Emory Healthcare physicians at the Emory Children’s Center are the connective tissue in a large and growing number of medical resources available for children. For example, the Angel II ambulances that dash out to small towns across North Georgia and bring in sick newborns and other babies for specialized care demonstrate the power of the partnership of the institutions within the Emory Regional Perinatal Center, which includes Emory Crawford Long Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (whose on-campus Egleston site is staffed primarily by Emory physicians), and Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital at Grady.
     In addition to directing intensive and intermediate care within the Emory Regional Perinatal Center and coordinating emergency transports throughout North Georgia for more than 850 babies annually, Emory doctors care for 1,700 premature and sick babies with special needs in metro Atlanta. State funds reimburse the hospitals (not the physicians), in recognition of the inadequacy of Medicaid or PeachCare funds to cover the hospital costs involved. The physicians bill for their services, hoping that there will be insurance but determined to provide the best care possible whether there is or not.

Growing numbers of students have found friendly “pipelines” at Emory, ones that lead them to careers in medicine and science. Three students who participated as seventh-, eighth-, or ninth-graders in the Summer Science Discovery Camp, which is subsidized in part by the medical school, are now medical students themselves, and another four are applying for next year. The program is designed to heighten young students’ interest in science careers, particularly among African Americans and Hispanics. Topics range from human anatomy and neurobiology to environmental biology and field and stream ecology. “It’s worth whatever it takes because these young people are going to be fantastic doctors,” says the program’s administrator, who sometimes reaches into his own pocket to pay for kids’ lunches.
     Older minority students also get a leg up in scientific careers in two programs begun at Emory and expanded with funding from the National Institutes of Health: PROMISE, an inexact acronym for a very exacting program in Post-baccalaureate Opportunities for Minorities in Biomedical Sciences, and FIRST, Fellowships in Research and Science Teaching for postdoctoral minority students, conducted jointly by Emory and the Atlanta University Center.

It’s hard enough to get any kid to eat the healthy foods they need, so imagine what it’s like for a child with phenylketonuria, maple syrup urine disease, or one of the other inherited metabolic disorders detected by the Georgia newborn screening program. Because they can’t metabolize specific molecules, an ice cream cone or a hamburger can cause a toxic buildup resulting in debilitating damage to their developing brains. Since a statewide metabolic disease screening program for newborns was first established, Emory has served as the state referral center, holding numerous weekly clinics across Georgia and closely monitoring the diets of affected babies to assure they will grow up into bright, healthy kids—and have bright, healthy kids of their own.
     The clinicians in this program try to make the onerous diets these kids must follow as easy as possible, frequently using Emory’s own resources to do so. A new clinical and laboratory genetics facility that opened in 2004 includes a store and demonstration kitchen where families can try new recipes using special metabolic products. Every summer, Emory invites about 40 young girls with these genetic diseases to a Metabolic Camp held on campus. They enjoy the company of girls who share the same dietary challenges—and they learn the importance of adhering religiously to their diet during their childbearing years to prevent mental retardation in their own offspring.

Is there a second chance for medically fragile babies and toddlers who have been abandoned or abused? Where do they go when their parents or relatives either can’t or won’t take care of them? For a steadily growing number of little ones in Atlanta, the answer to both questions is My House, an Emory-founded, Emory-affiliated emergency shelter and long-term transitional home, providing a nourishing, stable environment with both medical care and attention to development needs. Before My House existed, many of these babies simply remained boarders in the hospital where they were born or treated, running up hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospital costs. But it was the staggering human costs that most pained Donna Carson, an instructor in Emory’s pediatrics department. In 1999, she and fellow faculty member Sue Glover founded My House as Georgia’s first emergency shelter for medically fragile infants.
     Carson is a fierce advocate who refuses to put limits on the possibilities for children who once might have been deemed hopeless. She is often called a “one-woman revolution,” a spark that has ignited the community’s heart. The nonprofit organization she heads today is operated with grants, donations from businesses and individuals, and hundreds of volunteers from the community. Widely recognized and honored, Carson and My House exemplify how Emory and the Atlanta community can work together to help children.

Dialysis means the difference between life and death for babies born with poorly developed kidneys or for kids who develop acute kidney failure as a result of infection, as did several children a few years ago who visited an Atlanta water park contaminated by E. coli. Pediatric nephrology in general, including dialysis, receives less than half of the amount billed for their services. For children with no insurance, case managers work with the families to help them connect to any federal or state coverage for which they may be eligible. The issue gets more complicated in the case of children of immigrants who are in the United States without proper documentation. Invariably without money, they are ineligible for coverage and for donor kidneys and must receive ongoing dialysis.
     Barry Warshaw, the Emory doctor who established Georgia’s first dialysis service for children, says he doesn’t know—and doesn’t want to know—which children have coverage and which don’t. “When they walk in the door, we know that without dialysis they will sicken further, then die. Whether we are paid or not,” he says, “of course we are going to treat them.”

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