Perspectives

Catherine Bollard at People V. Cancer summit

In the news: People v. pediatric cancer

“I just want to hammer home the fact that, if you have a child with a pediatric solid tumor who relapses, most likely the chemotherapy that will be treating that child will be the same chemotherapy that a child diagnosed 20 years ago would have received. This is how little progress has been made…. This is what we are trying to change.”

Catherine Bollard, M.D., M.B.Ch.B., director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at Children’s National Hospital, pulled the curtain back on her work fighting pediatric brain tumors at The Atlantic’s People V. Cancer summit. This annual event brings together leading voices from the front lines for in-depth conversations about how to stop this complex and lethal disease. Dr. Bollard discussed the unique importance of collaboration among pediatric oncologists and the optimism she has for using a patient’s immune system to go after solid tumors with CAR T therapies.

Everyone Poops Book Cover

2022: Pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery today

Everyone Poops book coverAdapted from Levitt MA. New and exciting advances in pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery – 2021 update. Semin Pediatr Surg. 2020 Dec;29(6):150992.

As demonstrated in the popular children’s book by Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops, the physiology of stooling is a focus of early childhood development and a subject of concern for both parents and children. References to pediatric colorectal problems go back many thousands of years. In fact, the Babylonian Talmud, written in the year 200 CE, recommends that “an infant whose anus is not visible should be rubbed with oil and stood in the sun… and where it shows transparent the area should be torn crosswise with a barley grain.” Surgical techniques to manage such patients have certainly evolved since that time, but the basic principles of care remain the same.

How we got here

The modern story of the care of patients with anorectal malformations (ARMs) began in the 1940s in Melbourne, Australia, when Henry Douglas Stephens worked to define the anatomy of children with ARMs by analyzing the anatomy of twelve deceased patients with these conditions. He continued to focus on this specialty for the rest of his career and published two books on the topic in 1963 and 1971. Prior to his groundbreaking work, the anatomy of such patients was only a concept that existed in surgeons’ minds – without anatomic precision – since no one had actually seen the anatomy. These concepts were depicted in the bible of pediatric surgery in North America, the Gross textbook, which in retrospect was both oversimplified and inaccurate.

During his autopsy dissections, Stephens came to the key anatomic conclusion that the puborectalis muscle (the sphincters) lay behind the urethra. He devised an operation based on this concept: first, the urethra was identified, then a space between it and the puborectalis was dissected, and then the rectosigmoid was pulled through that space. A small incision in the perineum for the pulled-through bowel was made, within which the new anus was created. The perineal dissection was a blind maneuver. During the same time period, William Kiesewetter in Pittsburgh proposed his version of the sacral abdominoperineal pull-through using similar anatomic principles.

Justin Kelly was one of Stephens’ trainees in Australia who learned how to do this operation. At Boston Children’s Hospital in the late 1960’s, he taught what he had learned from Stephens to the surgeons there, including another trainee, Alberto Pena. Pena and his fellow surgical residents benefitted from exposure to Kelly as well as master surgeon Hardy Hendren, who operated on patients across town at Massachusetts General Hospital. Hendren, the pioneer in the care of children with cloacal anomalies, passed away this year at the age of 96.

Pena completed his training in Boston and went to Mexico City in 1972 at the age of 34 to become the head of surgery at the National Pediatric Institute. He tells the story that when he asked his new pediatric surgery faculty to choose an area of specialization, no one chose colorectal, so he decided to take on that group of patients and thus embarked on his revolutionary colorectal career. Pena at first applied the technique he had learned from Kelly to repair anorectal malformations, but he became increasingly frustrated by the procedure. He felt that the maneuvers offered very poor exposure to the anatomy, and over time his incision grew longer and longer. In 1980, Pena’s collaboration with Pieter de Vries – who had come to Mexico City to work on these cases with Pena – culminated in the first posterior sagittal anorectoplasty [Figure 1]. That same year, Pena presented his findings at a meeting of the Pacific Association of Pediatric Surgeons.

