Inside Gillette Blog


Lifesaving Care and Expert Rehabilitation Helps Brianna Defy the Odds

Posted On: 04/23/2015

On March 17, 2014, life changed forever for then 14-year-old Brianna Strzok. As she and three friends drove home from school, they were rear-ended and pushed into oncoming traffic. Brianna’s side of the car sustained a direct hit from a truck driving more than 50 miles per hour.

When Brianna arrived at the Level I Pediatric Trauma Center operated by Regions Hospital and Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, her prognosis appeared grim. She had sustained severe head trauma and multiple skull fractures; major damage to her diaphragm, colon, bladder and other vital organs; broken bones; and many other injuries. “One of Brianna’s doctors later told us that the amount of transfused blood she needed was the most he’d seen in 30 years of practice,” recalls her mom, Missi Langel. “I know in my heart that she would have died at any other hospital.”

In fact, Brianna’s outlook seemed so dire that her care team allowed additional family members into her room to say goodbye.Brianna Strzok Level I Pediatric Trauma Center

“I refused to believe she would never wake up”
Brianna remained in a coma for nearly five weeks while she struggled with the effects of her injuries, along with kidney and liver failure. Although doctors cautioned that she might never recover, Missi and other family members remained optimistic. Then, on Easter weekend, Brianna’s best friends visited her bedside. She emerged from her coma the same day.

Brianna had woken up, but her journey was only beginning.  The once-athletic teen had lost weight and muscle mass, and the damage to her brain was severe. “She wasn’t walking or talking, and had significant nerve damage in her left eye,” explains Missi. “She was awake, but not really awake.”  Brianna soon transferred to Gillette’s inpatient rehabilitation unit and began intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy. Missi describes watching Brianna re-learn everything as physically and emotionally exhausting. Support from Brianna’s care team helped her through. “They treated me like family. They explained the medical stuff, but also helped me understand that I was not alone in this journey.”Brianna in intensive physical therapy, occupational therapy

Milestones take on new meaning
As Brianna progressed in her therapies, she achieved milestones that became even more significant the second time around.  “The first time she spoke, rode a bike, stood up, climbed stairs—all of these things were turning points,” says Missi.  “Everything was a new first.”  Even Brianna’s care team expressed amazement at her continued progress given the extent of her injuries. 

But there were hard moments too.  Because Brianna’s brain had been so badly injured, she struggled with emotional and behavioral issues common in children who experience a traumatic brain injury.  “She went through many stages—first hitting, then swearing, then crying in pain. There were many nights I cried myself to sleep,” remembers Missi.

Through the highs and lows of Brianna’s recovery, hospital staff helped her family celebrate special milestones. For example, on her 15th birthday, they arranged to bring her beloved horse, Hidalgo, to an unused helicopter pad at Regions Hospital to visit Brianna.

“Thank you for saving mBrianna with Dr. Gormley, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcarey baby girl!”
After three months of inpatient rehabilitation, Brianna went home. She continues weekly therapies in her community and follows up with her Gillette team regularly.  “Dr. Song is amazed and thrilled at how well Brianna is doing!” wrote Missi in a September CaringBridge entry. 

Today, Brianna is walking independently, riding her horse, and recently made her high school’s honor roll. Although she still struggles with physical effects of her injuries and short-term memory loss, she has defied the odds by accomplishing more than many people ever thought possible.   

Missi says she’ll be forever grateful to the Regions and Gillette team for bringing Brianna back from the brink of death.  Her message to them is this:  “You treated us like we mattered, like our daughter’s life mattered,” she says. “Thank you for saving my baby girl! I will never forget any of you.”


Meet Us Monday - Analise Ludwig, Audiologist

Posted On: 04/17/2015

What is your position and role at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare?  I am an audiologist and provide hearing evaluations and necessary follow-up for Gillette’s patients of all ages!  My job is to make sure those children and adults can hear everything they need to in order to communicate and live life to its fullest.

Do you have a favorite Gillette story or memory? Recently, a young sibling of a patient staying at Gillette decided to stop by my office window every time he and his parents took a walk down the hallway. Since they walked down the hallway a couple of times a day for several weeks we became fast friends! He would put his face right up to the window, and tap the glass. I made a habit of coming up to my side of the window and making funny faces for him. We both had a good laugh!

