Inside Gillette Blog

Fall, Fun and Safety — Tips Every Parent Should Know

Posted On: 10/01/2015

The air feels crisp, geese fly south and leaves turn bright hues of orange, red and gold.  Besides the start of a new school year, fall brings much-anticipated activities for children.  By following some simple safety guidelines, parents can make sure kids’ favorite fall traditions are a fun and safe experience for the whole family.

Pumpkin Carving
Children’s second-most-loved Halloween tradition (behind trick-or-treating, of course!) is creating a spooky jack-o-lantern to light up the night.  To prevent hand injuries, be sure to carve in a dry and well-lit area. Any moisture, including those slimy pumpkin innards, can cause slipping that might lead to injuries.  Leave the carving to adults—kids can help by drawing a pattern on the pumpkin and clean out the inside pulp and seeds.  And consider purchasing a pumpkin carving kit.  They include a special saw that isn’t sharp enough to cause a serious cut. Lastly, pick up a flameless, battery-operated candle to light up your jack-o-lantern. No flame means no risk of fire.

Whether a haunted hayride or an apple orchard activity, hayrides are a favorite experience for kids of all ages.  Take care when loading and unloading, making sure the hayride is at a complete stop.  Hold on to children and railings at all times, as the bumpy ride can easily bounce them off their seat.  Whether the hayride is pulled by a tractor or horse, it’s always a good idea to keep a safe distance away.

Corn Mazes
While fun, corn mazes can quickly become scary for young children—especially if they’re left alone.  Always accompany children into the maze and make sure your group knows to stick together.  Make sure, too, that the maze isn’t too close to parking lots or roads.  Be mindful of uneven walking surfaces, or fallen corn stalks, that could cause trips or falls. And remember that rain can result in muddy—and therefore, slippery—surfaces.

For Summer Research Intern, Helping Kids is Personal

Posted On: 09/29/2015

When 23-year-old Uyen Truong noticed a call-out for summer research interns at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare this past spring, she felt compelled to apply. “Working with kids is my passion,” says Uyen. “And I have a special connection with Gillette.”  

Uyen has been a Gillette patient for as long as she can remember.  She has a genetic brittle bone disease called osteopetrosis, which means her bones contain too much calcium and easily fracture.  “I’ve had multiple breaks treated at Gillette,” she says. Uyen has continued to benefit from Gillette’s services into adulthood — most recently, for adaptive technology to help her succeed in medical school at the University of Minnesota, starting this fall.

Uyen Finds Her Calling
Uyen’s internship at Gillette merged her passion for helping children with her scientific background. She also wanted to experience firsthand how physicians integrate research into their practice. “Clinical research is people-oriented,” explains Uyen. “I wanted to pay it forward by helping others the same way I have been helped my whole life.”

As part of the program, Uyen and her fellow research interns collaborated with Gillette mentors — MDs and PhDs — on ongoing research projects. Specific topics varied, but all related to Gillette’s core mission: to provide outstanding care to children with often rare and complex medical conditions.

“Our interns are typically medical school students or students planning to enter another health care field,” says Meghan Munger, research coordinator at Gillette. “We want to cultivate their interest in research and encourage them to incorporate evidence-based medicine into their future careers.”

Making an Impact through Research
Uyen’s research is focused on casting in children following a femoral or pelvic osteotomy, both major orthopedic surgeries that help realign bones in the femur or hips.  She and her physician mentor, Walter Truong, M.D. (no relation to Uyen) hope to identify the ideal type of cast after complex hip surgeries.  The ideal cast would be easy to take care of yet still help patients experience less pain — and therefore, require less pain medication — after surgery.

The project holds personal significance for Uyen, as it stands to impact children who, like her, have experienced surgeries on their bones and joints. She hopes her work, which will continue for at least another year, will help guide future patient care.

“I understand what it’s like to be a patient and know that being in pain is difficult,” says Uyen. “I want to be someone who helps people feel better, helps them accomplish the things they hope to do.”  