imperforate anus repair

Figure 1: Original diagrams of the posterior sagittal approach to repair imperforate anus

This posterior sagittal approach opened a beneficial Pandora’s Box in surgery. It allowed for a true understanding of the pelvic anatomy and led to the care of many conditions that were previously – to use Pena’s words – “too difficult to reach from above (via laparotomy) and too difficult to reach from below (perineally).” This new approach influenced the repair of cloacal malformations, urogenital sinus, pelvic tumors, urethral problems, reoperations for imperforate anus and Hirschsprung disease (HD), a transpubic approach for complex genitourinary problems, and a comprehensive strategy for the management of cloacal exstrophy. In addition to his surgical contributions, Pena also conceived of the intervention that has arguably improved patients’ quality of life the most: a focused approach to the bowel management of fecal incontinence. Thanks to such bowel management programs, now available at many centers across the world, thousands of children are no longer wearing diapers and have said goodbye to their stomas. The impact of bowel management is perhaps comparable to that of intermittent catheterization for patients with urinary incontinence.

My personal journey in this field began in 1992, when I was an eager medical student and signed up for an elective in pediatric surgery with Alberto Pena. This experience changed my career trajectory in a very dramatic and positive way. Medicine was becoming increasingly complex, and fields such as neonatal care, transplantation, and cardiology were benefitting from a collaborative approach. It became clear that the colorectal field needed the same approach. As a comparative example, consider the project of building a bridge. How does such a project start? The cement layers do not show up one day and lay cement prior to the steel team deciding where to place the beams. The project must begin with all parties meeting together to develop a comprehensive plan. Amazingly, however, that type of collaborative planning does not often happen in the care of medically complex patients. It most assuredly needs to.

The value of multi-disciplinary care

Medical complexity requires integrated and collaborative care because all the anatomic structures that need to be managed are located right next to each other and because each has a unique and complex physiology that can affect the other systems. To achieve success, patients with anorectal malformations, Hirschsprung disease, fecal incontinence (related to a variety of conditions), and colonic motility disorders require care from a variety of specialists throughout their lives. These include providers in the fields of colorectal surgery, urology, gynecology, gastroenterology, motility, orthopedics, neurosurgery, anesthesia, pathology, radiology, psychology, social work, nutrition, and many others. Perhaps most important to the achievement of a good functional result, however, is a patient’s connection to superb nursing care. A complex colorectal operation takes about four hours to perform, but to get a good result, it takes an additional 96 hours of work, the vast majority of which involves nursing care. The value of good nursing partners to ensure successful surgery cannot be overemphasized. They have unique skills in identifying and solving problems, a willingness to get down in the weeds, and are always striving to fill the gaps in care.

What parents want and need

Having met many parents with newborns diagnosed with colorectal problems, I have made several observations. First, it seems that no parent has ever imagined that their child could have a problem with stooling – this is a physiologic ability that is taken for granted. When they are told about the problem with their baby, they are uniformly shocked that something like this could happen. Second, when discussing that their child will need surgery to correct their colorectal anatomy, parents don’t focus on the surgical technique and elegance of the reconstruction, as surgeons tend to do. Instead, parents dwell on whether the surgery will create a working reconstructed anatomy that will allow their child to stool without difficulty or embarrassing accidents. As surgeons we need to remember this. We always need to understand what it is that the family and patient wishes us to deliver, and we need to strive to achieve those goals. As proud of our surgical skills as we are, it is the functional outcome that matters most.

