeries, two at Texas Children’s Hospital and three at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said he and a team of experts from various specialties look at every case very closely and consider many factors before deciding how to move forward.

“Separating conjoined twins takes a tremendous commitment,” Olutoye said. “We all are privileged and honored to be part of each and every case, especially the ones where we can help.”

For nearly 17 years, Maryann Macey has volunteered with the Blue Bird Circle Clinic for Pediatric Neurology at Texas Children’s Hospital – an opportunity that she describes as very rewarding.

“It is amazing to see all of the progress our organization has made in advancing research to help our physicians at the Blue Bird Circle Clinic diagnose and treat patients with neurological diseases,” Macey said. “It is an honor to be a Blue Bird volunteer and work with such an outstanding group of women.”

On February 6, Macey and 100 Blue Bird members including many of Texas Children’s employees, staff and leaders, attended a special luncheon at the Pavilion for Women to celebrate the Blue Bird Circle’s 95th birthday. The event included a $1.9 million check presentation from the Blue Bird Circle to Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine. A large portion of this gift will support neuroscience research and training.

Since 1998, the Blue Bird Circle has supported the Clinic for Pediatric Neurology at Texas Children’s with millions of dollars in grants, as well as thousands of volunteer hours. Blue Bird volunteers devote countless hours at the Clinic and The Blue Bird Circle Resale Shop which has helped to raise awareness in the community about pediatric neurological disorders and highlight the incredible work being done at Texas Children’s to improve the quality of life for neurology patients.

“The words, “Blue Bird Circle,” are synonymous with its members’ generosity, volunteerism, commitment and dedication,” said Texas Children’s CEO Mark A. Wallace. “Members of the Blue Bird Circle have been the catalyst for so much of what has happened in pediatric neurology in the past 20 years. The care we provide, the research we conduct because of the Blue Birds benefit the patients we serve here and children with neurological conditions all over the world.”

During the luncheon, Dr. Gary Clark, Chief of Neurology and Developmental Neuroscience, spoke about the tremendous growth of the neuroscience program at Texas Children’s and shared examples of the research progress that has been made through our partnership with the Blue Bird Circle. To treat patients with an enzyme deficiency in the form of Batten disease, Texas Children’s is one of the few sites that provides therapy to these patients by surgically injecting the synthesized enzyme directly into the brain thereby halting this degenerative form of Batten disease. Texas Children’s also is using novel approaches to treat patients with spinal muscular atrophy, a disease of the nervous system where the spinal cord degenerates due to defects in the SMN1 gene. The treatment involves injecting a DNA molecule into the spinal fluid that turns latent gene into an effective one that makes the deficient protein.

“We are contemplating similar treatments for Angelman and Rhett syndromes,” Clark said. “We are so grateful to Texas Children’s Blue Bird Circle Research Center in collaboration with the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s for helping us make these research breakthroughs possible, and I am excited about what the future holds for pediatric neurology.”

Guest speakers at the event also included Dr. Charles Gay, medical director of Neurology at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, and Dr. Robert Zeller, medical director of the Blue Bird Circle Clinic for Pediatric Neurology. Texas Children’s Chief of Palliative Care Dr. Tammy Kang delivered the keynote address on the interdisciplinary palliative care program and how it supports patients and their families.

Prior to the luncheon, the Blue Bird members met with neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel Curry and Chief of Critical Care Dr. Lara Shekerdemian to tour different sections of the Legacy Tower which will open on May 22.

For more information about Blue Bird Circle, click here.

Transplant teams with Texas Children’s Hospital performed 112 solid organ transplants in 2017, the most in the history of Texas Children’s Transplant Services.

The liver and the kidney transplant programs were the busiest with 42 liver transplants and 32 kidney transplants completed last year. The heart program completed 28 transplants in 2017 and the lung program finished with 10, including one transplant in a patient under the age of one. There were only three such transplants in the United States last year.

“I’m very proud to be working with a team so dedicated to providing the best possible outcomes for our patients,” said Dr. John Goss, medical director of Transplant Services. “This milestone demonstrates that Texas Children’s continues to earn its reputation as one of the best pediatric transplant programs in the country, and is a testament to the skill and commitment of our multidisciplinary team.”

Since its inception, Texas Children’s Transplant Services has grown at a steady pace and is now one of the largest pediatric transplant programs in the nation. Along the way, the transplant teams have hit many milestones: performing 98 solid organ transplants in 2014, completing four kidney transplants over the course of 18 hours in 2016, and in 2017, performing 112 transplants, a record number for the team, boosting its total number of transplants to more than 1,500.

One of the recipients of last year’s 112 transplants was 4-month-old Carter Kraft. Born on June 10, 2017, at a hospital in his home state of Florida, Carter immediately cried loudly, but nurses noticed fluid on his lungs. After a nerve-racking few weeks waiting for answers as to what was causing breathing issues for their son, Carter’s parents, Jennifer and Matt Kraft, were told their son had a rare genetic disorder called ABCA3 Surfactant Protein Deficiency, which prevented his lungs from being able to absorb oxygen. The only treatment for the disorder is a double lung transplant.

