5 things you can do to help your child cope with needle phobia

needle phobiaIt’s 4 p.m., and it’s standing room only in the Outpatient Blood Draw area. Some children are sitting in the waiting room with their parents, quietly playing games on their electronic devices or watching cartoons on the large TV overhead. Others seem less relaxed, either sitting in tense silence or walking all around the room.

And I am here with Kaitlyn*, a 10-year-old girl with a fear of needles and blood draws. As soon as we enter the waiting room, Kaitlyn turns to her mother and whispers, “How soon until we leave?”

Kaitlyn’s needle phobia had been a persistent problem, and it started to interfere with her medical needs, which is why she came to see me, as a child psychologist.

But many children are afraid of needles to a lesser degree, and may become anxious in the days leading up to a medical visit or take longer to get shots or blood draws because of their fear.

Here are five things parents can do to make the medical procedure go more smoothly.

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Vinny “The Conqueror” battles HLHS

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My husband Mike and I will never forget the feeling of excitement we had the morning we were finding out if we were having a boy or a girl. It seemed like we had to wait an eternity, wondering whether we’d hear the words “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl.”

Finally, the time came — and our nurse let us know we were expecting a BOY! After screeching from excitement and smiling from ear to ear, we quickly realized something was wrong.

Our doctor had noticed the left side of our son’s heart was noticeably smaller than the right, a sign that he had a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or HLHS. With HLHS, the left side of the heart is underdeveloped and unable to properly pump blood.

That day, our world immediately changed. Our minds were racing in every direction, and it seemed like we were literally living in a nightmare. We had plans of shopping for baby clothes and celebrating over a nice lunch, and instead we were meeting with doctors all afternoon and uncontrollably crying. It was this night we named our son “Vincent” (Vinny for short), which means “to conquer.”  We needed a strong name for a boy who needed to overcome so much.

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Catching up with Poppy: Life after an eye tumor

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Poppy with her little sister Hazel (Courtesy of Dana Biagini)

When Poppy Biagini was just four months old, her family got news no parent wants to hear — that she had a rare, rapidly growing tumor in her right eye called a retinoblastoma.

That was almost three years ago. But if you looked at Poppy today, you’d be hard pressed to tell that she’s anything other than your average 3-year-old who loves Curious George, swim class and playing dress-up.

“She knows that there’s something a little different with her eye than everyone else’s,” her father Dana says. “But she’s handling it well.”

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5 tips to help teens stay heart healthy

healthy teen 2As parents, we want our kids to stay healthy throughout their lives. The teen years are an important time to build healthy cardiovascular habits.

In 2010, the American Heart Association set the bold goal of improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent. In setting this goal, they created a paradigm shift from the treatment of cardiovascular disease to the promotion of cardiovascular health. Their recommendation was based on more than a decade of data showing adults who reach middle age without any major cardiovascular disease risk factors have a high chance of staying healthy well into old age. They don’t just have lower rates of heart disease and stroke; they also have lower rates of cancer, memory loss and kidney disease.

What is cardiovascular health? The American Heart Association defines cardiovascular health as having optimal blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose while also maintaining a normal weight, not smoking, being physically active and eating well.

Unfortunately, essentially zero Americans have all seven of these cardiovascular health factors — mostly due to the unhealthy American diet. Only 19 percent of teens and 8 percent of young adults have six of the seven.

As an adolescent medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital, my research focuses on how we can keep teens heart healthy as they transition to adulthood.

My patients and their parents often ask about cardiovascular health. Here’s how I answer some of the most common questions.

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