Honoring Tim

by Tripp Underwood on April 3, 2014


Tim Packhem touched—and saved—a lot of lives. It’s an impressive thing to say about anyone, but the fact that Tim could affect so many, in so short a time, is what makes him truly special.

Those close to him affectionately knew him as “Tim-bo”—a friendly goofball who was quick with a joke or a hug. The kind of guy who walks up to you on your first day at a new school and invites you join him and his friends at the lunch table.

At 16 years old, when Tim died from severe brain trauma after falling off a skateboard, the number of people who appreciated his carefree attitude became heartbreakingly clear. Almost his entire school came out to honor his memory at the wake. The line, stretching long and silent, snaked slowly past his casket with hundreds of people wanting to tell him goodbye, thank you, or both. Full story »

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Dispelling myths about organ donation

by Tripp Underwood on April 1, 2014

April is Organ Donation Awareness Month, and Boston Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Transplant Center would like to remind people just how important organ donation is to saving thousands of lives, including children. Right now 120,000 people are on the organ donation list, and 1,735 of those people are pediatric patients. (Of all these patients, 18 will die every day waiting for an organ to become available.)

Almost 2,000 young patients are on the organ donation list

Data shows that a majority of Americans are aware and supportive of organ donation, but only about 60 percent actually take the steps to become an organ donor. One of the biggest roadblocks to getting more people to register as organ donors is misinformation about the process. To help clear up any doubts our readers may have, we’ve created the following list of the more common myths about organ donation and explained why they are untrue.

Myth: Doctors don’t work as hard to save patients who are organ donors because there is such a big need for donated organs.

Truth: For all medical professionals, the first and most important goal is to treat and help their patients. What’s more, organ donation is organized and orchestrated through an impartial third party called an organ procurement and transplantation network (OPTN), so a medical team treating a patient has no knowledge or say in how a person’s organs are allocated. In many cases, while the doctors are trying to save a patient they will have no idea if he or she is eligible to be an organ donor.

Myth: I’ve heard of people who were declared dead that weren’t really gone. I don’t want to lose an organ if I still need it!

Truth: These types of stories make for great headlines, but cases of people being declared dead when they are actually alive are extremely rare in the United States. To be extra careful, the medical community has created specialized tests that are performed in order to confirm that a patient’s brain has, in fact, died. Only after the person has been declared dead can the process of organ donation begin. Full story »

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Dennis Rosen, MD is the associate medical director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and author of Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids. If you have a sleep-related question to ask, please email it to Thrive@childrens.harvard.edu.

RosenDennis-1-PreviewlargeQ: My 2 year old daughter is very afraid of the dark the moment we leave her alone. She will happily turn off the lights so we can use a flashlight for shadow puppets, but when I’m ready to leave her and let her go to sleep she gets very upset, insisting I turn on both her ‘low intensity’ light AND her overhead light (or ‘big’ light as we call it).

I have tried everything to convince her that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but she still screams if I don’t leave the big light on. Unfortunately leaving the light on is starting to take its toll—she will sometimes lie awake for three hours after being left to sleep. We’ve tried to compromise by leaving the big light off while keeping the bedroom door open so light from the hallway can make its way into the room, but she insists its still too dark. What can we do to help her?

A: Your concern that your daughter’s exposure to all that light at night may be having an adverse effect on her sleep is well founded: exposure to bright light in the evening sends a powerful message to the brain that it’s still day time, which can delay the body’s desire for sleep. What’s more, the amount of light needed to trigger this response isn’t all that bright.

Fortunately there are a couple of ways to approach your problem. One method would be to simply to put your foot down and force the issue. Even if leads to several hours of crying the first couple of nights, she will eventually learn that nothing in the dark can harm her and drift off on her own.

Another, likely easier way to deal with the issue, would be to start downsizing the light bulbs in both the “big” and “low intensity” lights. For example, if currently you have the equivalent of 100 and 75 watt light bulbs in the lamps, you might switch to 75 and 40. Then in time you can gradually lower their intensity to 40 and 25, until you are able to turn one off completely, then both.

Good luck!

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Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Michael RichQ: My wife and I have twin 6-year-old boys and a 4-year-old boy. Many of the strategies I’ve seen about responsible screen use, digital media, TV, etc. seem herculean for a family like ours. My wife will use commercial-free videos so she can take a break to cook, as well as online videos of volcanoes, jet fighters, etc. to engage the boys. I buy DVDs in German, as we are a multi-lingual household, and I’m trying to teach and maintain German, despite my being away often due to my schedule.  My question is, how can my wife and I make sure that we are only using screens meaningfully when we have multiple children at different developmental stages?