Carter was transferred to Texas Children’s Hospital on August 16 because our transplant teams have the depth of skill and unique qualifications to treat patients from newborns to young adults in need of a heart, kidney, liver and lung transplant. In particular, the hospital’s Lung Transplant Program offers a median wait time of less than four months and is one of only two institutions performing 10 or more pediatric lung transplants each year.

Carter spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before undergoing a procedure to repair a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) of his heart. Then, on October 27, Carter underwent the double lung transplant he needed with Dr. Jeff Heinle, interim chief of congenital heart surgery at Texas Children’s.

Now, 12 weeks post-transplant, Carter is doing well and his family is looking forward to returning home to Florida soon.

“We are so pleased that we were able to help Carter and that he is doing so well,” Heinle said. “We are fortunate to work at Texas Children’s Hospital where we have the resources to provide this kind of specialized care to complex, challenging patients.”

For more information on Texas Children’s Transplant Services, click here. To watch a story on KHOU-TV Channel 11’s about Texas Children’s Transplant Services milestone, click here.

February 6, 2018

Just in time for Heart Awareness Month, Texas Children’s Hospital’s No. 1-ranked Heart Center by U.S. News & World Report launched its very own Facebook page!

Packed with information about the Heart Center’s roots, expertise and exciting future in providing top notch care, the page will provide an avenue for Heart Center medical staff and leaders to share information with various audiences, including former, current and future patients and families. The page also will allow members to provide feedback about their experiences at the Heart Center and ask questions about our level of care.

“We are excited about having a new way to reach people who want to know more about who we are and how we do things at the Texas Children’s Heart Center,” said Dr. Wayne Franklin, a cardiologist with Texas Children’s Heart Center and director of Texas Children’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program. “It’s also a great opportunity to help more children and families who are dealing heart problems and are looking for information.”

With more than half a century of experience in caring for children’s hearts, Texas Children’s Heart Center combines cutting-edge technology with compassion and a family-centered approach to pediatric cardiac care.

The Heart Center has a team of world-renowned leaders in pediatric cardiology, congenital heart surgery, cardiovascular anesthesiology, and cardiac critical care, performing more than 1,000 surgical procedures, 1,200 cardiac catheterizations, and having more than 26,000 patient encounters annually.

Texas Children’s is ranked No. 1 nationally in cardiology and heart surgery by U.S. News and World Report, and is also one of only four pediatric hospital’s with heart programs that are named as a Pediatric Heart Failure Institute in Texas by The Healthcare Accreditation Colloquium. The Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Program is also just one of 13 programs in the country to be a Comprehensive Care Center for ACHD.

Later this year, the center will move into Legacy Tower, allowing clinical staff and leaders to serve even more children with critical heart conditions from the Houston community, across Texas and throughout the nation. The 19-floor vertical expansion will house eight floors dedicated just to the Heart Center, including four new cardiac operating rooms, four cardiac catheterization labs, 48 cardiovascular intensive care unit beds, and a cardiac acute care floor.

All of this and more can be found on the Heart Center’s new Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/texaschildrensheartcenter.

“We encourage you to like the page on Facebook and share with your family and friends,” Franklin said.

When a patient is admitted to Texas Children’s Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, we not only want them to receive the best possible medical care, but also feel comfortable and supported during their stay whether that means receiving help from one of our child life specialists, learning more about their health care team or simply finding out how to park and where to grab a bite to eat.

All of this information and more can be found in a new 20-page guide to Texas Children’s Hospital. Titled “Your Guide to Texas Children’s Hospital, the book is being placed in every inpatient room by Environmental Services as they prepare the rooms for patients and their families. The guides also can be found online at https://www.texaschildrens.org/yourguide and via the Texas Children’s Wayfinding App, which is available for Android and iPhones. For more information about the app, click here.

“We are so pleased to be able to provide such a comprehensive resource to our patients and families,” said Director of Patient and Family Services Katie Kalenda-Daggett. “We want them to feel informed and empowered in their experience with us – and we want them to know that we are here to support them in any way we can.”

Available in English and Spanish, the guide includes information about the many patient and family services Texas children’s provides, as well as more details about the hospital.

Topics discussed in “Your Guide to Texas Children’s Hospital” include:

  • Important phone numbers
  • Your child’s health care team
  • Family support services
  • Tips for parents
  • Amenities and dining
  • Parking
  • Texas Children’s locations
  • Patients and family safety
  • Privacy
  • Patient rights and responsibilities
  • Billing
  • Donations

The guide also contains several phone numbers and tips on how to find additional information if needed and not included.

