October 3, 2017

Texas Children’s President and CEO Mark Wallace and his wife, Shannon, recently donated a very special gift to the Texas Children’s Pawsitive Play Program in memory of their beloved black Labrador, Cadence. The Wallaces have generously pledged an initial $80,000 contribution to the program to enable Texas Children’s to hire another animal-assisted therapy coordinator and therapy dog team to provide therapeutic interventions for patients and families in the Legacy Tower.

“Shannon and I are both animal lovers through and through, and we could not think of a better way to honor Cadence than by donating to the Pawsitive Play Program in her memory,” Wallace said. “We were very attached to Cadence, who brought us so much joy before she passed away. We saw what a positive impact Elsa has made on our patients and their families, and we know the addition of a new therapy dog will allow even more of our patients, employees and staff to benefit from this program in the Legacy Tower.”

Since joining Texas Children’s one year ago, Elsa, Texas Children’s first therapy dog, has provided targeted therapeutic interventions to patients and their families in numerous patient care settings at the Texas Children’s medical center campus. The hospital’s second therapy dog will be specifically trained to care for patients and families in the critical care environment.

“The Pawsitive Play program has made an incredible difference in the healing process for our patients and their families,” said Texas Children’s Assistant Vice President Sarah Maytum. “And the impact extends to our employees and physicians as well. Elsa brightens everyone’s day. I often see her in the hallway, surrounded by a crowd of employees who have stopped to greet Elsa as she is on her way to see patients.”

Texas Children’s will again collaborate with Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization in Atlanta, Georgia, that has matched more than 1,500 therapy dogs, including individual and hospital placements. The organization will conduct a site visit to learn more about the critical care areas of the Legacy Tower before selecting the ideal therapy dog for that environment.

Many of the clinical areas that are moving into Legacy Tower have had great success with the Pawsitive Play Program already. Elsa visits the intensive care and progressive care units on a regular basis. While some patients will not be able to receive a visit from the new service dog because of their clinical conditions, the families, visitors and staff throughout Legacy Tower will be able to experience the comfort of our newest therapy dog.

The Wallaces’ contribution will support Texas Children’s second therapy dog and its handler over the 8-year service life of the dog. Texas Children’s plans to have this new furry companion on staff in early 2018. This will allow sufficient time to get the newest furry member of the team oriented and ready for the opening of Legacy Tower.

“Legacy Tower is so distinctive and innovative,” Wallace said. “It is being equipped with the most advanced technology and much larger, family-centered critical care spaces. It will complement the hospital’s existing ORs and radiology services, and will be home to Texas Children’s No. 1 ranked Heart Center. With so much to look forward to, Shannon and I thought it would be great to bring a special new therapy dog to the patients we will care for in our new critical care tower. We are so fortunate to be able to do something like this, and we both can’t wait to welcome our new friend.”

August 22, 2017

On August 5, more than 450 patients and families traveled from all over the country for the 2017 Texas Children’s Newborn Center family reunion. The reunion celebrated former patients who graduated from the Newborn Center in 2016 after spending 10 days or more in our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The reunion was held at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women where parents shared stories of hope and triumph with other NICU families and reconnected with the nurses and doctors who delivered life-saving care to their critically ill babies.

“The NICU reunion is one of the most special times of the year for us,” said Texas Children’s Chief of Neonatology Dr. Gauthum Suresh. “The families were so grateful to be able to come back and share the great progress their babies have made. It gave them the opportunity to visit with the employees, physicians and other families that they spent so much time with while being cared for in our NICU.”

Highlights from the reunion included remarks from Suresh, Newborn Center Vice President Judy Swanson, Newborn Center Family Advisory Committee (NFAC) members Desiree Bradley-Collins and Katy Haynes, and blessings from Texas Children’s chaplain Naguib Kedeas.

The NICU reunion also offered children’s entertainment including a DJ, games, photo booth, face painting, crafts, airbrush tattoos, appearances from Minnie Mouse, SpongeBob Square Pants and Pikachu, and guests enjoyed a good old-fashioned Texas barbecue.

The Newborn Center team thanked everyone who helped organize this successful event including Texas Children’s NFAC Committee and Bad Pants, an organization that has raised more than $1 million to support the Newborn Center through the annual Bad Pants Open golf tournament.

Creola “Gwen” Calhoun, Unit Clerical Assistant, Women’s Services, passed away on July 10, 2017 at the age of 61.

Creola Calhoun, affectionately known as Gwen by those who knew and loved her began her career at St. Luke’s Hospital in March of 1982 before transitioning to Texas Children’s Hospital with the Women’s Services department in 2006. For 35 years, Ms. Gwen served the Women’s Services team as a patient care assistant and a unit clerical assistant on the Labor & Delivery and Antepartum Unit. Throughout her tenure, Ms. Gwen built many long-lasting bonds and friendships that she honored and cherished.

Gwen leaves to cherish her precious memories two daughters, Yolanda (Michael) and Yvonne (Lavarvia); two sons, Stafford Sr. (Viola) and Daniel (Melody); four sisters, three brothers, four grandsons, two granddaughters, one great granddaughter, and other relatives, and friends who loved her dearly.

