Vivienne and Milka: Service dog brings a smile … and much more

viv_milkaWhen the Liedtke family met Milka, they were not looking for a pet. They weren’t searching for a puppy-sized bundle of trouble either. Nor had they considered a service dog for their daughter Vivienne, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) prior to her second birthday.

But none of that mattered.

SMA, a genetic muscle-wasting disease, had left Vivienne confined to an electric wheelchair and unable to perform many daily activities independently.

One activity Vivienne loved was hippotherapy (therapeutic horseback riding); the owners of the farm where she went horseback riding also bred puggles, a beagle and pug mix. One week, Vivienne’s therapist placed a tiny, newborn puggle puppy in Vivienne’s hands.

Her face lit up. And she was crushed when her mother Helena told her it was time to return the puppy to its mother.

“I love dogs, but I didn’t want one just then. My hands were full with Vivienne and her younger sister Lara,” recalls Helena.

Helena phoned her husband, suggesting he come to the farm to watch Vivienne ride and secretly hoping he would say “no” to the puppy.

She handed him the puppy, and after weighing the benefits for both Vivienne and Lara, the whole family was hooked.

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Supporting community health, one bag of produce at a time

Deb Dickerson patiently waits at Boston Children’s at Martha Eliot for the bi-weekly delivery from Fair Foods, a non-profit that distributes surplus fresh fruits and vegetables at various locations around Boston. It’s raining and the truck is running a little late but Deb, Boston Children’s Hospital’s Director of Family, Youth and Community Programs, stays hopeful as always.

When the truck arrives, Deb throws open the front doors of the health center and greets the truck with open arms. A first peek inside the crates reveals red and yellow tomatoes on the vine, fresh apples, baby carrots, Bibb lettuce and more—all in good condition.
Fair Foods 1The 10 volunteers Deb recruited to help receive, sort and distribute the fruits and vegetables get busy unloading the truck. They are a mix of hospital staff, parents from the Smart from the Start program and residents from the Bromley-Heath housing development next door. Across the board, volunteers are positive, energized and collaborative.Fair Foods 2

Fair Foods 3

Once everything is unloaded, the sorting begins. “If it’s not good enough for your mother, throw it out!” calls out Deb. In the end, over 100 bags are assembled—each with 1 head of lettuce, 2 tomatoes, 2 bags of baby carrots, 4 apples, 6 limes and 8 onions. At the local grocery store, that would conservatively cost $17.80, but with Fair Foods, the bag is $2 or whatever small amount a family can afford to pay. There are no eligibility requirements and no maximum number of bags per family.

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Fair Foods is one of many community programs coordinated for local residents by Boston Children’s at Martha Eliot, which provides primary and preventative care services for children and youth from birth through age 25. “We have been in the heart of Jamaica Plain for more than 40 years providing excellent health care,” says Deb. “We want the community to know that we are also here to help them through our community programs. Fair Foods allows us to better meet the needs of our families who may have trouble getting convenient and affordable access to fresh vegetables and fruits.”

WomaninBlue

One of the families buying a bag today is Yajaira and her 6-year-old son Yeuris, who is making silly faces and playing with silly putty. He peeks into their $2 bag to check out the contents, and pulls out an apple, squealing, “We love apples!”

Yeuris

Every bag sold or given away is a win. “Working directly with this program is very fulfilling,” says Deb. “We’re pleased that Martha Eliot can offer something like this to make the daily lives of residents in our community just a little easier and healthier.”

Learn more about Boston Children’s Primary Care at Martha Eliot.

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Helping your child stay in school during cancer treatment

For kindergartners through teenagers, it’s back-to-school time. And while this annual rite of passage is often met with groans, for children undergoing cancer treatment, this can be a welcome change – provided you properly prepare.

“School serves as a normalizing experience for kids with cancer, because it’s what their peer group is doing,” says Lisa Northman, PhD, a staff psychologist in the School Liaison Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “It’s important for them to know that even in the midst of their treatment, there is a life available to them outside the hospital. They should participate in this developmental milestone as much as they can.”

While every case is different, and certain types of cancer involve longer inpatient stays and medical restrictions, Northman says there are many ways that parents can work with their school and care team to help children return to the classroom on a regular or occasional basis.

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Teens and depression: What parents need to know about treatment

ArmArm (3)Depression is a treatable condition. With treatment, teens can recover and live a full and active life. There is a continuum of depression along a spectrum of mild, moderate and severe.  A teen can move along this continuum depending on their response to treatment. Without treatment depression can worsen.

The factors contributing to and the treatment plan for each teen’s depression are unique. The treatment plan is developed in collaboration with the teen, family and caregivers and providers. Every plan is tailored to fit the unique needs of the teen and is consistently monitored to make sure it continues to be the best path.

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