Author Archives: ChildrensMN

Plymouth girl faces cancer with grace, determination

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

At first blush, Justice Jackson comes off as being shy and reserved. With more investigation, you quickly realize that it’s just her polite and respectful nature and it masks an accomplished young woman who recently fought cancer head-on.

Justice, 17, was diagnosed with a form of ovarian cancer in January. She underwent three sessions of chemotherapy, each session lasting about five days, under the care of her primary doctor, Kris Ann Schultz, MD. She currently has no additional chemo sessions planned.

Her mother, Regina Lester, talked about her daughter in loving terms.

“She really is quite amazing. She handled the whole thing a lot better than I did,” Regina said. “While I was emotional and scared, I never once saw Justice cry, never. She just put her head down and worked her way through all the scans, needles and chemo. At the same time, she continued to help around home and work. She just did it, and I am so proud of her.”

Her accomplishments aren’t limited to her role as a patient. She also is a top student and athlete and was able to maintain relative normalcy throughout her treatments. She attends Armstrong High School in Plymouth, where she participates in swimming.

There’s mutual admiration and love between this mother-daughter duo. That love extends to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and the care they received there.

“We love Children’s and everything that they have done for us,” Regina said. “They took such good care of all of us. They explained everything and had a plan to get Justice through it. We are so thankful that Children’s came into our lives.”

Subscribe to MightyIn addition to Dr. Schultz, Justice noted one of her nurses, Tammy, as someone who was a positive influence on her.

“Tammy was great,” Justice said. “She took the time to play puzzles with me, encourage me and just be there when I had questions. I really appreciated that.”

It’s hard to say exactly what life has in store for Justice. No doubt, there are big things ahead for this outstanding young woman who her mother calls “incredibly strong, both physically and emotionally.” We hope the world is ready because Justice definitely is going to make it a better place.

Getting ready for school… 5 years in advance

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

Eighty percent of brain growth occurs by age 3. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Gigi Chawla, MD

Gigi Chawla, MD

By Gigi Chawla, MD

As summer winds down and kids start filling desks and lining hallways at school, it’s a good time to talk about child development. And while this year is the first year that all children will have access to all-day kindergarten, I’m also reminded that not all children arrive to school ready to learn. In fact, getting a healthy start begins long before kids step onto a school bus. As a mom and pediatrician, I know that healthy development and school readiness occur well before children are reading and writing. They occur in those early years, as children are beginning to experience all of their firsts – first smile, first word, first step.

As advocates for children, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota recognizes that health and wellness play a critical role in being ready to learn and that we have a part to play in helping children get a strong start – not only in school but in all areas of life.

We have embarked on an even more deliberate focus on early childhood development, and know that it’s the earliest years in life when the most difference can be made. Consider:

  • Eighty percent of brain growth occurs by age 3.
  • In early childhood, physical, cognitive, emotional and social development occurs at a rate that far exceeds any other stage of human life. This has a significant impact on long-term health and wellness.
  • Toxic stress – including poverty, poor nutrition, inadequate housing, exposure to violence and the absence of attentive caregivers – can be devastating to an infant’s developing brain, thus setting children far behind before they’ve had a chance to start.

Subscribe to MightyGiven the obstacles to healthy child development, we at Children’s decided we needed to venture beyond our walls to address these issues and work with others engaged in protecting the health and well-being of children. We’ve engaged in an effort to build greater awareness about the importance of a child’s development in the earliest years and are working towards identifying collaborative methods to reach more children at this critical time in life.

Every day, I have the privilege to care for children when they are sick and to support ways to make them healthy. And that includes engaging in and elevating the discussion around the value of investments in programs that give kids the start in life that they deserve; please join us.

Read more about the importance of early childhood development and our investment in our children. Read our paper, “Foundation for Life: The Significance of Birth to Three,” to learn more about our efforts.

Gigi Chawla, MD, is senior medical director of primary care for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Children’s, PPB registry help Mankato boy

A pediatric cancer diagnosis is terrifying for any family, most certainly a young family from Mankato and their infant, first-born son.

Braydon Greiner turns 2 this month.

Braydon Greiner turns 2 this month.

Braydon Greiner, the son of Breanne and Brandon Greiner, was diagnosed with type 1 pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB) lung cancer March 28, 2013, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester when doctors found a cystic tumor the size of a grapefruit growing on his right lung.

“When Braydon was diagnosed with cancer our world crashed down around us,” Breanne said. “Life as we knew it changed forever. We researched PPB on the Internet and found out just how rare it is.

“Luckily, Braydon’s doctors at the Mayo Clinic told us about the PPB registry. I emailed Dr. Yoav Messinger of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and we met the following week to discuss the risks, possible outcomes, available treatment plans and his experiences with similar PPB cases. Finally, our questions could be answered.”