Where we are in 2022

In 2022, the advances in the field of pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstruction are significant. They include new techniques and ideas that over time have made a dramatic and positive impact on the care and quality of life of children who suffer from colorectal problems. Here are a few such advances:

  1. Prenatal diagnosis of anorectal and cloacal malformations has been progressively improving. Perinatologists have learned to look for specific findings, such as a pelvic mass in a female with a single kidney, and consider that it could be a cloaca. Assessment of perineal anatomy, pubic bone integrity, sacral development, abnormalities of the radius bone, as well as cardiac, spinal, and renal anomalies may lead the clinician to consider that a fetus may have an anorectal malformation.
  2. Management of the newborn, particularly in the fields of newborn radiology and neonatal care, has dramatically improved as neonatal techniques have advanced. Specific to the colorectal patient have been advances in radiology such as assessments of hydronephrosis, 3D reconstruction of cloacal anomalies, and ultrasound-guided distal colostography. Further advances include improved techniques in the management of hydrocolpos and stoma care, to name a few.
  3. The treatment of associated urologic anomalies has diminished chronic renal disease, and proactive bladder management is reducing the need for bladder augmentations and renal transplantation.
  4. Understanding the gynecologic collaboration has helped clinicians define the Mullerian anatomy and better plan for menstruation and future obstetric potential.
  5. Prediction of continence, even in the newborn period, requires an understanding of the associated problems with the sacrum and spine. This knowledge has allowed clinicians to have more robust conversations with families about their child’s future.
  6. The decision of whether to do a newborn repair versus a colostomy must be guided by the surgeon’s experience and the clinical circumstances in which they find themselves.
  7. The defining of anatomy allows patients to be compared across medical centers, and for treatment options and outcomes to be uniformly analyzed. Keeping track of one’s outcomes and always striving to improve should be basic tenets of surgical practice.
  8. Recognizing the value of laparoscopy and knowing for which cases this approach should be applied. Morbidities associated with a laparoscopic approach for a rectum in an ARM patient well below the peritoneal reflection have been noted. In HD cases, laparoscopy can limit the stretching of the sphincters which occurs during the transanal rectal dissection.
  9. Development of a treatment algorithm for the management of cloacal malformations which considers the importance of their common channel and urethral lengths.
  10. Recognizing key complications after ARM and Hirschsprung surgery, knowing when and how to do a reoperation, determining the outcomes of such reoperations, and ultimately figuring out how to avoid complications altogether.
  11. Understanding the causes of fecal incontinence, the amount of incontinence that can be anticipated, and the surgical contributors to achieving continence.
  12. Development of bowel management programs in multiple centers and committing to following these patients in the long term.
  13. Learning the pathophysiology of motility disorders and developing treatment protocols, as a result of the vital collaboration between surgery and GI/motility. Medical treatments with laxatives, rectal enemas, botox injection of the anal canal, and surgical adjuncts such as antegrade colonic flush options and sometimes colon resections are key aspects of the treatment armamentarium.
  14. Developing a collaboration between colorectal surgery and urology allows the clinical team to know when the colon can be used for a bladder augment (which not only offers an augment option but also can improve antegrade flushes of the colon) or if the appendix can be shared between Malone and Mitrofanoff. The collaboration with urology to plan the management of both urinary and fecal continence during the same operation is a very valuable trend. This proactive planning has improved the lives of many patients and has reduced the numbers of operations they need as well as their hospital stays.
  15. Sacral Nerve Stimulation (SNS) has shown promise in the management of urinary incontinence and seems to have a role in improving fecal continence and promoting motility, as an adjunct to treatments for constipation.
  16. Development of dedicated colorectal centers that are integrated and collaborative allows a team to tabulate their results and strive for better outcomes. The value of a collaborative model for the care of such patients cannot be overstated, not only for patient convenience, but also for creating an integrated plan for their care. These exist now in many parts of the country and care is available in nearly every region, reducing a family’s need to travel great distances away from their home to access care.
  17. Establishing a transition to adult programs, as with congenital heart disease and cystic fibrosis. Colorectal surgeons are obligated to develop a transition plan for their patients as they enter adulthood.
  18. Using Basic Science to advance the field, including tissue engineering and genetics, will be revolutionary. We should be able to imagine the day when cloacal reconstruction could be based on a previously tissue-engineered segment of vagina, produced by the patient’s own stem cells. In addition, the genetics of anorectal malformations as well as Hirschsprung disease are being vigorously pursued which will impact parental counseling and potential therapies.
  19. Real time data used to follow outcomes is needed to keep track of complications as well. That information can be used to adjust protocols which will improve results.
  20. Development of international consortiums will help patients in a way that is not achievable by a single institution. Consortiums allow ideas to be spread rapidly which will dramatically affect how many patients can be helped and how quickly. The Pediatric Colorectal and Pelvic Learning Consortium, pcplc.org, is well on its way to achieving these goals.
  21. Bringing complex care to all corners of the world because there is a great deficiency in advanced colorectal care in the developing world. The care of colorectal patients in a resource-limited setting has unique challenges, but creative solutions by innovative surgeons in those areas have a led to dramatic improvements in care.
  22. Parent/patient organizations provide education, advocacy, and support for families at all stages of their child’s care. With internet access readily available, colorectal patients and their families can now access the welcoming environment of these organizations, and no longer feel as lost and alone as in previous years.

