Clinical nutritionists—making miracles happen

To the outsider, it would have seemed miraculous. But the day little Joey stepped out of his wheelchair, which he had been confined to for months, it wasn’t the result of a miracle—it was the result of a nutritious diet.
According to Cinthia Olivier, the Clinical Nutrition Department Coordinator at the Montreal Children’s Hospital of the MUHC, some young patients who are fighting a disease become so weak due to malnutrition they can’t walk. In Joey’s case, he was battling cancer. In many cases, clinical nutrition plays a very important role in overall medical care.
Without proper nutrition, brain function, motor skills and growth can be affected. When growth is affected, this is known as failure to thrive. The nutritionist is there to prevent malnutrition or if it is already present they will try to treat it. Children need to be especially healthy when dealing with illness.
“Our group of 15 works with multidisciplinary teams of various divisions,” says Cinthia. “We treat malnutrition in chronic illness on a consultation basis. If a member of a medical team feels they need our service they ask for our help.”
A typical day for the clinical nutrition team may include giving oral supplements to patients who have just undergone a bone marrow transplant and who can’t eat right away; administering proper IV nutrition to premature babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; ensuring sufficient calorie intake for patients in the Eating Disorders Clinic, providing a special diet to patients who have had a flare up with their inflammatory bowel disease; educating parents and caregivers about how to feed their child who has an allergy to cows milk protein; giving synthetic enzymes and ensuring calorie and nutrient intake for cystic fibrosis patients who don’t have certain enzymes to break down food and who also expend a lot of energy and have a very high metabolism; teaching kids how to use their portable insulin pump; and making sure patients on dialysis are following their restrictive diet while also getting enough nutrients.
“But it’s not as simple as just telling our patients how to eat. When working with children and teens you have to be able to make them feel comfortable with you so they will listen and follow what we have recommended,” says Cinthia. “How you approach these groups depends on age, sex, culture, environment. Parents also play a huge role in ensuring good nutrition.”
Cinthia says she and her team love what they do. “It is a very rewarding job. Every little “miracle” makes our day.”