What do you like best about working at Gillette?  I love being at Gillette because I get to spend time with awesome kids and families that remind me to be hopeful and optimistic every day.  My patients and coworkers inspire me to work hard and always do my best.

Do you have any children or pets?  My husband and I have two young boys - Bennett and Felix.  They sure keep us busy these days!  We also have two dogs – Sugar, the French Bulldog and Pico, the Chihuahua.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Outside of work, I spend time enjoying all of the great activities near our home in Como Park. My family loves walking and biking around the lake, going to the zoo and swimming in the neighborhood pool. I’m also a big music fan – my kids and I have dance parties in our living room! 

What is one fun fact about you?  Every year, as soon as the snow melts, I switch over from driving my car to commuting to work on my yellow scooter!  Don’t be surprised if you see me headed in to or out of the audiology office with a black motorcycle helmet on.


Birthday Parties and Pool Therapy: My Volunteer Story by Joni Purrington

Posted On: 04/14/2015

I love working with children and their families, and I have the honor of being a volunteer and former employee at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare.

Volunteer Birthday Parties at Gillette Children'sI started with Gillette as a volunteer in the pool at the former Lake Phalen facility. In 1981, I became an employee, joining Gillette as the first director of pool therapy. I hold a doctorate of physical therapy degree, and I believe that water is an equalizing medium for a lifetime of fun! When you see a group of children having fun in an aquatic setting, there is little difference between those who have special needs and those who don’t.

Although I no longer work at Gillette, I began volunteering because I wanted to assist children who have differing abilities and educate them on how to be safe while enjoying the water. Since then I have served as a member of the fundraising organization Friends of Gillette, helped with fundraising events, and thrown monthly birthday parties for Gillette’s inpatient kids at the St. Paul campus.  

Planning the monthly birthday parties brings me a lot of joy. I work with Gillette’s Child Life staff to find out if any inpatient kids have a birthday coming up. I then develop a party theme for them. It’s the little things—like finding out if the birthday child is a boy or girl and learning their interests—that make planning the parties fun. On birthday party nights, all inpatient kids are invited. I bring in crafts for special projects and an ice cream cake from the North St. Paul Dairy Queen.

My goal is to plan activities that will interest children of various ages. I bring crafts that allow patients to complete a project as independently as possible—from choosing the activity to choosing the materials to completing the project. The kids can decide whether to make something for themselves or for someone else. If a patient has siblings, I bring enough materials so that everyone can participate.  Parents often enjoy working on the activities, too!

I’m inspired to volunteer as part of my philosophy of working with all children in our community. I continue to volunteer at Gillette because of the hospital's mission and vision. I’m inspired by the dedication of the hospital's leaders and by Gillette’s research efforts, leading edge medical care, and exemplary care for anyone who seeks the organization’s medical services.

And I’m really looking forward to Gillette’s new therapy pool opening later this year!


Meet Us Monday – Jacki Shugart, Rehabilitation Therapy Support

Posted On: 04/13/2015

1.) What is your position and role at Gillette? I work as therapy support in Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare’s Rehabilitation Department.  You’ll see me helping transport patients and their families from the inpatient rooms to their therapy sessions, along with assisting the therapists with their daily needs.  I’m also a Child Passenger Safety Technician and part of the transport team that completes consultations with families on how to safely transport their child home.

Meet Us Monday – Jacki Shugart, Rehabilitation Therapy Support2.) Do you have a favorite Gillette story or memory? One of my favorite memories was when I was working with a patient who had been recovering from an unfortunate accident. I watched Gillette’s speech therapists help heal this patient’s voice and the progress was truly remarkable.  Eventually, the patient was finally able to find their voice again and managed to sing the song “You are my Sunshine.”  Just about everyone around began to tear up because of how special that moment was. 

3.) What do you like best about working at Gillette? I like helping patients and their families through some of the difficult situations or transitions they might encounter.  I especially like working with inpatients and their families since often times they are here for extended period. That means I get to know them even better on a personal level. Knowing that I made a difference by making their stay easier is incredibly rewarding.

4.) Do you have any children or pets? My husband and I are new parents; we have a 4-month-old baby girl named Gia! We also have a cat named Hubert and a little Havanese dog named Arnold!

5.) What are your hobbies outside of work? I play in adult volleyball leagues and love going to see new movies with my husband.  I also enjoy spending time with my parents –if I’m not at home with my husband and daughter, you can almost always find us at my parents’ house.

