October 31, 2023 | (18) Comments

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve as a guest blogger for On The Mark as we honor the founder of Texas Children’s Community Cares Program, Dr. Robert F. Austin, who passed away earlier this year. Dr. Austin left his mark on Texas Children’s, our entire community and so many of you — it is my honor to tell his story and share how Texas Children’s is honoring his legacy.

I can remember interviewing for my pediatric residency as if it was yesterday. I was incredibly excited but also very nervous because, on my way to Houston from California, my luggage happened to get lost along the way. When I entered my interview, the first thing I said to Dr. Ralph Feigin, who was Physician-in-Chief at the time, was an apology that I didn’t have a suit because it had stayed in my luggage. He laughed and responded, “Don’t you hate when that happens?”

His humble and gracious acceptance of my dilemma was the first sign that Texas Children’s was a very special place to be. Since that day, I’ve remained immensely grateful to Dr. Feigin because, after my interview, he invited me to meet Dr. Robert Austin, the physician who would become one of the most important and influential people in my life.

While I maintained a close relationship with Dr. Austin after our initial meeting, my career at Texas Children’s actually started in a different area than his. I spent about three years working in retrovirology and one day while I was caring for patients in Botswana, I received a call from Dr. Austin. He told me he had a project coming up that he thought I would be a great fit for and asked me to give him a call when I got back home. I didn’t know it then, but that very phone call would set the path for the rest of my career.

Dr. Austin introduced me to Project Medical Home, which is now known as Community Cares. He said he wanted this to be a place where every child could receive more than just medical care. It would be a place where they would have seamless access to resources they may not even know are available to them. He wanted this program to be a home for patients where they felt safe and secure, and as he spoke, every word he used to describe this project also described my true passion and a calling I was more than ready to answer.

Dr. Austin developed Community Cares because he believed that children are our most valuable resource. His undeniable commitment to serving all who need help, and his ability to be an advocate for the underserved, not only made a profound impact on how Texas Children’s Pediatrics provides care to those most in need — it also made a profound impact on me.

Throughout his life, Dr. Austin showed me the true art of medicine and how to care for patients from all backgrounds. He taught me that every family has a story and as physicians, it’s a privilege to listen. Dr. Austin showed me how to take the tools I’m given and make them accessible to everyone. He taught me how to provide family-centered care and truly connect with the family as a whole.

Dr. Austin’s advice, life lessons and invaluable mentorship have undoubtedly made me the physician — and person — I am today.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to come together with Mr. Wallace, my Texas Children’s colleagues and Dr. Austin’s family to honor Dr. Robert F. Austin by naming the very first Community Cares Site after him. Now, his tremendous legacy and the program he founded will continue to impact more and more families under his namesake for years to come.

Dr. Austin will never stop being my mentor — the lessons I learned while under his wing will stay with me forever. He lived his life to the fullest, he never met a stranger and he served his community with the biggest heart until the day he passed. I owe so much to his inspirational leadership, and I sincerely hope that I can carry the torch he held for so long and make him proud.

Desiree Lynell Evans, MD, MPH, FAAP
Texas Children’s Pediatrics

August 24, 2023 | (23) Comments

As International Dog Day approaches on August 26th, I can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of pride and joy as I reflect on the significant impact of the Pawsitive Play Program at Texas Children’s.

This initiative holds a special place in my heart because it’s all about enhancing the emotional well-being of our patients and their families through the power of animal-assisted therapy dogs. Our four-legged employees, Angus, Bailey, Cohen, Pinto and Pluto, and their respective handlers, Meg Gustafson, Adair Galanski, CJ Canlas, Shelby Bonnet and Hanna Kuhn, have an exceptional ability to provide much-needed support to patients, their families and even all of you!

Every time I witness one of our Pawsitive Play dogs at work, I’m reminded of all the remarkable benefits it brings to our patients that truly go beyond physical healing.

The presence of therapy dogs has been proven to reduce anxiety and offers a precious distraction when it is needed most. In fact, Pluto and his handler, Hanna, recently shared a moving story with me about a patient’s bravery when receiving injections during treatment. Before any treatment began, Hanna met with the 11-year-old patient to talk about her feelings of anxiety and introduced her to Pluto. Together, they came up with a coping plan and by simply petting Pluto’s paw and listening to music, our patient was able to remain calm and at peace during her entire treatment.

This story and hundreds more just like it, are the reasons why our Pawsitive Play dogs and their handlers — who spend countless hours training and leading their canine friends to adapt to each specific patient — are so special to Texas Children’s and the healing journeys that take place here.

In addition to our patients, and as I can personally attest, our therapy dogs bring a smile to my face as well. I know many of you can agree that there’s just something about seeing our Pawsitive Play team in the halls that can turn a bad day into a great one.

The Pawsitive Play Program remains a cornerstone in our commitment to providing safe, high-quality, compassionate and comprehensive care to all patients who need us. And as we celebrate all the loving, loyal and amazing dogs we have in our lives, I want to take a moment to express my utmost appreciation for our hard-working therapy dogs and their wonderful handlers. Their presence at Texas Children’s has brought immeasurable comfort to those in need and I remain grateful for all they do each and every day.