-Managing Multiples, in Philadelphia, PA

A: Dear Managing,

Your question addresses an issue many parents face, namely, how can we manage screen media use so that each of our children’s developmental needs are met, despite being at different developmental stages?

To help you tackle these issues, first look at their 24-hour day and assign time for the essentials such as sleep, meals, family time, school, and physical activity to help you figure out what time is left to potentially engage in screen media. Then, in the times when media are a good option, choose media with a goal in mind, instead of simply as an ‘electronic babysitter’ or what was once called the ‘plug-in drug’.  It sounds as though you and your wife are already doing this by choosing media that will help teach your children a second language (or about something of interest , like volcanoes and jet fighters). Because you are designing their schedules with them, you may be able to plan when media content can be viewed by all ages, as in learning German, and times when content for the older and younger kids can be viewed separately, because the others are involved in different activities. Full story »

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Cochlear implants click for Isabelle

by Lisa Fratt on March 27, 2014

Isabella-IVFive-year-old Isabelle Labriola loves sound. She eagerly chats with her twin sister, loves to sing along to holiday songs and enjoys dancing to music. Sounds click with Isabelle, even though enlarged vestibular aqueducts (the tiny canals in the inner ear) resulted in moderate-to-severe hearing loss in her right ear and severe-to-profound hearing loss in her left ear.

Isabelle’s hearing loss was identified at birth, and she was fitted with hearing aids at 6 weeks of age. Cheryl Edwards, AuD, interim director of Diagnostic Audiology in the Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Enhancement at Boston Children’s Hospital, provided testing and hearing aid management every few months. Results of these periodic hearing tests showed the hearing loss was progressing.

By 2 years, Isabelle lost hearing in her left ear to the point where the left hearing aid no longer helped. She managed remarkably well and developed good speech skills with a single hearing aid in the right ear until 4 years of age, says her mother Vicki Labriola.

“We started to see progressive hearing loss in her right ear,” says Vicki. Isabelle’s otolaryngologist, Greg Licameli, MD, director of Boston Children’s Cochlear Implant Program, together with her care team suggested that Vicki and her husband, Jason, consider cochlear implants for Isabelle, because it was likely that she would lose all hearing in the right ear. She would then be deaf in both ears. Full story »

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nutrition labelFor many parents, the cereal aisle has become a maze of mythic proportions. “Trying to make sense of nutrition labels to make healthy choices for your children is really hard,” confirms Alison Field, ScD, from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine.

Cereal serving-size labels are based on weight, so a serving of a healthier choice like Cheerios is much larger than granola, which may be a less healthful option.  Another case in point: Have you ever tried to understand the caloric and fat intake from a bag of popcorn?

Another challenge that parents face is that the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current Nutrition Facts label is based on information about food consumption gathered during national surveys between 1978 and 1988, when the average American ate less. Full story »

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Being with your kids can be boring: learn to embrace it

by Guest Blogger on March 26, 2014

Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade,  in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

M OKeefeI love my children to the ends of the cosmos. I think they’re adorable, brilliant and possibly the most gifted people on the planet. Sometimes, they say the darndest things— things that make me laugh and things that make them appear wiser than their years.

So, why do the days when I’m home with them drag by?

I’ll tell you why: Because a lot of the time I find being with my children utterly, mind-numbingly boring.

Sophie: “Mom, I have a great idea.”

Me: “Okaaay. What is it?”

Sophie: “I’m going to run around the hallway, into the living room, and back into the kitchen, and you can give me a ticket. And we’ll do that over and over again.”


I used to feel bad about finding this stuff so boring. Shouldn’t parents revel in playtime with their children? But I decided to let myself off the hook. Being bored with my kids doesn’t mean I love them any less—it just means I’m not 4 years old. We have different interests. Full story »

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A Massachusetts high school hockey coach is under investigation following allegations that underage drinking took place in his team’s locker room, possibly with his consent. Dale Dunbar—long-time coach of the Winthrop hockey team and former pro-hockey player—is currently on administrative leave while police and school officials review surveillance tapes to see if he, or other members of the coaching staff, provided teenage players with alcohol or had knowledge of their drinking after a tough season-ending loss in a state tournament.

A police officer driving by the rink noticed that on the night of the big loss there were several lights on and a suspicious amount of movement inside the rink, especially considering it was practically midnight. When he entered the rink’s locker room, he found team members and two coaches, along with empty beer cans. The officer said he smelled alcohol in the air, but he did not report seeing any minors drinking.

The actual events of that night, and whether or not Dunbar violated any laws, will no doubt come to light as the investigation continues. In the meantime, the media coverage around the story could have some parents wondering about the behavior of their own kids’ coaches. Full story »

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