Random Acts of Kindness – Down Syndrome Awareness

IMG_4306Emily Pratt, a patient at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, was required to do a senior project for her high school graduation and wanted to support Down Syndrome Awareness, so she decided to create handmade bracelets and sell them to family and friends.

The proceeds, which totaled around $1,200, were used to purchase 120 children’s books on topics such as colors, numbers, and the alphabet. These particular books each featured children with Down syndrome on every page.

Emily and her family came to Children’s Hospital  last week to present the books toIMG_4303 Kishore Vellody, MD, medical director of the Down Syndrome Center of Western Pennsylvania. With World Down Syndrome Day celebrated on March 21, it was a great tie in! The theme for World Down Syndrome Day was “random acts of kindness”, and Emily’s support definitely exemplified that.

Emily’s project will surely help families who visit here who have a baby with Down syndrome enjoy reading to their child. Each new parent packet at the Down Syndrome Center at Children’s will have a book, donated by Emily Pratt.

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Broken Crayons Still Color

By Katie O’Connor, MA, CCLS, Art Therapist, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

FullSizeRender1Some people are so badly broken that you cannot ever fix them. A professor announced this very pragmatically during my first counseling class of graduate school. I left feeling challenged, somewhat discouraged, and perplexed. Over the years, I developed a deeper understanding of that statement and now have the perfect response: “Broken crayons still color.”

Allowing children to safely explore and express their hospitalization through creative experiences are some of the moments I love most. Things like watching an anxious child tear paper into tiny shreds or smash Play-Doh® into the floor; seeing a smile spread across a child’s face as he creates purple by mixing red and blue for the first time; or hearing another giggle as mom squeals, “Eww, that’s so messy.”  These moments are indescribable.

Almost three years ago, as an art therapy extern here at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburghphoto3 of UPMC, I dreamt of starting an art therapy program for our patients and families. I feel incredibly grateful and privileged to be part of such an amazing team and for the opportunity to grow our art therapy program.

After starting as the first art therapist in November 2014, I have consulted with over 90 families.  Art therapy sessions are offered to our patients and families in the form of individual, sibling, family, and group sessions. Open studio art sessions are also scheduled in the Eat’n Park Atrium and are open for all patients and families to attend.

I’m looking forward to assisting patients to process their artwork and support them while working toward a healthier self.

For more information, please contact the Child Life Department at 412-692-5022.



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The Sensory Room Offers Kids Therapeutic Fun

The Child Life Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC has developed a room that incorporates many interactive elements that give kids the chance to use all of their senses in a room that is both fun and therapeutic.

Child_Life_Month_3The Sensory Room at Children’s Hospital is a therapeutic space designed to help control pain without the use of medication, and to relax or stimulate appropriate inpatients.

“The space is designed to promote sensory relaxation and stimulation, as well as offering opportunities for self-discovery and meaningful therapeutic opportunities,” said Ashley Barrasso, child life specialist.

Located on the 6th floor of the hospital, across from Austin’s Playroom, the room includes items such as:

  • Lighted bubble column
  • Fiberoptic cables bundles together that change colors
  • Touch wall panels with heat sensitive technology
  • A bubble mirror that magnifies images
  • A lighted marble panel
  • Lumiglow panel that allows kids to draw or write with a light pen
  • A tunnel with fiberoptics
  • Different tactile activity pads
  • Disco ball and music system

Child life specialist Colleen O’Connor enjoys bringing patients into the sensory room.Child_Life_Month_1
“Kyra and I enjoy coming by during the week and interacting with all of the different areas of the room,” said Colleen O’Connor, child life specialist. “Watching her eyes light up when experiencing the sensory items is a great feeling. It allows her to relax and use her each of her senses in an exciting way.”

Also, a big thanks to the Sprout Fund for their generous support of the room!

To learn more about the sensory room, contact Child Life at 412-692-5022 or visit www.chp.edu/childlife.



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Supporting Families in the Emergency Department – Child Life

By Alanna Kanawalsky and Stephanie Colaberardino, Certified Child Life Specialists, Emergency Department, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

ambThe Emergency Department (ED) at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC has child life coverage seven days a week split between two certified child life specialists (CCLS). They are professionally trained individuals in the field of child development, psychology, and family systems. They are both have master’s degrees and have completed an extensive internship and certification process. Child life specialists promote coping through play and developmentally appropriate education and preparation for the health care experience.

As a child life specialist in the ED, the day starts at noon and finishes at midnight for Stephanie Colaberardino and Alanna Kanawalsky. Being a child life specialist in the ED is challenging, and they often wear many hats. The busy and ever-changing day may consist of providing play opportunities, to supporting a patient through a difficult procedure. They can be seen playing with medical equipment and dolls to help a child understand their care or assessing a child’s ability to cope. They may be found supporting a family in distress after a trauma or helping a new mother find comfort while taking care of her infant in the hospital. While Stephanie and Alanna share the same responsibilities and duties, their stories and experiences in their role are unique. Together, they are proud to be a part of the ED team at Children’s Hospital.

