September 9, 2014

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Christian Spear puts on her headphones and closes her eyes as she stands next to a purple microphone. The former American Idol contestant is not on the stage performing in front of thousands, and she’s not competing in a television program anymore, but she is performing with all of the same passion. She is singing from the heart inside the Purple Songs Can Fly studio at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. It’s a song she wrote and composed along with Anita Kruse, founder and executive director of Purple Songs Can Fly. The program gives patients in the cancer center the chance to compose their own songs and Spear has signed on to be a songwriter for the year, helping children with their tunes.

“Coming back to Texas Children’s has been nothing short of a full-circle experience for me,” said Spear. “It is always so humbling to be amongst children and families who are enduring the very things I endured years ago.”

Spear is a 15 year cancer survivor. She received her treatment right here at this very hospital, and now she is proud to be here hoping to inspire each child she meets. Today, her personal experience and the kids’ battles have inspired the lyrics to her latest song, No One Fights Alone. The song is about uniting in the fight against cancer and it’s dedicated to children at Texas Children’s Cancer Center and beyond. It is in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. When she opens her mouth and the song lyrics spill out, the emotions are palpable.

“Cancer can’t steal away your joy or ever dim your light,” Spear sings with raw emotion. “Cancer can’t break your spirit or take away your will to fight.”

Take action! Share the video on social media and use the hashtag #NoOneFightsAlone to share your personal stories.

She said having survived cancer inspires so many areas of her life, especially her songwriting.

“I was able to grow with a completely new outlook on life,” said Spear. “I try to find joy in everything around me and it’s inspired my songs to always have a message of hope.”

“Because Christian is a childhood cancer survivor herself, she embodies the spirit of hope, courage, resilience, creativity, connection and love that we all seek,” said Kruse.

Spear’s time at the hospital is spent with the children, and it’s clear she relates to them on a different level. Being a survivor gives her a special connection with those who are still fighting the disease. Her former physician, Dr. ZoAnn Dryer, is among her many fans.

“Stories like Christian’s are what help all of us get up in the morning with a smile on our faces and literally a song, usually hers, in our hearts,” said Dryer. “Christian is a blessing to all, and I am so very proud to introduce her to my patients undergoing therapy so they can truly begin to believe there is light at the end of the ‘cancer tunnel.’”

Spear recently sang her song at a ribbon-tying ceremony which brought together patients and staff to tie more than 600 gold ribbons, each signifying one patient diagnosed with cancer at the cancer center over the last year. Nationally, more than 15,000 children will be diagnosed in one year. The cancer center also provides supportive care to children with cancer in five African counties: Botswana, Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania and Swaziland.

“Our patients serve as our inspiration to provide the best quality medical and psychosocial care, conduct state-of-the art research and train our future leaders in the field,” said Dr. David Poplack, chief of Texas Children’s Cancer Center.

The ribbons will be on display all month at the children’s playground on the first floor of Abercrombie Building. It’s a small reminder of the universal message that no one fights alone.

View photos from the event

“‘No One Fights Alone’ means whether I’m battling a disease, or just having a bad day, I will never be without the love and support of my friends and family,” said Spear. “That’s what I hope to leave each listener with, love and support to bring them joy.”

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By: Sherrell Ogletree

Our son, Jaxon Robert Ogletree, was born on July 25, 2013 at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. Dr. Katharine Bolt was my obstetrician and she did a phenomenal job!

The Pavilion for Women was an amazing experience. My labor and delivery room was beautiful and my favorite amenity was the spa-like showers. The staff was very friendly and I even got a celebration cake when Jaxon was born. The nurses were super and the rooms were extremely clean. My room was so huge and the atmosphere really made it feel like home. I am so happy that I was able to have that wonderful experience with my last child.

91014BWjaxon2Once Jaxon was born, I was so excited to hold him and I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without him. He is the sweetest baby and is always full of joy. Having three boys is definitely an adjustment. Sometimes my husband and I look at each other and realize we are outnumbered.

Football season in my house is crazy. The boys rule the television and every so often you will hear yelling as their team scores a touchdown. Jaxon still holds on to his mommy for now but soon I know he will convert.

