Nursing, Pharmacy, Canines, Helicopters - KIDS Georgia Career Expo

"Children Need Children's," KIDS Georgia members tour Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's medical helicopter, a flying pediatric ICU. Credit: Hunter Darsey, KIDS Georgia Photographer

KIDS Georgia, the local chapter of the International Children’s Advisory Network (iCAN), convened on March 4, 2017, at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston (Children’s) for a Career Expo. KIDS vice president Lydia El-Sayegh, 15, began the meeting with project reviews on pediatric transport and medical research. The group also discussed this summer’s 2017 iCAN Research and Advocacy Summit, to be held in Orlando, FL, where they will present a poster on their local chapter. They plan to submit an abstract on the 2017 Pediatric Research Conference: Big Data for Better Care.

This talented and dedicated team made moves on the international level as well this year, with appointments of Hampton Woods, 15, El-Sayegh, and Jake Haygood, 15, to the iCAN Council, and Haygood taking the title of Chair of the Technology Council. iCAN recently profiled Woods and Haygood in their quarterly newsletter. Together, they developed a device that stores patient data on a chip through high-capacity radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

The Career Expo began with Ashleigh Lister, a program data coordinator for Canines for Kids. This organization links children with therapy dogs. She finds resources for families and children with autism – connecting them and ensuring that social workers do not have any treatment barriers. The 13 service dogs at Children’s provide anxiety reduction, motivation, pain management, and help lower blood pressure and increase oxygen levels.

Lister is one of only two people trained to handle Flip, the resident service dog for the Marcus Autism Center. Flip is a kind pup, servicing one child at a time, sometimes more. Trained from birth, Flip does not bite, and even recognizes when he’s “off-duty” once Ashleigh takes off his work vest at home.

Teresa Hammarback, MS, RN, CPN, earned her Sociology degree at the University of Minnesota, but soon realized that she wanted to become a nurse. “Nurses always have a job,” she chuckled, “and I wanted to help people.” Growing up on a farm, she was the typical Norwegian Lutheran farm kid. After graduating college, she went on to earn a two-year RN and her Master’s in Nursing. She then served as an executive officer and platoon leader in the United States Army. As she reminded the kids, “Life is not a straight line.”

Hammarback served as an emergency nurse for many years, starting at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. She was also part of the National Disaster Medical service in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, setting up emergency departments. She taught for many years, later moving to the Mayo Clinic. Prior to her time at the ACTSI-supported Egleston Pediatric Research Center, she worked at St. Jude’s Research Hospital. She also holds experience as a nurse research/evidence-based practice coordinator.

Hammarback is the principal investigator of two grants, researching ways to bring the best care to patients.

Katie Thompson, PharmD, is a pharmacist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Pharmacy is a well-rounded career, offering outstanding opportunities, excellent earning potential, and are drug information professionals. She educates patients about medications, advises people on the best drug therapy, provides expertise on the medication, and ensures that the medications do not interact in a harmful way.

With the plethora of drugs available, many people are not sure what dosage to prescribe. Pharmacists are instrumental in ensuring medicinal compatibility, and are an important asset to any hospital for drug toxicity and for how fast and how soon drugs can be used.

Toni Petrillo, MD, FCCM, is an integral piece of the Transport Team of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as an attending physician. She trains doctors in how to take care of patients, using her specialization in ICU to aid in the task. An exceedingly rare gem, she was dual-appointed in both ICU and pediatrics, and completed a dual fellowship in ER medicine and pediatric ICU. Petrillo also runs the pediatric ICU fellowship program, training 12 fellows to become pediatric intensivists. She fosters great partnerships between parents and doctors, fostering a didactic and interactive perspective.

“While it is a lot of schooling, it’s a very rewarding career. Children, for the most part, get well. Kids are very resilient,” she said. “It why I got into pediatrics from the beginning. Children are rewarding to take care of.”

Children’s – Egleston pediatric ICU houses 40 ICU beds, with cases oscillating from respiratory illnesses to trauma-based or swimming accidents depending on the time of year. Their eight trucks are pediatric ICUs on wheels, performing over 5,000 transports a year anywhere from North Carolina to Tennessee to Florida. Oddly enough, most of these pickups occur at a doctor’s office rather than an accident site. Illnesses and the equipment necessary for treatment are quite different for children than their parents and adult counterparts, so hospitals are often not equipped to give definitive treatment. Children’s is an incredible resource to families everywhere.

An inspiring voice for the KIDS Chapter, as well as an avid supporter, she closed her talk with the reminder, “You should love what you do. That’s my number one advice. Whatever you do in life, you should enjoy it.”

Julie Vitoria, BSN, CCRN, a clinical educator with critical care transport, brought the group up to the roof to see firsthand one of the hospital’s greatest treasures: an EC145e helicopter. This flying pediatric intensive care unit is built to transport Georgia’s most critically ill and injured children, as well as a team of five trauma team members. It features a Heliox high-flow humidifier, nitric oxide gas to keep the child’s airway open, as well as a ventilator and syringe pumps to deliver medication.

As the group circles the vehicle, Vitoria explaining the bells and whistles and letting people climb inside, one member tentatively raises his hand. “Yes?” Vitoria asks. “I’ve actually ridden on this before,” he laughs, “three times.”

KIDS is an advisory group of children, adolescents, and families focused on understanding, communicating, and improving the process of medical innovation for children. This program pairs acute or chronically ill children (and families), children and families who have participated in research, and healthy children who are interested in science/medicine to form an advisory group. This group provides ideas and feedback on how to improve the research process.

KIDS Georgia is looking for kids (and families) statewide, ages 8-18 years old, who have an interest in research science and/or have been patients themselves and are interested in giving feedback on future pediatric research. Children whom have past experience with a clinical trial, experience using hospital services, some knowledge of taking medicine, interest in medicine and/or research, and the parents/guardians of such children are welcome to participate. KIDS Georgia strives to have 50% healthy children interested in science, medicine, or related field and 50% who have been in the hospital, participated in research, or have/had a disease/condition. The chapter also seeks pediatric researchers statewide who would like feedback from KIDS on their research.  Contact for more information. 

The chapter’s next meeting will be on April 25 at Emory-Georgia Tech’s Biomedical Engineering Healthreach.