How Comer Children’s Hospital is providing the best possible care to children

When I saw a pinball machine, art supplies and video games in a bright, sunny room, I thought about how much my child would love to hang out in this space. I completely forgot for a second that I was in the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital on Chicago’s South Side. It seemed to me that the patients who were enjoying themselves in the 3,000 square foot playroom had forgotten that same fact.

A commitment to patients

“Those with rare and complex problems come to us because there is nothing we cannot do here, and we also make a difference to the large number of kids who have common conditions, like asthma.”Dr. John Cunningham, Physician-in-Chief of Comer Children’s Hospital.

Providing comfort and care

“The wonderful people from Child Life were always trying to make my time in the hospital more fun and take my mind off of being sick.” — Angela Scavone, former patient.

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“The wonderful people from Child Life were always trying to make my time in the hospital more fun and take my mind off of being sick,” says Angela Scavone, a former patient and member of Comer’s Teen Advisory Board.

I admit that I’m not the most comfortable person in a hospital. Prior to my visit, I anticipated feeling a bit anxious but, to my surprise, that feeling never materialized. Turns out, that’s the goal of the staff at Comer. “We want it to be the best possible experience and we try to make visits short, fluid and easy,” says Jennie Ott, Director of Child Life and Family Education. “We want it to be a positive experience, because we know that what happens in a child’s first experience sets the stage for future medical experiences.”

Ott explained that waiting areas in the outpatient clinics are designed to feel homey and cozy, and not be large, cavernous spaces that can feel clinical and even frightening to kids. I think that they can sometimes feel the same way to adults, too. Not only was I not anxious, I felt downright comfortable during my visit.

There’s an attention to logistics, and parents say they love the seamless care. A child can have a check-up with her primary care physician, have blood drawn or an X-ray taken, and see her specialist, all on the same floor. As a parent, I think this set up is awesome. I don’t think anyone loves making multiple appointments in multiple locations, especially with a child.

That approach also facilitates communication among the 170 pediatricians who provide care in 22 pediatric specialties. Some of the biggest fans of those doctors are the kids they have helped. “My doctors and nurses took the time to really get to know me and could always make me laugh … I am so incredibly grateful for all my doctors, nurses and the staff who helped me through this experience,” says Angela.

Former patient Lindsay Harman’s story really touched me. She and my daughter both share a passion for dance. Lindsay has Chiari-Pseudotumor Syndrome, which requires a shunt in her head to drain excess cerebral spinal fluid. Lindsay says her doctors thought outside the box to allow her to continue to pursue her passion and dreams, and now she’s pain-free when she dances.

“They support you and they cheer you on,” she says. “They think, they research and they continue to look for treatments to make you better and to allow you to continue to be a kid.”

I’m sure that’s what every parent wants for their child, and I love thinking of Lindsay twirling freely thanks to the care she’s received at Comer.

I was impressed and a little surprised that young patients like Lindsay truly appreciate the hospital’s focus on research. In fact, it was the research that Dr. Edward S. Ogata, Director of Pediatric Outreach and Network Development, says drew him to Comer.

“This is an organization of interesting people doing interesting things,” he says “I appreciated both its tradition and history of care for children and families, and that it is so very strong academically.”

“We have national leaders developing the next generation of therapies,” says Dr. John Cunningham, Physician-in-Chief of Comer.

“I am most proud of the standard of care given to children at the hospital. The level of care, compassion and focus on the needs of each individual found here at Comer is exceptional.”

And he is in a position to know, having worked in hospitals around the globe, from Ireland to Iraq, as well as at the National Institutes of Health and St. Jude here in the United States.

Dr. Cunningham says he’s also proud of the fact that the hospital has an impact on pediatric patients who come from both near and far.

“We care for kids who live here on the South Side as well as kids who come from around the world,” he says. “Those with rare and complex problems come to us because there is nothing we cannot do here, and we also make a difference to the large number of kids who have common conditions, like asthma.”

Indeed, Comer offers treatments not readily available elsewhere. For example, it is the only hospital in Illinois and only one of 12 in the nation that offers MIBG therapy, which is one step in a complex treatment plan for children with relapsed or difficult-to-treat neuroblastoma.

And at the other end of the spectrum are thousands of children, not critically ill, who also receive top-notch care at Comer.

Maintaining the balance between research and care is something that is of most importance to doctors, nurses and staff at Comer.

“We are focused on both compassionate and individual care, and at the same time we are bringing exciting development to the clinic as quickly as possible,” Dr. Cunningham says. “I am personally committed to our patients and their positive experience here.”

With statements like that from the Physician-in-Chief, it is easy to see the dedication. And it’s that dedication which keeps families cared for and keeps kids like Lindsay dancing.

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