The Children's Institute Blog

Behavioral Health Unit Celebrates First Anniversary

Posted by The Children's Institute - Aug 08, 2017

One thing hasn’t changed since our state-of-the-art Behavioral Health Services inpatient unit opened last year.

“The design of the program is meant to acknowledge the interaction between physical health and behavioral health – our goal is to be able to treat the whole child in a holistic way,” said Dr. Aileen Oandasan, Medical Director of Behavioral Health. “That’s sort of the push in behavioral health and in healthcare these days … and only one or two other places are developing this in a specialized setting.”

Or there’s the way Director of Behavioral Health Services Tammy Marsico puts it.

“We have a great philosophy and design of services,” she said. “We’re going to refine that in our second year.”

The pediatric unit, a 24/7-run integrative program with 16 beds that had more than 200 admissions in its first 12 months, will focus on keeping up a census, expanding mindfulness therapies, and continuing to build and invest in a frontline staff that will lead the unit’s mission in coming months, they said.

“We’re very aware as leadership we want to have a positive culture,” Tammy said. “And we have people here who make great contributions, who share ideas, who create protocols.”

And then there are patients, an integral part to the lifeblood of the fourth floor at The Children’s Institute. It is the interaction between staff and patients, who by definition are finding themselves in a crisis situation, that keeps the unit going day-to-day, one mother said.

“I believe the staff is extremely caring and supportive – and they went above and beyond to assess our needs, the needs of our child and our family,” said the mother, who preferred to remain anonymous to protect the identification of her child. “The counseling staff offered us strategies to help us move to a better place. Truly, the quality of care was exceptional.”

Intake specialist Courtney Hindmarch and Case Management Liaison Crystal Miles said, while other places they’ve worked have talked the talk about keeping kids in crisis connected to services – even after they check out of inpatient units – The Children’s Institute walks the walk.

“For a lot of people, inpatient behavioral health units can be scary,” Crystal said. “At the end of the day, they’re human beings. They’re people who deserve our compassion. They’re just kids.”


Having Heart For A Child With Autism

Posted by The Children's Institute - Aug 04, 2017

Cung Sang recently had a heart transplant following an intense viral attack on that organ. But anybody who’s ever heard him talk about his son, Stephen, a six-year-old who has autism, will say there’s nothing wrong with his heart.

“My son? I never thought he’d put his own shoes on,” said Cung, who also is the father of an eight-year-old daughter. “When he did that, I almost cried. When he started talking … I was so happy.”

Stephen was diagnosed with autism right before he turned three.

“He didn’t speak, he didn’t talk,” his father said. “[It’s like] he doesn’t want to talk to anybody.”

Therapy at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh is starting to change that. In addition to occupational therapy, Stephen is learning basic communication skills like how to request preferred objects, speech-language pathologist Kelly Coburn said.

His father, and the support he provides Stephen in therapy sessions and at home, is a big part of his progress, Kelly said.

“It’s clear to see how committed his father is to his well-being and his progress. He looks for ways to get the whole family onboard,” she said.

One way Cung said he provides support to Stephen is by sticking to his guns.

“If I can see he can do this stuff, I never help anymore, even if it takes 15 minutes,” he said. “I give him so much time. I prep him. I lead the way.”

And there is progress. Cung said his son recently started writing words and the boy was so excited, he wrote them all over the family’s walls.

“B-I-G – that’s the word he learned and he writes it everywhere,” Cung laughed.

Stephen, who enjoys playing on the iPad and iPhone, and jumping on his bed at home, “is so happy when he’s in therapy,” Cung said.

And Cung is happy about his therapy, too.

“OT, speech – they’ve done so great,” he said. “At first, I had no idea how I was going to help my son, how I’m going to get him to talk. The Children’s Institute, they showed us how to communicate.”

“He’s started to request things,” Cung added. “At OT, he’s learning to take his shirt off, put his shirt on. All these little things add up. Right now, we are in good hands.”


Students Go Under The Sea At The Day School

Posted by The Children's Institute - Jul 26, 2017

There was no shortage of imaginary aquatics at The Day School’s sea-themed, large-group activity Thursday morning.

