By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
DANVILLE — Geisinger is turning to parents to help not just with tough questions on how to care for their kids but how to help their fellow parents as well.
The purpose of Geisinger Medical Center’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital’s family advisory board is to not only educate the hospital but “to create more of a family-friendly atmosphere at Geisinger, to treat not only patients but the patient’s family,” said board member Dave Miller, of Danville. The board has been in place for the past four months.
Fifteen members of the advisory board are parents of children who have been treated at the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital. Another 12 members are comprised of hospital staff members.
When it came to picking parents for the board, 40 families were nominated by hospital staff to serve. Kelly Hammaker, patient and family care coordinator for Janet Weis, was in charge of interviewing all the candidates and picking who would be on the board.
In all cases, though, Hammaker found that all 40 families were more than willing to serve on the board. “They were actually pleading because they wanted to give back,” she said.
“I fought to be on it,” said Miller. His daughter, Ella Mae, was born in 2008 and was in the neonatal intensive care unit for six months. She had a condition that caused her organ tissue to begin dying inside of her body, forcing doctors to remove 46 percent of her intestines and her colon to save her, on top of numerous blood transfusions. When she left the hospital in 2009, she had to return for hernia surgeries and is still expected to have further operations.
Miller believed he could help provide a father’s point of view to hospital staff as well as the parents of future patients. Men internalize their emotions more, said Miller, and he recalled there not being a lot of parent activities at the hospital geared towards men coping with a sick child. ”I couldn’t admit to a roomful (of people) that I was hurting, that I was crying, that I was upset,” he said. He wanted to find ways to help other fathers who were experiencing that.
Fellow board member Christy Noll, of Sunbury, has 11 children, nine of whom have special needs and have made trips to Janet Weis. “Like Miller, she has been providing doctors with the parent’s perspective of raising and caring for a sick child. “It’s understanding the whole child,” she said, not just when they are admitted to the hospital.
Some of the projects Noll, Miller and their fellow parent members have contributed toward includes selecting new decor for the hospital lobby and advising on projects such as the new room service dining program and the pediatric palliative care program, which cares for chronically ill children.
In addition to the board’s normal meetings the second Tuesday night of every month, they also hold a “Coffee Hour” once a month where they can give guidance to parents with children currently in the hospital.
“Unless you lived in the NICU and were a part of that, you can’t give true guidance,” Hammaker said.
The coffee hour is held from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. the last Thursday of every month in the lobby of the children’s hospital. Coffee and donuts are provided by Dunkin Donuts.