August 1, 2017

As a mother to three young boys, Sarah Yarbrough made sure her babies received the best life-saving gift she could give them – her own breast milk. While breastfeeding has many health benefits for infants, Yarbrough knows the challenges that new mothers often experience during their breastfeeding journey.

“After the birth of my first baby, I had a lot of difficulty with breastfeeding,” said Yarbrough, a lactation consultant at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. “Without the help of a very dedicated postpartum nurse and my mother, I would have had a much harder time.”

Besides being a mom, Yarbrough finds her job at the Pavilion for Women very rewarding – educating new mothers on the health benefits of breastfeeding and helping them achieve their breastfeeding goals.

“We assist mothers with positions and techniques for breastfeeding and develop individualized care plans for families when feedings aren’t going as planned,” Yarbrough said. “We also assist families in all areas of the hospital with their unique breastfeeding situation including NICU moms who need help getting their milk supply established so they can feed their pre-term infants at the appropriate time.”

As a designated Baby Friendly Hospital, the Pavilion for Women has implemented several evidence-based breastfeeding practices which include teaching moms to respond to their infant’s early feeding cues rather than schedule feedings, implementing skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby after delivery and encouraging “rooming in” so mothers and infants can stay together 24 hours a day.

The Pavilion for Women provides other breastfeeding support services which include:

  • Baby Bistro provides one-on-one consultation with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Prenatal and postpartum outpatient visits are available by calling 832-826-8881.
  • The Bistro is located inside Bella Luna Boutique on the third floor of the Pavilion for Women. The Bella Luna provides breast pumps for purchase or rental. Employees pay a monthly rental fee, but have the opportunity to get reimbursed through Texas Children’s Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance provider.
  • Employee pumping locations are located at all Texas Children’s Hospital campuses.
  • Mother’s Milk Bank prepares more than 800 syringes or bottles of milk each day for an average of 100 infants in the neonatal intensive care unit based on instructions provided by physician. Mothers who produce a surplus of breast milk can donate their supply to the Mothers’ Milk Bank.
  • Educational classes on breastfeeding are offered at the Pavilion for Women.

“When I began working at the Pavilion for Women, I was amazed at the amount of support given to breastfeeding moms, not only by the lactation team, but the entire Pavilion staff,” Yarbrough said. “To me, this supportive environment is the ideal place to deliver a baby.”

In recognition of World Breastfeeding Week from July 31 to August 4, the Pavilion for Women’s lactation support team has several activities planned including an event on Wednesday, August 2, at The Auxiliary Bridge that will include games, prizes and a photo booth.

June 27, 2017

Nearly two years ago, Kate Hurlbut, a nurse practitioner for Texas Children’s Pediatrics, and her husband Phillip, mourned the loss of their 7-week-old twin daughter, Ella, who was cared for at Texas Children’s Newborn Center.

Ella developed a widespread bacterial infection when she was five weeks old and fought hard for two weeks but passed away in September 2015. Their twin daughter, Anna, stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 83 days before going home to be with her family and 3-year-old brother Luke.

Since Ella’s passing, Hurlbut says one thing that has helped her and her husband find healing is providing support to other grieving NICU families going through similar situations.

“As thankful as we are for the care we received when Ella passed, it also made us realize the need for a more private environment for parents to be able to say goodbye to their babies,” Kate said. “So, when the opportunity presented itself to raise money to open a bereavement room for the Pavilion NICU in Ella’s memory, we felt like this was our opportunity to improve bereavement care for other grieving families.”

Thanks to the Hurlbuts fundraising efforts, their vision soon became a reality. On June 22, the Butterfly Room in the NICU at the Pavilion for Women was dedicated during a special ceremony attended by more than 80 people including NICU leadership, staff and NICU families. Speakers at the dedication ceremony included the Hurlbuts, Chief of Neonatology Dr. Gauthum Suresh, NICU Nursing Director Heather Cherry and NICU Vice President Judy Swanson.

Just as the Hurlbuts envisioned, the bereavement room is designed like a nursery with a crib, comfortable seating for the family and a special private place for families to take as much time as they need to say goodbye to their baby.

“We are incredibly grateful we have been able to raise the funds for this room thanks to the generosity of our friends, family, co-workers and our community,” Kate said. “We hope this room will bring peace and comfort to other bereaved families for many years to come.”

June 13, 2017

Lynlee Boemer, a miracle baby who underwent fetal surgery performed at Texas Children’s Fetal Center to remove a large tumor (Sacrococcygeal Teratoma) growing from her spine, celebrated her first birthday on June 6.

Last week, Jeff and Margaret Boemer were at Texas Children’s for their daughter’s follow-up clinic appointment with Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye, co-director of the Fetal Center. Since their daughter’s surgery, Lynlee is meeting all of her milestones and is very active. She loves to crawl, pull up to stand and has several favorite words she likes to say like, “hi, bye-bye and Mama and Da-Da.”