By Sherrell Ogletree

Being a mother of three boys has brought so much joy and chaos at the same time. After having Jaxon, I decided to start work as a nurse practitioner and I currently work in the Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology department at Texas Children’s. Adjusting to the new position has been great and spending more time on the weekend with the kids has been even better. I still haven’t learned the concept of balance and I still feel like the term is not real. Instead I choose to place my faith, family, and friends as my priorities and everything else seems to fall into place.

Some of the tips that I have for moms are:

  1. Take joy in the good and the bad. It’s a learning experience in which you and your family grow.
  2. Make sure that you make time for your children EVERY day. Life can be hectic but be sure to sit down and spend time with your kids every day. Make sure it is quality time in which they have your undivided attention. That goes for your husband as well.
  3. Never skip date nights. I believe strong marriages build strong families.
  4. Be flexible. Things will go wrong sometimes but you just have to be adaptable and resilient.

Jaxon is getting so big. Recently, he just got his first hair cut. Since he learned how to walk last month, his adventures have included running from mommy and trying to climb the stairs when no one is looking.

He is still learning how to talk but can clearly let you know when it is time for him to eat. He is such a bundle of joy and smiles every chance he gets. He has six teeth and is learning how to bite more than food.

Life is great for me and my husband and I couldn’t be more grateful for my three boys. I am looking forward to the future.

September 3, 2014

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On April 11, identical conjoined twin girls were born at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, each weighing about 3 pounds, 7 ounces. Born via Caesarean-section at 31 weeks gestation, Knatalye Hope and Adeline Faith share a liver, diaphragm, pericardial sac (the lining of the heart) and intestines. They were welcomed by their parents, Elysse and John Mata and their older brother Azariah.

Now estimated to weigh 10 pounds, 4 ounces each, the girls are being cared for by a team of specialists at Texas Children’s Newborn Center.

“The twins still require some respiratory support but they are doing well, and we don’t expect them to have any significant setbacks,” said Chief of Neonatology Dr. Stephen Welty.

Plans for surgical separation are being discussed among a team of multidisciplinary specialists. The Mata family and the care team’s goal right now is for the babies to continue to grow and gain weight.

“I expect it to go well,” Welty said in an interview with KHOU on Tuesday. “Will it be easy? No. The best thing to do is to do the safest thing, which is grow them up, get them bigger and healthier with great nutrition and great developmental care and then separate them at a time which is as safe as possible.”

Waiting a few months after the babies’ birth before proceeding with separation helps optimize the lung and organ function, which can minimize the risk of complications.

“Although other facilities have reported early separations, each case is different with regard to the number of organs that needs to be separated,” said Dr. Darrell Cass, co-director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center. “Also, in some instances those cases have experienced complications due to the early separation, which I believe can be avoided.”

Doctors anticipate beginning the twins’ separation process between the ages of 6 months and 8 months. First, our plastic surgery team will place tissue expanders to help induce the growth of additional skin that will be needed once the two babies are separated. The process of tissue expansion is six to eight weeks. Afterward, a multidisciplinary team of specialists will proceed with separation of the twins. The separation will involve many surgeons, including those from Pediatric General Surgery, Urology, Plastic Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Cardiac Surgery and Gynecology.

“There will be two surgical teams,” Cass said. “One team will start, and then once the babies are separated, the teams will separate to work on each infant and finish the reconstruction.”

The surgical teams include:

  • Anesthesiology: Dr. Helena Karlberg and Dr. Steve Stayer
  • Pediatric General Surgery: Dr. Darrell Cass (team lead) and Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye
  • Pediatric Urology: Dr. Patricio Gargollo and Dr. Chester Koh
  • Pediatric Plastic Surgery: Dr. Ed Buchanan and Dr. Larry Hollier
  • Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery: Dr. David Antekeir and Dr. Frank Gerow
  • Pediatric Gynecology surgery: Dr. Jennifer Dietrich

Cass said the surgery is risky, as there always is the risk of death for one or both children. However, he believes the risk is small and the team is anticipating an excellent outcome.

