Monthly Archives: March 2014

Healing through play: Meet Sam Schackman

Sam Schackman is a child life specialist in the Cancer and Blood Disorders clinic.

We end March, which included Child Life Week, by getting to know Sam Schackman, a child life specialist.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

This will be my third year at Children’s. I started in 2011.

What do you love most about your job?

The kids, of course! But that’s an easy answer, so I would say one thing I love most is working alongside children and their families and being able to see them overcome challenges.

What is one thing you’d like people to know about your profession?

Child life specialists have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in a major that focuses on child development, child psychology and working with families. Child life specialists must complete a supervised clinical internship and pass a national certification exam.

What is a typical day like for you?

I work in the Cancer and Blood Disorders clinic, and each day is different! My day may consist of providing preparation for medical procedures, helping to facilitate coping during invasion procedures and pokes, facilitating therapeutic and normative activities, providing developmentally appropriate education about a child’s body or illness, and providing support for siblings and other family members. Each day looks different, but each day I know I get to spend with amazing kids and their families.

The theme of Child Life Week is “everyone plays in the same language.” What was your favorite childhood toy?

I loved dolls and stuffed animals. One of my most favorites was a Minnie Mouse doll that had a light-up bow.

Minneapolis among 10 best U.S. cities for health care

Minneapolis was named one of the 10 best U.S. cities for health care, according to Becker’s Hospital Review and a release from iVantage Health Analytics and its Hospital Strength INDEX, a rating system analyzing publicly available data to measure hospitals across 10 pillars of performance and 66 metrics.

Minneapolis was named one of the 10 best U.S. cities for health care. (2014 file / Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota)

List of cities in top 10 (in alphabetical order):

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Charlotte, N.C.
  • Chicago
  • Minneapolis
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Portland, Ore.
  • St. Louis
  • Washington, D.C.

The 10 cities serve approximately 60 million people, 19 percent of the U.S. population, according to the report.

Sources: Becker’s Hospital Review and iVantage Health Analytics

Five Question Friday: Joanna Davis

It’s Child Life Week at Children’s, so we’re dedicating this week’s Five Question Friday to learning more about Joanna Davis, a child life specialist and the coordinator of the new Child Life Zone at our St. Paul campus.

Joanna Davis is a child life specialist and the coordinator of the new Child Life Zone at our St. Paul campus.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I have worked here since July 2013. Before I came to Children’s, I worked at a children’s hospital in Alaska.

Why did you decide to become a child life specialist?

I knew I wanted to work with kids, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. At the time I had never heard of the child life profession. While I was in college, my sister was doing her nursing clinicals and she followed a child life specialist around for a day. She called me up immediately after to tell me she found the perfect job for me. I looked up all I could about child life. Ever since then, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I did everything I could to get my certification in child life, and I give all the credit to my sister, for finding me my perfect job!

We recently opened the new Child Life Zone in St. Paul. Can you tell us more about the new space?

The Child Life Zone is a state-of-the-art, therapeutic play area, located on the St. Paul campus. It’s a place that patients, siblings and families can play, hang out, have fun and just relax. Inside we have a therapeutic craft and play area, media wall and gaming area, Children’s library, Star Studio performance space and kitchen area for special events. We also offer sibling play services for kids whose brother or sister is in the hospital.

What do you love most about your job?

Working with kids and their families, and helping make their experience here at Children’s even more positive. The Child Life Zone draws kids from all over the hospital ­– we have outpatient kids that come weekly after their therapy appointments, infusion kids that come up and play from the short-stay unit while getting their meds, and inpatient kids that come down daily if they are able to. It’s really nice getting to see these kids come to a space in the hospital where they feel safe, and they really open up to you.

The theme for Child Life Week is “everyone plays in the same language.” What was your favorite childhood toy?

I loved my Easy Bake Oven! I played with it all the time until I got old enough that I started baking in the kitchen. Baking cookies is one of my favorite things to do.

