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Reflections on a Decade of Better Sleep for Gillette Kids

John Garcia, MD, pediatric sleep medicine specialist

As a child I developed terrible parasomnia, sometimes called night terrors. I remember frightening my babysitters when I’d partially wake at night. Since there were no sleep doctors 45 years ago, much less pediatric sleep doctors, my poor babysitters were at a complete loss as to what was going on. A couple refused to come back. Those experiences stuck with me and I became interested in sleep disorders during my medical training. I discovered I enjoy the pattern recognition involved in the interpretation of sleep studies. In 2007 I joined Gillette Children’s and a talented team of individuals dedicated to serving children, adolescents and adults who have complex conditions. That same year—on April 7, 2007—Gillette began its sleep medicine clinic.

I can’t help but reflect on how much we’ve accomplished 10 years later. Our skilled sleep technologists are experts in treating the most difficult sleep-related breathing disorders in children. That includes hypoventilation (shallow breathing) that develops with progression of neuromuscular disorders such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, myotonic dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy. We’ve brought new technologies to the laboratory to help patients and families better manage these problems.

We’ve also begun to ask families about sleeplessness. It’s is a major stress on caregivers of individuals who have disabilities. Identifying its root causes and treating it with the help of nurse practitioner Jen Maytum has been rewarding for families and providers alike.

In the past 10 years, we’ve increased collaboration with pediatric neurology as well. The depth of our neurology expertise gives families answers to troublesome and recurring episodes of unexplained movements and vocalizations. Effective treatment of parasomnias and nocturnal seizures typically follow diagnosis.

10 years of sleep medicine at Gillette children's

Surprisingly, the evaluation of hypersomnia, or excessive sleepiness, has become a regular theme in our clinic. Diagnosing a child with hypersomnia is much more common than we once anticipated. Hypersomnia often accompanies traumatic brain injury and myotonic dystrophy—two conditions we see at Gillette.

During the last two years we’ve integrated telemedicine—the diagnosis and treatment of patients remotely using phone or streaming video—into sleep medicine services. Telemedicine is bringing the expertise of our sleep health team to three Gillette locations in greater Minnesota: Mankato, Baxter and Duluth.

I believe patient care is a reciprocal relationship—an exchange between the patient and physician. Families give us their trust. In return, our team provides medical care and treatment. Often a family will come to us having struggled with a child’s sleep disorder for years. They believe that’s just how life is. The good news is that it really doesn’t have to be.

Check out our Facebook Live with John Garcia, MD.