Technology dependant children getting the care they deserve

By Julia Asselstine

A young woman sits on the floor with her legs bent to her side, guitar resting on her thigh. She is playing and singing a song to an 8-month old baby who is being supported by a loving person sitting behind him. He instinctively shakes his legs to the sounds, loving the soft music that seems almost as essential as the air he breathes.

The woman is a music therapist, the loving person is a volunteer and the little boy is a patient of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He is dependant on a ventilator to keep him alive. This child lives in the hospital, but thanks to one pioneer he is getting the best, most humane care possible.

One year ago Dr. Michael Davis, a respirologist at The Children’s, witnessed his dream come true. He was the driving force behind developing and putting into place the Technology Dependant Rooms at The Children’s. They opened on October 29, 2007.

Dr. Davis was involved for a good part of his life with ventilated children. Because there was no safe place other than the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for these children it was always problematic. Often, very young children who rely on technology to help them breath, due to, for example, narrowed tracheas or abnormal lung function caused normally from premature birth, have to live at the hospital because they need around-the-clock nursing surveillance.

Up until last year, these technology-dependant children literally called the NICU home. But the reality is, very young children do not cope well in a typical NICU setting. They can’t develop “normally” in this context. The two Technology Dependant Rooms, which have three beds in each, were conceived to offer these children 24/7 care and an environment that nurtures “normal development.”

The new rooms are very “homey,” with a bedroom-like atmosphere. Lamps, curtains, and personal objects abound, and the staff tries to camouflage the hospital material as much as possible. Music therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, social workers, pet therapy, clown therapy and more is also offered.

“A project like this can be kept alive thanks to the team effort,” says Céline Ducharme, nurse clinician of the Technology Dependant Rooms. “Every member makes a difference, including the respiratory therapists, nurses, occupational therapists, dietitians, patient care attendants, volunteers, physicians, residents, medical students, housekeepers and porters.”

The children vary in age. The oldest is 2 years and 6 months and the five others are 1 year, plus or minus 6 months. It depends on the case as to when they will be able to go home. “The multidisciplinary team meets every month to work on an individual plan for each long-term child,” says Céline.

The music therapist continues to play her guitar. The little boy is now smiling and swinging a rattle, and the volunteer is stroking his hair. If you didn’t know any better, you would think you were interrupting a very intimate moment in their home.

Dr. Michael Davis passed away suddenly on August 29, 2008 in his 58th year. He advocated for these children who are technology dependant. Perhaps one day they will be told of what he did for them. In the meantime we would like to say thanks Dr. Davis for adding a human touch in this age of high technology medicine.



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