Monthly Archives: April 2014

Stress test: Helping kids lessen testing anxiety

To combat testing anxiety, students should have some go-to solutions such as engaging in a brief relaxing activity, outlining notes or playing a memory game. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Guest post by Maggie Sonnek

Mae Hyser is one smart cookie. At 12 years old, she already has her career planned out: become a writer and an illustrator. And mom Beth couldn’t be prouder.

“She’s kind of a Type-A personality,” Beth Hyser laughs. But, as end-of-the-year finals and projects approach, sixth-grader Mae is aware of the extra pressure. And so is her mom.

Are your kids stressed over tests? Here are some tips to help kids like Mae – and their parents – decrease stress and improve results.

Set up good study habits at an early age

It sounds obvious, right? Michelle Goldwin, MA, doctoral psychology intern at Children’s, says developing effective study habits earlier is a way for kids to feel more confident about their abilities to study and take tests.

“We’re noticing kids are becoming nervous about tests earlier and earlier,” she explains. “There are more standardized tests sooner; kids are learning that they have to do well in order to get good grades…to get into a good college…to get a good job.”

To combat that anxiety, students should have some go-to solutions at the ready, such as engaging in a brief relaxing activity, outlining notes or playing a memory game.

Create a positive bedtime routine

Bedtime can be the hardest time of the day for parents. But, it doesn’t have to be. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, MA, writes about practical strategies for getting a good night’s sleep in her book, Sleepless in America.

“Researchers have discovered that the sleep/wake cycle, or what researchers like to call the circadian rhythm, runs on a cycle closer to 25 hours than 24,” she writes. “In order to bring your child’s cycle into line with a 24 hour day, you have to set it with cues, like light and a regular sleep-and-wake schedule.”

Create a calming end-of-day routine, whether it’s quiet music, dim lighting or a scented candle.

Here are more ways to help your kids get a good night’s sleep.

Take breaks and use incentives

Even at the college level, students are still encouraged to take breaks. MIT supports several scheduled breaks throughout the day, saying, “Our minds need an occasional rest in order to stay alert and productive, and you can look forward to a reward as you study.”

For 12-year-old Mae that reward is a few coveted minutes on the iPad, which mom will gladly hand over after she practices her spelling words.

Value your child’s self-worth

Both Goldwin and Beth Hyser expound on the importance of valuing kids beyond the report card.

Goldwin says, “Parents can remind their kids, ‘I like that you’re working hard on this and giving it your all.’ But, be sure to remind them that they’re also a great artist or bowler. There are lots of special things about each child.”

Beth Hyser agrees. “If a C is your best, then that’s great.”

Change the way you think

Goldwin and the rest of the team in Psychological Services at Children’s utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a way to help patients with anxiety.

“We encourage students to pay attention to their negative thoughts, like ‘I’m not going to do well on this test’ and replace them with more helpful thoughts, like ‘I’ve studied and I feel confident that I know this material.’ ”

Practice self-care

This means eating a hearty breakfast the morning of a test, staying away from caffeinated beverages and paying attention to breathing.

“Before the day of the test, I encourage kids to practice deep breathing by placing a hand on their bellies,” Goldwin says. “Then, slowly breathe out and notice that their belly deflates.” She adds that sometimes she draws the analogy of the stomach being like a balloon that’s filling with air and then emptying.

Lessening testing anxiety may not always be easy for kids, but these strategies can get them started on the path to a less stressful testing season.

In what ways do you work with your kids to lessen anxiety before tests or other stressful times? Share in the comments.

More information: Psychological Services at Children’s

Maggie Sonnek is a writer, blogger, lover-of-outdoors and momma to two young kiddos. When she’s not kissing boo-boos or cutting up someone’s food, she likes to beat her husband at Scrabble.

Music therapy profile: Kim Arter

Kim Arter memorizes songs quickly.

We continue to celebrate Music Therapy Week by focusing on music therapist Kim Arter.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

2½ years

Why did you decide to go into music therapy?

I started as a nursing major in college, but I was still involved in choir and voice lessons, as music is such a big part of my life. I wanted to find a music profession combined with a helping profession. After discovering music therapy, I took an orientation class and was hooked. I knew it was the right fit for me.

What’s your favorite instrument?

Voice. I love to sing and hear others sing!

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with family and friends, especially outside when the weather is nice. I also enjoy baking and catching up on scrapbooking.

What’s one interesting fact about you?

I memorize songs quickly, and they stay in my memory for a long time. I can still sing most songs from my elementary school music programs.

Music therapy profile: Erinn Frees

Erinn Frees has worked at Children's for four years.

We’re celebrating Music Therapy Week, and today the spotlight shines on music therapist Erinn Frees.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I’ve worked at Children’s for four years, almost to the day!

What is a typical day like for you?

Usually, I start off my day by organizing the referrals we get (typically 40-50 per week) and trying to plan which floors I should go to at what time. Then I set sail with our wonderful new music therapy cart, which is filled with guitars, keyboards, drums, a harp and other percussion instruments. I then spend the rest of the day trying to see as many kids as I can get to, and work with them on physical, cognitive and emotional goals through music.

Do you have a favorite memory from working at Children’s?

I have many favorite memories, but this one sticks out in my head: I was working with a young school-aged boy. We were singing, playing instruments and laughing when he suddenly looked up at me and asked, “So where do you work?” When I explained to him that what we were doing was my job, he said “No, that can’t be right! At work you’re supposed to be, like, really crabby and have lots of papers and stuff!” I’m very grateful to have a job I absolutely love!

