May 21, 2019

Since joining Texas Children’s Float Team, Heidi Aghajani shares her experiences collaborating with nurses across different units and the invaluable lessons she has learned along the way that truly exemplifies what it means to be One Amazing Team. More

May 20, 2019

“I’m excited every day I walk into Legacy Tower,” said Dr. Lara Shekerdemian, service chief of Critical Care Services at Texas Children’s. “It is a wonderful environment to work in. Our patients and their families are very happy with their new spaces, and we are very privileged to be in our new home.”

It’s been one year since Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower opened its doors for the first time to care for our most critically ill patients at Texas Children’s Medical Center campus. And, in that short period of time, our patients and their families have noticed a positive difference since moving into the new tower.

“The rooms here are very cozy and very spacious,” said Eleonor Caparas, whose daughter is a PICU patient at Texas Children’s. “We have our own space here and we can stay together with my baby. I like it because I experienced the old PICU on the third floor of West Tower, and it is so different now.”

Randy Bowen, a PICU nurse at Texas Children’s for more than 25 years, recalls when critical care moved from the Abercrombie Building to West Tower. He says the move into Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower has been a huge game changer in the delivery of patient care.

“Coming into this space now, supplies us with so much flexibility and the availability of resources to provide the patient care that we’ve always excelled at doing,” Bowen said. “But I think now we’re exceeding that and it’s just been exciting be part of the whole process.”

Since Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower opened on May 22, 2018, Texas Children’s critical care, cardiology, surgical and radiology teams have been very busy caring for our hospital’s sickest patients.

To date, the new tower has had 3,839 patient admissions in the pediatric and cardiac intensive care units. More than 9,000 patients have received care at Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower’s outpatient Heart Center clinics, and over 700 catheterization and 239 intraoperative MRI procedures have been performed here.

A total of 3,455 surgeries have been completed in the tower’s state-of-the-art surgical and cardiovascular operating rooms, totaling 13,921 surgical hours. Since the tower’s helipad opened last November, Texas Children’s has had 123 landings, allowing for greater access to Texas Children’s for the sickest patients.

“We have everything under one roof to take care of all of the sickest children,” said Texas Children’s Surgeon-in-Chief Larry Hollier. “All of the diagnostic capability, the OR capability, the interventional radiology capability and then the ICU care. After visiting all of the leading children’s hospitals across the country, I can say without a doubt, no other children’s hospital has something like Legacy Tower.”


The nation’s top medical experts, hospital executives, pediatricians and community health leaders recently convened at Texas Children’s Hospital for U.S. News & World Report’s “Combatting Childhood Obesity” summit, addressing one of the nation’s most critical health issues.

Visiting guests were welcomed by Texas Children’s Physician-in Chief Dr. Mark Kline, who also spoke about the challenges posed by childhood obesity.

“For some time, clinicians have struggled with how to deal with obesity in a holistic and comprehensive manner,” he said. “We hope the work done here will facilitate healthy discussion and help shine light on how best to confront this ever-growing problem.”

The summit was held as part of a two-year commitment by U.S. News to put a spotlight on the nation’s most urgent public health priorities. Obesity has steadily risen as one of the gravest issues in health care: One in five children in the United States is now affected, and nearly one-third are overweight. The estimated annual cost of health care spending directly related to obesity is $149 billion. The purpose of the summit – sponsored by Texas Children’s Hospital – was to raise awareness around childhood obesity and to bring experts together to discuss ways to potentially solve the problem.

Meeting the challenge at Texas Children’s

That Texas Children’s hosted and sponsored a conference around the issue of pediatric obesity is fitting. Currently, around 22,000 children 18 years old or younger who are seen at Texas Children’s are obese, and 8,000 are 5 years old or younger. Obesity is one of the biggest drivers of preventable chronic diseases and in childhood can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea, and joint problems, not to mention psychological ramifications such as anxiety and depression.

To directly address the problem of obesity in our patients, as well as some of the underlying causes, such as poverty and food insecurity, Texas Children’s included a system-wide body mass index (BMI) goal as part of our Fiscal Year 2019 care quality objectives. The target was to record BMI for 85 percent of the patient population, ages 2 to 19. In addition to recording BMI, a target was set to refer or implement counseling and/or education for more than 40 percent of patients with BMI greater than the 85th percentile.

“Obesity drives significant health outcomes in our patients, so it was extremely important for us to include this in our FY19 quality goals,” said Dr. Heidi Schwarzwald, chief medical officer of Pediatrics for Texas Children’s Health Plan. “By collaborating across the system, and using the electronic medical record, we can provide children and their families with supportive resources and guidance to combat childhood obesity.”

So far this year, Texas Children’s is exceeding those goals. Through March 2019, we’d recorded BMI for more than 87 percent of our patients, and more than 73 percent of those with BMI in the 85th percentile or higher have been referred to or received the resources they need to combat obesity.

Stay tuned for further updates on Texas Children’s obesity goals and other FY19 organizational goals.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will highlight some of this year’s Caught You Caring Award winners and how they go above and beyond for their patients and colleagues.

Carmen Vela began working for Texas Children’s as a hospital operator. She later moved on to central scheduling and is now an Ambulatory Services Representative in the Division of Plastic Surgery. For the past 17 years she has used her compassionate communication skills to assist patients in a variety of situations.

“As a bilingual employee I know that I am able to communicate with many different patients,” Vela said. “I love knowing that I am helping out the community. I love customer service, I love helping people, I love to listen, and if I don’t have to answer I will find it.”

Caught You Caring is a recognition program offered to patients and families, as well as staff, to recognize employees who have gone above and beyond their role to provide compassion and kindness to another person. This could be in the care of a patient, service to a family, or in support of a coworker. Launched in 2015 in ambulatory surgery, the now system-wide program has recognized many employees, including the eight listed below who were honored by the program this year.