As one student fished for a plastic Dory toy in a water-table bowl, another tackled a climbing wall, complete with paper fish, dubbed “Swim To The Surface.” As a crowd of kids assembled to draw on rainbow fish and others tilted bottles filled with colored water to read messages such as “TDS rocks” and “Be happy” inside, teacher’s aide Sarah Bana extended a red LED light-strand to a student and laughed, saying “Hey, touch a jellyfish!” Read More...

Coach Dave Gray Inclusive Sports Camps Inspire Community

Posted by The Children's Institute - Jul 24, 2017

Coach Dave GrayIt's hard not to get inspired by Coach Dave Gray.

Sitting in a baseball dugout at Blueberry Hill Park in northern Allegheny County, he talks about his love for fitness and sports - not in terms of bases-loaded hits, hat tricks, or Hail Marys, but, instead, about self-confidence, problem-solving and, above all, community.

"I want to make it a mission every day to connect with as many kids as I can - and the way I do that is through fitness and sports," Coach Dave said. "90 percent or more of the coaches out here, they've come through my program. They know what to expect. They know what the kids expect. They know how to be leaders, mentors for these kids. And, most of all, they understand that aspect of community - to give back. That's such a huge portion of what we do here."

About 235 campers and 35 coaches are taking part in Coach Dave's recent week-long sports camp at Blueberry Hill Park, which The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh is helping to co-sponsor, and more are set to attend when the camp reconvenes in August. Coach Dave's CDG Sports also has organized community camps in Cranberry and birthday parties, among a host of other activities, for the past 15 years. Read More...

Girl Scout Cookie Donations Deliver Joy and Strength

Posted by The Children's Institute - Jul 19, 2017

Nearly 500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies donated recently to The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh have a story behind them.

Ethan Milliron, seven weeks before his wedding, was given mere months to live when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer.

"We made it way further and that was a wonderful thing," said Suzanne Ruggieri, his wife, who later remarried. "He was told he'd never have children. Emily was a surprise and a blessing."

Though Ethan did not live to see his daughter become a Girl Scout, the organization figured large into the family's story: during chemo treatments, Ethan would eat so many Girl Scout cookies for strength, he'd go through boxes and have nowhere in the hospital to find them.

Emily Milliron Ruggieri was six when her mother told her the story of the cookies.

"I couldn't comprehend that they'd run out of cookies," Emily, who turns 10 in August, said. "I said, 'Why can't you buy more?'"

Then came the idea: donating cookies in her father's memory to local hospitals and organizations so children in care would never run low on the supply. During her first year, she planned to raise funds to buy and donate 200 boxes. The final tally? 3,400 - with donations from all 50 states and 22 foreign countries. This year, she topped 7,200 boxes, bringing the four-year total to 22,000 boxes. Read More...

Doctor Spotlight: Mary Louise Russell, MD

Posted by The Children's Institute - Jul 07, 2017

We launched our new "Doctor Spotlight" series by featuring Dr. Scott Faber, Director of Developmental Pediatrics at The Children's Institute. Today, we're excited to put the spotlight on another amazing staff member - Dr. Mary Louise Russell, Pediatric Rehabilitation Physician. Check out the Q&A!

Dr. Mary Louise Russell - HeadshotQ: When did you start working at The Children's Institute?
A: Actually, I have worked two "stints" at The Institute. The first was from 1989-2001; I worked half time at The Institute and half time at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. My second "stint" began in 2012; I now work only at The Institute.

Q: Where did you grow up?
A: Beaver Falls, PA

Q: As a child, what did you want to be?
A: An art teacher. 

Announcement from our Board Chair John Thornburgh

Posted by The Children's Institute - Jun 20, 2017

Dear Friend of The Children's Institute,

For more than a century, The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for children, young people, and their families by providing a specialized continuum of services that enables them to reach their potential.

Our national recognition as the go-to resource for helping children with a variety of unique needs is due in large part to our extraordinary staff and physicians and our wonderful community support, but also to the strong and dedicated senior leaders who have led our organization over the years.
Today we are excited to announce the next chapter in our organization's leadership, as The Children's Institute has selected Dr. Wendy Ann Pardee to assume the role of President and CEO, effective August 7.

