Sharing hope where it’s needed most: A “heart mom” gives back

colleen schomakerLike many parents, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about congenital heart defects.  That changed a little over 13 years ago.  It was then, at my 20 week ultrasound, that it was discovered my unborn baby would be born with a severe heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which essentially meant only half of his heart would be the normal size needed to function.

We learned a lot that day.  We were told that heart defects were the most common birth defect, that I didn’t do anything to cause it, and it was likely a ”fluke.” We learned that his options were limited, his mortality rate was significantly increased and that we could have a lifetime of unknowns and medical care ahead of us. We were told his best chance at survival would be to have one of three open heart surgeries just days after birth.

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Adventures in the natural world

Wonder and excitement in your own backyard!

MOTT BLOG - lsnc featured imageA hundred bubbles were flying in the air, with a dozen children excitedly popping them.

I pointed to the sky and shouted “la luna!” All eyes turned and gazed at the moon clearly visible in the early evening sky.

“She’s rising” I said. “Does anyone know what phase the moon is in?” “Waxing”, one boy answered. “Yes…it’s a sliver on the right – getting bigger every night! See you tomorrow moon.” We all waved skyward, then bubbles flew again!

These moments happen daily at Leslie Science & Nature Center, where we draw attention, use teachable moments, and hone observations about what is happening around us in the natural world.

Creating opportunity for daily observation of the natural world is a great way to engage children and adults together, to explore questions, create a moment of respite and observe beauty. These moments can refresh us at the core – perhaps even at the soul level. Take time to see changes through the seasons, look at patterns, colors and shapes. Look at living things up close, look far – at broad expanse of the landscape, silhouettes, shadows and tree shapes. Looking “far” relaxes our eyes, especially in a culture of up close texts and computer screen time. Even when we simply observe the bubbles we blow, we can observe the elusive wind, as the bubble orbs rise and undulate, shifted by the invisible hand of air currents and updrafts. Observations are, of course, best done outside, but if you are unable to venture out – find a large window to the world. This can still offer many great observations.

Here are four simple observation games you can try:

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Turning blank spaces into healing places

New “Healing Wall” project provides distraction for patients

One of the new healing murals being installed in C.S. Mott Children's Hospital

One of the new “healing murals” being installed in C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital

A visit to the hospital is hardly on the list of fun things to do — especially if you’re a kid. Many parents – myself included – have noticed a lack of distractions available for the children who were waiting to see a doctor or have a procedure. I’m sure I am not the first person to have wondered — wouldn’t it be nice to use some of the big, open walls in the new hospital to create something that would be visually interesting for all visitors and something what would engage the children while they wait?

I took my idea to the Mott Patient and Family Centered Care advisory group where the idea was refined with the input of the Mott families and staff. Together, we decided that a mural was a great way to make use of wall space that was currently blank. We discovered an amazing Michigan-based artist, Tracy Leigh Fisher, who had created murals in other hospitals as well as individual homes.

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Healing Butterfly Garden Brings Beauty and Education to Mott

mott blog - butterfly quoteWhen I was a kid, I loved butterflies and bugs. My grandma lived next door and she fostered my fascination. Together we found caterpillars and watched them go through their life cycle and become butterflies. When I had my own children, I shared my hobby with them. I learned how to attract butterflies to my garden by growing native plants. Soon, the garden was a hit with not only my kids, but all the neighborhood children as well.

One day at work, I met Susan Fisher who also shared a passion for butterflies. We shared stories and she told me how she had given a friend who was a cancer patient a caterpillar. Her friend found great comfort in observing the lifecycle of the caterpillar as it transformed into a chrysalis and then a butterfly. Like Susan’s friend, many patients relate to those transformations when they experience their own changes as they go through the healing process. A light bulb popped in my head — wouldn’t it be great if we could bring this experience to more of our patients?

That’s when I decided to apply for a Fostering Innovation Grant to turn a vacant area of the courtyard into a native butterfly garden. Susan and I were thrilled when we learned the grant application was accepted. We started planting the garden last summer. Now many of the plants have matured, and we’re introducing the first butterflies and officially opening the Healing Butterfly Garden.

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This looks like a job for….me?

mott blog - super hero window washersThere are some things that aren’t really anyone’s “job to do,” but it’s those things that can make such a big difference for our kids and their families.

One great thing about working at Mott, in my experience, is that if you have an idea that will help our Little Victors – bring a smile to their face, make them feel special, or help them feel normal for that matter – people here pull out all the stops to help you make your idea happen.

I’d been hearing about window washers dressing up as super heroes at other hospitals – and even at high rise apartment buildings – as the photos have popped up in the news or online over the past year.  My colleagues and I always talked about how great it would be to do that at Mott.

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New support group for parents of children with eye disease and visual impairment

Bringing parents together to talk about the challenges posed by pediatric eye disorders

children's vision support groupWhen a child is diagnosed with a serious eye disorder, it can be extremely unsettling to both parent and child.  The parent’s first challenge is to learn about the disease, its treatment, and what this means for the child’s eyesight.  It’s understandable that parents often feel alone in their struggle and are unsure and anxious about what lies ahead.

A group of physicians at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center want to help parents find the resources they need — whether these are aids for low vision or advice on navigating the school system.  Even more important, we realize that parents can benefit greatly from discussing shared experiences with others in a group setting.  It gives them the opportunity to learn about how others in the same situation are handling challenges.

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