Why it matters

Given all these wonderful advances, we must continue to reaffirm the key principles stated by Sir Dennis Browne that “the aim of pediatric surgery is to set a standard, not to seek a monopoly.” With an integrated approach to the care of this complex group of patients, great things can be achieved. I am hopeful that the caregivers and parent/patient group organizations who commit to the care of children with colorectal problems and understand the daily struggle of improving a patient’s quality of life will learn the skills and tricks necessary to achieve good results. If they do, they will help many children.

Finally, I will share a humorous piece written by my daughter, Jess Levitt, regarding the value of bringing order to chaos. Its message is particularly relevant to the care of children with colorectal problems in 2022, as we build on our efforts to improve, streamline, and transform the formerly chaotic process through collaboration and education. As we endeavor to advance this field, we need to remember what Dr. Pena often said: “It is not the unanswered questions, but rather the unquestioned answers that one must pursue.”

“A” must come before “B,” which must come before “C,” everybody knows that. But what if the Millercamps of this world did not have to sit next to the Millerchips when it comes to seating arrangements? Can Pat Zawatsky be called before Jack Aaronson when the teacher is taking attendance? Do those 26 letters that make up all the dialogue, signs, thoughts, books, and titles in the English-speaking department of the world need their specific spots in line? Everyone can sing the well-known jingle from A to Z, but not many people can tell you why the alphabet is the way it is.

For almost as long as humans have had the English language, they have had the alphabet. The good ol’ ABCs. However, the alphabet represents the human need for order and stability. I believe that the same thinking that went into the construct of time and even government went into the alphabet. Justifiably, lack of order leads to chaos. Knife-throwing, gun-shooting chaos, in the case of lack of governmental order. Listen to me when I tell you that there is absolutely no reason that the alphabet is arranged the way that it is. Moreover, the alphabet is simply a product of human nature and how it leads people to establish order for things that do not require it.

Now I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me. Only if you really peel away the layers of the alphabet will you find the true weight it carries. People organized the letters of our speech into a specific order simply because there wasn’t already one. Questioning this order will enlighten you on the true meaning of it. Really dig deep into the meaning behind the social construct that is the alphabet. Short and sweet as it may be, the order of the ABCs is much less than meets the eye. There is no reason that “J” should fall before “K”! Understand this. Very important as order is, it is only a result of human nature.

What’s next? X-rays become independent of Xylophones in children’s books of ABCs?

You know what the best part is? Zero chance you even noticed that each sentence in this essay is in alphabetical order.

– Jess Levitt

Hands holding letters that spell autism

Increasing access to autism spectrum disorder services through enhanced training

Hands holding letters that spell autismMany service providers struggle to keep pace with advances in autism-specific knowledge and tend to refer children to autism specialty clinics when the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is in question. Unfortunately, it is in these settings where children most often wait for months or, worse, experience barriers to accessing any care at all. This has resulted in an access crisis for children and families with ASD concerns contributing to delays in diagnosis and treatment, particularly for children of color and for under-resourced families. Service disruptions and challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic have only added to delays. As the need for autism-related services continues to grow, innovative models must be used to enhance competence among frontline medical, behavioral health and community-based providers who currently serve these children and families on a regular basis.

