Monthly Archives: February 2014

Hearts of thanks: A letter to nurse Sara

Children’s Family Advisory Council has designated this week as Hearts of Thanks week as a way to say thank you and recognize all Children’s staff for the difference they make to them during their experiences in our hospitals and clinics. This week we’ll share some of the letters and stories from families about how our staff has been there to lend a helping a hand, a shoulder to cry on or an encouraging word during some of the most difficult times in their lives. On behalf of the Family Advisory Council, thank you to all of our team members for all you do to brighten the days, and the lives, of our patient families.

Thank you Sara – you touched our lives

Aug. 19, 1996, was the day that changed our lives forever. This was the day my husband, Tom, started a new job, and we all were so excited. You see, this job was the one that made it possible for me to quit my job to stay home with our three young children, Zachary (5), Cody (2 ½) and Hannah (10 months). The plan was for him to spend his first week in Boston training and meeting customers.

Aug. 19, 1996, was also the day I had scheduled to take Zachary in to see the doctor. Something wasn’t right and I wanted him seen. He was incredibly tired and cranky. He also looked very pale standing next to Cody, his summer-suntanned little brother. Plus, he had these pesky little bruises on his legs that I couldn’t figure out (I later learned these are called petechiae – a result of a low platelet count).

4:00 appointment. 4:30 blood draw. 5:00 cancer diagnosis, and by 6:00 p.m. we were already a “Children’s Family”. Tom was paged at a Red Sox game at Fenway Park to receive the phone call from his brother that Zach had leukemia and we were at the hospital.

It was a long, lonely night sitting in the hospital watching my beautiful boy sleep all the while knowing that Tom was alone in his hotel room in Boston, dealing with his grief alone because he was not able to catch a flight home until the morning.

The sun came up – a new day. That morning Zach and I met Sara Gernbacher. She walked into Zach’s room and introduced herself. She told us she would be Zach’s primary nurse.  This was the beginning of a very long road, and little did I know at that time, what an important role this person would have in our lives. She became more than Zach’s nurse; she was our guide, our comforter, our information source, our gentle spirited friend, and Zachary trusted her completely. She truly was part of our inner circle, and we are so thankful she came into our lives.

I’d like to share with you a few wonderful magical Sara memories…

Throughout Zachary’s treatment, she always took the time to talk one-on-one with him, listening intently to everything he had to say. She made him feel like there was no one more important than him. One memory stands out in my mind: one day that we were in clinic, Zach was very upset about getting a shot in his leg. He would have nothing to do with it. He hid under a table in the exam room. Sara crawled under the table with him, and just sat with him. She calmed him, reassured him. Within a few minutes she had his permission to move forward with the shot – right there under the table. Magic!

Later in Zach’s treatment, Sara shared great news with us. She was pregnant with her second child. We were thrilled for her, but also secretly wondered how we’d get through treatment without her. She assured us that her substitute would take great care of Zach, which she did. One day in clinic during Sara’s maternity leave, she surprised us by showing up at Zach’s appointment. She stopped in to see Zach, and to show him her new baby. It brings tears to my eyes to type this, remembering the tender moment shared between Sara and Zach as he said hello to her new baby girl.  

Over the course of our clinic visits, we discovered that Sara’s parents owned property on the same lake in Annandale that Zachary’s grandparents did. The Annandale 4th of July parade was an annual event for our family, and Sara’s too. Every year, Sara made a point to find us and say hello to Zach and our entire family. By this time, Zach was off treatment, so we especially looked forward to seeing her and her growing family.

These stories all took place several years ago. Zach is now 23 years old, and only comes to clinic once per year for his long-term follow up appointments. Sara, however, hasn’t stopped caring. Last January, Zach and I were in for his long term follow up appointment. We didn’t expect to see anyone we knew, since we had a late appointment – 5:00 p.m. As we were waiting to be seen, someone very special quietly slips into the room to say hello. It was Sara, and we all hugged – such a sweet surprise.

So here we sit, 14 years past treatment. We are thankful EVERY day for the wonderful care our son received at Children’s, and we feel truly blessed that Sara Gernbacher was a part of that treatment plan. Thank you Sara – we’re so grateful to you!

— Amy Bigot

Do you have a Children’s employee or team you’d like to thank? Share your message in the comments.