Meet Stephanie

IMG_6381Stephanie has been a CCLS for 13 years, spending most of these years in the ED. She enjoys setting a positive tone for patients and families as they begin their hospital journey. The ED is often a child’s first real hospital experience. They do not speak the medical language and everything about it is new and potentially scary. Stephanie uses developmentally appropriate language to help ease these fears and anxieties and identifies ways for even the youngest of patients to be involved with their health care experience. To further enhance trust, Stephanie utilizes play as a primary tool for normalization.  When a child is more comfortable in their environment and has an appropriate understanding of what is happening, he or she is more likely to develop trust in the health care team and may be more compliant with tests and procedures.

As a child life specialist, Stephanie understands the importance of helping a child develop coping skills in this new environment. The hospital can provoke stress in a child and they may not have developed the coping skills to “relax” on command. Stephanie works to meet the individual needs of the child by exploring coping skills that aid in the cooperation for tests and procedures. For example, instead of asking a young child to take deep breaths for an IV placement, Stephanie may offer bubbles for the child to blow.

Children’s Hospital treats adolescents and young adults in addition to small children. It is important to remember that adolescents may also have fears, anxieties, and misconceptions related to the hospital. Stephanie understands that adolescents, though physically more developed, are still growing cognitively and emotionally. Adolescents tend to do best in this environment when their questions are answered, their feelings are validated, and they feel involved in their care.

While patients are generally Stephanie’s primary focus, it is important to consider the entire family unit present in the room. Child life specialists in the ED value Children’s patient-and family-centered care philosophy by understanding that this can be a stressful place the whole family. Stephanie identifies the immediate and basic needs that she can quickly meet and serves as a support and liaison between the family and medical team. Stephanie truly loves her job as a child life specialist. Though a patient’s visit may be short, Stephanie hopes that child life services can set a long-lasting positive impression that carries on through into adulthood.

Meet Alanna

Alanna has been a child life specialist for six years. She has provided child life services in other areas of the hospital as well, but has settled into her new home in the ED recently. She understands the importance of developing a quick rapport with patients and families to provide support during a stressful time.

Alanna received a consult to support a young trauma patient who presented to the ED after a dog bite to the face. She was asked to provide distraction and support during laceration repair.

Alanna entered the trauma bay and found the patient along with the mother and father atIMG_6379 bedside. The patient had several lacerations to the face with the most severe being under her left eye and chin. Alanna got down at her eye level and easily engaged the patient in conversation. Without prompting, the child recanted the experience that brought her to the ED. Children process and cope with a trauma by retelling their story. Alanna was able to validate the patient’s fears and provide support. She commented on the patient’s bravery and ability to defend herself against the dog. She also provided her with a blanket and stuffed animal for comfort after such a traumatic event. Alanna prepared the child for laceration repair using developmentally appropriate language, describing the sequence of events and allowing her to manipulate real medical items to become more familiar with what to expect. Patients are often more compliant with procedures if they are prepared because it can take away the fear of the unknown. During a preparation session, a coping plan is often established. The child is presented with choices to create a plan that can provide them with a sense of some control in a situation where they have very little.

In this particular situation, Alanna was going to use her iPad to distract the patient during suture placement. The iPad is one of many tools Stephanie and Alanna use in the ED to distract and support patients during procedures. The patient was easily distracted by the iPad as well as encouraging words from Alanna.

Both Stephanie and Alanna often hear from parents “I wish I knew about your job when I was younger, it seems like so much fun.” They simply smile and agree. Alanna says she loves what she does and not many people can say the same. Both agree they love that they can make a difference in the lives of children and families during some of their most challenging times.

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Injury is not an Accident

By Chris Vitale, Injury Prevention Manager, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

VITALE_C_RN_CAMEO_CHP_20100803The Injury Free Coalition for Kids team at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC commends and stands with Nationwide Insurance Company and its commercial during the Super Bowl to raise awareness and start a conversation about the number one cause of death and disability to our nation’s children: injury.

We respect their choice to put this message out in the largest venue possible because it is that important. The facts are clear:

  • Injuries kill more children in the U.S. every year than all other causes combined.
  • Injuries are not accidents.
  • Injury is a disease that is curable with prevention: We know it works, we’ve seen it happen by making play spaces safer, by changing the environment, and by adding protection, etc.
  • Kids should be able to explore, play, and take risks as they grow without the threat of trauma.

As more people become aware of the severity of this issue, together we will decrease the numbers of children killed or hurt. Share the message, ask questions, and get help. It’s hard to listen to a commercial message about a child dying, but it’s much harder to hear it in reality. We can all make a difference.

The Injury Free Coalition for Kids is among the country’s most effective injury prevention programs. Injury Free is comprised of hospital-based, community-oriented injury prevention sites whose efforts are anchored in research, education, and advocacy. Each site is housed in the trauma center of its participating institution. They are all independent, physician-led programs driven by the Coalition’s mission: preventing injury to children. While research determines where the injuries take place and which ones most prevalent and severe, most of the injuries addressed occur in urban environments, and Coalition members work to empower the diverse populations who live there.

For more information on Injury Prevention, please visit www.chp.edu/CHP/besafe.