6.) What is one fun fact about you? I’m 6 feet tall and I played college basketball!  I’m always up for being challenged in a game of PIG.


Lawnmover Safety Tips

Posted On: 04/10/2015

Lawnmover Safety Tips - Gillette Children'sWith summer fast approaching, Minnesota homeowners soon will dust off their lawnmowers and begin the weekly routine of cutting their grass. During this time, it’s important to keep in mind the dangers that lawnmowers can pose to children. A lawnmower blade’s damage to still-developing bones and growth plates can put children at risk for limb-length discrepancies and permanent orthopedic deformities. Help prevent serious injuries by following these guidelines:

Before You Mow

  • Keep children indoors while mowing.
  • Never allow a child to ride on a riding lawn mower with the operator.
  • Pick up stones, toys and debris from the lawn to prevent injuries from flying objects.
  • Never allow children to play on a lawn mower, even if it is turned off.
  • Never mow barefoot – wear shoes, not sandals.
  • Use eye and hearing protection.

Who Should Mow?

  • Children should be at least 12 years-old before operating any lawn mower.
  • Children should be at least 16 to operate a riding mower.

While Mowing

  • Only use mowers with automatic shutdown abilities, such as those with a control that stops motion when the handle is released.
  • Don’t mow in reverse.

* These safety tips are based on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement, Lawn Mower Injuries to Children.


Meet Us Monday – Cate Pardo, Public Relations

Posted On: 04/06/2015

Cate Pardo, Public Relations at Gillette Children's

What is your position and role at Gillette? As a member of Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare's Public Relations team, I work with patient families and clinical staff to share stories about our patients’ achievements, along with stories about the amazing work done at Gillette, with members of the media.  These stories raise awareness of the unique role Gillette plays in the treatment of children who have disabilities. Even though I don’t work on the clinical side, I feel so fortunate to be able to connect with our patients and families on a daily basis. It’s incredibly rewarding!

Do you have a favorite Gillette story or memory? One of my favorite memories was from last spring, when Lady Gaga visited Gillette.  She is truly a class act.  I remember her greeting families in the playroom of our Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit—these are families of kids facing lengthy and challenging recoveries from major surgery or injury. She spoke genuine words of encouragement and then sang Born This Way, moving many to tears. It was an awesome moment.  Gaga also extended her visit to allow time with every single patient—in many cases, singing to patients at their bedside. I was impressed not only with Gaga but with the true team effort—including nursing, Child Life, and others—that made the visit an overwhelming success.

What are some of your hobbies outside of work? With two young kids, I don’t have a ton of spare time.  When I do, I enjoy hanging out at my parents’ lake home in Hudson, spending time with family and friends, and singing karaoke (my favorites are Dixie Chicks and Indigo Girls songs).  I also enjoy cheering for the Green Bay Packers—mostly when they play the Vikings.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I would love to visit Maui or anywhere in Hawaii for that matter.  My husband and I also hope to visit Ireland and Scotland once our kids are older.

Do you have any children or pets? I have a 3-year-old son named Gavin, a 6-month old son named Beckett, and an 8-year-old dog named Dante.

What is one fun fact about you? I love The Walking Dead and I’ve learned a lot of handy survival tips from watching it!  If zombies ever do walk the Earth, I’m the gal you want to hang out with.


Meet Us Monday – Katy Noack, Registered Nurse

Posted On: 03/30/2015

1. ) What is your position and role at Gillette? I am an evening charge nurse on the Adult Unit at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare and am lucky to be part of a fantastic care team. My role is to help coordinate care for our patients and families from the moment they come to my unit until they are discharged. I also serve as a resource for all patients, families, and Gillette staff during the evening hours to ensure we provide the best possible family-centered care. My role varies and changes every day, but I ultimately strive to be a team leader and help advocate for our patients and their families.

Meet Us Monday – Katy Noack, Registered Nurse 2.) Do you have a favorite Gillette story or memory? This is embarrassing to share but it will always stay with me as a favorite moment. To provide some background, I am a huge Minnesota Wild hockey fan. During my first year at Gillette, I was lucky enough to be working when their mascot, Nordy, stopped by for a visit. Having the chance to meet Nordy was basically a dream come true. I gasped, and then quickly tried to cover it up because he was there to visit our patients, not me! Nordy heard my excited response and came right over. My face turned tomato red and I could barely talk to him but he gave me a big hug. This happened right outside my patient's room where he was audibly laughing. In the end, I'm glad my patient was able to witness my unplanned antics!

