Monthly Archives: April 2014

The volunteer under Twinkle: Vince Opheim

Vince Opheim has been volunteering at Children's for six years.

Have you ever seen Twinkle, the mascot of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and wondered who is inside that smiling blue star? Chances are it’s Vince Opheim, who has volunteered as Twinkle for nearly six years. He describes his volunteer time as “some of the most-fun experiences I’ve ever had.”

Opheim is the volunteer who often plays Twinkle, the Children's mascot.

Why play Twinkle? Well, the answer was quite simple, Vince said.

“It is another way to not just make kids smile, but parents, too! Twinkle is my version of Superman… Well, “Superstar.” By day I am Vince, a full-time employee of AT&T and aspiring RN, but when it is time for an event … I transform into Twinkle, the big blue star that brings smiles and laughter. Where else can you dance in polka-dot pants, be asked to come to school for show and tell, or rock out with inflatable guitars?”

The true question is where doesn’t Vince volunteer? In addition to volunteering as Twinkle at special events, Vince volunteers every Monday evening on the inpatient units, providing laughs and comfort through the healing powers of play. He also volunteers his time at events such as Starry Night and the annual Children’s Star Gala and monthly at the Diabetes Support Group. Vince has created two fundraisers benefiting Children’s: a Zumba class (where Twinkle showed off some moves!) and his “Pasta for Peds” event: a spaghetti dinner, silent auction and karaoke contest.

What is his motivation for giving so much of his time to Children’s?

“You get the feeling that you are meant for certain things. I know I was meant to volunteer at Children’s,” Vince said. “A nurse once asked me this same question, ‘why volunteer?’ I pointed to the child’s room that I had just left and told her, ‘See the smile on that sleeping baby? That is why I volunteer.’ Words cannot explain the incredibly positive feelings I receive when I leave a child’s room. Whether I am painting fingernails, watching Elmo, telling jokes, or simply holding a hand, every moment is memorable and worthwhile. These incredible kids have taught me so much, and I am thankful that I am able to spread some cheer during their stay every week. I always leave with a huge smile on my face.”

We are thankful for Vince and all of our volunteers who help to make Children’s a very special place for families. Happy National Volunteer Recognition Week!

Five Question Friday: Dr. Bruce Bostrom

Bruce Bostrom, MD, his sons, John (left) and Arne (right); and Kris Ann Schultz, MD, participate in St. Baldrick's Day in 2013.

In this week’s Five Question Friday, we catch up with Bruce Bostrom, MD, as he talks about his involvement with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and his love for Scandinavian folk dancing.

Children’s is hosting its annual St. Baldrick’s head-shaving event April 24 to raise money for childhood cancer research. Sign up to shave, donate or volunteer on the Children’s event page.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I have worked at Children’s since 1988. Initially, I was on part-time “loan” from the University of Minnesota to help the cancer and blood disorders program when Dr. Larry Singher was diagnosed with cancer. Drs. Jack Cich and Margaret Heisel-Kurth had previously come to the program from Park Nicollet as well. I became a full-time Children’s employee in 1992.

What are some of the conditions you treat?

In the early days, I treated all blood disorders and cancers in children and young adults. More recently I have specialized in leukemia, lymphoma and respiratory papillomatosis.

What inspired you to get involved with St. Baldrick’s? Tell us about your head-shaving team.

My youngest son, Arne, organized a shaving event for his fraternity at the University of Colorado in 2007. In 2009, my son, John, and I attended the event and shaved with him. We have now moved our team, “The Baldstroms,” aka “The Bald Vikings,” to the event at Children’s. One of my favorite “shaving” memories was in Boulder in 2009 when my sons and I climbed to the top of the Flatirons after shaving. I also like to say that the best thing about having my head shaved – after supporting childhood cancer research, of course – is the money I save on haircuts.

What do you love most about your job?

I work with a fantastic team of people who all are focused on giving the best care to patients with very serious and sometimes-fatal diseases. I also enjoy the long-standing relationships that form with patients and families.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I like to stay active, which is a great stress reliever. My favorite activity is Nordic (cross-country) skiing. I have skied the American Birkebeiner 30 times. My goal is to do the Norwegian version along with the Swedish Vasaloppet someday. My wife, Char, is a very accomplished Scandinavian folk fiddler, and we are members of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish folk-dance groups. As a native Minnesotan, I also enjoy Twins games and going up to the cabin.