Children’s National Hospital has initiated a number of endeavors focused on increasing access to ASD services through enhanced training experiences, mentorship of allied mental health and frontline professionals and utilization of multidisciplinary approaches. These approaches enhance the skills and knowledge of treatment providers, which allows them to accurately address the needs of autistic patients while they await more comprehensive evaluations and sometimes reduce the need for additional evaluation. The following are efforts currently underway.

Virtual ECHO (Extension Community Healthcare Outcomes) Autism Clinics

The Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (CASD) is hosting virtual ECHO (Extension Community Healthcare Outcomes) Autism Clinics aimed at building autism knowledge and competencies amongst community providers by creating shared learning forums with a multidisciplinary group of autism specialists for dissemination of knowledge and mentorship.

Clinics run in 6-month sessions on a bimonthly basis and target professionals in medical, community and educational/early intervention settings. There is no requirement for prior autism-related knowledge or training. The emphasis in learning stems from case-based discussions primarily, along with targeted autism specific didactics.

We have found good satisfaction with the program overall, as well as self-report of gains in ASD-specific knowledge and care competencies as a result of participation in ECHO. To date, CASD’s ECHO Autism program has reached 290 professionals and trainees serving autistic children and their families.

Integration of autism evaluations into primary care sites

The Community Mental Health (CMH) CORE (Collaboration, Outreach, Research, Equity) within the Children’s National Hospital Child Health Advocacy Institute (CHAI) has been working collaboratively with several other divisions, including CASD, to integrate autism evaluations into primary care sites for young children with high concern about ASD. We aim to increase capacity and access to autism services by training embedded psychologists in primary care settings in autism diagnostics.

By increasing behavioral health provider capacity and integrating in primary care, this clinic has been able to drastically decrease waits for ASD services by months to years. Families served by the program were predominately Black (81%) or Latinx (10%), and most (87%) had public insurance. Nearly one third (32%) were not primary English speakers. An ASD diagnosis was provided in 68% of all cases.

All referring PCPs surveyed indicated that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the program, that they “strongly like the integrated clinic model,” and that the program “is increasing equitable access to ASD. Currently, CHAI-supported ASD-focused embedded clinics in primary care have served 94 children and their families.

brain network illustration

Changing the surgical evaluation of epilepsy

brain network illustrationThe choice between stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) and subdural evaluation is not mutually exclusive, according to a new opinion piece published in JAMA Neurology.

In their article, Chima Oluigbo, M.D., pediatric epilepsy neurosurgeon, William D. Gaillard, M.D., division chief of Epilepsy and Neurophysiology and Neurology, both at Children’s National Hospital, and Mohamad Z. Koubeissi, M.D., M.A., from The George Washington University Hospital, discuss how the practicing epileptologist requires a profound understanding of the roles of different technologies. It also looks at how to integrate both traditional and emerging paradigms to optimize seizure control. This issue is particularly relevant to choosing the best method of invasive intracranial electroencephalography monitoring in individual cases.

Noting that despite the dramatic increase in SEEG use in recent years, the authors talk about how many patients still benefit from invasive monitoring using subdural grids. Therefore, it is important to define the considerations that should guide decision-making on the choice of SEEG versus subdural monitoring in each patient. The authors expand on their statement explaining that it is critical to define the roles of SEEG vs subdural grid investigation in each patient as subdural grid evaluations are still indicated in specific circumstances.

Additionally combined hybrid deployment of both techniques may be indicated in specific situations. Accommodation should be made to allow customization of the technique chosen to available technical expertise and equipment as well as patient preference.

Marva Moxey Mims

Tackling bias – the power of one

Marva Moxey MimsIn the most recent edition of the American Society of Pediatric Nephrology’s Kidney Notes, Children’s National Hospital Chief of Nephrology, Marva Moxey-Mims, M.D., wrote a perspective piece asking other providers to join her in an effort to see patients as a whole person and try to put aside personal biases, thereby improving overall patient care.