Wendy will succeed our long-time CEO David Miles, who has served The Children's Institute for 40 years in various roles, including as a teacher in the organization's Day School, in management positions for inpatient and outpatient services including Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, among others. David assumed the role of CEO in 2003. Under his leadership, the organization achieve many operational and financial improvements, doubled the number of children and families served, and completed two comprehensive fundraising Campaigns totaling $42 million.

We greatly appreciate David for his decades of dedicated service. He is committed to working with Wendy to ensure a smooth transition. Read More...

Father's Day Spotlight: Chad Bender

Posted by The Children's Institute - Jun 16, 2017

Chad Bender’s daughter, Alea, wouldn’t eat, leading to G-tube feedings when most children are learning to crawl. Then, she came to The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh.

“This was all new to me. I didn’t even know kids had problems with feeding until my daughter,” Chad said. “It was a very eye-opening experience.”

But the fact that Children’s Institute helped Alea learned to eat – “Now she’ll eat anything you put in front of her,” Chad says – is not the reason we’re profiling Chad today in honor of Father’s Day.

After his daughter had two inpatient visits, Chad, who was a steel mill water treatment worker, decided to change course in his life. He went to school at Community College of Allegheny County’s Boyce campus and pursued a career in healthcare as a Certified OT Assistant, or COTA. He even came back to the very place his daughter was treated, joining the Children’s Institute family on April 21, 2014.

“I now can help people the way they helped me and it tends to relax parents a little bit,” said Chad, who works at our Norwin Hills satellite and fills in on some Saturdays at the main Squirrel Hill campus. “I told one parent, ‘You’re staying in my room.’ She said, ‘You don’t know how nice it is to have a therapist who’s been there and done this as a parent.’ I might not know what they’re going through specifically, but I can relate.”

“He is a natural helper and therapist. His caring, warm and inclusive nature was probably helpful in his former work and team relationships, as well as now,” said Lorelli Moser, who heads the OT department. “Chad fulfills many ‘occupations;’ one is as a therapist and one is as father. Each occupation informs the other one. As a therapist, I think being a father helps him with ‘street cred’ with other families, and increases his effectiveness in those engaging family-therapist relationships.”

His wife, Marcie – they celebrate their 17th anniversary Saturday – and children Alea, now 8, and Cody, 6, are central to a big part of his life. But does his daughter realize what she inadvertently did to that other part of his life, the course of his career?

“I think my daughter has started to understand that,” he said. “I tell her she’s reason I do the job I do now and she smiles.”


The Day School at The Children’s Institute Celebrates its Graduating Class of 2017

Posted by The Children's Institute - Jun 09, 2017

One loves his disco ball.

Another enjoys delivering newspapers to different classrooms.

A third is proud of her puppy, Bentley.

On Thursday, though, they were more than individuals with unique tastes; they were graduates – freshly minted members of the Class of 2017.

The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh’s Day School held a graduation ceremony Thursday to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance,” celebrating the seven young adults graduating from our classrooms, as well as the parents, family and peers who supported them along the way.

“We’re celebrating with you as we look back at all that your children – our students – have done at The Day School,” Chief Administrator Cynthia Morelock told a gymnasium packed with well-wishers, students and staff. “We’re not just teaching students here. We’re learning from them.”

David Miles, President and CEO of The Children’s Institute, also addressed the graduates, noting that “they, too, have made The Institute their home, some for quite some time.” David, who is set to retire, started his career here 40 years ago as a teacher’s aide.  Read More...

Quincy's Quest

Posted by The Children's Institute - Jun 08, 2017

Quincy Sims was born on a Wednesday. Two days later, doctors told his parents he had suffered a stroke that affected 60 percent of his brain, leaving him blind and deaf.

“They gave us timelines for when he was going to die,” said his mother, Jessica. “My husband and I were like, ‘We really think you’re wrong.’ Our work, our community, were praying for us, praying for Quincy. We wanted to do something to pay them back. So, that’s why we do Quincy’s Quest.”

Quincy just celebrated his fourth birthday in May with the Quincy’s Quest fundraiser, where more than 120 runners raised an estimated $2,100 to benefit The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh. Though he did not run, the Sims family hopes he will walk someday.  Read More...

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