Inside Gillette Blog

Connor’s Journey: An Update

Posted On: 07/31/2014

By: Becky Miller

Editor’s Note: This May Connor Miller was featured in a KSTP Story. Click here to watch it now and then catch up with Connor below.

Connor is an energetic, (very!) opinionated and happy one-year-old.  He has a zest for life that is difficult to explain in words.  Perhaps it is because of the physical challenges he has had to overcome, or perhaps he simply loves life.  Regardless, his energy and excitement are contagious – it is almost impossible to avoid smiling when he is near! 

Connor’s journey at Gillette began when he was just 1-month-old. Throughout the past year, Connor has accomplished some pretty amazing things -- he learned to crawl, a milestone that we were unsure he would ever achieve, he celebrated his first birthday, he learned to walk, and, most importantly, he made it through another surgery at Gillette! 

At our visit with Dr. Van Heest in April, she observed that Connor’s use of his wrist and hand remained relatively limited and unchanged since our previous check-in. She explained that, as a result of his previous injury and surgery, Connor had built up a significant amount of adherent scar tissue in and around the tendons in his wrist and hand. She recommended that an additional surgery be performed to remove these adhesions, in hopes of significantly improving his ability to actively use his left arm and hand.  This surgery, his third at Gillette, was completed on July 11, 2014.  Dr. Van Heest was able to remove a significant amount of scar tissue and we have already seen improvements in Connor’s passive and active range of motion!

After a brief break from occupational therapy to allow his incision to heal, Connor restarted twice-weekly OT visits. As a somewhat stubborn (have I mentioned opinionated?) one-year-old, these visits are proving to be more difficult than they used to be.  As he continues to get older, he wants to play and he most certainly does not want anyone touching his arm! We are extremely grateful for the wonderful care and patience that his OTs, Alex and Lindsey, show toward him during his visits. They know his personality well and are great at finding creative ways to both entertain him and address his therapy needs.

As we think about Connor’s future (which we do a lot!), whether or not he will need additional surgeries is unknown. What we do know, however, is that he has a fantastic team of medical professionals standing behind him to help guide our family in making the best decisions on his behalf.  We are, and forever will be, incredibly grateful for the amazing care that he receives at Gillette!



Meet Us Monday- Nicole Hickman, Registered Nurse

Posted On: 07/30/2014

1. What is your position and role at Gillette? I am the day charge nurse on the adult unit. I am here usually Monday through Friday and work as a resource and advocate for families, patients, and the staff on the floor.  I do a lot of troubleshooting each day to find solutions to questions/issues that arise.  I love this position since I am able to be bedside with the patients at times, but also help a lot with care coordination by working with all the different disciplines at Gillette and with the patients and families themselves.

2. Do you have a favorite Gillette story or memory? Two instances that come to mind are actually patients that were on our unit during the last moments of life.  These patients were put on hospice care on our unit and although it is a very difficult time for family and friends, it can be very humbling and such a privilege to work with patients during this time in their journey.  After the passing of one of these patients, I was able to be present with the family and chaplain as we prayed over a patient after his death.  This moment will always be special to me—to be able to shed tears, mourn, and celebrate a patient’s wonderful life, their transition to the next stage in their journey, and the impact that they made on all the people that surrounded them. 

3. What are some of your hobbies outside of work? My kids keep me pretty busy at home! This summer my husband and I created a bucket list for activities for the summer: camping, a Twins game, the Minnesota Zoo, the Children’s Museum, the beach, mini-put golfing, the Raspberry Festival parade in Hopkins. 

4. Do you have any children or pets? I have two boys – Henry (almost 3-years-old) and Charlie (9 months).  Henry is a non-stop talker and so funny! He makes my husband and I laugh on a daily basis.  Charlie just started crawling and is enamored by our chocolate lab, Meiko. 

5. What is one fun fact about you? I lived in five different states as a kid.  My dad was in the navy, so I grew up as a military brat.  We lived in California, Tennessee, Florida, and North Carolina before we moved to Minnesota when my dad retired.  I think I will always want to be close to family since we lived far away from our extended family for so many years!

