The Children's Institute Blog

The Smart Palate Story - Better Speech & Hearing Month

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 18, 2017

Benjamin Bigi puts the customized, acrylic mold inside his mouth and begins.

“Wrrrrrrrote,” the 11-year-old says. “Rrrrrrrun.”

“Did you hear that R? Rrrrrrrun?” replies speech-language therapist Darcy Leoni. “Before, it was ‘wwwwwwwon.’”

As he speaks, blue and yellow electronic dots flicker on a computer screen image of his mouth, indicating where he is placing his tongue. The mouthpiece is connected via the computer’s USB port and a series of wires that lead back to the mouthpiece. A sensor even records the words he is pronouncing, showing how the lighted dots line up with soundwaves. Read More...

Ian's Success Story - Better Speech & Hearing Month

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

For the Allsup’s, speech therapy is a family affair.

Parents Chris and Kelly both had speech therapy as kids but their son, Ian, who is nearing six years old, is getting a slightly different experience at The Children’s Institute. In short, the old flip cards have been replaced by iPads & speech games. And Ian’s diagnosed phonological processing disorder has improved by leaps and bounds since he started therapy here.

We feature him today as part of May’s Better Speech & Hearing Month.

“I started two years ago with Ian and he was highly unintelligible. Dad had to translate 90 percent of what he was saying to me,” speech-language pathologist Inbal K. Vellucci said. “He really just took off. Now we’re really just cleaning up. You’ll hear him – he sounds great!” Read More...

National Nurses Week 2017 Highlight: Denise Kelly

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 12, 2017

Nurse Denise Kelly’s story at The Children’s Institute started in October 1993.

“One of my classmates was an employee here,” said Denise, who studied at Shadyside Hospital Nursing School. “I was just going to work here ‘til I found out what I wanted to do. That was 23 years ago.”

Since then, Denise has worked on a variety of units and during a wide variety of shifts. These days, she works three, 12-hour overnight shifts each week on 3WS, the inpatient wing of our hospital. We are profiling her today as part of National Nurse’s Week.  Read More...

Dr. Gross: Inventor of the DIEZ Method

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 11, 2017

DIEZ is a novel, respiratory-based therapy for children and adults who do not have any disease or physical problem, but still have trouble getting food to travel through the esophagus into the stomach.

Symptoms include feeling a lump in the throat, food sticking in the throat or chest, or undigested food coming back up during or shortly after meals.

It started over 8 years ago when Dr. Gross – now a speech-language pathologist at The Children’s Institute, then working with adults at UPMC – saw an elderly woman who, had Botox injected into her Upper Esophageal Sphincter (UES) because solid food could not enter the top of her esophagus.

After the injection the woman was able to swallow food again, but surprisingly not liquids. In fact, every time she took a drink, after a few seconds, the liquid shot out of her mouth like a fountain.  Read More...

National Nurses Week 2017 Highlight: Jen Jarrell

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 10, 2017

Nursing is often described as being a passion rather than a job. This is no different for long-time nurse Jen Jarrell, who uses this passion each and every day to help those who need it most.

Jen has been a nurse for over a decade now in various fields such as cardiac critical care, extended hospital care, and homecare for kids. She has only worked in the Behavioral Health Unit one year at The Children’s Institute and yet she has quickly become one of the “go to” nurses on the unit, says Director of Nursing Nicole Garcia.

She also describes Jen as “knowledgeable and approachable, always maintaining a positive demeanor” in addition to being able to “motivate both patients and staff to do their best, and supports the team when there are difficult situations.”

Jen describes her job as “a fun work environment” despite the day-to-day challenges.
“I didn’t expect to like it [the Behavioral Health Unit]. But it’s something that made my career feel fresh again.”  Read More...

DIEZ Method Saves Eating for Cailyn and Simon

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

One thing went through young Cailyn Milbert’s head every time she ate as a kid.
“Don’t throw up! Don’t throw up!” she told me. “Something’s wrong with me.”

