Every child deserves to grow up happy and healthy. Unfortunately, health challenges can and do occur. That’s why it’s important to get to know the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital. With experts from every pediatric subspecialty dedicated to improving health and wellbeing, Comer Children’s offers a unique approach to family-centered care.
We talked with Dr. Ritu Verma, the pediatric gastrointestinal specialist who leads the section of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition and is the medical director of the Celiac Disease Center, to learn what makes Comer Children’s so special.
Care before birth and beyond
“Our care of a child starts with care for the mother,” says Dr. Verma. “So many issues can be diagnosed in utero before a baby is born, and communication between the mother’s physician and specialty pediatricians is something that happens early.”
The Family Birth Center is located within Comer Children’s Hospital. If a baby needs extra care or needs to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), they are cared for immediately in the same facility — not transferred elsewhere. “Experts are available to care for any complication that might happen,” she explains. “This is something that is not available everywhere.”
Or, if a child is born at another hospital or at home and needs immediate specialized care, Comer Children’s NICU is available — no questions asked. And, if a baby needs additional support after leaving the hospital, Comer Children’s specialists can continue to provide that care. “The very same team takes care of the child on an outpatient basis,” Dr. Verma says.
This inclusive approach is a hallmark of Comer Children’s mission to provide whole-family support. “If a child has a chronic illness it doesn’t just affect that child, but also siblings, parents, grandparents, and even the child’s friends. So, if a child has celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, for example, a team of social workers, psychologists and dietitians will work with the patient, the family and the school to help coordinate care for the child,” she says.
Care as a child grows
As a child with a chronic illness grows, they and their family rely on their care team to monitor and support progress and adjust treatment as needed. At every step they are educated about their disease in a way that is appropriate for their developmental stage. This leads to successful transition to adult medical providers.
“It’s not just up to the parent, but for us to educate the child as well,” Dr. Verma says. “And, just like parents who send their child off to college, we prepare a child for eventually working with adult subspecialists.”
Because Comer Children’s has all the same subspecialties seen in adult health care, kids are able to get to know their pediatrician’s adult colleagues as they move into their care.
“We begin at age 14, 15 and 16 to gently start the discussion about transition,” rather than simply provide a referral on their 18th birthday, Dr. Verma says. This can take place in person and through telehealth visits, too. “This way, parents are confident and can get to know the adult specialist for a year or two. And beyond this transition, the child knows they can still reach out to their pediatrician if they need to,” she says.
Advancing treatment through clinical trials
Because Comer Children’s Hospital is part of UChicago Medicine, it conducts research and clinical trials, giving children access to the most advanced treatments available.
“The clinical trials we do here make personalized medicine possible,” Dr. Verma explains. “If we didn’t have these clinical trials, we wouldn’t learn about the disease and discover treatments and management to have better outcomes.”
What if your child needs specialty care?
The first thing to do is consult with your child’s health care provider. “I’m a parent too, and I know that if you are worried about something, you don’t want to spend a sleepless night worrying,” Dr. Verma says. “Get to your child’s primary care provider and talk about the symptoms. If they have a question, they can call and consult with or refer to us.” You, as a parent, can of course call and make an appointment with any subspecialist.
If your child needs complex care, you have access to a multidisciplinary team of pediatric subspecialists, and can even get specialty care closer to home. There are locations in Hyde Park and the South Loop; in suburban Tinley Park, Flossmoor, Orland Park and Naperville, as well as in Merrillville in Northwest Indiana.
The best part? Pediatric specialists at Comer Children’s work hard to schedule patients quickly. “We work to create an environment where we can strive to provide care quickly and with the most appropriate team,” Dr. Verma says. “Not in a month, but typically within one to five days. We absolutely understand the fears and concerns that parents have when their child is ill and know that waiting for an appointment is extremely stressful. We work to reduce this stress and provide quick expert care for all of our patients.”
Many health care facilities can provide excellent care for children in Chicago and the Midwest. But only Comer Children’s Hospital can bring the “bench to bedside” scientific expertise of the University of Chicago Medicine, combined with their personal, family-centered approach to provide an atmosphere of hope and healing. For more information, visit comerchildrens.org.