3.) What are some of your hobbies outside of work? Anything that involves being outside and active! I love to run, bike, rollerblade and do any kind of skiing. I'm currently training for a trail race and Grandma's Marathon. I'm blessed to be able to spend time with family – especially my nieces. I also love when my Gillette crew gets together outside of work!

4.) Do you have any children or pets? Not yet! My husband Ryan really wants a Husky & a son (or daughter that plays hockey).  

5.) If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? I would love to go back to Italy and Portugal and travel to Ireland and New Zealand – but really my list is endless. Since my husband's family is Irish, and my family is Portuguese/Italian, we really love getting back to our origins.

6.) What is one fun fact about you? I secretly love to write. Writing a book is on my bucket list.


All About Integrative Care at Gillette

Posted On: 03/27/2015

By Becky Schauer, Registered Nurse

Holism is a word that is often thrown around but frequently misused.  Holism actually means looking at the whole of a person and seeing that each part is interconnected.  In a holistic model of care, each Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare Wellness Modelcircle represents an aspect of one’s level of wellness.  These circles include: physical, psychological (emotional), social, and spiritual aspects of health.  All of the circles in one’s life are interrelated and connected.  At Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, we use the phrase ‘integrative care’ to describe health care that aims to use holism as the model of care delivery.  It combines both conventional treatments (Western medicine, e.g. medication, surgery) with complementary ones (non-Western, e.g. massage, acupuncture) and acknowledges that each play vital roles in one’s health. 

 Gillette’s Integrative Care Committee works to explore ways we can enhance and optimize our patients’ levels of wellness.  This is an exciting time for Gillette, as we’ve continued to add new options of integrative care for our patients.  Areas of focus include aromatherapy, massage, adaptive yoga, acupuncture, osteopathic manipulative therapy, and healing touch. We also focus on providing care for caregivers.  

In the past year, a group of Gillette employees attended a massage certification course to learn the skills needed to bring bedside massage to patients on the hospital’s inpatient units and at Gillette Lifetime Specialty Healthcare, our adult clinic.  We have also begun to educate our staff on the concept of mind-body connection and how to integrate this mindset into their daily care of patients.  We have trained 20 members of our staff in adaptive yoga and mind-body awareness. We’re also formalizing our aromatherapy policy, as we have found this modality to be well-received among patients and families.  Finally, several of our physicians are involved in Gillette’s integrative care initiatives. Scott Schwantes, M.D., is certified in medical acupuncture and Todd Dalberg, D.O., is certified in osteopathic manipulative therapy. These certifications complement the medical care they provide in their role as physicians. 

We hope that our patients will be as excited as we are to explore these new integrative options and their role in enhancing the exceptional care offered at Gillette.  Please contact your medical provider to find out more.


Meet Us Monday - Tom Novacheck, M.D.

Posted On: 03/23/2015

1.) What is your position and role at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare? I am a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and director of the James R. Gage Center for Gait and Motion Analysis. I work with our gait lab team — which includes engineers, technicians, and physical therapists — to gather information to understand problems with movement.

2.) What has been one of your most rewarding moments at Gillette?   The most rewarding moments are developing long-term relationships with children and their families. I have some families that I’ve been seeing for more than 20 years.

3.) How do you fit into caring for those who have cerebral palsy?  As an orthopedic surgeon, I focus on problems that impact a child’s bones and joints.  For children who have cerebral palsy, even when spasticity is diminished, they still can have problems with their bone and joint alignment. We want their muscles to have the best capacity that they can, so correcting a bone and joint deformity will help them with that.

4.) What are the benefits, both professionally and for our patients, in working with an interdisciplinary team?  Care for children who have cerebral palsy or other disabilities needs to be comprehensive because certain medical conditions can affect many different functions. That could be communication, it could be eating, it could be mobility, it could be problems with seizures, or learning. We offer all of those services here as part of a team in one organization. And because my colleagues and I know each other, I can trust that my patients are going to receive good care - and caring care – with any specialist they see. Then I can concentrate on what I think I do best.  And we all know that no one can be the best at everything!