In this personal commentary, Dr. Moxey-Mims reflects on challenging herself to better serve patients by making sure they feel seen and to understand them. “Just think of the ripple effect if we can do this with even a fraction of our patients,” said Dr. Moxey-Mims. “The goodwill that patients will feel knowing that we are trying to see them is immeasurable.”

You can read the entire article “Tackling Bias – The Power of One” here.

hand holding blocks that spell out IBD

Q&A with Carmelo Cuffari, M.D., on inflammatory bowel disease

hand holding blocks that spell out IBDCarmelo Cuffari, M.D., the new director of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Program at Children’s National Hospital is a pediatric gastroenterologist with over 25 years of expertise in managing children and adolescents with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. His areas of research include drug development and the pharmacology and genomics of immunomodulatory drugs in inflammatory bowel disease and in transplantation.

Here, Dr. Cuffari tells us more about the program he is leading and what it means for the future of pediatric IBD patients at Children’s National.

Q: What are some of the most valuable changes or advancements for the program you hope to see in the next couple of years?

A: In my position as director of IBD, Children’s National supports my goals for the program which include:

  • Expanded regional accessibility to an IBD specialist
  • Potential to develop international services
  • Potential to develop a multidisciplinary pediatric IBD program that would include surgery, psychology and genetics
  • Expanding staff to include another IBD specialist to increase our reach

Q: What makes the IBD at Children’s National unique from other programs in the country?

A: We have the unique possibility of developing a colorectal team with our surgical colleagues. This level of collaboration is unique and is a function of our division being under the department of pediatric surgery.

Q: Where do you see research in IBD going in the next few years?

A: There are many areas of exciting growth in research. The areas I am most excited about include:

  • Developing a tailored therapeutic approach to disease management that is disease phenotype specific
  • Developing biomarkers that may help identify which part of the immune system is dysregulated
  • Very early onset IBD (<6yrs) will be better defined genetically and immunologically
boy with headache

Kids’ headaches can be disruptive. We need solutions.

Experts leading the Headache Program at Children’s National Hospital recognize how common these disorders are. They also know how disruptive they can be in the day-to-day of children.

Marc DiSabella, D.O., is the director of the program. He is currently leading five pediatric headache trials. In this Q&A, he tells us about the ongoing trials, offering insight into innovative solutions and how he’s carving a new path to improve the quality of life of his patients.

Q: How has your team advised other neurologists on innovative care for patients with headaches that have been refractory to medicines?

A: We receive referrals from outside institutions when they need additional input for diagnostic and management options. We receive patient consult requests from around the country – and sometimes out of the country – to help improve symptoms. In most instances, these headaches tend to be difficult to control and do not respond to available medications. We really try to take a holistic approach to their care, and use treatments in parallel. For example, diagnostic, lifestyle techniques, medications, pain focused cognitive behavioral therapy and physical therapy. We also use complementary medicine as needed, such as acupuncture, injections and infusions.

Q: It is unusual for neurology divisions to run multiple pediatric trials focused on headaches. You are currently leading five that are open. How does this work move the field forward?

A: The medications we offer through our trials allow us to offer treatments that would otherwise not be available to pediatric patients. We do this in hopes of providing them relief while advancing the field. We are hopeful that these new therapies are as effective in pediatrics as they have shown to be in adults. But it is necessary to complete randomized clinical trials to prove this is the case. Historically, pediatric patients in clinical trials investigating painful conditions like migraines have had a disproportionately high placebo response rate. This means even the patients receiving a benign placebo have a high chance of symptom improvement. The newer medications show much better tolerability to the drugs used historically.

Q: What excites you about this work?

A: Pediatric pain disorders are unbelievably gratifying to treat because we take a mysterious disorder that waxes and wanes with no clear reason and give patients back control of their lives. It is extremely frustrating for a patient and their family to know that their day-to-day life can be abruptly derailed by a pain crisis. We work to provide them with several tools they can use daily to take back their lives.