But she did throw up – almost every time she ate. Her elementary school principal made her eat in the corner of the school’s office, facing the wall, because they thought it was behavioral. And doctors, puzzled, found nothing.

We feature her and another boy with similar swallowing issues today as part of Better Speech & Hearing Month.
“When she was three months old, they kept saying, ‘There’s no blockage, she’s fine,’” Nicole, Cailyn’s mother, said. “As time went on, I started to realize there was something going on, because she’d even throw up at school – every day. If they did a strep test, they knew to do it over a garbage can.”

By age 7, the problem persisted.

Then, Cailyn, who weighed barely 40 lbs., came to The Children’s Institute, where speech-language therapist Roxann Gross , PhD, found food was getting stuck in her esophagus, and taught Cailyn her DIEZ Method, a new method of breathing while she ate.  Read More...

Join The Amazing Runners for the Team Alex Fund Run

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

The Team Alex Fund started in 2009 around a four-year-old Pittsburgher with a rare spinal disorder. This year, they’re looking for you.

Organizers are throwing the Eighth Annual Team Alex 5K/5-Mile Run, Walk and Hand-Cycle on Saturday, May 20, starting at 9 a.m. at the North Park Boathouse in Allison Park, Pa. Post-race festivities include food and beverages, a DJ, awards ceremony, a 50-yard dash for kids, and a Chinese auction. Those interested in taking part can register online at

The Children’s Institute team – should you choose to join us – is called The Amazing Runners.
The walk event is the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, and has helped it fund more than $150,000 in grants and awards during the past eight years, said Christine O’Brien, a Team Alex Fund board member who’s also a social worker at The Children’s Institute. Read More...

Samantha's Army Supports Brain Injury Recovery in Highmark Walk

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 05, 2017

When Samantha Anderson was a year old, she suffered a near-drowning in a bathtub that left her with a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury.

“Four years ago, when she got to The Children’s Institute, she couldn’t sit, she couldn’t eat and she was barely making any sounds. She was G-tube-dependent and had a trach. She was minimally functioning, from a physical perspective,” said her mother, Michele. “The care she got at Children’s Hospital saved her life. But the care that she got at The Children’s Institute … helped her regain her quality of life.”

Today, Samantha, now five, is getting ready to enter kindergarten, has tested out of both speech therapy for talking and out of cognitive support, and is raising funds for The Children’s Institute as part of her Samantha’s Army walkers in Saturday’s Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. You can show your support by donating to her personal pageRead More...

Emerging Occupational Therapist Was Former Patient: Brittany's Story

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 05, 2017

Emerging occupational therapist Brittany DelSignore has something to say: she’s been here before.

The St. Francis University senior had a stroke around the time of her birth and then went through seven years of intense occupational and physical therapy as a child – later deciding she wanted to return the favor.

“Both my parents know I have a big heart. I want to please people, I want to help them. My mom saw that and said, ‘Why don’t you do that for a living?’” said Brittany, whose 22nd birthday falls in May. “When I was going to high school and thinking about a career to pursue in college, my mom asked, ‘How could you impact this world? How can you make an impression and give back?’ I thought about going into OT and PT and being someone like my therapists were to me.” Read More...

Special "Promposal" Excites Students for Day School Prom

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

Students Olivia Osborne and Nico Lombardo are going to The Children’s Institutes’ Day School prom together and, in true contemporary fashion, the whole thing started recently with a "promposal."

“Nico’s mom sent flowers for him to give to Olivia and ask her out to prom, so we made a big deal out of it,” social skills therapist Stacy Porter Smith said. “Everyone was super-excited.”

Nico and Olivia are both non-verbal, but staff helped them pop the question on everyone’s mind when Nico came to Olivia’s classroom with her bouquet of flowers. Her response? She smiled widely, did not pause or hesitate, and pushed the button on an iPad – “YES.” The two both went to the prom together last year, too. Read More...

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