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10 West Tower, the epilepsy monitoring unit, recently celebrated 365 days without a hospital acquired pressure ulcer and kept achieving their goals making it now to 445 days without one. It was a team effort which helped improve patient care and outcomes for those who are receiving EEG or electroencephalography monitoring.

Top six ways EMU reached 445 without a HAPU:

  • Process and Practice modifications were implemented with the EMU patients, the techs received skills competency training
  • EMU nurses perform a skin assessment prior to the techs placing the EEG leads on every EMU patient and after the leads are removed
  • The patient is prepped with a less abrasive solution and the patient head is no longer wrapped
  • Use of disposable leads
  • Collodion TM-soaked gauze is applied to the top of the lead over the skin and dried in place.
  • Gel electrodes are utilized for the cheeks due to the sensitivity of this area.

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Nurses perform skin assessments twice a shift during prolonged EEG monitoring and at the completion of the study, which include tests for blanching and checking skin integrity. If there is an abnormal finding in the skin assessment, the physician is notified to consider removal of leads, and a referral to a wound care specialist is made.

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Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy may trigger depression in some women. In fact, between 10 and 15 percent of pregnant women and new mothers may experience some symptoms of depression. But their condition can be far more than simply feeling “blue” or “down.” For many, it can have a debilitating effect on their health, their family, their careers and their relationships.

To address the need for earlier screening and treatment of maternal depression, the Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women launched a pilot program in May to screen patients multiple times throughout their pregnancy and postpartum period. The effort is part of the Women’s Mental Health Delivery System Reform Incentive Payments (DSRIP) program, focusing on expanded access to health care services.

“Our goal is to identify women with maternal depression as soon as possible and get them into care because maternal depression is treatable,” said Dr. Lucy Puryear, medical director of The Women’s Place – Center for Reproductive Psychiatry and Baylor College of Medicine psychiatrist, who oversees the program. “How we deal with this can have a profound impact not only on the physical and emotional well-being of the mother, but on the life of the child and the family overall.”

As part of the program, women are screened for maternal depression using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale multiple times throughout their pregnancy (during the first and third trimesters) and postpartum (at two weeks in the pediatrician’s office and at six weeks by their obstetrician), and those requiring follow-up mental health services are referred for care.

“Our overriding goal is to learn from the patients we’re currently screening in order to develop a model for the early diagnosis and treatment of maternal depression using several combined strategies,” said Dr. Puryear. “Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women is uniquely positioned to oversee this project because of the unique Reproductive Psychiatry program and faculty at Baylor College of Medicine.”

Dr. Lisa Valentine, a Baylor College of Medicine psychiatrist hired to treat patients as part of this program, practices at The Women’s Place at the Pavilion for Women, The Center for Children and Women at Greenspoint and at Pearland Ob-Gyn. Two Texas Children’s Pediatrics practices, Pearland and Shadow Creek Ranch, are serving as pilot sites for the project. Providers and staff at these pilot sites have been trained to implement standardized screening and referral.

At Texas Children’s Pediatrics Pearland, every new mother is screened for postpartum depression at the initial well-child visit, which occurs approximately two weeks postpartum, referring those needing services. Referrals are processed quickly and most patients are seen within seven days of being screened. Select providers at Texas Children’s Pediatrics Shadow Creek Ranch have also begun standardized screening.

Future plans focus on educating and training staff at obstetric clinics and additional pediatric clinics to implement standardized screening and referral; adding additional providers, including a psychiatrist, therapist and social worker; and expanding to additional sites with the intent of integrating maternal mental health services where women are already seeking treatment.

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By Dr. Charles Hankins

As a Texas Children’s neonatologist, I have treated many premature and critically-ill infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). When babies are born prematurely, their lungs and other organs are still developing. They are entering the most critical stage of their young lives. Their parents entrust their newborns to us to provide the highest level of care possible.

Our mission at Texas Children’s Hospital has always been to build a healthy community of children. In some cases, this begins in premature and critically-ill infants. To achieve the best neonatal outcomes, Texas Children’s has partnered with community NICUs in the Greater Houston area to ensure these patients receive the right care at the right time and in the right place.