Volunteer shout-out: Kiry Koy

Volunteer Kiry Koy plans to become a doctor.

The celebration of our volunteers continues this week with a profile of Kiry Koy.

Kiry is a freshman at the University of Minnesota, studying neuroscience. He volunteers at Children’s – St. Paul on the inpatient units and has gained more than 60 hours of service since he started volunteering in October 2013. This summer, he plans to broaden his skill set by volunteering in a new area: as a peri-operative escort in our surgery department. His favorite part about volunteering is playing with kids in the unit playroom. Plans for the future? Well, to become a doctor, of course.

Thank you, Kiry, and all of our volunteers for all you do to assist staff and brighten the lives of patients and families.

Children’s at the Capitol: Newborn screening comes to a vote

Update: Late Thursday night, April 10, we were disappointed to hear that the newborn screening vote scheduled for that day was unexpectedly pulled from the schedule. We fully expect that newborn screening will still be voted on this session, likely later in April. Help us make sure that legislators know how critical this program is for child health by contacting your state representatives (action link below)!


Today the Minnesota House of Representatives will be considering and voting on a bill to restore Minnesota’s newborn screening program, which is credited with saving more than 5,000 lives since its inception 50 years ago. We’ve provided the streaming video of the House floor session below, though the debate on newborn screening may not happen until later today.

Urgent action needed

Up until the House floor vote happens, you can contact your state representative and ask for his or her support on the Newborn Screening bill, H.F. 2526, authored by Representative Kim Norton. Taking action is easy, and it only takes a minute! This bill is critically important to newborn health and your legislators need to hear that you support this program today. (A couple things to note about the action page: 1. You’ll need to enter your full ZIP code (first 5 numbers + 4-digit extension) in order to connect with your state rep. 2. Use “MN” instead of “Minnesota.”)

What is newborn screening?

The program is simple: At birth, all newborns have a small blood sample collected through a heal prick. The blood spots are put onto a card and then tested for more than 50 genetic and chromosomal abnormalities. These tests are essential in detecting many serious and often hidden conditions, including some that, if diagnosed and treated early, can have a critical impact on the health of a child.

Why is this debate happening?

Over the past few years, the newborn screening program has been modified so that currently the Minnesota Department of Health can only retain blood spots for a short period of time before destroying them, possibly missing the window of diagnosis.

The problem is that there are many reasons these samples should be kept on hand, including: some conditions can take several months to diagnose; cards may be needed for reassessment at a later date; or they may be used for comparison when a younger sibling is born. Without long-term storage, we lose the ability to go back and review the samples when critical health questions arise.

Watch it live:

Watch live streaming video from uptakemnhouse at livestream.com

5 pounds, 10 ounces and 1 year of miracles

Connor Lee Miller had a neonatal arterial thrombosis, commonly known as a blood clot, in his left arm. (Photo courtesy of the Miller family)

By Becky Miller

The birth of a child is, arguably, one of the most exciting moments of any parent’s life. In our case, our son’s arrival definitely was exciting, but it was terrifying, too. On April 10, 2013, at 35 weeks’ gestation, we welcomed our son, Connor Lee, into the world. He weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces and measured 19½ inches in length. He also happened to have an additional, unique characteristic that doctors couldn’t diagnose initially – a dark purple and extremely swollen left arm. Connor quickly was introduced to me and then whisked away by a team of doctors with Dad following closely behind.

After what seemed like an eternity, the three of us finally were reunited. Connor was peacefully sleeping in his room in Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). A feeding tube had been placed, and he was hooked up to IV medications – scary, but a normal, familiar sight to any parent that has had an infant in the NICU. Not so familiar, however, was Connor’s arm. The swelling had increased, and it had begun to change colors, with parts of it beginning to appear black. Doctors were able to determine that Connor had a neonatal arterial thrombosis – more commonly known as a blood clot – that had developed in an artery in his upper-left arm. Doctors said they were unsure of when it formed, but based on the damage to Connor’s arm, they hypothesized that it had been in place for anywhere from four to eight weeks prior to birth. Connor was unable to move his wrist or hand, and doctors couldn’t find a pulse below his elbow.