Braydon turns 2 this month. He receives a chest x-ray every three months and a CT scan every six months to monitor the two type 1r cysts that remain in his lung. If the cysts show growth, he will start a chemotherapy regimen and possibly have surgery to remove them.

“We could not be more pleased with the care Braydon has received from Dr. Messinger, Gretchen Williams and the staff at Children’s,” Breanne said. “The communication between Dr. Messinger and Braydon’s primary physician, Dr. Smentek, in Mankato is impeccable. With PPB being such a rare cancer, we find comfort knowing that Braydon is being cared for by the leaders of The International PPB Registry.”

Subscribe to MightyAn adorable bundle of energy who could melt your heart in seconds, Braydon loves to play catch with his dad and fetch with his puppies. He also loves to zoom his cars around the house. His favorite thing to do is go for bike rides to the park so he can go down the slide. He is true fighter and inspiration.

“I expected the PPB registry to be a research group that wanted to look over Braydon’s files and have access to his charts,” Breanne said. “But the PPB registry does so much more than that; it also brings PPB families together.  The PPB registry helped a young, frightened family feel assured that ‘everything will be OK.’ We truly can’t thank you enough.”

Boy, 6, overcomes rare form of lung cancer

Evan Ginter, 6, loves art, drawing and recess.

Evan Ginter, 6, loves art, drawing and recess.

Life was normal for the first seven months of Evan Ginter’s life. Then cancer changed everything.

Evan’s primary pediatrician noticed something was amiss during a routine checkup in December 2008. She noticed that Evan experienced shallow breathing. A subsequent chest X-ray showed a large, dark mass on his right lung, and Evan immediately was admitted to Children’s – Minneapolis.

Evan Ginter enjoys riding his bike.

Evan Ginter enjoys riding his bike.

After a series of events that included CT scans and surgery, Evan’s parents, Lindsay and Jeremy Ginter, learned on Jan. 12, 2009, that Evan had a rare form of lung cancer known as pleuropulmonary blastoma type 1r.

Gone are the days when Lindsay and Jeremy constantly had to worry about Evan. He had an annual checkup in June, when he had an X-ray. Not only was it clear, it was the first annual exam in which he didn’t need a CT scan, too – a huge milestone. He’ll continue to be monitored with X-rays for the next two or three years.

The Ginter family, which includes his brother, Edward, said they feel blessed for the specialized care Evan has received at Children’s. Not all families are as fortunate, Lindsay said.

Thanks to social media, Lindsay follows the stories of others with Evan’s diagnosis.

Evan Ginter“For those who aren’t in Children’s network and don’t have the access to the PPB registry, there are so many questions. They just don’t have the direction we had. Since day one, we had personal cell phone numbers of our oncologists,” she said. “It’s really hard to imagine it any other way, and my heart goes out to the families that don’t have those resources.”

Evan, now 6 and still quite a character, just finished kindergarten, where he flourished.

He loves art, drawing and recess. He might even be an engineer in the making.

“Both my husband and I are insurance and accounting people, so our brains don’t work that way. He’s turning out to be much more creative than we are,” Lindsay said. “So we don’t know where he gets it; it’s good.”

There’s no doubt Evan has been through a lot in his short life. We celebrate alongside the Ginter family as Evan looks forward to starting first grade this fall.

Red-Vested Rockstar: Josh Purple

Children's volunteer Josh Purple

Children’s volunteer Josh Purple

Meet Josh!

Why he rocks:

My volunteer work at Children’s Hospital began about 20 years ago. I got started thanks to my younger sister, who asked me to draw cartoons at the daycare center at which she worked. A mom, who happened to be a nurse at Children’s, was picking up her kids at the daycare. She saw me drawing the big cartoons, and asked if I would be interested in drawing at the hospital; I thought it was a great idea! I was then introduced to Kathi Rokke (a Children’s Hospital legend!). Kathi was kind enough to give me a shot and allowed me to draw cartoons on her “Porky Pork Chops Show” at the hospital. I have been a part of Children’s ever since!

With what other cool ventures have you been involved?

In the past, I have worked as a ballroom dance instructor at The Dancer’s Studio in St. Paul. A dance highlight was working with the James Sewell Ballet company at the Minnesota Opera for the show “Aida,” performing overhead lifts with the ballerinas. I have also done fire eating and fire juggling for the Holidazzle Festival! I did commercial and film work for about 10 years, getting my SAG-AFTRA card, with a highlight being a “Grease” parody TV commercial with Amy Adams. I currently work as a freelance artist, creating 3-D graphics and animation.

Check out some of his incredible work.

What’s your favorite thing to do outside of volunteering?

Subscribe to MightyArt! I love spending my free time doing art and animation.

If you could create a new candy bar, what would be in it and what would you name it?