An advocate for kids: Meet child life specialist Judy Sawyer

It’s Child Life Week, and we’re excited to bring you some profiles about our team at Children’s. For Judy Sawyer, no two days at work are ever the same, and she wouldn’t have it any other way! Learn more about Judy and her role at Children’s.

Judy Sawyer has been a child life specialist at Children's for 23 years.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I started in November of 1990 … 23 years.

What’s one thing you’d like people to know about your profession?

The most important role for me is to be an advocate, providing consistent support for patients and families during their admission. Whether it is being the “non-medical person” providing support/distraction during a lab draw, education to provide a better understanding of the medical experience, or bringing a child a developmentally appropriate activity, my goal is to help the child have as positive an experience as possible while they are at Children’s.

What is a typical day like for you?

One of the things I love about working in child life is that no two days are ever the same!

A typical day begins by obtaining a census, reviewing it for new admissions on the two critical care units I work on, CVCC and PICU, check to see if there are any cardiac pre-op appointments for patients scheduled for heart surgery the next day and attend patient review where information is shared and updated between the charge nurse and the multidisciplinary staff.

I provide followup support for patients already on these units. If a child is scheduled for heart surgery, I work with the CV Par 4 staff to provide preparation information using photos and a walk through of the CVCC Unit so they have an understanding of what to expect the day of surgery. Child Life Specialists use the senses as a guide… what will they “see, hear, feel, smell and taste”? By preparing the patient and family to know what to expect, my goal is to have them leave the hospital feeling confident to return the next day for surgery. I work closely with multidisciplinary staff on the critical care units to support our families during what is often a very stressful time.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I would love to travel to Paris! I love art, history, wine and French food so it feels like a perfect destination spot!

Child life specialist helps patients conquer fears

Happy Child Life Week! Meet Betsy Brand, a child life specialist who has worked at Children’s for 26 years, across four different locations.

Betsy Brand, a Child Life at Children's, demonstrates an MRI to a young patient in St. Paul.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Every day is different, which is what I love about the job. I work in Sedation and Procedural Services (SPS) at Children’s — St. Paul, helping prepare and support patients for sedated and unsedated MRIs, CTs, voiding cystourethrograms (VCUGs), nitrous procedures and IV starts. On the Short Stay Unit side of SPS, I check in with families after surgery to help find developmentally supportive activities for patients and prepare patients for tests and procedures.

What’s one thing you’d like people to know about Child Life?

We all have at least a four-year degree, and many of us have master’s degrees in child development-related fields.

What do you love most about your job?

Being a part of a positive medical experience, witnessing patients conquering their fears and mastering their health care challenges.

What do you think makes kids great?

Their honesty and how their play reveals their needs and the developmental needs they are working on.

The theme for Child Life Week is “everyone plays in the same language.” What was your favorite childhood toy?

My dolls, Barbies and stuffed animals.

Five Question Friday: Karen Jensen

March is Social Work Month, and today we’re highlighting Karen Jensen, MSW, LICSW, clinical social worker in Children’s cancer and blood disorders department.

Karen Jensen, MSW, LICSW, is a clinical social worker in Children’s cancer and blood disorders department.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

Almost two years.

Describe your role.

I work with children with brain tumors and their families. My role is to support families throughout their journey from diagnosis, through treatment and in survivorship. I help families plan their “new lives” around a child with a significant medical issue — from school to work, to day-to-day life.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the families that I work with. It is so rewarding to be able to assist families through one of the most difficult times in their lives — through the ups and downs, through the tears and joys. It is amazing to see how the children and families that I work with change throughout this journey. I feel so privileged to be able to be a part of their lives.

What is one thing you’d like people to know about social work?

The group of social workers at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota is the most professional, ethical and competent group of social workers that I have ever worked with, and I’m so proud to be a part of this amazing team!

