The pediatric intensive care unit can be a daunting place for an intern just beginning pediatric training. It certainly was for me. Patients were critically ill, often with multiple specialists involved in their care. One of my first patients was a seven-year-old boy named James. James had cancer, and while I don’t remember the reason for his time in the ICU, I do remember him — frail and bald from his chemotherapy, he took up so little room in the bed. I also remember his mom — slight in stature, but with a roaring spirit. If anyone could will their child to wellness, I felt it was James’ mom. I soon learned that James and his mom had traveled for the care he needed, but the rest of his family was home, along with the much-needed support and resources that could have been at their disposal.
This scenario was not unique over the course of my residency and fellowship. In the midst of dealing with the uncertainty and fear of a new diagnosis with potentially serious impact on their child’s health or even survival, I commonly cared for families who had uprooted their lives to accompany their child to necessary specialists in other locations — sometimes leaving parts of the family behind. Often this entailed financial hardships with the cost of additional housing and compromised careers. Almost always, the move meant the loss of family and community networks that could have provided crucial support at times of stress and adversity. The challenge ranged from bearable to untenable depending on the resources of the family, the travel required, the length of time to receive treatment, the stitching together of supports and services, and other variables. And these were the lucky families, with children stable enough and families resourceful enough to travel for care they needed.
Fast forward to today and the work I am privileged to do with Dell Children’s Medical Center (Dell Children’s). The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s first grant to Dell Children’s helped establish the hospital in 2007. The grant was in support of the community’s belief that the children of Central Texas deserved access to a state-of-the-art children’s hospital and the highest quality care possible. As the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the region, it became a place where talented care providers, with deep community relationships, built trust as providers of excellent care for Central Texas children and families.
In recent years, an even more aspirational vision for children’s health in our region has been made achievable by the partnership between Dell Medical School and Dell Children’s. They share a common goal: to ensure all children – regardless of the severity of their disease or complexity of their condition – have the chance to be treated close to home so families have all the stability and support needed at such a stressful time. We have already seen proof of this successful partnership through the addition of highly regarded doctors and specialists who further strengthen the pediatric team being built on Austin’s Mueller campus. With these fortified clinical teams, the array of clinical conditions that can now be treated and the improved outcomes that can be achieved continue to expand. What excites me most is that our community has the opportunity to make Dell Children’s a destination for the very highest level of pediatric health care in Central Texas and beyond.
Our most recent investment in the Dell Children’s HERE campaign, a fundraising initiative to help children receive care here in Central Texas, is currently focused on a new four-story, state-of-the-art pediatric outpatient facility, physically connected to Dell Children’s, where patients can access best-in-class pediatric subspecialty care. The new facility will house cardiology, neurology, hematology-oncology, and maternal fetal medicine. However, the broader investment leverages this momentous time for pediatric health in our community — the right partners in the right place with an aligned vision and the ability to execute on it.
With the support of our community and partners, we are hopeful that when children and families in Central Texas face health challenges that bring fear and uncertainty, they can find the answers and the support they need right here at home.