If I could create a new candy bar, it would be a giant purple crayon, packed full of magic and fun. I’d name it “The Kid’s Club House Rocks!” It would instantly transmogrify the surrounding area to be filled with Muppets, Dr. Seuss poems and characters.

Share a favorite volunteer experience or story.

Every Children’s Hospital cartoon show and event for the past two decades; I cannot give enough credit and thanks to everyone in the Star Studio and at Children’s! Special shout-out to Amy, The Dude, Ben, Seth, Tanya, Kathi, Sharon, Ingrid, Benjamin, Christi, Diane, Laura, Kendall, Sandy and all of the volunteers. All of the kids and all of the extraordinary staff are the best of the best! Thank you!

Trauma: When it’s critical, so is your choice

Why would you take your child to Children’s emergency room over any other hospital? Our team members are on staff, not on call. Your child gets treated immediately.

When it’s critical, so is your choice. Children’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, Minneapolis.


2014 Kids Count Data Book: It’s time we listen


Nearly 50 percent of all African-American children in Minnesota lived in poverty in 2012, along with 38 percent of American Indian children, 30 percent of Hispanic or Latino children and 20 percent of Asian children — this compared to 8 percent of white children. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Ryan Earp

News usually is framed in two ways: the good news and the bad news. And while good news is always great to hear, it’s important to listen to the bad, especially when it comes to how well we are serving our kids. The annual Kids Count Data Book released last month reported good and bad news for Minnesota, and it’s time we paid attention to both.

The report produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund is highly respected for its state-by-state assessment of children’s health, education and overall well-being.

A snapshot of Minnesota kids

While on the surface many headlines from around the state highlight good news in the report – that “Minnesota is No. 5 Best State for Children” and that “Minnesota Ranks High in Kids’ Well-Being,” – their underlying messages tell us that there is much work to be done surrounding children’s general welfare as more Minnesota kids are living in poverty. Here’s a snapshot of the Minnesota rankings.

Previously ranked as high as seventh in the nation’s overall health ranking, the 2014 Kids Count Data Book finds Minnesota to have fallen to the 17th among all states. In a recent interview with the Star Tribune, Stephanie Hogenson, research and policy director at the Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota explains, “As one of the healthiest states overall in the country, and with globally renowned health care, Minnesota should not be in the middle of the pack for child health. … We’re no longer seen as a leader in child health as we once were.”

What happened?

Policy experts point to the increase in poverty as a determining factor in the state’s declining health outcomes. According to the report, “Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development. … [It] can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social and emotional problems and poor health.”

Minnesota’s rising rates of child poverty are exacerbating racial inequities that are among the worst in the nation, because communities of color and native communities are disproportionately impacted. Nearly 50 percent of all African-American children in Minnesota lived in poverty in 2012, along with 38 percent of American Indian children, 30 percent of Hispanic or Latino children and 20 percent of Asian children — this compared to 8 percent of white children.

The report goes on to state “the biggest challenge in an era of increasing inequality in income and wealth is the widening gulf between children growing up in strong, economically secure families within thriving communities and children who are not.”

Subscribe to MightyA call to action

Minnesotans are taking note. Efforts are under way through organizations and initiatives aimed at providing our children and families with economic stability, affordable housing options, and access to high-quality child care and development opportunities.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we are committed to helping all children lead healthier lives, and are actively involved in supporting efforts to address some of the economic and social determinants that have profound impacts on child health. We are hopeful that new policies, funding and programs will help lift our children out of poverty. You can be a part of our work by joining our advocacy efforts.

See a quick snapshot of how Minnesota ranks in other areas of the report.

Ryan Earp is an intern with the Advocacy and Child Health Policy team at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Define safe boundaries for kids and play

Encouraging the learning and exploration process will increase your child’s confidence and creativity, and defining safe boundaries and rules will keep you both happy. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Encouraging the learning and exploration process will increase your child’s confidence and creativity, and defining safe boundaries and rules will keep you both happy. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

Not long ago, I watched my toddler daughter, Quinnlyn, as she played with her favorite blocks. She picked one up, stacked it carefully on top of another, and repeated until she had a tower four or five blocks high. Without warning, she pummeled the tower while sounding her signature high-pitched battle cry, sending blocks flying in all directions. She immediately seemed to regret not having a tower and ran to pick up the blocks to start the process over.

Young children begin to understand their world by cause-and-effect experimentation. Psychologist Jean Piaget was one of the first to put this concept into organized thought.

This behavior is apparent with my daughter: “If I stick my hand in the dog’s water dish, my shirt gets wet. This pleases me and I must do this each morning, preferably after mommy helps me put on a clean shirt.”

Then, something occurred to me as I watched Quinnlyn build and destroy her tower; there is a trigger missing in her young mind that could change her behavior: She does not understand consequence, the indirect product of an effect.