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to spend time with family and travel, and I enjoy photography, hiking, biking and volunteering. I have a special love for Guatemala, and I support several children there.



A childhood goal turned into reality

In recognition of Social Work Month, we’re sharing profiles of some of our social workers and highlighting the important work they do for our patients and families. Today, meet Cathy Schacher, on-call social worker, who found her calling early in life and never looked back.

Cathy Schacher has wanted to be a social worker since she was 10.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

Since December 2009.

Why did you decide to go into social work?

When I was 10 years old and attended a week of church camp in central Iowa, I met a boy from Des Moines who told me about being “ripped” from his home by a foster care social worker. I told him that I would grow up to be the best social worker ever – even though I’d never heard of that type of job before in my small-town-America world!

What’s one thing you’d like others to know about your profession?

That we’re not all a bunch of bleeding hearts out to save the world. As a part of any team that we work within, we are able to provide a bigger-picture perspective that can help organize the information, prioritize the needs, provide insight into the rest of the story that might not come out during a 20-minute office visit, and assist with patients and clients following-through on the directions or taking other action steps that they might not otherwise be able to take without our support.

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

I was able to serve during the most beautiful death experience, in which the family was at peace and was able to receive countless visits from well-known hospital staff who had walked with them through a long journey of chronic illness and hospitalizations.  When the room was packed with staff, family and friends, the song “I Can Only Imagine” came on the radio, and the patient’s mother asked everyone to stop talking while she sang that song into her child’s ear. Not a dry eye in the room! That experience taught me that I’m not “just” an on-call social worker, coming in as a total stranger, and that I was able to help the family and staff in just the right way that they needed that day.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A social worker, since I was 10!

Study: Concussion recovery time doubles when injury is sustained during school year

A patient visits the concussion clinic at Children's — St Paul on March 11, 2014. (Photo by Scott Streble)

A patient visits the Concussion Clinic at Children's — St Paul on March 11, 2014. (Photo by Scott Streble)

Concussions and the treatment after one is sustained have been at the forefront of media coverage in recent years. What once was viewed by some as brag-worthy or a badge of honor now is being taken seriously for its potential immediate and long-term effects.

While progress has been made in how the seriousness of a concussion is perceived, it’s still relatively unknown when it’s acceptable for individuals, including children, to return to normal cognitive and physical activity after suffering one.

According to a study by the Concussion Clinic at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, a child who sustains a concussion during the school year takes significantly more time to recover than one who suffers a similar injury during the summer.

“We were surprised at the magnitude of the differences,” Robert Doss, PsyD, co-director of the Pediatric Concussion Program and one of the study’s researchers, said. “We weren’t surprised that it was in that direction; just simply that the magnitude was what it was.”

Researchers took patients seen in the Concussion Clinic at Children’s from 2011-12 — 43 children who suffered concussions during the school year and 44 injured in the summer — and monitored their progress. For the children who sustained a concussion in the summer, the average number of days to recover was 35. Recovery time more than doubled (72 days) when the injury was sustained during the school year.

Another study, “Returning to Learning Following a Concussion,” published in October in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), explains the difficulties children experience in a school setting after suffering a concussion. Post-concussive symptoms often can linger or increase in severity without proper adjustments to a child’s environment or academic routine. Research suggests that academic demands and school environment may be a barrier to recovery.

Because each concussion and child is different, the AAP study recommends creating a multidisciplinary team to facilitate a student’s recovery and help him or her return to normal activities. Those four teams are: 

  • Family (student, parents, guardians, grandparents, peers, teammates and family friends)
  • Medical (emergency department, primary care provider, concussion specialist, clinical psychologist, neuropsychologist, team and/or school physician)
  • School academic (teacher, school counselor, school psychologist, social worker, school nurse, school administrator, school physician)
  • School physical activity (school nurse, athletic trainer, coach, physical education teacher, playground supervisor, school physician).