As chief medical officer for Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, I serve as the primary medical liaison to community physicians and work closely with them to expand access to patient care in the community setting, which is particularly important for the families of our NICU patients.

With a commitment to family-centered care, every effort is made to keep these infants close to their families in the community. Texas Children’s provides these local NICUs with administrative and clinical support, giving patients access to the latest treatments available in neonatal and pediatric care, state-of-the-art equipment and pediatric subspecialists.

If a child is born in one of the community hospitals and needs care offered only in a Level IV NICU, that baby is transferred immediately to our main campus at Texas Children’s Newborn Center, ranked No. 2 in the nation. When these babies graduate to a lower level NICU, the family can request transfer back to their community hospital and maintain the continuity of care which is so vital to helping these newborns thrive.

Texas Children’s is proud to work with these hospitals to provide high-quality care to newborns:

  • Houston Methodist West Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
  • Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital
  • Houston Methodist
  • St. Joseph Medical Center
  • CHI St. Luke’s Health – The Woodlands Hospital
  • CHI St. Luke’s Health – The Vintage Hospital

More than 2,000 NICU infants are cared for each year at Texas Children’s Newborn Center, making us one of the largest, most experienced NICUs in the country. Partnering with community NICUs in the Greater Houston area will ensure our critically-ill babies receive high-quality care, while helping us carry out our mission of creating a community of healthy children.

August 26, 2014

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It wasn’t a typical Monday morning for Dr. Timothy Lotze, a neurologist at Texas Children’s. Besides making his usual hospital rounds to see patients, Lotze paid a visit to 14-year old Joseph Garza’s room. But, this visit was extra special.

Trading in his white lab coat for a comfy red T-shirt, Lotze participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge to help raise money and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease that severely impacts a person’s ability to move.

Lotze accepted the challenge from Texas Children’s Muscular Dystrophy Association representative Dalia Deleon on behalf of Garza, who suffers from an extremely rare form of pediatric ALS.

View the video:

“I am so grateful to Dr. Lotze for taking on this challenge to help raise awareness for ALS,” said Lorrie Garza, Joseph’s mom. “Hopefully, they’ll find a cure so no other family or child has to go through this terrible disease.”

A year before Garza’s diagnosis, Lorrie noticed her son was having trouble lifting his arms and began walking with a limp. His condition grew worse, but doctors in his hometown of Brownsville weren’t sure what type of neurological disorder he had. Once Garza was transferred to Texas Children’s, he and his family met with Dr. Lotze, who diagnosed Garza with ALS in May of this year.

While ALS primarily affects adults, there are children who suffer from this debilitating disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord which control voluntary muscle movement. Patients with ALS progressively lose their ability to eat, speak, walk and eventually breathe.

“Since the disease impacts voluntary muscle action, patients in the later stages of ALS may become completely paralyzed,” said Lotze. “It’s important for us to continue to support research and raise community awareness about ALS so we can find a cure for this horrible disease and improve the quality of life for these patients.”

That’s exactly what Texas Children’s researchers Dr. Hugo Bellen and his team strive to accomplish. In their laboratory at the Jan and Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine, they are examining the role of genes in ALS to help find ways to suppress degeneration and improve a patient’s functionality.

“A subset of ALS patients have mutations in a gene called VapB,” said Bellen. “We are trying to understand the specific role of this gene by studying fly and mouse models of ALS, caused by mutations in this gene.”

Bellen and his team have discovered that the VapB protein circulates in the blood and functions as a hormone. It binds to receptors on muscle cells to control the function of the muscle mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse. In the mutants, the muscle mitochondria do not function properly anymore, and this in turn affects the function of the neurons that innervate the muscles, ultimately causing these neurons to die.

“Although the causes of ALS are not well understood, we are making significant progress on how the disease may develop, which could lead to better therapies or possibly a cure in the future,” said Bellen.

As for Garza, his mom says he’s not giving up hope. “He’s already told me he’s going to fight,” said Lorrie. “And I tell Joseph, “We will fight together.”