I hope that all of you get to spend International Dog Day with your favorite canines. As part of the celebration, I would love to hear stories about the dogs who mean the most to you or how Pawsitive Play has impacted you personally.

I have two dogs at home, Joseph and Zoby, who some of you may know since they love to come to work with me from time to time. They make my life even better and I sincerely hope your pets do the same for you!

Happy International Dog Day!

June 16, 2023 | (18) Comments

In recent years, Juneteenth has gained significant and much-deserved recognition as a national holiday. Throughout the weekend and into Monday, many will begin hosting and attending a multitude of festive and historic Juneteenth celebrations and I am beyond proud that all of us at Texas Children’s are able to come together to help celebrate Juneteenth as One Amazing Team.

June 19, 1865 was the day that enslaved African-Americans in Texas gained their freedom. This news came to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas more than two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all enslaved people were now free.

One year later in 1866, the celebration of Juneteenth began as a day of reflection, joy and unity. Today, communities often commemorate this day with parades, concerts and picnics that feature music, dance, storytelling and soulful food.

However, above all the festivities, Juneteenth celebrates the immense strength that can arise when diverse communities — just like our own — come together to advocate for justice, equality and opportunity for all.

The history surrounding Juneteenth also holds deep significance and represents the long-awaited arrival of freedom for millions of Black men, women and children. I have shared before that slavery and racism are without a doubt, a stain on our nation’s history, but by looking back on the past — even the parts we wish never took place — we can learn to foster understanding and empathy and make a commitment to create a more inclusive future.

While Juneteenth celebrates the abolishment of slavery, it also serves as a reminder that the struggle for racial equality and justice is far from over. As much as I wish it were different, I would be remiss to not acknowledge that there are still persistent systemic injustices that continue to impact marginalized communities today.

We cannot turn a blind eye or ignore the hate in this world. Because not only does it exist, it has the ability to inundate future generations if we let it.

How will anything ever change if we do not face injustices and inequalities head-on and stand together for change?

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. — “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

As we celebrate the beauty and joy that Juneteenth represents, we must also acknowledge that while we have come so far, there is much more to be done in our nation and beyond. And as we indulge in the festivities, I also urge you to take a moment and ask yourself — how can you honor and commemorate Juneteenth in a way that is meaningful to you?

May 24, 2023 | (11) Comments

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it is our immense honor to serve as guest bloggers for On the Mark. As Chief of Psychiatry and Chief of Psychology at Texas Children’s, we would like to take a few moments to talk to all of you about the importance of taking care of our mental health and well-being.

Working in healthcare, especially in pediatrics and women’s health, is an incredibly rewarding career. However, no matter how fulfilling some moments can be, we would be remiss not to acknowledge how demanding, stressful and exhausting working in healthcare can truly be.

From the very best days to the most trying times, one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and everyone around us, including our patients and their families as well as our colleagues, is to prioritize our mental health.

Over the last few years, our society experienced events and losses that undeniably changed the world. At Texas Children’s alone, we have seen an exponential increase in behavioral health requests since 2019 with behavioral health also becoming the number one sought-after service among incoming patient referrals. Additionally, instances of children coming to our Emergency Centers with critical behavioral health needs rose nearly 800% from 2019 through 2022.

These numbers can be daunting but they are also incredibly eye-opening to the fact that there is work to be done for every generation. And while in many ways, we have reached the “light at the end of the tunnel” as we often called it, one theme that remains clear after the pandemic is the vital need for mental and behavioral health care.

One of the best ways that we, as a healthcare team, can break the stigma around mental health is to talk about and prioritize mental wellbeing in our own lives, just as we prioritize our physical health and wellbeing. It is important to remember that by taking care of ourselves we can take care of others. Be compassionate with yourselves and feel no hesitation in seeking out mental health services. We are here to support you any way we can.

As healthcare employees, when it comes to caring for our own mental health, you should always remember that there are countless forms of therapy for you to discover should one not work or be comfortable for you. We see many forms taking place every day at Texas Children’s, not only through our Behavioral Health Programs, but also through Mind-Body Practices, Music Therapy, Art Therapy, Animal-Assisted Therapy, Physical and Occupational Therapy, and more.

If we can use various forms of therapy to rehabilitate our patients and help them overcome obstacles, we should be practicing this ourselves.

Your well-being is extremely important and our hope for all of you is to find healthy ways to continuously improve and care for yourselves. Mental and behavioral health, just like physical health, is an ongoing process that we must continuously work on.

As we close, we want to leave you with this — if you ever find yourself in a dark moment that you feel you cannot overcome alone, please reach out to someone. Texas Children’s has numerous resources available to employees and we’ve provided several of them below, should you ever need them.

Please remember that no matter what you may be going through at any moment in time, you are enough, you are invaluable and you are never alone.

Employee Assistance Program
Virtual Mental Health Care
Spiritual Well Being
Suicide Prevention

Kirti Saxena, MD                                                 Karin Price, PhD
Texas Children’s Chief of Psychiatry                 Texas Children’s Chief of Psychology