Zachary, New Year’s Eve 1996

Sara introduces Zach to Marit, her new baby girl.

Zachary today.

Five Question Friday: Pat McPherson

Meet Pat McPherson, an RN and the manager of the Special Care Nursery at The Mother Baby Center.

How long have you worked at Children’s?
I will have been a nurse for 40 years in June. I’ve spent more than half of that time at Children’s, working here for 20 years.

What drew you to pediatrics?
When I was in nursing school I was unsure where I wanted to work. When I arrived on an OB unit, it was clear to me. Going into the nursery, I fell in love with the babies and knew I really wanted to take care of them. I graduated at a time that I may not have been able to get into the nursery so I worked on OB in Duluth for one year. A year later I came back home, to Minneapolis, and worked in the nursery at North Memorial. This was when neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) were just beginning and I had the pleasure of working with John Fangman, MD, and Ron Hoekstra, MD, there. In 1980, when they came to Children’s, I also made the move and began working in the NICU.

It’s been one year since the Special Care Nursery opened in The Mother Baby Center. What’s been the best part of being in the new space?
One year ago on Feb. 4 we moved to our new unit. We now have private rooms for all families, and we love having our families be able to stay in the rooms with their babies. We also made the switch to an electronic medical record and saw a 25 percent increase in patients, which has been challenging and fun at the same time. Now that we’re a year into it, things are settling down and the nurses are enjoying the quiet space, for families and nurses, and feel more like a part of Children’s and all they provide.

Do you have a favorite memory from working at Children’s?
I have so many wonderful memories from Children’s. The families have always been so grateful for the care they received. Recently, in the hallway near the Special Care Nursery, I ran into a mom and her now 16-year-old son whom I cared for when he was a baby. The times I spent getting to know families and caring for them are memories I will always have.

How do you spend your time outside of work?
I currently have a BSN and am (after this semester) three classes away from my Masters in Nursing, so outside of work I spend quite a bit of time doing school work. I do love to quilt and do it for relaxation whenever I can. I have met many wonderful friends through quilting and enjoy spending time with them.

Beef stew from Pamplona

Estofado de carne

This Spanish-style beef stew has earned a permanent spot in my cold weather meal rotation. The addition of currants, capers and pine nuts give this stew a sweet-nutty-saltiness that compliments the rich beef. It’s a simple, one-pot meal that’s deeply comforting. Serve with roasted potatoes or rice. – Andrew Zimmern

If you’re looking for a cozy and nourishing meal to serve during these chilly winter months, look no further than this beef stew. You’ll find pine nuts among the ingredients, which provide a mildly sweet, rich, and nutty flavor that both kids and adults enjoy. You may be surprised to learn that this small, tasty nut contains a high amount of protein and fiber! These nutrients will help you feel full and satisfied after eating and prevent excess snacking between meals.  – The clinical dietitian team at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

Ingredient List

  • 2  1/2 pounds cubed beef for stew
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pieces minced bacon
  • 1 large minced onion
  • 3 mashed garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/2 cup chopped spinach
  • 3 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 minced hardboiled egg
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar


Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 4 to 6

Heat the oil in a large pot. Brown the beef over high heat, about 10 minutes.

Add the bacon and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until browned. Add the onions, garlic, nutmeg, ginger, clove and sugar, and cook for another 3 minutes.

Next, add the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered for 1 hour.

After an hour, remove the lid and add the spinach. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

Stir in the currants, nuts, capers, parsley and vinegar.

Cook for another minute or so. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Garnish with the hardboiled egg.


Photograph by Madeleine Hill.

Traveling with food allergies

Guest post by Missy Berggren

This post originally appeared here.

Traveling can be challenging with kids. It can be SUPER challenging when you are managing food allergies with children. The getting there part and the eating part. So far our trips have been fairly close to home (no airplane rides). I always need to be thinking ahead and planning:

1) How close is the nearest hospital and is that good enough?

2) Do I have enough emergency medication (multiple doses of epinepherine and Benedryl)? Is it expired?

3) How will we prepare, store and heat food that is safe for my child?

4) How can I stay positive and not let my child’s food allergies become the focus of our vacation?