Click here to learn more about Gillette’s summer research internship program.

Photo caption: Uyen is pictured with her Gillette mentors, clinical scientist Susan Novotny and Walter Truong, M.D.

Jonathan’s Story: Thriving with Hydrocephalus

Posted On: 09/22/2015

By Jennifer Bulthuis, Jonathan’s mom

Jonathan was diagnosed with hydrocephalus when he was six months old. We knew something was wrong because Jonathan cried and screamed anytime we tried to lay him down.  At six months old, he could only sleep in his crib for eight minutes without waking up screaming and needing to be held. 

Finding out that Jonathan had a life-long brain condition, requiring brain surgery, was a shock and difficult to comprehend. For months, we concentrated on his medical situation, making sure the shunt was working and meeting with numerous specialist to learn as much as we could about what was going on inside this tiny body. Then, it hit us like a ton of bricks….. this was forever. We needed to know more than just the medical side of Jonathan’s hydrocephalus and we felt a need to educate ourselves on how to help Jonathan live with his condition. I asked Jonathan’s pediatrician, Dr. Lutz, for help and asked him to recommend a neurosurgeon who would take the time to talk to us, be honest and direct, and talk in terms that we could understand. He suggested Michael Partington, M.D. at Gillette Specialty Healthcare. 

I’ll never forget our first appointment with Dr. Partington. Our 4:30pm consultation turned into a ninety minute conversation, including answers to ALL the questions on our very long list! Over the past few years, Dr. Partington has patiently and thoroughly answered all our questions about how to live, as a family, with hydrocephalus. He’s helped us learn how to talk to other parents about hydrocephalus, plan for play dates, safely play sports, talk to the school and Jonathan’s teachers, tips for traveling, and SO much more!

Today, Jonathan is six years old and attends full day kindergarten. He goes to the library with his class, plays in the gym, eats in the cafeteria, and runs with his friends on the playground. Jonathan has playdates, goes to birthday parties, and loves to brag about catching more walleyes this summer than his Dad. He is the best of friends with his sister Abby, most of the time. Jonathan has a heart of gold. He’s so loving, and has the BEST sense of humor. I know most days Jonathan never thinks about his hydrocephalus and that makes us so happy.  He’s just a regular kid, thanks to the team of professionals caring for him. We know he will always have hydrocephalus, but we have chosen not to let this define us as a family. It’s simply a part of us. 

We feel so very blessed to have Gillette and all their experts on our team! Everyone we have worked with has been amazing and Jonathan truly feels like his trips to the clinic and stays in the hospital are fun.  What a compliment! He enjoys the video games in the waiting room, the fabulous selection of toys brought into the hospital room by the Child Life Specialist, and still talks about the gift card he received for waiting patiently when an MRI was taking longer than normal. Doctor visits are a regular part of our life and always will be. At Gillette, we are welcomed, respected, and never made to feel rushed. This truly changes the experience. Thank you for making us feel cared for, like family.

Meet Us Monday - Danielle Pricco, Registered Nurse

Posted On: 09/21/2015

What is your position and role at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare? I have been a registered nurse on the Adult Inpatient Unit for just over three years.  My day-to-day activities vary a lot – from  working on the floor with patients to representing my unit on inpatient committees. One of my favorite roles is being a certified nurse preceptor and orienting new nurses to the unit. I really enjoying the enthusiasm new nurses have to make a difference here at Gillette.

Meet Us Monday - Danielle Pricco, Registered NurseDo you have a favorite Gillette story or memory?  Some of my favorite memories are from the time I spent with my “transition to practice” nursing group immediately after starting at Gillette. The group consisted of nurses that had just graduated – like me! It helped me a lot with my transition into the new and often challenging role of a nurse. We could easily relate to one another and help each other along the journey.