5.) What innovations or advancements have you seen that benefit our patients?  Our Gait Lab is one of the best in the world and was the first to be accredited.  There are only 10 - 15 accredited Gait Labs in the country.  Accreditation indicates high quality and also dedication to patient care. Our Gait Lab also has a tremendous amount of experience. It’s one of the two or three oldest Gait Labs in the country – and certainly one of the busiest in the country in terms of the number of patients we see each year. With that comes a lot of experience and understanding of our patient population.

6.) What advice would you give a parent with a child who has cerebral palsy?  In my practice, it’s not very common that I’m telling the child or the family that “you have cerebral palsy.” They already know that, and that can be a devastating thing to hear for the first time.  From there, it’s time to pick up the pieces and say, “Okay, you know that you have cerebral palsy.  Let’s make sure you understand what cerebral palsy means. Now what are we going to do to help?” Most people gain comfort from knowledge. We try to educate, answer questions, clear up misconceptions — and because families see all of us Gillette specialists working together, they’re not getting this piece of information from this person, that piece of information from another person. They’re getting all of it together from a highly coordinated team.

7.) How and why did you become an orthopedic surgeon?  I went into orthopedics because I like mechanical things and I like sports.  However, I did not know that I wanted to work with pediatric patients. Within two weeks of starting my pediatric orthopedics rotation during my residency, I went home and told my wife, “I know what I want to do.” It was the opportunity to influence the way children grow and the opportunity to work with kids and their families.


My Gillette Story by Jessica Boerboom, Mom to Joe

Posted On: 03/20/2015

How would you describe your child to someone who hasn't met him or her?

Joe is 8 years old and in second grade. He is the sweetest guy!  He has an engineering-type brain — he wants to know how stuff works, and he questions and processes constantly. At the same time, he can be a goofball!  Joe also loves to read. He’ll read anything from Ninja Turtles books to books about Abraham Lincoln.

How did your family come to find out about Gillette?

The summer before Joe started kindergarten, we began to notice he couldn’t keep up with other kids. I remember being at a waterpark and watching him climb a set of circular stairs. All the kids were passing him and my girlfriend asked, “Do you think he’s declining at all?” Later that summer, on a trip to Mall of America, he fell seven times. We saw his pediatrician the day before a 10-day family vacation to Boston.  She asked him to climb the stairs without using the handrail. He told her, “I can’t — I will fall.”  They did a blood test and said they would be back in touch in about a week.  When the phone rang the very next day, I knew something was wrong. They told us they suspected muscle disease, and even mentioned muscular dystrophy, and told me “our expertise ends here.”  They called Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and, due to the urgency, we were able to get an appointment right after we got home from our vacation. It was the longest 10-day vacation ever, but we were blessed to be with family.

We had to wait six weeks for blood and genetic testing to confirm Joe’s diagnosis. It was the longest six weeks of my life.  Finally, it was confirmed that Joe has Becker muscular dystrophy.  Being newly diagnosed is an agonizing time period. That’s why, today, I’m a contact at the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) so I can help provide newly diagnosed families with emotional support.

What treatments and services has your child received at Gillette?

Joe sees Dr. Stephen Smith for neurology and Dr. Mark Gormley for physician medicine and rehabilitation. He wears ankle-foot orthoses at night and he’s done some physical therapy to work on mobility at Gillette, too. During one of our first visits at Gillette, we were connected with representatives from the MDA so that we could take advantage of their services and resources, such as a loaner stroller for Joe, and most recently, a scooter.

What has your experience at Gillette been like for your child and family?

Everyone—from Dr. Smith, to Dr. Gormley to Joe’s neuromuscular nurse, Kristin Morgan, is really great. We especially love Kristin. I think it’s wonderful we know she will be Joe’s nurse at every appointment. Kristin will call us 3 to 4 weeks before Joe’s next appointment just to see how he’s doing and if we have concerns so she can have answers ready at our next visit. We like all the familiar faces. Gillette knows our family and knows Joe. When Joe has an appointment near his birthday, they remember it and give him a gift. It’s a comfortable place for kids and we feel welcomed at Gillette.

What about your child makes you most proud?

Joe knows his own limitations, but he never complains. He just rolls with it. Joe has some tough days, but he is a really positive kid who takes it all in stride. He’s doing good—as best as he can be doing.


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