“She has been in physical therapy, and thankfully, we have been able to take a break from that since she is doing so well,” said Lynlee’s mom Margaret Boemer. “She’s pulling up and almost walking. But we’re also seeing other doctors to check for GI and urology type issues. But other than that, she is doing really, really well.”

Boemer says one of the biggest blessings of sharing Lynlee’s story has been that other women pregnant with babies who have the same diagnosis as Lynlee are reaching out to her via social media, and she is able to give them hope and often refers them to Texas Children’s Fetal Center.

Boemer was 23 weeks and 5 days pregnant with her daughter Lynlee when she underwent emergency fetal surgery to remove the baby’s Sacrococcygeal Teratoma (SCT), a large vascular mass. Occurring in only 1 in 40,000 pregnancies, Lynlee’s SCT was robbing her blood supply and would eventually cause heart failure.

Lynlee had a 50/50 chance of survival. Olutoye and a surgical team worked for approximately five hours to remove the tumor growing from the baby’s tailbone, which was almost larger than the baby herself.

During the surgery, Lynlee’s heart stopped and had to be re-started and she was also given a blood transfusion. Surgeons made an incision in Margaret’s uterus and pulled out the baby from her legs to her torso so they could remove the tumor. Once the incision was closed, Lynlee was placed back inside of her mother and Margaret’s uterus was sewn shut and she was on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Surgeons were able to remove about 90 percent of the tumor, but as the pregnancy progressed, the tumor began to grow again.

Margaret was 36 weeks pregnant when Lynlee Hope was born for the second time via C-section on June 6, 2016 weighing 5 lbs., 5 oz. Lynlee was taken to the level 3 NICU for an evaluation, but was doing so well she was transferred to the level 2 nursery. At 8 days old, Lynlee underwent a second surgery to remove the rest of the tumor from her tailbone including some that had grown inside of her body.

Olutoye removed the remaining SCT tissue and Lynlee recovered wonderfully in the NICU and was able to go home just weeks after her surgery.

The family, from Lewisville, Texas, is now enjoying life at home as a family of five and they come to Texas Children’s for check-ups as Lynlee grows.

“We’re thankful that we gave her a chance at life,” Boemer said. “And we’re very grateful for all that the doctors at Texas Children’s have done to give her that life and all the wonderful care that they gave me and Lynlee while we were here.”

May 16, 2017

Hearing the words, “you’re pregnant” can be an exciting, life-changing moment. But for many couples struggling with infertility, the journey to parenthood is frustrating, stressful, and can at times feel hopeless.

For almost two years, Brooke Schmitt and her husband, Daniel, struggled to start a family, but infertility issues got in the way of achieving their dream of parenthood.

“My OB/GYN ran several tests, and it turned out that my numbers were really low,” Brooke said. “Since my ovaries were not releasing eggs, my doctor recommended that I consult with a fertility specialist.”

After consultations with other providers, Schmitt chose the Family Fertility Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, a regional and national leader in providing advanced fertility services to families who have had difficulty conceiving.

Since opening in July 2014, the center’s reputation was strengthened even more in 2016 when its success rates for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) reached a milestone – 47 percent of embryo transfer patients at the Center achieved clinical pregnancy.

Dr. William Gibbons, chief of Reproductive Medicine at the Pavilion for Women and founding director of the Family Fertility Center, credits the Center’s success to numerous factors – state-of-the-art technology, research and support of Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Texas Children’s allowed me to have resources that many IVF programs don’t have,” Gibbons said. “They enabled us to build the absolute best lab that we could have, and we have almost as much research lab space as clinical lab space.”

The Family Fertility Center is the first in Houston and among the early adopters in the U.S. to offer the EmbryoScope, an embryo monitoring system that provides continuous moving time-lapse images of embryos as they grow. This technology allows fertility specialists to identify the healthiest embryo to transfer to the patient to improve IVF success.

Realizing the uncertainties that often accompany fertility treatments, the Schmitts relied on the Center’s expertise and state-of-the-art capabilities to help facilitate their dream of becoming parents. After consulting with their reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Paul Zarutskie, Brooke and her husband elected to pursue IVF.

“I was really lucky – my numbers were great,” Brooke said. “They retrieved about 41 eggs, and 39 of them fertilized successfully.”

At the end of day five, 12 of Brooke’s embryos were still living. All of them underwent genetic testing, and five of them were healthy. She and her husband, Daniel, implanted an embryo. The other four healthy embryos were cryogenically preserved for future implantation.

Brooke was implanted with an embryo on February 5, 2016. After undergoing blood work to confirm the couple was pregnant, the test came back positive.

Their daughter, Sophia, was born October 19, 2016.

“It’s a surreal feeling to know that you’re a parent and you’ve made this baby,” Brooke said. “We know we couldn’t have made her without the help of Dr. Zarutskie and the fertility team. Between the talent and the state-of-the-art technology there, it was a perfect combination that produced a perfect outcome.”

To read more about the Schmitts’ story in Texas Children’s Annual Report, click here. To learn more about Texas Children’s Family Fertility Center, click here.