What do you like best about working at Gillette? What I love most about Gillette is the friendly atmosphere. It feels very much like a family and everyone gets to know each other no matter what department you work. It is so welcoming to walk down the hallway and be greeted by the many smiling faces.

Do you have any children or pets? I have a two year old English Springer Spaniel named Gus. He is full of energy and brings a lot of joy to my husband and I. He keeps us very active outside whether it's running, rollerblading or just playing fetch.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? If I could travel anywhere it would be Ireland because of the beautiful, lush greenery and pubs and great food.

What is one fun fact about you? I met my now husband while stopped at a stoplight in town. We then dated for nine years, a majority of them long distance before getting married.

 What are some of your hobbies outside of work? Outside of work I really enjoy staying active rollerblading, biking or doing hot yoga. I also enjoy getting together with family and friends to try new restaurants or breweries.

Vaccination Isn’t a Question for Special Needs Kids

Posted On: 09/17/2015

With another flu season almost upon us, the annual debate over the flu shot has resurfaced.  Naysayers point out the ineffectiveness of last year’s flu vaccine — the strain that sickened many didn’t match the strain the vaccine protected against, resulting in flu-related hospitalizations hitting a 9-year high. If I got the flu shot last year and still came down with the flu, why bother with the shot this year?   Another argument cites the theory of “herd immunity.”  If everyone around me is vaccinated, I’ll be protected too.

This is dangerous logic, especially when it relates to children. The CDC points to several key groups at high risk for developing flu-related complications.  First on this list is children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2.  At this young age, kids lack fully-developed immune systems needed to fight the virus.  The result is hospitalization and, in worst-case-scenarios, death.  

Risk is further escalated for children who have complex medical conditions. The CDC describes this high-risk group as “people who have neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury.”

Sound familiar?  It should. This is the exact patient population treated at Gillette.  These patients fall into not one, but TWO high-risk groups:  children and people who have disabilities. For medically fragile children, vaccination isn’t a question.  It’s a necessity.  And for those around them, it’s a responsibility. “I can’t tell you how many patients I see who’ve experienced severe complications resulting from influenza,” says Scott Schwantes, M.D., pediatrician and palliative care physician.  “For children already dealing with a host of other health issues, the flu can take the body to its breaking point.”   

While not 100 percent foolproof, a flu vaccination is your and your child’s best protection against a serious — and preventable — illness this fall and winter.  So let’s team up, get vaccinated, and help protect those in our community who are most vulnerable.

Image: Barbara Joers, Gillette president and CEO, gets her flu shot.

Remembering Wren: A Family’s Tradition of Giving Back to Gillette

Posted On: 09/14/2015

Every year since 2010, Wren’s family, along with others in their community, celebrate the life of the playful, loving, happy little girl they once knew. “She loved to be outside and go for walks,” says Erica Sinclair. “That’s one of the reasons we hold a walk in her memory.”

Remembering Wren: A Family’s Tradition of Giving Back to GilletteErica’s daughter, Wren, passed away in 2009. When she was 2 years old, Wren sustained a severe head injury at a day care near their home in western Wisconsin. She was airlifted to the Level I Pediatric Trauma Center operated by Regions Hospital and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, but Wren’s family was told that she wouldn’t survive her injuries. “You can’t imagine how horrible it is to have your child fighting for her life,” says Erica, “but everyone at Gillette was very kind.” Wren passed away a few days later with her family by her side.

Although Wren has been gone for six years, her family says they’re still thankful for Gillette’s kindness and efforts to save her life. “The doctors and nurses at Gillette had hearts of gold,” recalls Erica. To honor Wren and show their appreciation for Gillette, the family hosts an annual 5K run/walk. “We think about Wren's Memorial Run/Walk as a holiday,” explains Matt Sprague, Wren’s father. “We start planning in the spring, and for us, it feels like we are planning a huge celebration in memory of Wren.”