Connor smiles during Christmastime. (Photo courtesy of the Miller family)

The first 48 hours of Connor’s hospitalization were filled with more questions than answers. Words and phrases that terrified us became part of normal, everyday discussions: amputation, disability and skin grafting, just to name a few. We became familiar with a phrase that we quickly learned to hate: “Wait and see what will happen.” Connor’s medical team told us that his was a case unlike anything they had seen in the NICU before and they were not willing to make any drastic decisions too quickly. Connor’s unique and complex situation crossed many specialties. We like to say that his NICU room needed a revolving door – when one doctor or specialist walked out, another (or two or three) walked in. In the first weeks of his life, he was seen by hematologists, a plastic surgeon, orthopedic surgeons, a neurosurgeon, the skin integrity team, pain and palliative care, speech therapists, occupational therapists, radiologists and, of course, the neonatology team.

Finally, around day 20, Connor began showing signs of improvement. His arm slowly began to heal and his clot started to shrink. We will never forget the first time we heard the neonatologist utter the word “home” during rounds. Based on the complexity of Connor’s case, our social worker helped arrange a care conference that allowed the various medical professionals following his case to weigh in on how we could best move forward. Connor had improved to a point that he no longer needed NICU care, but he continued to need daily wound care. With the help, support and incredible selflessness of some of the integral members of Connor’s care team, we put our heads and hearts together and devised a discharge plan that would allow Connor to come home. We collaborated, shared concerns and ultimately came up with a plan that ensured Connor’s and our family’s needs could be met. On May 3, 23 days after birth, Connor was allowed to come home!

Connor (left) is seen with his family. (Photo courtesy of the Miller family)

Since leaving Children’s, Connor has exceeded the expectations of his care team. Having been a baby boy that once faced the threat of becoming an amputee, Connor has come farther than we thought possible. He has learned to crawl. He can pull himself up and move along furniture. And, most noteworthy, Connor occasionally is using his left hand to pick up objects of varying sizes. With each of these achievements, we constantly are reminded of how much Connor’s care team did for him. We are incredibly grateful for the amazing love, care, compassion and honesty that the staff at Children’s showed to Connor and our family during a completely terrifying experience. Today, as we celebrate his first birthday, we can, without a doubt, say that Connor would not be where he is today without the amazing team at Children’s!

Tanning turmoil: Why getting ‘bronzed’ is hazardous to your teen’s health

For teens, one visit to a tanning bed increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

A guest post by Gigi Chawla, MD

Every spring, many of us weary from a long winter head south to warmer climes; teens across the country attend prom with their sweethearts. And what do kids tend to do before events like these?

Hit the tanning salon.

Looking “pasty white” in a swimsuit or a new dress just won’t do, right? Think again.

Here’s a brief warning to help dispel the myth of “getting a base tan” before these events. Or ever.

Currently, 35 percent of 17-year-old girls in the U.S. are using tanning beds and 55 percent of college-aged kids have used one at least once.

In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported earlier this year that, “a third of white 11th-grade Minnesota girls have tanned indoors in the past year, according to a state survey … and more than half of them used sun beds, sunlamps or tanning booths at least 10 times in a recent 12-month period.”

What isn’t immediately clear to our kids is that during a tanning-bed session they may receive up to 12 times the ultraviolet (UV) exposure as they receive being outside in the natural sunlight. This UV radiation exposure from tanning beds is dangerous and linked to three types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Here’s the potential damage that one tanning-bed session alone can cause a teen:

  • The risk of developing melanoma increases by 20 percent
  • The risk of developing basal cell carcinoma increases by 29 percent
  • The risk of squamous cell carcinoma increases by 67 percent

For people using a tanning bed under the age of 35, the lifetime risk of developing skin cancer of any type increases by 74 percent.

Specifically, it increases the lifetime risk of:

  • melanoma by 75 percent
  • basal cell carcinoma by 150 percent, and
  • squamous cell carcinoma by a whopping 250 percent

Moreover, skin cancer now is the leading form of cancer in 25- to 29-year-olds.

Another startling fact: More skin cancer cases arise from tanning-bed use than lung cancer cases do from smoking; yet, in our culture, bronzed skin is seen as a form of beauty.

Some advice to parents: Remember to reinforce to your teens that they are beautiful or handsome no matter the shade of their skin. What’s important is what’s inside. I like to think that we live in an era in which we can look past skin color, where we are not judged by skin color and we should not see beauty based on skin color.

It’s time to remind your kids to “go with your own natural glow.”

