Youngest Patients Benefit from Full GI Services and Accessible Pediatric Gastroenterologists

When a 6-year-old patient recently came to University of Maryland Children’s Hospital for an endoscopy, his parents had an unusual request: Could the little boy, who had autism and a fierce fear of barbers, be given a haircut while under sedation?

The boy awakened from his procedure — which provided valuable insight into his gastrointestinal health — with a buzz cut and a happy mom and dad.

“The key part of the story is that we try to accommodate the patient as a whole,” says Samra Blanchard, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric gastroenterology. “We have an all-pediatric sedation team, so we have a really pediatric-friendly environment. It’s important for children not to fear procedures … and all of our providers are pediatric-trained and act to the level of the kids and their perception.”

The Pediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology Division offers a soup-to-nuts array of services to about 5,000 young patients each year with a wide range of GI issues, including common problems — such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, food allergies and abdominal pain — as well as more complex conditions such as short gut syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and celiac disease. Staffed by “a very clinical group in an academic setting,” the division consists of seven clinical physicians, one nurse practitioner and two research physicians, Dr. Blanchard explains. Every physician among this group is board-certified in pediatric gastroenterology and general pediatrics, and pediatric surgeons collaborate closely on patient care.

Though well-respected for diagnostic and treatment capabilities, Dr. Blanchard knows there is another feature that sets her group apart from other pediatric gastroenterology teams. “Our selling point is that we’re a very accessible group,” Dr. Blanchard says. “The parents tell us that when they call, their calls are promptly returned — it’s not like they have to wait three or four days. If anyone wants to get in sooner, they can usually get an appointment within 24 to 36 hours.”

Pediatric Infusion Center caters to IBD Patients

A staggering variety of specialized procedures — from advanced endoscopy to feeding tube management — are offered to pediatric patients at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital on an outpatient basis. One of the most vital is the Pediatric Infusion Center, where children and teens with IBD benefit from intravenous medications in a cozy setting. Opened two years ago, the center is tailored to youngsters with a kid-friendly atmosphere that includes all modern amenities, Dr. Blanchard says.

“We really cater to that population very well,” she says. “They can come in, watch TV, connect to the Internet and get infusions. They also get blood work and see the physicians for appointments on the same day, so it’s one shot.”

But when it’s time to provide some “tough love” to nudge older pediatric patients toward adulthood and ongoing treatment responsibilities, University of Maryland Children’s Hospital physicians are on hand for that as well. The hospital offers a transitional clinic to adult GI services for patients over 18 — a process that can be physically and emotionally fraught for parents and kids alike.

“We try to make it easier for them to suddenly come into the adult world,” Dr. Blanchard explains. “It’s so hard for parents to let go … to transition from being involved at the beginning to stepping back and letting their child take charge. It’s sometimes also easier for a 19-year-old, for instance, to continue to let their parents handle their care, but we like to start the smooth process where young adults know about their meds and the parents have to stay back a bit.” 

Another important offering for pediatric GI patients is a functional abdominal pain clinic for those whose intestinal distress — while not caused by a physical disorder — is accompanied or exacerbated by anxiety or depression. Operated at nearby Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, this unique service pairs gastroenterologists with psychologists to help patients — mostly teenagers — tackle symptoms through medications, counseling and behavioral therapy.

Double-Teaming for Functional Abdominal Pain

A 14-year-old girl was a recent success story. Coping with sleeping problems and fear of crowds in addition to abdominal pain and nausea, she was referred to the clinic when many GI medications failed. After six months of treatment, she was “back to school, going to the movies … back to a normal, functional life,” Dr. Blanchard says. “It’s not that it works with everybody, but even one success makes it worth it to keep doing that clinic.”

The Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital is committed to seeing patients with urgent issues in a timely matter. 

To schedule an appointment, please call 1-866-408-6885.