Christmas got an early start for a few dozen patients with tracheostomies and their families at a special holiday celebration just for them at Children’s Hospital.
Hosted by the pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) practice, the Dec. 7 event attracted about 170 people from across the Central Valley, including 35 patients with their siblings and parents. Decorated for the season in red, green and white along with plenty of food, the large conference room buzzed with laughter and good will. A jovial Santa Claus handed out gifts and took photos with the kids, while Children’s beloved mascot, George the Giraffe, cheerfully mingled among the crowd.
“These patients are among our most complicated cases and particularly need specialized pediatric care,” said Dr. Michael Dunham, medical director of ENT at Children’s while popular holiday music played overhead. “We just wanted to do something nice for them.”
Prior to the party, ENT staff asked the parents of those who could attend to provide a wish list for their child. From computer games and stuffed animals, to colorful toys and CDs, each patient received a customized gift when possible. All of the patients’ siblings even received goodie bags filled with candy, crayons, playing cards and more.
But many invitees agreed the greatest gift of all was the party gave the patients and their families a rare opportunity to meet other children with trachs.
“We live in a small town and don’t know many people who have had a tracheostomy,” said Tinamarie Castro of Porterville, whose 3-year-old son Nathaniel Hurtado underwent the procedure at Children’s a year ago because of a paralyzed vocal cord. “We were so excited to come, to see and meet other children who have this too.”
“This is extremely generous and nice of Dr. Dunham and his staff – it was such a nice thing to do!” added Megan Brooks of Hanford. “And it’s great to see these other families.”
Her 10-month-old daughter Ryleigh Brooks, diagnosed with tracheomalacia, received a trach when she was just 2 weeks old because cartilage in her windpipe (trachea) didn’t develop properly and affected her breathing. “The care at Children’s has been phenomenal,” continued Brooks. “We hope that Ryleigh will only have to have the trach until she’s 1 or 2 years old.”
For Leticia Lira of Tulare, the celebration was a welcome chance for her family to take a break and have some fun. Her 13-year-old daughter Carolina Lira was born with cerebral palsy. In addition to ENT, she sees various specialists at Children’s, including pediatric orthopaedics and pediatric neurology. “This is a special treat,” said Lira.
The event was also special for ENT staff. “This was truly a team effort,” said Ann Pettersson, ambulatory general manager for the practice. “Our reward is seeing so many happy faces!”
Tracheostomy is a surgical procedure usually done in the operating room under general anesthesia. An incision is made into the trachea that forms a temporary or permanent opening. The need for the procedure is often due to conditions involving cerebral palsy, congenital anomalies, and face, head and neck issues.
Performing a tracheostomy requires special skill because a child’s neck is anatomically different from an adult’s neck in many ways. The Ear, Nose and Throat practice at Children’s specializes in this and other diagnostic and therapeutic services for infants, children, and young adults up to age 21 with head, neck and airway disorders. Last year the practice treated about 8,200 outpatient visits and performed over 2,700 procedures.