January 16, 2020

Pediatric diabetes, palliative care focus of new Friends of Children’s Hospital gift

Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, a volunteer organization, recently committed $1 million over the next three years to be split between two crucial pediatric programs: diabetes and palliative care.

From left are Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt members Vera Lee, past president, Wendy Gatto, president elect, and Leigh Rogers, president, with Steven Webber, MBChB, MRCP, chair of the Department of Pediatrics. (photo by Susan Urmy)

by Nancy Humphrey

For 47 years, pediatric patients at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt have been wrapped in the arms of Friends.

Over that time, the 3,700-member Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, a volunteer organization, has supported the hospital through fundraising, outreach and patient and family support programs.

The group recently committed $1 million over the next three years to be split between two crucial pediatric programs at Children’s Hospital: Diabetes and Palliative Care. The group’s most recent gift was in 2017 — their largest single gift at the time — $1 million over three years to be split between two Children’s Hospital programs: The Program for Children with Medically Complex Needs and Pediatric Cancer.

The group’s other past efforts and contributions include support for a pediatric ambulance, the Music Therapy Program and a quiet room in the hospital’s recently opened 33-bed expansion. Friends continually supports a bereavement committee, a grant program addressing immediate hospital needs and Flashes of Hope, a program that creates powerful portraits of children fighting cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

“The Friends contributions and support for Children’s Hospital over the years have been truly remarkable. From philanthropic efforts to thousands of volunteer hours by Friends members, the group has made a lasting impact on children, families and our pediatric programming,” said Steven Webber, MBChB, MRCP, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, pediatrician-in-chief and James C. Overall Professor.

“Friends has given several transformative gifts over the years, supporting vital clinical programs and advancing research in prematurity, behavioral health support in hematology-oncology and for complex medical care. The latest gift will allow us to provide those same program enhancements and discoveries for children with diabetes and for children entering our palliative care program.”

The Children’s Diabetes Program at Vanderbilt is one of the largest in the country, caring for almost 3,000 children and young adults with diabetes from Tennessee and eight surrounding states at the Vanderbilt Eskind Pediatric Diabetes Clinic and five other off-site locations. About 85% of patients treated in the program have the autoimmune form, Type 1 diabetes.

About one-third of the faculty devoted to pediatric diabetes are scientists performing cutting edge research to improve the tools used to treat Type 1 diabetes, care for the children and their families and develop methods to predict, prevent, reverse and cure the disease, said William Russell, MD, professor of Pediatrics and director of the Ian M. Burr Division of Pediatric Endocrinology.

“Three outstanding young clinician-scientists are poised to make transformative contributions in the art and science of caring for children with Type 1 diabetes,” Russell said. “Support from the Friends of Children’s Hospital will be invaluable for moving their research to common practice more quickly and to apply for highly competitive research grants from the National Institutes of Health and the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation).”

The scientists, Sarah Jaser, PhD, associate professor of Pediatrics, Daniel Moore, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pediatrics, and Justin Gregory, MD, MSCI, assistant professor of Pediatrics, are “exceptional young faculty” who are deserving of the Friends support, Russell said.

“I have been at Vanderbilt for almost 30 years now and watched our programs expand from small-scale local operations to programs that are now nationally recognized not only for the quality of the clinical care we provide, but for their innovation in developing the treatments of the future,” Russell said.

“The Friends of Children’s Hospital are incredibly generous to support research in our programs as they have in other meritorious programs at Children’s Hospital in the past. We are very grateful to the Friends organization for recognizing the merits of what we do and the opportunity to invest in groundbreaking research at an early stage.”

Pediatric palliative medicine is a specialty that focuses on quality of life and helps children with serious medical conditions and their families live their best life. It looks at the whole person — physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological — and addresses anything that detracts from a child’s ability to just be a child, despite their illness.

“In the words of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the goal is to add life to a child’s years, not simply years to the child’s life,” said Tracy Hills, DO, assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics and director of Pediatric Palliative Care.

Palliative care services can begin at diagnosis of a serious medical condition and continue through the duration of a child’s medical journey.

The Pediatric Palliative Care team serves a variety of roles for the children and families seen at Children’s Hospital, including pain and symptom management, assisting with communication among the medical teams and supporting families by helping figure out what’s important to them. They work with children with a variety of serious medical conditions including cancer, congenital heart disease and genetic conditions, some of which are survivable but others that are not.

There are currently two physicians and a nurse practitioner on Children’s Hospital’s pediatric palliative care team. Children are seen in the hospital, in outpatient clinics and at home. The Friends gift will allow the growth of an interdisciplinary team, so they can provide more comprehensive care to the children and families they serve.

“Friends is an incredible organization. Their continued generosity significantly improves the lives of children and families every day,” Hills said.

Friends president Leigh Rogers said the two programs are both deserving.

“Our thoughts, after meeting with the hospital leadership, were that these are two compelling programs involving patients: patients with diabetes who come here from all over Tennessee and other states for the best treatment in this region and palliative care for children diagnosed with serious illnesses, allowing them to live their best lives possible with their medical conditions,” Rogers said.

In addition to providing significant financial support for important programs of care for the hospital’s patient population, “we’re also like the blanket for the hospital, providing some warmth and care in areas that aren’t necessarily part of a child’s medical care — providing meals, hosting bingo night, making holiday crafts, bringing what’s going on outside the hospital into the hospital and providing some sense of normalcy,” Rogers said.