The Children's Institute Blog

From Paralysis To Golfing: Battling Guillain-Barre Syndrome

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

On Sunday, April 30, 2017, Jonathan Wallowicz went to the hospital because he felt tingling in his hands and feet. Three days later, he was paralyzed from the shoulders down. Five days later, he was on a ventilator.

But on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 – after an intensive inpatient battle with Guillain–Barré
Syndrome, a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the nervous system – Jonathan walked out of The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh on his own two feet.

“There’s an overwhelming gratefulness we feel – we feel blessed,” said Tracy Wallowicz, Jonathan’s mother. “He’s made progress already that we thought would take much, much longer. This environment and the care he has been given is exactly what made the difference.”

Jonathan came to The Children’s Institute after a two-week stay in Allegheny General Hospital’s neuro-intensive care unit. His stay at Allegheny General was preceded by a three-week stay in the neuro-intensive care unit at Miami Valley Hospital in Ohio, near where the 19-year-old native of Seven Fields, Pa. was completing his freshman year at the University of Dayton. When he arrived here, he had a tracheotomy, was still vented and was being tube-fed. He had lost 50 pounds. He hadn’t been able to speak in weeks and communicated only by having his lips read.

“The Monday after I got here, they took the trach out,” Jonathan said. “Two weeks later, I started to stand.”

There was a lot of intense therapy, though, that led to those improvements, stressed Jonathan and his occupational therapist, Leslie Paat.

“The hardest part of therapy was just working on sitting up when it was painful, getting lightheaded,” Jonathan said. “Same with standing. You just want to stop after 30 seconds – it’s hard.”

“It’s all him,” Leslie said. “Jonathan is extremely motivated and goal-oriented. He’s extremely disciplined. He’s very driven. He has a supportive family … and that’s why he is where he is.”

Jonathan said he “can’t even imagine” what his older brother, 20, and younger sister, 17, were thinking about as they watched him fight with Guillain–Barré. “[When I went to the hospital] I thought it was Lyme’s Disease. I’d never heard of Guillain–Barré,” he said. “I thought I was going to get a steroid from the emergency room.”

Now that he’s walking and going home, Jonathan has a few other things on his mind: finishing up his spring classes, returning to school and playing golf.

“That was his goal on the first day: he wanted to golf before the end of summer,” Leslie said. “I think he’s well on his way.”


Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT)

Posted by The Children's Institute - Aug 15, 2017

Osteopathic manipulative treatment, or OMT, is hands-on care that can treat many conditions including chronic pain, migraines and acute injuries. During a session, an Osteopathic physician will use his or her hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury, move muscles and joints, and stretch different areas of the body. The treatments are targeted to your specific needs.

Tess Mervis is the ideal candidate for OMT. The 17-year-old Pittsburgh resident has Reflex Neurovascular Dystrophy (RND) and suffers with chronic pain in her neck and back.

“I always had really bad migraines when I was a kid but I really started experiencing the pain and the weakness last August. I had a concussion, and I think that worsened everything,” Tess said. “OMT has been helping. I get really, really stiff in my back and there’s usually nothing I can do about. Dr. Burg really helps my headaches and stiffness.”

“I’ve been practicing OMT for 12 years now. OMT is a very safe and effective treatment option for many conditions,” Dr. Burg said. “For my patients, I have used it to successfully treat migraines, back pain, neck pain, rib pain, muscle pain, joint pain, and stiffness. Also, I often use OMT as an adjunct therapy along side of other treatments to provide patients with a multifaceted treatment plan, which they often need. “

Osteopathic medicine, founded in the late 1800s, provides all of the benefits of modern medicine including prescription medications, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury, according to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM).

It also offers hands-on diagnosis and treatment through OMT and emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention.

An important principle of Osteopathic Medicine is the body’s ability to heal itself, AACOM said. Many of the techniques and practices reduce or eliminate road-blocks to proper structure and function, so the self-healing mechanism can assume its role in restoring a person to health.

Want to learn more about OMT or schedule an appointment with Dr. Burg? Call 412-420-2463 today!


Donor Profile: ​Ray Wojszynski

Posted by The Children's Institute - Aug 15, 2017

Photograph of Ray Wojszynski Volunteering At The VA HospitalRay Wojszynski’s life as a donor and an aspiring drummer are inextricably linked.

He’s been drumming on and off since his youth – he later sold his first drum kit to a Westinghouse employee who gave him the lead that ultimately lead to a job at the company he held for 32 years. But the real synergy started in 2015, after he underwent chemotherapy for lymphoma and, looking for a past-time, was inquiring about upgrading a four-year-old electronic drum kit.

“Instead of selling it or trading it in for a new set, I donated it to the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children,” Ray said. “Then, later, I thought maybe they could use something else. I met Roger Thomas, their music director, at ‘N’ Stuff in Blawnox and said, ‘Pick whatever you want.’” Thomas picked two, 88-key electric pianos, with stands and benches.

Ray’s first donation to The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh was uncharacteristic, a transport chair he bought for his wife, who was battling ovarian cancer, to use at the polls for the U.S. presidential election. She never used it, and died three days before their 30th wedding anniversary in November 2016.

Every donation to The Children’s Institute since then has centered around music.