They donate part of the proceeds to Gillette’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and use some of the proceeds to fund a scholarship for a high school student going into the medical field. “People always ask us why we don’t give the money to a ‘local’ hospital,” says Matt. “When your child has a serious injury, Gillette is the best ‘local’ hospital. Gillette doesn’t just serve St. Paul, it serves our entire region.”

Now in its fifth year, the Wren Sprague Memorial Run/Walk is proud to have donated $32,000 to Gillette’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Wren’s family recently returned to Gillette to present a $9,000 check from the 2015 run/walk, bringing that total up to $41,000 (pictured right). “To us, the annual donation represents our love for Wren,” explains Erica. “It’s a way for us to reach out to families in similar situations. Our hope is that we help children recover and return home with their families.”

Wren’s family says they want to keep her run/walk going and hope it will become bigger and more successful each year. “Six years later, people still talk about Wren,” says Erica. “We don't want that to stop. We want people to remember Wren.”

For more information, visit the Wren Sprague Memorial & Scholarship Fund.

Kids and Questions: Talking to Your Child’s Class About Disabilities

Posted On: 09/11/2015

Caroline, mom to a second-grader who has cerebral palsy, received some surprising news upon dropping her daughter off at school yesterday morning. It’s a new school for her daughter, and she’s the only “new kid” in class. Her daughter wears glasses and uses leg braces to help her walk.

“Parents have started asking the teacher what my daughter has,” wrote Caroline on the Cerebral Palsy Resource Group Facebook page.  "I told the teacher that it was OK to tell other parents that she has cerebral palsy but she is just like the other kids… Any other suggestions or just words of support are appreciated.”  Within minutes, she had received numerous comments from other group members — and it became clear the conversation was larger than her.

With school back in full swing, many parents of children who have disabilities find themselves in similar situations.  Elementary school is often the ideal time to educate kids—and their parents—about your child’s condition.  And with bullying a persistent problem regardless of age, being proactive is a great way to nip any negative perceptions in the bud.

  • “Show and Tell” with your child’s class. Bring in baby pictures and any special mementos to share. It will help classmates understand his or her condition—and it will also help them see that, in so many ways, he or she is just like they are. Depending on your child’s comfort level, he or she can join your presentation or simply sit and listen.
  • Meet with the teacher.  Meeting with your child’s teachers before the school year starts is a great way to educate them about your child’s condition, personality, and how he or she   prefers to talk about (or, not talk about) their condition. 
  • Send home a note.  A friendly, informal note introducing your child and addressing common “FAQs” is an effective way to reach other parents. 
  • Read (or write!) a book.  Whether done via crayons or via your home computer, a short book telling your child’s story in kid-friendly language will reach other children on their level.  For ideas, check out this family’s book.  Another great tool is “It’s Okay to Ask,” a new children’s picture book about kids of different abilities.
  • Learn from others. Find a community of supporters – whether it’s online or in person – where you can ask questions like Caroline did.

Meet Us Monday - Carol Sumerfelt, Physician Administrative Assistant

Posted On: 09/11/2015

What is your position and role at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare? I’m a physician administrative assistant in pediatric neurology.  One of my favorite activities is “punting!”  I love those days when parents are calling with their children’s needs, doctors need help with their work, administrative matters are pending,and I’m constantly triaging ongoing and ever-changing situations.  I’m not sure I’d want every day to be totally crazy, but I do enjoy it.  I’ve sometimes thought if I’d pursued a medical degree, I’d have gone into emergency medicine.  There’s a certain adrenaline rush to not knowing what to expect next, but knowing you have to deal with it.

Meet Us Monday - Carol Sumerfelt, Physician Administrative Assistant Do you have a favorite Gillette story or memory? I’d been here only five months when I attended an educational session Dr. Wical conducted on infantile spasms.  Less than two weeks later, I was working late one evening and received a call from a distraught mother dealing with this issue. I paged Dr. Wical, who determined  the child should be admitted the next morning.  At that point, I had absolutely no idea how to arrange an admission!  But we managed through it and the child was admitted and started on medication.  That Christmas her mother sent me a family picture. The child was completely back to being her normal self!