Meet Us Monday- Betsy Taylor, Fundraising Communications Specialist

Posted On: 07/28/2014


  1. What is your position and role at Gillette? What is your average day like? My title is fundraising communications specialist, and I write things like brochures and event programs to support Gillette’s fundraising efforts. An average day here includes a good bit of writing, maybe an interview with a family, a few consultations with our talented designers, and brainstorming meetings to help kick off new fundraising efforts. Most recently, I’ve worked on the CurePity Heroes campaign, which asks the public to share stories of kids, adults and groups who personify CurePity. For every submission we receive, CenturyLink makes a donation to Gillette
  2. 2. Do you have a favorite Gillette memory or story? My favorite Gillette memory was interviewing the parents of Jim Grimm, who was a patient here for more than 30 years before he passed away in 2009 at 42. His family has been working closely with Gillette to promote our Integrative Care Fund.  His parents shared memories of their son and insights about how music and massage therapies can complement traditional treatments. When you think of music therapy, you might think of something light like the sound of a gentle waterfall, but for Jim, it was heavy metal music that soothed him. I walked away wanting to do anything I could to help this family meet their fundraising goals.
  3. Do you have any children or pets? Yes! Our son, Charlie, is 2 and hilarious. We have a pug named Mister Tuppence, who’s also a great comedian.
  4. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I’d go to either Florence, Italy, because I’ve always wanted to visit, or Memphis, Tennessee, because I’m homesick for the friends, family and food that I love so much there.
  5. What is one fun fact about you? I got married at Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas in a $16 dress from the Salvation Army. After the ceremony, my husband and I took the city bus back to our hotel and snuck into a luau. It was a budget wedding befitting two poor students, and it was perfect.

For Kids Who Have Disabilities, Keeping Active Means Keeping Healthy

Posted On: 07/24/2014

Jersey Berqual is only 4, but already she wants to keep up with her dad.

That’s a tall order, because he’s a marathoner. And Jersey has spina bifida, which causes weak muscles, a lack of sensation in her legs, and other effects.

Nevertheless, she’s so energetic that she once wriggled out of her leg casts.

Activity Equals Better Health
The Berquals know that physical activity is important to Jersey’s long-term health. They are looking for a running stroller or adapted bike to help Jersey take part in her dad’s training runs.

“But we want her to have her own options, too,” says her mom, Marissa. That’s why Jersey swims, goes to adapted playgrounds and hopes to start adapted skiing next winter.

Regular activity results in better balance, mental health, and fitness. But many people who have disabilities don’t get enough exercise. Obesity rates for children who have disabilities are 38 percent higher than for other children. And adults who have disabilities are three times more likely than others to develop heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

Social Benefits, Too
“The importance of sports and recreation goes beyond physical health,” says Krista Ash, therapeutic recreation specialist at Gillette. “Things like biking and adaptive sports give kids and adults opportunities to be social with their family and peers. That’s huge.”

It’s never too early to start looking for ways to keep kids active. Options might include walking, wheeling in a manual wheelchair, swimming laps, doing water aerobics, or playing adapted basketball, tennis, softball or other sports.

Krista touts the benefits of adapted bicycles, saying that to date she hasn’t worked with a patient who couldn’t benefit from one. Teenagers and adults can get involved, too. “Once a mom came to an adapted bike information session with her adult child, who uses a wheelchair,” Krista recalls. “She said to him, ‘I’m so sorry that you can’t ride a bike,’ and I immediately told them, ‘Absolutely you can!’”

To Learn More
Gillette can help you find resources in your community for beginning or maintaining a physical activity program. To learn more:

  • Email
  • Call Krista Ash or Beth Harmening at 651-312-3138 (for patients 15 and younger)
  • Call Kaitlin Lewis at 651-325-2213 (for patients 16 and older).

Meet Us Monday- Meet Amy Lewis, Systems Analyst

Posted On: 07/18/2014

1. What is your position and role at Gillette? I am a systems analyst in the information systems department supporting Child & Family Services, Gait and Motion Analysis, laboratory and rehab therapies at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.

2. What are some of your hobbies outside of work? Pizza night with friends and their children, school projects with my son, running, and cooking.

3. Do you have any children or pets? I have two children, Owen is 6 years and Aria is 22 months.  We also have a dog named Sammy.

4. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I would love to visit Germany during Oktoberfest.

5. What is one fun fact about you? I have a very loud distinct laugh, I’ve been told that’s good, it makes others laugh.

Severe Epilepsy: How Gillette Clinicians are Improving Outcomes

Posted On: 07/18/2014

By Samuel Roiko, Clinical Scientist

As a regional leader in pediatric epilepsy management, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare treats patients who have some of the most complex, and chronic, seizure disorders seen in children.  We offer our patients state-of-the-art treatments and services to help them achieve the best possible health, independence, and happiness.  Part of that commitment also includes research into things like SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy).

As its name implies, SUDEP is a sudden, unexpected, non-traumatic death in a patient with epilepsy – without evidence of a structural or toxicological cause of death. The SUDEP rate is estimated to be 1.22 out of 1000 patients with epilepsy, but there are many factors that increase the risk of SUDEP. For example, the presence of an underlying central nervous system (CNS) disease, the age of the patient, and the age of onset of epilepsy all increase the risk for SUDEP. 

At Gillette, we believe that every child lost to SUDEP is one too many.  That’s why we were excited to participate in the 2014 PAME (Partners Against Mortality in Epilepsy) conference, held this June in Minneapolis (pictured above).  The goals of the conference were to foster knowledge, improve awareness, and hasten action around SUDEP. It was the second meeting of its kind, where clinical, basic science, and patient/family attendees came together to understand and support each other.

As clinical scientist for Gillette’s Center for Pediatric Neurosciences, I hoped to learn more about the state of the medical and research community regarding SUDEP.  How SUDEP happens is not known. The brain, heart, and lungs all form an intricate, intertwined network, and increased activity in certain areas of the brain can result in a lower rate of breathing, which can lower the heart rate, resulting in a spiraling loss of function. It is difficult to precisely determine what is the primary cause.

Many presentations gave hope with new advances. Serotonin and adenosine are two of many brain neurotransmitters in the brain that have been studied. Serotonin plays a role in heart rate and respiration, while adenosine is involved in wakefulness and arousal. Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), commonly prescribed drugs, are a potential therapeutic to prevent SUDEP. Adenosine activity increases in mouse models of SUDEP, and can be blocked by caffeine. These intriguing findings raised many questions – more indication that further research is needed.

My colleague, Beverly Wical, M.D. emphasized the importance of increasing the awareness of SUDEP, and that we at Gillette are involved in research studies regarding SUDEP. We are actively working with colleagues across the country to form a national consortium to study SUDEP and its prevention. We owe it to our patients!


Gillette Physicians Rank Among Twin Cities’ Best

Posted On: 07/16/2014

Each year, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine’s Top Doctors list honors the Twin Cities top-ranked physicians in more than 40 specialties.  We’re honored that, once again, the list includes a broad representation of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare physicians. Click the links below to learn more about the 2014 honorees who practice at Gillette.

With world-renowned expertise in treating patients who have disabilities and complex conditions, our Gillette physicians are dedicated to helping patients maximize their independence, health and happiness.  They’re similarly committed to the highest standards of patient safety and care.  It’s because of all of these things that families seek out Gillette from every county in Minnesota, as well as throughout the nation and world, for exceptional care and unmatched expertise.

Sarah Jane Schwartzenberg

Beverly Wical

Nancy Mendelsohn

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Mark Gormley, Jr.
Marshall Taniguchi

Elizabeth Reeve

Pulmonary Medicine
Paul Kubic

Richard Vehe

Surgery, Neurological
Michael Partington

Surgery, Orthopedic
Mark Dahl
Steven Koop
Tom Novacheck
Stephen Sundberg
Ann Van Heest 
Kevin Walker

Surgery, Pediatric
Robert Acton 
Daniel Saltzman

Sean Elliott
Joel Hutcheson
David Vandersteen
James Wolpert

Meet Us Monday- Erin Ingvalson, Speech Pathologist

Posted On: 07/11/2014

1. What is your role at Gillette? I am a speech language pathologist working in the St. Paul rehabilitation therapies department at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.  

2. What is your average day like at Gillette? I work primarily with inpatients from the rehabilitation unit.  My job entails helping kids regain skills needed to communicate effectively with others as well as to be able to participate in school.  I also work with kids who have difficulties with eating or swallowing.