“It’s important to understand the individual child,” Doss said. “It seems like our practitioners are noticing more responsiveness by the schools to put forth accommodations for these kids. Some schools are more accommodating than others. Some seem to have a grasp of concussions.

“Overall, I think our perception is that schools are more receptive and thinking about it more actively. They’re instituting programs on their own, so they’re prepared for what comes next.”

Subjects were evaluated and treated in the Concussion Clinic after presenting with symptoms consistent with mild head trauma.

Researchers identified two groups based upon whether they recovered from their concussions during the school year or summer months and were ages 7 and older. The school year was defined as September through May. The school group was matched to the summer group by age and gender.

The average age of the children in the study at the time of injury was 14 years old.

Date of recovery was defined as the final visit date in the Concussion Clinic.

Doss also cautions parents and kids that they aren’t out of the woods once recovery is complete.

“It seems pretty clear in some of the guidelines that prior history of a concussion puts you at a higher risk for subsequent concussions,” he said.

However, according to the Children’s study, there’s little empirical support for the amount or duration of cognitive and physical rest after a concussion and the time frame for children to safely return to normal daily activities without experiencing ongoing cognitive or physical deficits.

According to the “Returning to Learning” study, cognitive rest refers to avoiding potential cognitive stressors, such as texting, video games, TV exposure and schoolwork. However, to date, there is no research documenting the benefits or harm of these methods in either the prolongation of symptoms or the ultimate outcome for the student following a concussion.

“Should the kids not be on Xbox versus playing a little bit of Xbox?” Doss said. What may be best during recovery depends on the case. “How much schoolwork is appropriate?”

Doss said the perceptions families and academic institutions have about concussions are evolving.

“Schools across the U.S. did not seem to be prepared. You bump up against the usual: The kids look fine. They’re not limping. They have an injury that’s not visible,” he said. “The general population is dealing with this heightened awareness of concussions.”

Variables collected for analysis included school grade, prior concussion history, loss of consciousness with presenting injury, first clinic visit ImPACT computerized cognitive testing raw scores — verbal memory composite, visual memory composite, visual motor speed composite, reaction time — ImPACT post-concussive symptom  scores, and history of depression and anxiety, migraine, other neurological problems, learning disability or ADHD.

The study was conducted by Robert Doss, PsyD, Neuroscience Center of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and Minnesota Epilepsy Group, P.A.; Kara Seaton, MD, Emergency Department of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota; and Mary Dentz, RN, CNP; Joseph Petronio, MD; Julie Mills, RN, CNP; Jane Allen, RN, CNP; and Meysam Kebriaei, MD, of the Neuroscience Center of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Children’s at the Capitol: A simple test can save a child’s life

Since the newborn-screening program began, more than 5,000 children have been saved. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Every parent hopes and dreams for a happy, healthy child. Unfortunately, those dreams don’t always come true. Sometimes children are born with serious conditions that impact their health, but if caught early, many can be treated and the severity lessened. Since the newborn-screening program began, more than 5,000 children have been saved; children like Zak and Ella. Thanks to newborn screening, Ella was diagnosed early with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and because the blood spots and test results were saved, doctors were also able to diagnose her older brother with CF when he became sick.

The Newborn Screening Program tests newborns between 24-48 hours after birth for more than 50 rare, life-threatening disorders; disorders that if left untreated, can result in illness, physical disabilities, learning and developmental disabilities, hearing loss or even death. Yet early treatment and diagnosis, medications, and/or changes in diet can prevent or lessen the impact of most of these health problems.

Two years ago, changes were made to the program that drastically altered the amount of time blood spots and test results could be retained. Now, after only 71 days parents and providers no longer have access to blood spots, despite the fact that testing can often take up to six months or longer to confirm a diagnosis. After two years, parents have no access to data (unless they make a special request) and therefore lose the ability to access that critical information for the purposes of retroactive investigation or sibling comparisons. And lastly, these changes mean that the department of health cannot use de-identified information for research to create new life-saving tests.

