- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

Thirteen-year-old Freddy Simpson missed Halloween trick-or-treating last year. He was busy packing to come home from a weeklong stay at Children’s National Medical Center in the District, where he was recovering from follow-up heart surgery related to a procedure he had when just 2 1/2 years old.

“He’ll need this procedure again,” Freddy’s father, Jimmy Simpson, said yesterday at the hospital’s inaugural reunion at the National Zoo for heart patients, their families and the medical staffers who helped them.

While Freddy and many children with similar heart problems will always face possible surgeries and resulting scars, advancements in science and medicine are making their lives a little more normal.

“I can’t do contact sports,” said Freddy, before running to see an orangutan.

“I don’t think it affects his life much,” said Dr. Karen Kuehl, Freddy’s doctor, who came to the zoo on a clear, crisp day to see former patients. “The most important things [about childhood] are being a Boy Scout and going camping.”

The reunion, in the Great Meadow section of the zoo, also gave families an opportunity to connect with others who have gone through similar experiences.

“We have a very family-centered care approach,” said Karen Caminiti, a social worker for cardiology patients.

Ms. Caminiti said the idea for a reunion came from social workers, nurses, unit managers and parents who are part of a family advisory board at the hospital.

Alan and Meredith Atkinson, whose twin girls, Mirabel and Sofia, turn 2 years old today, praised the board.

Even before the girls were born, the Atkinsons knew that Mirabel had a heart defect that would require immediate attention after birth and worked with physicians at the hospital to plan the steps they would need to take.

“Our social worker has helped us get through some things that can be problematic in a big hospital,” said Mr. Atkinson, who also praised the entire hospital staff for making them not feel like just another family.

The family’s lunch was interrupted when Mirabel’s name was drawn in the children’s raffle. Mirabel clung to her mother as they hurried to receive a furry, red chair with Elmo on the front.

They were joined by hundreds of other families, doctors and other cardiology-staff members who laughed and talked as they ate burgers and hot dogs, though most of the children were more interested in seeing the animals.

Dr. Gerard R. Martin, chief of the hospital’s Department of Cardiology and a professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, brought several of his children to the reunion.

He said the event was an opportunity to “see the amazing range of stories,” and to “inspire people and give them confidence.”

“You get to establish a relationship at a time when there’s a great need,” he said. “And you get to watch that child for the rest of their life.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide