Author: Steve Coldwell

Heart2Heart: A legacy of mentoring

Alexa Horwitz and Eliot Greene have a lot in common. They’re both high school honor roll students. Eliot is his class president at Belmont Hill School, while Alexa is editor-in-chief of the school newspaper at Buckingham Browne & Nichols. Both are varsity athletes, even participating in similar sports—tennis for Alexa and squash for Eliot. They’re friendly, engaging and quick with a smile. And they’ve both undergone multiple open-heart surgeries at Children’s Hospital Boston, making them perfect candidates to pilot the Heart2Heart at Children’s Teen Mentoring Program.

The program—currently available in Cardiology—matches high school or college students who were born with heart defects with patients currently being treated at Children’s. It’s the first program of its kind involving face-to-face mentoring with both patients and parents. “The questions they have are the same questions we had,” says Alexa. “It’s easier to talk to someone who knows firsthand what you’re going through.”

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The heart of innovation

On February 14, the Innovation Acceleration Program will celebrate Children’s Hospital Boston’s rich history of innovation at the hospital’s first Innovation Day. Of all the groundbreaking discoveries and procedures that have taken place within Children’s walls, few have had the impact of the surgery performed by Robert Gross, MD, one summer’s day in 1938.

“If you look at the history of cardiac surgery,” says Children’s Associate Anesthesiologist-in-Chief Mark Rockoff, MD, who also chairs the hospital’s Archives Program, “it essentially all started with Dr. Gross.”

Gross’s patient, 7-year-old Lorraine Sweeney, from Brighton, Mass., came to him with a diagnosis of patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital heart defect consisting of a persistent abnormal opening between the pulmonary artery and the aorta. In 1938, it was generally a death sentence—one that would likely end with Sweeney dying of congestive heart failure before adulthood. Accepted practice dictated that surgery was not a survivable option. Gross, the chief surgical resident at Children’s at the time, disagreed.

After two years of successful animal experiments, Gross was certain that the defect could be corrected in a human being “without undue danger.” He lobbied for the opportunity to test his theory, despite skepticism from his peers, and direct opposition from William Ladd, MD, Children’s surgeon-in-chief, and Gross’s superior.

Undaunted, Gross waited until Ladd boarded a ship bound for Europe. Then, with the blessing of Sweeney’s mother, he put his career on the line and performed a revolutionary surgery—tying off Sweeney’s patent ductus arteriosus, allowing normal flow of blood through her heart. “Dr. Gross told me that if I had died, he would never have worked again,” Sweeney recalls. “He would have ended up back on his family’s chicken farm.”

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Children’s legal eagles

As an attorney, Kristin Small, Esq., specializes in cases where the legal and health care needs of her clients cross paths. She recently worked with the parents of a 5-year-old child with autism.

The father had lost his job and the mother couldn’t work because of the time she needed to devote to her son’s care. Though the Social Security Administration (SSA) agreed that their son qualified for benefits medically, the family was deemed ineligible because they had “too many resources.” With both parents out of work and no means of income, legal counsel was the last option they thought was available to them.

Their pediatrician referred them to Small, a staff attorney for the Medical Legal Partnership | Boston (MLP) and liaison to Children’s for the newest MLP site in the Children’s Hospital Primary Care Center (CHPCC). Providing care for more than 13,000 children—65 percent of whom are covered by Medicaid—the CHPCC is well suited to host the MLP at CHB. “Our medical and social work staff already spend a lot of time advocating for our patients,” says Joanne Cox, MD, medical director for the CHPCC. “They’re writing letters to utility companies, helping families access food stamps and communicating with landlords about poor housing conditions.” Chronic illnesses such as asthma, cerebral palsy and diabetes are often exacerbated by environmental factors like lack of food, housing, education and employment. A child my be falling behind in school due to chronic illness, or a family may be forced to choose between medicine and food. By teaming with the MLP, the CHPCC can now offer their patients direct access to legal information and support to help them make sure their needs are being met.

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Speaking up for those who can’t

Daad Azar, interpreter and scheduling coordinator for Interpreter Services at Children’s Hospital Boston, seems relaxed in the hectic, often noisy office that manages more than 120,000 requests per year—nearly 200 per day—for interpreters speaking more than 80 different languages. Some days, walking into Interpreter Services can be like visiting a modern-day Tower of Babel, but soft-spoken Azar takes it in stride and manages to be heard over the clamor. “Sometimes I’ve got five phone lines going at once, with people speaking five different languages,” she says.

It’s an atmosphere not unfamiliar to Azar, who grew up in Aleppo, Syria. Called by many “the most ancient city in the world,” Aleppo’s history as a permanent settlement goes back at least 4,000 years. Due to its location on the “Silk Road”—the trade routes that connect Asia with Africa, Europe and the Mediterranean—Aleppo has long been a waypoint for travellers from diverse cultures and backgrounds. As a child, Azar’s playground friends spoke a mix of languages including Armenian, Turkish and Hebrew. She regrets not paying more attention to these dialects when she had a chance. “I could have learned these languages so easily as a child,” she says. “There are just some opportunities you don’t appreciate when you’re young.”

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