He just began giving in January and, while he’s made significant contributions, the impact is priceless. He has donated in-kind gifts – a violin, a special IPad switch for interface with instruments, a guitar chord learning system, a guitar amp, and bongo drums. He’s paying the salary of a teacher who will provide drum lessons to students. And he’s funded two Café Concerts for Day School students and one full year of music therapy, extending to June 2018.

“You see a lot of children with special needs, with multiple disabilities – I want to do something to make a difference in their lives and music can make that difference,” Ray said. “I’m happy to do it.”

He plays drums in a makeshift studio in his Plum house. And maybe soon at a church near you. His church’s organist asked him to sit in behind the kit during a rehearsal session.

“I said, ‘I could do that, I could keep the beat!’” he laughed. “So my drum teacher said, ‘You should absolutely do that, 100 percent.’ I’m thinking about it.”

In the meantime, he’s keeping busy as a donor and volunteer. In addition to supporting The Children’s Institute, the School for Blind Children, St. Anthony’s Schools and others, he volunteers every week at the VA Hospital in Aspinwall, playing dominoes with veterans and tending to the small – but necessary – details of their lives.

“I go over and I have a supply cart filled with donated supplies,” Ray said. “I take that room to room. And I try to give them what they need. And, if the cart doesn’t have it, I’ll buy it and donate it.”

He’s looking for more volunteer opportunities. And, as ever, there are the drums.

“My whole goal with playing drums is independence – doing something different with all four limbs,” he said. “It’s something that’s a lifelong thing.”


Doctor Spotlight: Tim Burg, DO

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

Name: Tim Burg
Title: Physiatrist

When did you start working at The Children’s Institute? Summer 2015.

Where did you grow up? Pittsburgh (Penn Hills/Plum).

As a child, what did you want to be? A brain surgeon/famous actor.

Where did you go to school? Penn State for undergrad, LECOM for medical school.     

What inspired you to go into your field of study? Dr. Mary Ann MiKnevich, a local physiatrist who is probably the best in the world.

What do you like most about your job? The ability to spend time with my patients so that I can get to know them and help them get to the bottom of their problems.

What do you like most about living in Pittsburgh? The fact that my family and friends are here.

Do you have any pets? No, unless you count my two kids.

Do you have any hobbies? Running and vegetable gardening.

What is your favorite sports team? The Mighty Penguins.     

Who is your favorite musician? Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers.     

With what superhero do you identify? Do you have superpowers? Spiderman, because he is athletic and nerdy! I can heal with my hands!! As an osteopathic physician, I am able to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness with a hands-on type of care called osteopathic manipulative treatment. 

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you bring? Magnesium flint stick to start a fire, a knife, and a water purifier!

If you were given a $1 million check to give to one group or charity – other than The Children’s Institute – who would get it? The National Institute of Drug Abuse, because addiction is plaguing our youth possibly more than any other disease and we as a society need to be more aware and open about it.

What has been your strangest job? Driving an old beat-up box van to pick up and deliver Christmas trees for my uncle and grandfather! The van would break down, and I had to climb underneath it and hit the alternator with a wrench to get it running again!!! Miss you Nanu.

What do you want to do when you retire? Learn how to scuba dive, and do it all over the world!


Magician Amazes Kids At The Day School

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

There was the trick with crayons and the levitation act, but magician Vince Charming’s kid’s show for a group of The Children’s Institute Day School students recently was summed up best by someone in the audience – a boy new to the school who was beaming with enthusiasm.

“He was standing the whole time,” speech-language pathologist Carol Robson said. “The teacher was holding onto the back of his shirt. His feet were going. He wanted to be up there with Vince Charming! He really made eye contact, squealed at the right time, stomped his feet – he was so present.”

The event was organized, in part, by Jeanne Hurley in memory of her son, the magician Kevin Hurley, who died on July 30, 2016 at age 34. The younger Hurley, whose magic performances were staged in 42 U.S. states, mentored Vince Charming and both worked at Cuckoo’s Nest, a now-closed, legendary South Side magic shop.

“I didn’t know how the [Day School] kids would react but I thought, ‘If I can bring a smile to the faces of two or three of these kids, it’ll be worth it,’” Jeanne said. “[The show] brought back a lot of memories. It’s good to know that Vince is still doing this. But it’s sad, as well, because my son’s not here.”

Vince Charming, an engineer by training, remembers Kevin as the friend and mentor who “introduced me not just to clients but also introduced me to how to be a full-time magician.”

Kevin was at the magic show in more than spirit. Vince inherited his levitation illusion from him.

“He would’ve loved all of those changes I made to it – I don’t do anything like it comes out of the box,” Vince said.

The kids, though, seem most impressed by another guest who showed up – Harry, the live rabbit Vince pulled from a black hat.

“I always end the show with him,” Vince laughed. “Once the kids see him, they just get overly excited and want to pet him.”

“I was impressed not only with the magician but also with our kids,” Carol said. “They were attentive and enjoyed it. There was eye contact and smiles. It was heart-warming!”

In the end, that’s what mattered most to Jeanne, who attended the show in the TDS gym.

“I’m going to do my best to keep Kevin’s memory alive by helping people enjoy life,” she said. “Kevin always believed in making people laugh and step away from their daily routine.”

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...

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