I began to notice this in her other activities as well. At dinnertime, we give her a plastic fork and spoon so she can work on her motor skills. If she’s unhappy with how dinner is going, she throws her fork and spoon on the floor in a fit of toddler rage. She is then immediately puzzled by how she’ll continue her meal now that her utensils are so far away.

Subscribe to MightyAs frustrating as toddler tantrums can sometimes be for parents, I’d love to be in my daughter’s shoes. Who wouldn’t want the satisfaction of taking all those dirty dishes that have been in the sink for two days and chucking them against the wall? That decision, of course, would be dangerous and reckless and I have no desire to clean up such a mess. And, with no dishes in the house, I’d be forced to take a toddler to the store to shop for breakable things; not a winning combination.

There’s an important lesson here for safety-minded parents: Kids will explore their environment in whatever way they can. It’s like the feeling you get when you find a $20 bill in the pocket of a pair of pants you haven’t worn in months, or when you discover the newest tool, gadget or fashion. For toddlers (and us adults), it’s fun finding new things and learning new skills; it’s motivating and creates a feeling of accomplishment. However, the cognitive skills of a toddler haven’t developed beyond that cause-effect understanding.

This is why we need to consider the environment in which our young children play. I recommend giving them plenty of space and opportunity to experiment without worry of the consequence:

  • Make sure stairs are blocked off securely and unsafe climbing hazards are eliminated; encourage kids to explore the space you define.
  • Create a space to explore free of choking hazards, potential poisons and breakable or valuable items; leave plenty of new objects for children to discover, and change the objects out when the kids seem to grow tired of them.
  • Allow children to fail at certain tasks; be encouraging and positive without intervening as they try again.
  • If possible, discuss their actions and consequences with them to help them understand the reason for your rules.

Encouraging the learning and exploration process will increase your child’s confidence and creativity, and defining safe boundaries and rules will keep you both happy.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. When it’s critical, so is your choice – Children’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, Minneapolis.

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and the father of a curious and mobile toddler. He has a Master of Education degree from Penn State University.

Life jackets greatly reduce risk of drowning

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

By Dex Tuttle

According to the Minnesota Water Safety Coalition, it’s estimated that half of all drowning events among recreational boaters could have been prevented if life jackets were worn.

As a parent, it doesn’t take much to convince me that the safety of my daughter is important, and more specifically, directly my responsibility. This statistic is alarming. Especially since drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and younger.

My daughter, Quinnlyn, loves the water. It’s easy to get caught up in her excitement and joy as she splashes around and giggles that addicting toddler laugh, so much so that I often forget the dangers inherent in water for a child who is oblivious to them.

Subscribe to MightyStill, as an attentive parent, it’s hard for me to believe that drowning is an ever-present danger for my little one. That’s why it’s important to consider the staggering statistics around near-drowning incidents.

Since 2001, an average of 3,700 children sustained nonfatal near-drowning-related injuries.  To spare you the details, check out this article.

When protecting your children around water, there’s little to nothing that can supplement uninterrupted supervision. However, a life jacket will provide significant protection for your little ones and help instill a culture of safety in your family. Here’s how to know if it fits right (thanks to the United States Coast Guard):

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard-approved on the label on the inside of the jacket.
  • Ensure that the jacket you select for your child is appropriate for his or her weight, and be sure it’s in good condition. A ripped or worn-out jacket can drastically reduce its effectiveness.
  • Football season is here again (YES!), so consider the universal signal for a touchdown – after the life jacket is on and buckled, have your child raise his or her arms straight in the air. Pull up on the arm openings and make sure the jacket doesn’t ride up to the chin; it’s best to find out that it’s too loose before getting in the water.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. From the seriously sick to the critically injured, we’re ready for anything.

When it’s critical, so is your choice – Children’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, Minneapolis.

Dex Tuttle is Children’s injury prevention program coordinator.

Family screening tests risk of developing type 1 diabetes

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

(iStock photo / Getty Images)

The McNeely Pediatric Diabetes Center is part of an international research network called Type 1 Diabetes TrialNetThe center is screening relatives of individuals with type 1 diabetes (T1D) to see if they are at risk for developing the disease. The TrialNet research study offers a blood test that can identify increased risk for T1D up to 10 years before symptoms appear.

Subscribe to MightyTrialNet offers screening to individuals:

  • Ages 1-45 with a parent, brother, sister or child with T1D
  • Ages 1-20 with a niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, grandparent, half-brother, half-sister or cousin with T1D

Screening is available in the McNeely Pediatric Diabetes Center (located on the fourth floor of the Gardenview building at Children’s  St. Paul, 345 N. Smith Ave., Suite 404. There is no fee to participate, and parking vouchers will be provided to all participating families.

For more information or to refer eligible families, contact Brittany Machus, clinical research associate, at or (651) 220-5730.