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I love spending time with my new husband, trying to learn to golf, spending time with friends and family, playing flute with various concert bands and pit orchestras and trying new restaurants. Oh, and I really like cleaning – it’s such a huge stress release!

What’s one interesting fact about you?

The first “big” concert I ever went to was on my 6th birthday. My dad took me to see Bruce Springsteen, and our tickets were in the very last row. We started chatting with a guy who asked us, “Since it’s her birthday, would you guys like some better seats?” He then led us up to the front row, center stage and we watched the concert from the best seats in the house. Bruce even gave me his guitar pick!

Watch Erinn sing with a patient:

Music Therapy from Children’s of Minnesota on Vimeo.

Five Question Friday: Sandy Cassidy

April 20-26 is Medical Laboratory Professionals Week. At Children’s, we have more than 120 laboratory staff members who work behind the scenes to perform and interpret more than 1 million critical lab tests every year. We’re pleased to introduce one of our lab superstars, Sandy Cassidy, who works at our St. Paul hospital. 

Sandy Cassidy has worked at Children's for 19 years.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

Nineteen years.

Describe your role.

I’m the technical specialist for the transfusion and tissue service. I make sure that the transfusion service runs smoothly by writing procedures and making sure we are compliant with all the standards from the regulatory agency that the blood bank falls under. I help develop training and competency programs for transfusion staff.

What drew you to working in laboratory sciences?

When I was in the 11th grade, we had to write a paper on a career that we were interested in pursuing. I wrote my paper on a medical lab technician. At the time, I had no idea that this was an actual job. While doing the research for my paper, I found the job really interesting so I started looking for schools that had medical lab technician programs.

What do you like best about your job?

I think what I like best about my job is that it is different every day and that there is always something challenging to do. Working with children is rewarding.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I like to spend time with my husband and two boys. My boys are busy with baseball in the spring, which keeps me busy running them back and forth between practices and games. When I’m not running my boys around, I’m busy crocheting and knitting for craft fairs that my sister-in-law and I attend all year long.

Surgery before birth saves lives of preemie twins

Amina (left) and Rania Abdi were born Feb. 11, 2014, at 25 weeks. The twin sisters were diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome while in the womb. (Jimmy Bellamy / Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota)

We continue our focus on fetal care this month by honoring Siman Abdi and her twin daughters, Amina and Rania, who were born Feb. 11 at 25 weeks.

Earlier in Siman’s pregnancy, the sisters were diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS), which is a rare condition that occurs when one twin donates blood to the other while in the womb and, if left untreated, potentially can be fatal for both babies.

Thanks to the work of the Midwest Fetal Care Center, a collaboration between Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Children’s, Siman’s daughters are recovering at Children’s and continue to grow stronger each day.

Learn more about twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome:

Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome from The Mother Baby Center on Vimeo.

Honoring patient- and family-centered care

If there is a Children’s staff member who has made a difference to your family, nominate him or her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award.

When Deb’s daughter was born prematurely at 28 weeks, Kathy Wharton, RN, in Children’s neonatal intensive care unit, was there to comfort her, teach her and laugh with her.

“Kathy was calming, funny and professional,” Deb said. “She was our decoder for this confusing, unplanned madness we got thrown into. I can’t imagine getting through the first few weeks without her kind words, explanations and hugs.”

Deb honored Kathy by nominating her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award, which is organized by Children’s Family Advisory Council. The award, which is given out twice a year, gives families an opportunity to recognize and honor care providers who demonstrate an outstanding commitment to patient- and family-centered care.

For Kathy, the award was a touching reminder of why she comes to work every day.

“I have spent over 30 years in nursing and have done it all – from bedside nursing to supervising, from hospital to clinic, NICU to dialysis and back to bedside NICU,” Kathy said. “This award reminded me why I came back to bedside nursing. It renewed my spirit and reminded me that I can make a difference.”

If there is a Children’s staff member who has made a difference to your family, nominate him or her for the Excellence in Patient- and Family-Centered Care Award. Families can nominate any Children’s staff member from whom they have received services in the past 12 months. The next awards will be presented in May and October.

Questions? Please email [email protected].

Preemies to princesses: Thank you, Children’s

Rebecca (left) and Emily Pierce, 2 months old, receive care in Children's neonatal intensive care unit in this March 23, 2011, photo. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Gillquist)

Rebecca (left) and Emily Pierce, dressed as princesses, are 3 years old and live in Rapid City, S.D. They visit Minnesota often to see family and for followup appointments at Children's. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Gillquist)

By Debbie Gillquist

Hardly a day passes that we aren’t grateful for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota’s quality work, care, compassion and expertise. My twin granddaughters, Emily Rose and Rebecca Elizabeth, were born Jan. 28, 2011, at 1 pound, 4 ounces and 1 pound, 10 ounces, respectively, at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and transferred to Children’s. Fittingly, Dr. Ronald Hoekstra, who was present for the twins’ mother’s (my daughter, who weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces) birth at the same hospital 33 years ago, led the team.

First of all, wow, have things changed in 33 years! What hasn’t changed, though, is how incredibly passionate all the providers at Children’s are, how much they care for the family and how much they make the experience “home away from home.” (We even met up with some of the nurses from all those years ago.)

We were so impressed with every aspect of our stay and wish we could personally thank every one of the staff members who cared for my family. Children’s cares, makes a difference and saves lives. Thank you from an incredibly grateful family.

Miracles – you create miracles.

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.