Gigi Chawla, MD, is a pediatrician, hospitalist and the Senior Medical Director of Primary Care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Her areas of interest are the care of complex special needs patients, premature infants, ventilator dependent children and care of hospitalized patients.

Sources: The Skin Cancer Foundation, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 

Volunteer shout-out: Jackie Cameron

Jackie Cameron has volunteered for six years and is a Children’s employee who works as a lead medical scribe in Health Information Management.

Happy National Volunteer Recognition Week! Meet Jackie Cameron, a volunteer for six years and a Children’s employee who works as a lead medical scribe in Health Information Management (HIM).

Tell us about your volunteer journey and how it led to a career at Children’s.

I started volunteering at Children’s during my sophomore year in college. This was a memorable time in my life as I was on my own for the first time. Having left a small town in Wisconsin for the Twin Cities, I felt like a little fish in the big ocean. Children’s welcomed me with open arms and allowed me to establish connections and observe medicine in an urban setting for the first time. With all of the opportunities Children’s has provided me, it is extremely rewarding to continue to give back to the place I work through volunteering.

What do you love most about volunteering?

My time spent rocking babies and playing with children reminds me of what is truly important, and what all of our hard work as employees of Children’s is really for. Volunteering has a way of keeping me humble and grounded. It is an incredibly special feeling to be able to make a child forget that they are sick and in the hospital.

Please join us in thanking Jackie and all of our amazing volunteers this week!

Volunteer shout-out: Eric Gustafson

Eric Gustafson has been volunteering at Children’s for almost five years.

As part of National Volunteer Recognition Week, we’re profiling some of our Red-Vested Rockstars! Today, meet Eric Gustafson, who has been volunteering at Children’s for almost five years. He’s a laid-back guy with a great sense of humor. Eric often trains-in new volunteers, and serves as our orientation assistant at new-volunteer orientations. Learn more about Eric and why he gives his time to Children’s.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?

It has all been good; the staff and other volunteers have been exceptional. But if I had to boil it down, I would say being with the kids and hopefully helping.

What is a standout memory you have from your volunteer time?

I do remember an incident in the NICU where a nurse asked if I could hold a little boy so she could go to lunch. I was handed the kid and he immediately fell asleep. When the nurse came back she took him, and as I took just a couple of steps he began to cry, so I headed back. The nurse put him in my arms, and again, he fell asleep right away. We thought we were in the clear, so the nurse took over, and I headed out. Again, and after a few steps, he began to cry again! This repeated itself one more time before I ended my shift and had to let him stay with the nurse, still crying.

What advice would you give to a new volunteer?

Pay attention while you are training, use common sense and get comfortable going into rooms without being asked to. What I tell all the people I have trained is that this is not rocket science, but we cover a lot of material and, like many new scenarios, the first time you are on your own and are asked to do things on your own can cause some distress.

Besides volunteering, what is something you love to do?

Travel, spend time with my wife, hunt, drive.

Thank you, Eric, and all of our volunteers for all you do!

Children’s Star Gala raises nearly $2.1 million

More than $2 million was raised at the 23rd annual Children's Star Gala on Saturday, April 5, 2014.

The 23rd annual Children’s Star Gala was held Saturday at The Depot Minneapolis. Nearly 1,100 guests joined us for an evening of inspiring stories, dinner, dancing and silent and live auctions.

Thanks to the support of generous sponsors, donors, attendees and volunteers, we raised nearly $2.1 million for the Midwest Fetal Care Center. Their generosity will help us expand our fetal care program – allowing us to detect, diagnose and treat babies before they are born. This sometimes results in operating on a baby while he or she still is in the mother’s womb – imagine the possibilities.

Visit our archived live blog to get a glimpse of the evening, or watch this segment on KARE 11 which showcases 9-year-old Children’s patient Cecilia performing “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen.”

Over the next couple weeks, we’ll introduce you to patients and families that shared their stories at the event. Stay tuned for some inspiring videos and stories!

Live blog: Star Gala

Children’s Star Gala is a spectacular evening of inspiring stories, dinner, dancing and silent and live auctions that raises more than $2 million annually – making it one of the five largest fundraising events in the Twin Cities. This year, funds from the 23rd annual event will support the Midwest Fetal Care Center. Thanks to advances in fetal medicine, we are able to detect, diagnose and treat potential problems before a baby is born, including, when necessary, fetal surgery. With your support, we will become one of only five advanced fetal care centers in the U.S. Imagine the possibilities.