Q: How is this work unique?

A: Our program was created organically over the years through our experiences with our patients. First, we noticed the disruption to patients’ personal and school performance from having untreated pain and recognized the need for pain psychology. Then, we expanded to have physical therapy to recondition patients and perform desensitization. Finally, we recognized our patients need additional medication options not offered through the standard of care. So, we expanded to open our various clinical trials, including those with pharma and internal protocols. As a result, we incorporated the use of Botox injections, for example, and soon will use a novel remote electro-neuromodulatory device.

medical symbol on a map of the world

Observership program builds worldwide expertise to treat colorectal issues

medical symbol on a map of the worldPediatric colorectal specialists are in short supply, and this is particularly true in many areas of the developing world. When Marc Levitt, M.D., travels abroad, he consistently finds eager surgeons and nurses who wish to obtain advanced colorectal skills to help their patients. To meet this need Dr. Levitt has established an international observership program that brings leading physicians and nurses from around the globe to participate in one- to three-month-long observerships.

During 2022, the program will welcome participants from 13 different countries including Spain, Belgium, Vietnam, Indonesia, Chile, Pakistan, Uganda, Iraq, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

Under the colorectal team’s instruction, participating physicians and nurses will learn how to diagnose and care for children with complex colorectal conditions. They will learn about the wide range of malformations and successful treatment options so they can bring these skills to patients in their home countries. Those selected for these observerships are among the most promising providers in their communities who currently work to improve treatment for children with colorectal issues.  The patients they care for are those who would otherwise have no or limited access to this specialty care.

For information about applying for the observership program, please contact the colorectal department at ColorectalVisitors@childrensnational.org.

masked kids giving thumbs up in front of school bus

Pediatricians and public health officials should unite against controversial school masking bans

masked kids giving thumbs up in front of school bus

To keep in-person learning and protect students in schools, pediatricians and public health officials must advocate for evidence-based mitigation strategies that can reduce COVID-19 transmission — especially the Delta variant, which overwhelmed pediatric emergency rooms and hospitals, argued Yang et al. in a Perspective published in the journal Pediatrics.

To keep in-person learning and protect students in schools, pediatricians and public health officials must advocate for evidence-based mitigation strategies that can reduce COVID-19 transmission — especially the Delta variant, which overwhelmed pediatric emergency rooms and hospitals, argued Yang et al. in a Perspective published in the journal Pediatrics.

The authors propose that pediatricians and their associated institutions actively advocate for masking in schools and debunk myths and misinformation during well and sick visits. In addition, they encourage doctors to develop and disseminate behavioral strategies to support children’s compliance with masking based on individual abilities and needs. Finally, providers can partner with educators at the local, district, state and national levels to advocate for evidence-based masking policies.

“As pediatricians, it is our responsibility to advocate for universal masking to facilitate safe in-person schooling for all children,” said Sarah Schaffer DeRoo, M.D., pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital and co-author of the Perspective. “Children have readily adapted to masking during the pandemic and continuing this practice in schools is not a significant change from their recent experience.”

To date, nine states have enacted policies to prohibit school masking mandates, disregarding evidence that masking is a crucial COVID-19 preventive measure, Yang et al. wrote. The court overturned these mandates in four states out of the nine because they either exceeded the governor’s executive authority or did not comply with the law granting the executive order’s authority. In other instances, judges have only placed a temporary block.

“Despite politically charged rhetoric and headline-grabbing lawsuits, evidence shows that schools without mask mandates are more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks,” said Y. Tony Yang, Sc.D., endowed professor of health policy and executive director of the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at the George Washington University, and lead author of the Perspective. “Pediatricians have generally commanded a heightened level of public trust, which suggests that pediatricians who make the case for policies that advance sound medical and public health science may have a greater chance than other advocates of generating the public and political will needed to make evidence-based policy ideas, such as school mask mandates, a reality.”

