Inside Gillette Blog

Meet Us Monday- Nancy Hefko, Development Associate/Children’s Miracle Network

Posted On: 08/15/2014

1. What is your position and role at Gillette? I am a Development Associate in the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals department at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. I manage fundraising campaigns for national, regional and local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital sponsors as well as other supporters (individuals and businesses). I provide support to partners like Dairy Queen, Costco, RE/MAX, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club to enhance their fundraising opportunities. The most recent example would be the work I did with Dairy Queen and their Miracle Treat Day campaign for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals to build relationships with franchisees for participation and connecting them with Gillette patient families.

2. Do you have a favorite Gillette story or memory?  There are so many great stories. I have the privilege to work with the Minnesota Royal Ambassadors organization and Minnesota Twins for Sparkle Night. A portion of the ticket sales for the Sparkle Night Twins game is donated to Gillette. The Royal Ambassador organization invites those Gillette patient families attending the game to lead a pre-game royal parade on the field. T.C. joins the procession adding to the excitement for all the kids (and parents)! One patient mom sent me a message following the event about her daughter. Her daughter had expressed to her mother that attending this event as a Gillette ambassador gave her a way to celebrate who she is and helped to build her self-esteem. The pictures with smiles said it all. I love my job.

3. What are some of your hobbies outside of work? I enjoy cooking, baking, flower gardening and traveling.

4. Do you have any children or pets? We have five children, two grandchildren and a dog.

5. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I would love to go to Italy or New Zealand. I would not be disappointed with either one.

6. What is one fun fact about you? I love to bake, especially cakes. My kids get to pick their own birthday cake, which usually involves me Googling recipes. It has now become an unspoken competition between them to pick the best. I love it!

Making Physical Therapy Fun

Posted On: 08/12/2014

By Katie Wilkins, Physical Therapist

When a child comes to physical therapy at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, we strive to make it a fun and interactive experience. We want children to try their best, and we work to find activities that they enjoy while strengthening their muscles or learning new skills.

Babies love to play with bright, colorful rattles, balls and musical toys. At all of our clinics we have an abundance of interactive and interesting toys for babies. At times we will ask families to bring in a baby’s favorite toy to make the environment feel more like home. I once had a dad bring in the family’s TV remote control and, as a result, I had the best session working with this particular baby.

 For toddlers and preschoolers, I love to set up obstacle courses. I may have the child start with a wheelbarrow walk, then crawl through a tunnel, jump like a bunny on a mini-trampoline, hop between frog lily pads, practice their balance by stepping over large obstacles, and finish by log rolling up/down an incline mat. When preschoolers or young children are learning to maneuver wheelchairs, I will set up cones with bean bags on top and see if they can navigate through the obstacle course without knocking over the bean bags. Kids have the best imaginations, so the best obstacle courses always contain adventures like going on a picnic, travelling to a princess castle, or visiting the zoo. Creativity and fun are key motivators to young children in therapy. 

Playing outside is always so much fun for kids and a way to show parents activities they can practice more at home. Our Burnsville and St. Paul locations have an outdoor playground. Climbing up ladders and through tunnels is excellent abdominal and leg strengthening. I often practice bike riding outside.  Scavenger hunts outside always include an uphill walk, curbs to climb, and thick grass to tromp through.  Children are often unaware they are strengthening their legs and working on their balance. To the child we may be going on a scavenger hunt, but I can find those teachable moments when the child bends down to pick up a rock to work on strengthening while he/she is squatting.

Adolescents find therapy at Gillette motivating and challenging. At all of our Gillette locations, we have the Wii available to work on balance and strength activities. I often set up cones and agility ladders to simulate soccer, basketball or gym class drills. We will go outside to practice throwing and catching balls, running drills, or walking with a new walker or crutches. I will set up a simulated errand to a grocery store practicing reaching up on shelves and squatting down to put items under the cart.  I often play trivia games or play music while they are exercising on a treadmill, stationary bike or stretching.  I can videotape skills they are learning to help them refine their technique. We strive to create a safe environment for adolescents to practice new skills or return to the activities they enjoy.

 All of our Gillette locations have the equipment, expertise and environment to provide high quality care that is fun and engaging. By providing playful and fun therapy for children of all ages, we are able to help our patients get back to doing what they do best, which is being a kid! 





Care Coordination: Finding the Best Ways to Care for Our Kids

Posted On: 08/08/2014

Gillette has been taking care of children in Minnesota—and across the country and around the world—for more than 100 years. We’ve learned a lot about the best way to take care of kids who have disabilities—and an important part of what we do is share that information. Now the State of Minnesota is helping us spread the word.

The Minnesota Department of Health recently awarded Gillette a three-year, $480,000 grant to identify and test something called “models of pediatric care coordination.” Care coordination is a concept that involves delivering the right care and services at the right time to people who have complex medical needs. In other words, it’s not just about medical interventions. It’s about a methodical approach to bringing together everything a patient with a diagnosis—such as cerebral palsy—needs so that the patient’s health and well-being improves. It also involves strong partnerships between health care and community organizations.

“Care coordination is a hot topic in health care right now, but the term is under-defined and often misused,” explains Holly Bronson, manager of Gillette’s statewide clinics. “Our work will involve helping the Minnesota Department of Health better define what care coordination means for children with complex medical needs.”

The grant—awarded only to Gillette—helps fund, among other things, a licensed social worker, a registered nurse and a scheduling specialist to aid families in their care navigation. When patients need specialty services not available in their local community, for instance, the scheduling specialist will help coordinate multiple Gillette appointments on the same day.

Because of this grant, Gillette will partner with four primary care clinics across Minnesota: Mankato Clinic; Sanford Bemidji Clinic; Fairview Range – Hibbing Clinic; and HealthEast Roselawn Clinic in St. Paul to evaluate the effectiveness of various models of care coordination. We’ll work together to discover how Gillette’s specialty care model can best communicate and integrate with our primary care partners. Then, we’ll work with the Minnesota Department of Health to disseminate our findings across the state.

We are excited for our innovation and expertise to come together as we constantly strive to find new ways to improve the quality of care for our patients.

Meet Us Monday- Mary Maginas, Neurosurgery Nurse Practitioner

Posted On: 08/08/2014

  1. What is your position and role at Gillette?   I am a pediatric neurosurgery nurse practitioner.  I work primarily at the St. Paul campus but also see patients in Duluth and Burnsville.  I help manage pediatric and adult neurosurgery patients in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. 
  2. Do you have a favorite story or memory?  I have had the opportunity meet so many remarkable patients and families—all of them with their own special stories. I have followed many patients in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit after a severe injury.  I love being able to see them throughout their recovery, and continue to follow them years later, to see what amazing progress they have made. Our patients never cease to inspire me.
  3. What are some of your hobbies outside of work?  You can usually find me playing outside with my sons or walking to the park or the lake near our home.  I love to bake and cook and find new recipes for my family to try. My husband and I also enjoy going out to try some of the many unique restaurants we have near us in Minneapolis (when we have time!) 
  4. Do you have any children or pets?  I have two sons ages one and three.
  5. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Greece! I am Greek and love visiting my family and the country of my heritage.  The country is beautiful, the food is amazing and the people are the friendliest people you will ever meet.
  6. What is one fun fact about you?  I was born and raised in Southern California.  I've grown up in Orange County, have had the opportunity to live in San Diego and went to graduate school in New York City.  I love  Minneapolis because I feel like it offers the best of all the places I have lived. 

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!


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