Texas Children’s President and CEO Mark A. Wallace says in the guide’s welcome letter that “Your Guide to Texas Children’s Hospital” is a good example of how we practice family-centered care, which is based on: dignity and respect, information sharing, participation and collaboration.

“You know your child best,” Wallace said. “That’s why you are an important member of your child’s health care team.”

Several guides have been used throughout Texas Children’s Hospital’s history. This edition began with Environmental Services and Sustainability Director Elex Sanchez and his former AQI team, and was published with the help of Marketing and Public Relations, Patient and Family Services, Guest Services, Translation Services, the Care First Advisory Group, Environmental Services and Facilities Operations. Guides for other Texas Children’s locations are in the works.

Supporting information such as local dining options and destinations and area attractions also can be found on the Marketing Connect site. Please feel free to download and print and use as needed.

If you have any feedback about the guide or supporting documents, please contact brand@texaschildrens.org.

The Mark A. Wallace New Employee Pep Rally was held at West Campus last week complete with giant foam fingers, pompoms, dance music, and of course, our President and CEO, Mark Wallace. The gathering gave nearly 100 new and recent hires a cheerful and uniquely spirited welcome to the Texas Children’s family.

The pep rally, modeled after the redesigned Texas Children’s Hi orientation that sends new employees back to school to learn about the organization and its special culture, is an opportunity for new employees to become better acquainted with the organization as a whole and meet executives and other leaders within a friendly and festive atmosphere.

The high-energy pep rally format replaces the more traditional new employee reception that Wallace has hosted for decades. All new employees invited to attend were part of the Texas Children’s Hi Class of 2017 with their mascot the “Armadillo.”

“You don’t work for me; I work for each and every one of you,” said Wallace, who personally introduced himself to every new employee attending the pep rally, trading jokes and posing for photos and selfies – complete with duck-faces.

Recalling the days when Texas Children’s consisted of just one, seven-story building with fewer than 300 registered nurses, Wallace discussed the growth the organization has experienced since he arrived in 1989 and the plans to expand even further by moving into Austin and opening the Legacy Tower in the Texas Medical Center. Having so many great employees dedicated to the Texas Children’s mission plays a key role in driving that progress, he said.

“This is not just a job. You can build a career here,” Wallace said. “Thank you for choosing us and allowing us to choose you for this partnership. You’re going to enjoy working at Texas Children’s Hospital.”

Jordan Nedbalek, an orthopedic technician at Specialty Care Bellaire, attended the West Campus pep rally with colleagues and radiology specialists Anjail Abdullah and Amanda Schell. All three said they especially enjoyed the themed decorations and the lighthearted, warm mood set by Wallace and the other leaders and staff volunteers at the event.

“At every point you’re always made to feel welcome,” Nedbalek said.

Many new hires at the pep rally agreed and said their Texas Children’s careers are already off to a good start. Few expected to ever meet Wallace or leaders like Executive Vice President Michelle Riley-Brown, given the size of the organization, and they appreciated their chance to make a more personal connection.

“When I met Mr. Wallace it was like I’d known him for years,” said Ina Gill, an ambulatory service representative who handles scheduling for the Sleep Center at West Campus. “The pep rally experience is fun. We know all this is for us, which makes a difference. I’m loving it at Texas Children’s and learning a lot. It already feels like family and I’m here to stay.”

Texas Children’s Pediatrics acquired its first practice site in 1995. Two decades later, 50 more have been added and as of December 2017, all practices, hold the highest Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) recognition from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).

NCQA Recognition Programs allow employers, patients and consumers to make quality informed health care decisions. This prestigious distinction celebrates patient care organizations that have demonstrated a strong commitment to improving quality care for their patients.

“NCQA has become the gold standard for quality of care amongst primary care physicians around the country,” said Dr. Stanley Spinner, Texas Children’s Pediatrics chief medical officer and vice president.

All 51 of the Texas Children’s Pediatrics practice sites submitted documented evidence to demonstrate data requirements for the distinction. All clinics are structured to follow the six required PCMH 2014 Standards:

  • Patient Centered Access
  • Team Based Care
  • Population Health Management
  • Care Management and Support
  • Care Coordination and Care Transitions
  • Performance Measurement and Quality Improvement

“Achieving this high level of quality of care has led to improved outcomes, often at a lower cost,” Spinner said. “Texas Children’s Pediatrics is extremely proud of the work that has been done throughout all levels of our organization during the past three years. This offers us a distinct advantage in our current managed care market.”

To date, Texas Children’s Pediatrics has achieved three successful cycles of PCMH Level III recognition, signifying organizational commitment to excellence by working together at every level across the system.

“This is an opportunity for our organization to show and prove that we only want the best care for our patients and their families,” said Natasha Fields, Texas Children’s Pediatrics Nanes Practice Manager. “Moving forward I believe it will continue to display our dedication, passion and integrity for all. It’s a special occasion and we all should celebrate.”