3. Do you have a favorite story or memory? My favorite moments at Gillette are being able to help patients and families begin to connect again through communication.  A lot of the patients I see are very confused, disoriented or even not talking when they get to rehab.  There have been many moments where I get to witness patients responding to their parent’s voice by squeezing their hand or speaking their first words again. Those are always very powerful and memorable experiences.

4. What are some of your hobbies outside of work? I love working on home improvements and in my garden.  I also love going to movies, theatre and all kinds of musical performances.  It has been awhile but I hope to be able to be part of a choral group again someday – for now I am an avid shower and car singer!

5. What is one fun fact about you? I originally went to school as music major in vocal performance.   Although I did not pursue this major, the skills I learned have helped me tremendously with a lot of my speech therapy clients.

Gillette Families Advocate for Kids’ Health Care at Nation’s Capitol

Posted On: 07/09/2014

On June 24-25, families representing children’s hospitals throughout the U.S. took to Capitol Hill with a unified mission — to raise awareness, among members of Congress, of the important issues impacting children’s hospitals and pediatric health care today.  It was all part of Speak Now for Kids Family Advocacy Day, an annual initiative of the Children’s Hospital Association. We’re proud that two of those families, the Wittrock family of Burnsville, Minn. and the Harbarth family of Mankato, Minn., represented Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.

The Wittrocks and Harbarths know firsthand the many issues that families of medically complex children often face.  Brandon Wittrock, 17, and Madison Harbarth, 7, are longtime patients of Gillette, a St. Paul-based hospital with outpatient sites throughout the state.  This made them ideal families to meet one-on-one with the state’s legislators, sharing their personal stories and stressing the important role Gillette plays as one of the nation’s only specialty care pediatric hospitals.

“Brandon was a million dollar baby by the time he was three days old,” Sheri Wittrock told members of Congress, referring to the cost of care when her son, Brandon, was born.  “Without Gillette, he wouldn’t be sitting here talking with you today.”

During their time in Washington D.C., the Wittrocks and Harbarths, along with Gillette representatives, received a warm reception from Senator Al Franken, Rep. Betty McCollum, and staff members from Senator Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz’s offices.  

They also had the opportunity to meet a national celebrity—Dr. Jennifer Arnold, a pediatric neonatologist and co-star of TLC’s The Little Couple, who participated in Family Advocacy Day with her husband and two children (Madison Harbarth is pictured with Dr. Arnold and her daughter, Zoey).  

Many thanks to our Minnesota representatives, Children’s Hospital Association staff, and our amazing patient families for a memorable and productive time in our nation’s capitol!

Meet Us Monday- Hilary Scherweit, Camp Get A-Well-A Director & Child Life Specialist

Posted On: 07/03/2014

Camp Get-A-Well-A brings the camp experience to kids in the hospital. In 2013, 382 kids from Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare participated in a weeklong camp at our St. Paul campus. In 2014, we hope to see even more kids thanks to two full weeks of camp!

1. What is your role at Gillette? My role at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is unique. I serve as the director for Camp Get-A-Well-A and I am also a child life specialist at the St. Paul campus one weekend a month. I enjoy working with the multidisciplinary team here at Gillette and learning something new every day!

2. What is your average day like at Gillette? Each day is different. During camp season, you can usually find me in the outpatient waiting room having fun with the campers. Otherwise, I spend a lot of time brainstorming and working out the details for perfect camp themed activities. 

3. Do you have a favorite story or memory? This year at Camp Get-A-Well-A we had an amazing campfire sing-along! Campers were rocking out to some of my favorite songs. This special evening was topped off with s’mores in the Ronald McDonald Family Room. I love bringing the magic of camp to the hospital setting.

4. What are some of your hobbies outside of work? I enjoy spending time with family at our cabin up north. When in the Twin Cities, I love exploring new festivals and restaurants. There is so much to do in our backyard!

5. What is one fun fact about you? I am a farm girl from North Dakota turned city slicker. I love the bustling city and also enjoy getting lost in the quiet, calm nature of the country when I visit home.

Check out more photos from this year’s Camp Get-A-Well-A here!

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