This year, legislation is being proposed to return Minnesota’s Newborn Screening program back to the nation-leading one it once was. House File 2526/Senate File 2047 would allow parents to store their children’s blood spots and test results indefinitely, preserving access to the life-saving information they need. We owe it to our kids, their parents and our communities to strengthen programs that can be used to not only save lives but to protect those in the generations to come.

Until further legislative changes take place, parents can request to have their blood spots and test results retained for a longer period of time on the Minnesota Department of Health website.

Take action!

You can help restore Minnesota’s Newborn Screening Program to its nation-leading status by calling members of the Senate Judiciary committee by Thursday, March 20th, 2014 at 5 p.m. and asking for their support of the Newborn Screening bill, H.F. 2526/S.F. 2047.

Calling is easy and it just takes a minute! (Phone numbers below). If you are a constituent of the person you call, make sure to let them know! Look up your legislators and compare them to the list below. Here is a sample of what you can say:



My name is [your name] and I am calling to ask for Representative [last name]’s/Senator [last name]’s support of the Newborn screening bill, H.F. 2526/S.F. 2047.

This bill will allow parents and families to have access to the newborn screening spots and test results for a longer period of time, allowing for follow-up care re-analyses and sibling comparisons. I support this bill because it will help all children have the best chance for a healthy start in life. I hope [Legislator’s name] will support it as well, by voting in favor when the bill is heard in committee.

Thank you!

Once you call committee members, send a note to Katie Rojas-Jahn at [email protected] to let us know you took action. 

Here’s who to call:

Senate Judiciary committee members

Chair: Senator Ron Latz 651-297-8065

Vice Chair: Senator Barb Goodwin 651-296-4334

Senator Warren Limmer 651-296-2159

Senator Bobby Joe Champion 651-296-9246

Senator Dan D. Hall 651-296-5975

Senator Kathy Sheran 651-296-6153

Senator Kari Dziedzic 651-296-7809

Senator Scott J. Newman 651-296-4131

Five Question Friday: Danielle Horgen

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and to recognize it, we chose to highlight Danielle Horgen, PA-C, of Neurosurgery at Children’s. She took some time to talk about her work with patients and life outside of Children’s.

Danielle Horgen, PA-C, has been in Neurosurgery at Children's since October 2013.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I started working in Neurosurgery in October 2013.  I love working with children and their families and am so happy to be a part of the care provided at Children’s Hospital.

Describe your role.

I am a physician assistant in the Neurosurgery department. We have a great team consisting of three neurosurgeons, three nurse practitioners and one physician assistant. We all work together to make sure our patients receive quality care. My role is to interview and examine patients, order and interpret images, prescribe medications and provide education to patients and their families in both clinic and inpatient settings. I get to see many of these children in consultation, first-assist in their surgeries and manage their care during the hospital stay and follow-up visits. It is very rewarding to be present throughout the entire process!

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

It’s difficult to pick a favorite memory. We see some pretty amazing kids, all with unique stories and experiences, and certainly their own little personalities that are so fun to work with! I’ve been told some great jokes, participated in dance parties with nurses and patients on the floor and received some motivational speeches from some pretty inspiring kids. I once got a lesson from a little boy with a brain tumor about being happy and staying positive. Although this field has its share of difficult times, I feel that it’s an honor to be able to guide a family through these moments.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I have been married to my husband, Darin, for eight years, and we have a chocolate Lab named Casey. I love spending my time with these two! We also have great families in Iowa and Minnesota, including 10 nieces and nephews that we love dearly and see as often as we can.

What’s one interesting fact about you?

I played tennis, softball, gymnastics and volleyball growing up. During my senior year of high school, my tennis team won the state championship in Iowa. (It probably didn’t hurt that the two top ranked players in the state played on my team, too). Despite this, my husband, who never played tennis, still can beat me almost every time.