A Wake-up Call (2008)

wake up call

Small for her age, Tamara was falling further and further behind her classmates in other ways besides size.

  Caring for Kids

A Wake-up Call

Gaining Times for Little Lungs to Mature

She hung back at recess and often dozed off in class. When she suddenly fell asleep in the noisy cafeteria, snoring slightly as her cheek pressed into her untouched food tray, teachers took the child to the health clinic operated by Emory pediatricians on-site at Whitefoord Elementary School.

"Tamara was exhausted," recalls pediatrician Yuri Okuizumi-Wu (pictured above). The 5-year-old had obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which people stop breathing during sleep, often for a minute or longer at a time, until the brain briefly arouses them enough to gasp for breath. Tamara's chronic sleep deprivation affected everything from her ability to stay awake during class to her growth patterns.

Wu referred the child to an Emory specialist, who performed surgery at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. The change was dramatic. Fully awake for the first time in years, she began doing well in class. Within a year, her growth had caught up with that of many of her classmates.

The mission of the Whitefoord Community Program is "to ensure that every child has what he or she needs to succeed in school." For the school-based clinics operated by Emory pediatricians Veda Johnson and Wu, that means keeping kids healthy. In addition to the doctors, Emory provides an on-site dentist, two nurse practitioners, and several social workers in the Whitefoord Elementary and Coan Middle School clinics and the surrounding Edgewood community.

"We’re where the kids are," says Wu, "so parents in this hard-pressed community don't have to leave work to take their kids to the doctor." Being on-site also is a big advantage in helping chronically ill children, including those with asthma. "Many older children are pretty much taking care of themselves," says Wu, "and our staff often help young patients obtain their prescription meds or insurance coverage."

Because obesity recently has become a problem rivaling asthma in the community, the Emory team also operates a fitness program, with after-school exercise and nutrition classes, complete medical evaluations including cholesterol screens, and fitness-related field trips such as roller-skating, tree climbing, and other physical activities.

The Whitefoord and Coan clinics, the only school-based clinics in Georgia, receive funds from federal grants and private donations. Many patients—although far from all—are covered by Medicaid. Whether coverage exists or not, however, no child is ever turned away from care.

The program would never work without the generosity of doctors like Wu and Johnson. Nor would it work without support of their efforts from Emory's medical school and Emory Healthcare.