Vela was nominated for the award by the Senior Project Manager in the Division of Plastic Surgery, Betty Tung.

“Almost daily, I can hear her talking to the families trying to make appointments, and she’s so nice, helpful and professional when handling the appointments,” Tung said. “I have witnessed situations where she has to go to the clinic upstairs because the parent wants to hug her to thank her for her help. She goes way beyond her job duties to help the parents.”

Vela continues to demonstrate teamwork and compassion towards co-workers. She is known for helping patient’s parents if they call with a situation such as traffic, running late, or with questions about parking.

“Receiving this award is very gratifying,” Vela said. “I think everyone should be recognized because it is such a team effort, but for Betty to notice my hard work and how much I care about the patients, means a lot.”

Texas Children’s wants to continue to recognize those who take great pride in the work they do and encourages patients, families and employees to catch someone who is making a difference. Caught You Caring boxes and cards can be found throughout the Texas Children’s system for patients and families to fill out and recognize staff. Employees can fill out a Caught You Caring form on Connect. Cards and online submissions will be distributed to leaders for staff recognition.

Click here to learn more about the Caught You Caring Program.

On May 13, The Department of Patient and Family Engagement hosted their first Family Advisor Appreciation Celebration. The picnic themed event was organized to honor family advisors who have provided their ideas, compassion, and time to Texas Children’s.

Over 20 years ago senior administration and faculty leadership invited a group of families with extensive hospital experience to provide a consumer perspective on expansion plans. This resulted in the establishment of a formal, interdisciplinary Family Advisory Board (FAB), charting the course for continued collaboration on quality, safety and patient experience initiatives.

Years later, Texas Children’s became one of the first pediatric hospital’s to hire a full-time parent Family-Centered Care (FCC) Specialist to support the FAB and facilitate family engagement system-wide. As the program grew, the Department of Patient and Family-Centered Care, was created which included service-specific advisory groups, with extended opportunities created for families to participate.

“Patient and family advisors represent the fabric of our mission. By partnering with advisors directly, we understand how they experience care through the perspective of their very personal and vivid lens,” Director of Patient and Family Services, Katie Kalenda-Daggett said. “They not only inform us, but they also motivate us to remain and grow as an ever improving and evolving organization.”

The celebration began as employees and family advisors mingled in the Pavilion for Women’s fourth floor conference rooms to the DJ’s smooth tunes and the alluring aroma of popcorn and a buffet with a variety of delicious foods. Past the tables with red and white picnic table cloths was a photo booth in the corner of the room. The Texas Children’s ukulele choir opened with 5 beautiful songs, then a small program followed with a welcome from Daggett and the presentation of pins to long-standing family advisors.

Darius and Desiree Bradley were amongst the advisors honored for being a part of the program for more than nine years, and they don’t plan on quitting anytime soon.

“It has been a joyful experience for us. Our daughter is a frequent flyer of Texas Children’s Hospital,” Desiree Bradley said as she briefly touched on their connection to the hospital. “They’re going to have to roll me out of here in my wheelchair. I’ll be hugging babies, holding babies, reading to somebody, waving on the bridge, and advising parents as long as I can.”

Upon being discharged from the NICU years ago, a nurse approached the Bradleys about being a part of the FAB. They began as volunteers for focus groups and proceeded to work tirelessly with the FCC. Darius Bradley says that his experience as a father of a hospitalized child combined with his passion for helping others catapulted his efforts to become a voice for others.

“I know that transitioning into this lifestyle can be overwhelming, so I wanted to become a resource for other parents, Bradley said. “When you’ve been where they are and still continuing on your journey, it brings a sense of relief, and assurance to them. I can see the weight lifted off of their shoulders as I speak with them continuously.”

Formerly known as the Family Centered Care (FCC) program, the Department of Patient & Family Engagement partners with our Patient and Family Advisors (PFAs) to help to promote family-centered care across the System. Over the past year, PFA involvement has expanded beyond the Medical Center campus to West Campus, The Pavilion for Women, The Woodlands, and Austin, with over 250 registered PFAs. Texas Children’s PFAs have also reinforced their impact by participating in many conferences and system committees such as the Nursing Quality Improvement Council, the leader rounding simulations and The CLABSI Prevention Team, just to name a few.

“I just want to thank you all for everything that you do for Texas Children’s,” Assistant Director of Patient and Family Services, Aileen Rago said, as she delivered the final words during the ceremony. “Know that while there’s so much still to be done, we truly appreciate how far we’ve come. We are grateful for all of our Texas Children’s advisors.”

In May of 2018, Texas Children’s reached a historic milestone when the Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower opened its doors to care for our most critically ill patients. Four months later, Texas Children’s No. 1 ranked Heart Center moved into Smith Legacy Tower, marking the completion of the project and delivering on our promise to ensure every child receives the right care, at the right time, at the right place. Learn more by visiting our 2018 virtual Annual Report.

Dr. Ken McClain, co-director of Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers Histiocytosis Program, recently received the 2019 George R. Buchanan Lectureship Award from the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology (ASPHO). He is the fourth recipient of this national award honoring a significant contributor in the field.

Specifically, the award recognizes McClain as an international expert in pediatric hematology/oncology, an accomplished educator, committed mentor and effective speaker whose significant research, education and clinical expertise is of the caliber of achievements made by Buchanan, who made scientific contributions in many areas of pediatric hematology and oncology, and has been recognized as an outstanding teacher and mentor.

As part of receiving the Buchanan award, McClain was invited to present a 35 minute state-of-the-art lecture describing his research following the award presentation earlier this month. His talk was on the history of Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis.