Category Archives: Staff Profiles and News

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.

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!

Five Question Friday: Dex Tuttle

We love kids here at Children’s, but we’d rather see them safe at home. Dex Tuttle, our injury prevention program coordinator, tells us more about his role and gives some tips on how to prevent common household injuries in this week’s Five Question Friday.

Dex Tuttle has been the injury prevention program coordinator at Children's since August 2013.

How long have you worked at Children’s?

I started in August of 2013.

Describe your role.

As injury prevention program coordinator, my job is to keep kids out of the emergency room. I plan events and prepare resources in partnership with hospital and community organizations to educate children and families about common types of injury and give them tips on what they can do to stay safe.

What do you love most about your job?

On any given day, I can be in a workshop creating a new display or activity, out in the metro area talking to community members, or at my desk planning, creating and organizing for the future. I love the flexibility and unpredictability of the job, but the most rewarding part of my work is when people who stop by and chat with me have that “a-ha” moment: when I know that the message sunk in and changed behavior. In addition, as a father of an 18-month-old, injury prevention is always on my mind in a very real way. It is great making connections with families where the conversation starts with the commonality of caring for a curious and mobile child and progresses to sharing some advice that can help them keep their own kids safe.

We’re anxiously waiting for warmer weather so we can get outside. What are some simple tips that you give parents to keep their kids safe around their neighborhoods?

A tricky part of parenting is encouraging your kids to learn through exploration and curiosity while maintaining safe behaviors. The tip sheet on this topic is about three miles long, but here is some general advice:

  • If they’re on wheels, make sure they wear a proper-fitting helmet and pads.
  • The same goes for any activity or sport; make sure their equipment is right for their size.
  • Role-play emergency scenarios as a family – severe weather, stranger danger, fire escape, etc.
  • When traveling by vehicle, ensure your child’s car seat or seat belt fits right and is installed/worn properly. ALWAYS wear a seat belt (role model good behavior) and keep kids in a proper car seat or booster until they’re 4-foot-9 or taller to ensure their seat belt fits right.
  • STAY HYDRATED. With the winter we’ve had, it’s hard to think about the weather being warm enough to be dangerous, but developing good habits around drinking plenty of water now will help create safe behavior in the future. Be sure kids understand the importance of sunscreen, too.

For more tips, visit Children’s Making Safe Simple page, but the best advice I can give as a father and educator is to involve your kids in decisions and planning for safety. Encouraging them to provide their input and incorporating their suggestions into your plan and actions helps solidify safe behavior into the future.

What’s your favorite meal?

PIZZA. If my wife would let me, I could eat pizza for every meal, every day … with a few regular breaks for hot wings, anyway.

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.

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.