What do you like best about working at Gillette? The people and the purpose!  In the course of my many different careers, I’ve occasionally tried corporate life, but could never stay with it.  I’m only happy working with good people for a purpose that directly affects the wellbeing of those in need.  At Gillette, we have sincere, dedicated employees and we affect the lives of very vulnerable children who truly need us.  I’ve been here over ten years now and still love it.

Do you have any children or pets? Pets galore!  I have 17 parrotlets, one brotogeris parrot, eight society finches and three cats.  They’re a lot of work, but great fun.  Daisy is my tamest parrotlet and loves to have her head and neck scratched.  Then there’s Sunny, who loves conversations, Chip who pulls my hair and Max (the brotogeris) who’s always checking my hands for treats.  Among the cats, Chester swats magnets off my refrigerator and papers off the bulletin boards, and sticks his nose under stacks of paper, flips them up and watches them fly all over. My home is in constant chaos.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Israel! I spent time in Israel some years ago and would love to go back.  I’d also like to visit my relatives in Belgium.  One of my grandfathers was sent to America during World War I when he was very young.  His older brother had a false wall in his shoe repair shop where he hid American flyers who were shot down and smuggled them to safety.  Grandpa was the youngest son but his birthdate was falsified to get him out of the country.

Why Accessible Care Matters When Kids Have Complex Conditions

Posted On: 09/09/2015

A new report by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation says that nearly half of Minnesota children struggle with challenges ranging from poverty and inadequate health care to lack of childhood immunizations. The report, summarized in the Star Tribune on Sept. 8, pinpoints 15 counties throughout our state—most in greater Minnesota—where kids face the toughest obstacles.   

Such obstacles can prove even more detrimental to children who have complex or rare medical conditions and require care from multiple specialists. Often, accessing the care they need can mean hours of drive time, on a frequent basis, to an urban center. But barriers to care are sometimes more than just physical. Our families tell us that driving long distances isn’t the only problem. Many are uncomfortable driving in the city. And then there are travel expenses.

This is why Gillette brings Minnesota kids the care they need —in their home communities.  We operate 18 statewide Outreach Clinics, 15 of those in smaller cities or rural areas in greater Minnesota. It’s all part of our commitment to give children access to the specialty care they need to thrive—no matter where they live.  In fact, more than two-thirds of our families tell us they would have to drive more than 100 miles to receive care if it wasn’t for our Outreach Clinics.

Click here to learn more about Gillette’s Outreach services and view a map of clinic locations.

Changing Times, Unwavering Mission

Posted On: 09/07/2015

Watching the fire in a child’s eyes as he learns to walk again after a traumatic brain injury is inspirational. So is seeing a family rally around a child who has spinal muscular atrophy, celebrating her abilities as she charges through life in her wheelchair. It’s moving to listen to our community of supporters stand behind our kids and say to the world, “Embrace a person’s different abilities and you’ll understand that we’re all more alike than you might think.”

Our long history of treating children who have rare conditions, complex disabilities or traumatic injuries has made us resilient. Not only because we were the first. Not only because for a long time, we were the only. But because throughout the past 117 years, we’ve seen more patients who have rare and complex conditions than anyone else. That depth of experience means that we’re in a strong position to face the next century.

Our patients push us to do things a little differently at Gillette. Our providers integrate their efforts to meet the needs of each patient. We continuously seek ways to improve our specialty care model in order to efficiently provide the best, most patient-centered care. And we advocate on behalf of our patients and families in the community. 

We stay focused on those things that make us different, because they’re also the things that make us stronger.

Thank you for making a difference. Thank you for making us stronger.


Barbara Joers
President and CEO

Brad Keil
Board Chair

Editors Note: Learn more about how Gillette's differences make us stronger in our 2014 annual report.

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