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Dry Skin Advice for Pittsburgh Winters

By Robin P. Gehris, MD, FAAD, FAAP, chief, Pediatric Dermatology, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

Dr. GehrisThe good news is that we are more than halfway through winter! The bad news is that in Pittsburgh and neighboring areas the cold, dry weather often continues well into the spring.  Many of us are feeling the effect of winter weather on our skin, which can be especially dry at this time of year. Some basic advice may help you manage this on your own, but if you don’t see an improvement within 2 to 3 weeks, you may want to consult your doctor.

Are there things I may be doing that make my dry skin worse?

  • Having the heat turned up high or having a fire blazing in the fireplace may be drying out the air in your house and may make your skin more dry
  • Taking long, hot showers can dehydrate your skin and exacerbate any dryness
  • Fragranced products such as soaps, laundry detergents, creams, and perfumes can further irritate dry skin (even if you can usually tolerate these same products at other times of the year)
  • Using moist wipes which contain certain preservatives can be associated with skin allergies and dryness or redness after repeated use
  • Frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizers, while often necessary to combat germs, can also dry out the skin.

What can I do at home to help my dry skin?

  • Consider turning down the heat by several degrees and adding a cool mist humidifier to add moisture back to the air. We do NOT recommend warm or hot mist humidifiers, as young children can pull these onto themselves and cause burns or scalding injuries.
  • Use only UNSCENTED, hypoallergenic products on your skin. Some of my favorites include:
    • Soap: Dove® unscented for sensitive skin
    • Laundry Detergent: Tide® Free, All® Free & Clear (or other non-branded, clear, unscented detergents)
    • Dryer sheets: Bounce® FREE or other non-branded unscented sheets
    • Moisturizers: CeraVe® cream, Cetaphil® cream, Eucerin® cream, Aveeno® cream, Vaseline ointment
      • Ointments and creams tend to be best products; they are the least irritating, most moisturizing products. Lotions, on the other hand, are thinner, less effective, and can be more irritating to dry skin.
      • Steer clear of “natural” or organic products may NOT necessarily be unscented or hypoallergenic and can actually cause reactions when applied to dry skin. An example is lavender, which is natural, but is scented and can be irritating.
      • If you must wash your hands frequently, promptly apply a moisturizer cream after washing.
    • Moisturizing creams often need to be reapplied multiple times per day during the harsh winter.
    • Avoid perfumed washes, perfumed creams or sprays, and scented fabric softener and dryer sheets
    • Refrain from scrubbing the skin, as this can make any itching worse.

How can I tell if my child has more than just dry skin – if it’s true eczema?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a medical condition which is characterized notLet's get you good and clean just by dry skin but also by inflammation, which appears rough or red and can cause significant itching. Some children are more genetically predisposed to developing eczema if they also have family members who have eczema, seasonal allergies, asthma, or eosinophilic esophagitis. Babies with eczema may also have cradle cap. Eczema can become so inflamed that there may be secondary crusting or “weeping”.  It may improve with moisturizers, but if there is inflammation that doesn’t improve, you may need a prescription medicine and sometimes even an oral medication to help with itching to interrupt this cycle.

Where should I make an appointment to treat my child’s eczema?

Many patients start by contacting their primary care provider for initial advice on eczema. You should expect improvement within 2 to 3 weeks of a new treatment plan, and if this is not happening, you may want to consult a pediatric dermatologist. For a child or young adult, the medical professional most highly trained to diagnose and treat eczema is a pediatric dermatologist, who has formal training and official board certification first in adult dermatology, followed by specialized fellowship training and official board certification in pediatric dermatology.  A pediatric dermatologist should pay specific consideration to your child’s skin type, activities, and schedule as well as the safety of the medications. A good pediatric dermatologist also should provide you with reasonable treatment options that are affordable or will be covered by your child’s insurance so that you don’t spend a fortune treating his/her eczema.

What could happen if I don’t treat my child’s eczema?

The most common side effect of NOT treating your child’s eczema is discomfort and sleep disturbance. The itching can interfere not just with the child’s sleep, but with that of the entire family. Poor sleep and uncontrolled itching can also make it more difficult for your child to focus in school and can even mimic attention deficit disorder.

Other concerning side effects when eczema is allowed to flare out of control are secondary infections. Patients with atopic dermatitis are less able at a cellular level to fight off bacteria and viruses on their skin. In addition, without an intact skin barrier during an eczema flare, kids with eczema are literally “open” to many different infectious possibilities entering their skin. These include bacteria and certain viruses. Some of these, such as staphylococcus or herpes simplex virus, if left untreated, can lead to hospitalization. If you are concerned that your child may have an infection and certainly if he/she also has a fever, please contact your doctor right away to be evaluated.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric dermatologists at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, please visit www.chp.edu/dermatology.

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Measles Outbreak: What You Should Know

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By Dr. Sharon Cowden, CCP–Pittsburgh Pediatrics; Dr. Michael Green, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Children’s Hospital; and Dr. Marian Michaels, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Children’s Hospital More than 100 people from 14 states were reported to have measles in … Continue reading

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