My typical plan of action

Our best experiences thus far have been to stay in either a condo/cabin with a full kitchen or a hotel with 1-2 mini-fridge(s) + a microwave in it. I’ve actually requested an extra mini-fridge before to have enough room for the food. I make food from home and bring it along if we’ll only be away 2-3 days. For extended trips, I prefer a room/condo with full kitchen so I can prepare fresh food for all of the meals. I usually bring specialty foods from home that I may not be able to find in the stores (like our favorite allergy-friendly treats) and then stop at a grocery store at our destination and stock up on fresh fruits, veggies and meat.

I always need to think ahead when leaving the hotel to make sure I have snacks and food ready for whatever meal we may need to have while we are away. There is nothing worse than having a hungry little kid with no safe food in sight.

Flying with food allergies

This spring I’m preparing for my family to take our first airplane trip. Of course I’m nervous about it. I’ve heard plenty of both positive and negative stories about airline travel with food allergies. My first rule is that I won’t travel on a plane with my daughter that serves peanuts. Delta, the major airline that flies in and out of Minneapolis, serves peanuts on their flights. They have protocol for helping with food allergies (I’m told) and will sometimes not serve peanuts to the rows immediately near the person with food allergies. That’s just not good enough for me. I’m considering flying Sun Country, a mid-sized carrier that flies out of Minneapolis to many destinations. They don’t serve nuts as snacks, and you can’t buy them either. They actually have a peanut-butter substitute, called Sunbutter, as a snack option for purchase (it comes with crackers). I’m very impressed by this and would feel much safer on this airline. That said, you can’t control what other passengers bring on a plane.

I’ve heard from other families that they will board early and wipe down the area the person will sit in – the trays, the arm rests, etc., before the child sits down to help prevent them picking up food allergens from the previous passengers. I’m used to carrying wipes with me where ever I go, and will definitely plan to do this. I’ve also heard of Plane Sheets to cover the entire seat for a safer surface. Of course the fear with flying is that a person with severe food allergies will have a severe anaphylaxis reaction in the air and there’s no way to get them quickly to a hospital. At least on the ground you can summon an ambulance, which has oxygen, more epinepherine, blood pressure monitoring, etc. When you’re trapped on a plane, you have limited resources and help in a severe situation. In addition to having a reaction based on touching something that someone else has touched with an allergen (like a seat cushion that may have food residue on it), there is always a fear that someone sitting nearby will eat something the person is allergic to and some of the food proteins may become airborne.

For example, my daughter is allergic to eggs. If eggs are served hot, there is typically steam that floats into the air. That steam has protein in it that can trigger a reaction if my daughter were to breathe it in. This has actually happened with my daughter before with eggs, so I speak from experience. With peanuts, in an airplane, there is a lot of dust in a bag of peanuts that may be released into the air when you open a package. It’s not a big deal if someone in another room opens a bag of peanuts, or way at the end of a plane. But it is a big deal if hundreds of passengers are all opening bags of peanuts at about the same time and so many peanut particles are sent into the air – which is then basically trapped and recirculating in the cabin. I don’t want my daughter in that situation – it is way too risky. Especially when someone’s life is at risk.

In case of emergency

Carrying an EpiPen is important for  people with severe food allergies. It can stop or slow a severe reaction. I’ve heard some people carry four or even six EpiPens on a plane to help them buy time in case a plane can’t make an emergency landing. I definitely will plan to bring more than the two EpiPens we typically carry at all times. I’m not sure exactly how many to bring, though. The thing with epinephrine is that it is only meant as an interim measure before seeking medical attention. It can’t completely treat an allergic reaction. When I gave my daughter an EpiPen Jr injection due to a severe reaction to shellfish last year,  she was given another dose of Epi at the hospital and a round of steroids. The doctors then monitored her for many hours to be sure she was okay.

I want to make we do everything we can to minimize her risk on a plane and that we have everything possible with us to help her if there’s a problem. (Can you feel my anxiety through the screen?)

Upcoming meeting on traveling with food allergies

The Food Allergy Support Group of MN is planning to cover the topic of Traveling with Food Allergies at the next meeting on March 16, 2014. I definitely plan to attend and hope to pick up some more tips for our next vacation. If you’re local, please consider attending, too! I’d love to hear other tips or experiences any of you have in the comments.

You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama Facebook page and Twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.

Missy Berggren is a freelance writer. She blogs at on parenting as a working mom, health (especially food allergies), family activities, cool products, her two children and marketing. She can also be found on Twitter.