Some localities have found creative ways to circumvent state mask mandate bans by altering the school dress code to include face coverings and finding loopholes that do not apply to individual cities. Parents have also tried to challenge the policies in court, asserting that mask mandate bans violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

“Continued efforts are needed to ensure schools are able to promote reasonable, evidence-based strategies to promote the health of their students, teachers and communities, and we, as advocates for children, are obligated to emphatically support these efforts,” said Yang et al.

Cover of the December issue of Seminars on Pediatric Surger

Reflections on Seminars in Pediatric Surgery December 2020

Cover of the December issue of Seminars on Pediatric Surger

Marc Levitt, M.D., served as guest editor of a special December Seminars in Pediatric Surgery dedicated to the care and treatment of anorectal malformations.

By Marc Levitt, M.D., chief of the Division of Colorectal and Pelvic Reconstruction at Children’s National Hospital

I was honored to serve as the Guest Editor on the topic of “Anorectal Malformations” in the prestigious Seminars in Pediatric Surgery Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2020.

We had 64 contributing authors from 12 countries; Australia, Austria, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Spain, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, and 12 U.S. colorectal collaborating programs; Children’s National, Boston Children’s, Children’s Mercy, Children’s Wisconsin, C.S. Mott Children’s, Cincinnati Children’s, Nationwide Children’s, Nicklaus Children’s, Omaha Children’s, Primary Children’s, Seattle Children’s, and UC Davis Children’s.

There were eight authors from the Children’s National team; myself, Colorectal Director Andrea Badillo, M.D., Colorectal Program Manager Julie Choueiki, MSN, RN, Surgical Center Director Susan Callicott, Katie Worst, CPNP-AC, Grace Ma, M.D., Chief of Urology Hans Pohl, M.D., and Chief of Gynecology Veronica Gomez-Lobo, M.D.

The series of articles included in this collection illustrate new techniques and ideas that over time have made a dramatic and positive impact on the care and quality of life of children who suffer from colorectal problems. With an integrated approach to the care of this complex group of patients, great things can be achieved. As we endeavor to advance this field, we need to always remember that, as Alberto Pena, M.D., often said, “it is not the unanswered questions, but rather the unquestioned answers that one must pursue.”

In my own article on advances in the field, a 2021 update, I reproduce a piece by my daughter, Jess Levitt, who wrote something applicable to the care of children with colorectal problems, with the message that helping to create order is vital to improve a somewhat chaotic medical process traditionally available for the care of complex care. Her essay is reproduced here:

“A” must come before “B,” which must come before “C,” everybody knows that. But what if the Millercamp’s of this world did not have to sit next to the Millerchip’s when it comes to seating arrangements? Can Pat Zawatsky be called before Jack Aaronson when the teacher is taking attendance? Do those 26 letters that make up all the dialogue, signs, thoughts, books, and titles in the English-speaking departments of the world need their specific spots in line? Everyone can sing you the well-known jingle from A to Z, but not many people can tell you why the alphabet is the way it is. For almost as long as humans have had the English language, they have had the alphabet. The good ole ABCs.

However, the alphabet represents the human need for order and stability. I believe that the same thinking that went into the construct of time and even government went into the alphabet. Justifiably, lack of order leads to chaos. Knife-throwing, gun-shooting chaos, in the case of lack of governmental order. Listen to me when I tell you that there is absolutely no reason that the alphabet is arranged the way that it is. Moreover, the alphabet is simply a product of human nature and how it leads people to establish order for things that do not require it. 

Now I know this sounds crazy but bear with me. Only if you really peel away the layers of the alphabet will you find the true weight it carries. People organized the letters of our speech into a specific order simply because there wasn’t already one. Questioning this order will enlighten you on the true meaning of it. Really dig deep into the meaning behind the social construct that is the alphabet. Short and sweet as it may be, the order of the ABCs is much less than meets the eye. There is no reason that “J” should fall before “K!” Understand this. Very important as order is, it is only a result of human nature.  What’s next? X-rays become independent of Xylophones in children’s books of ABCs? 

You know what the best part is? Zero chance you even noticed that each sentence in this essay is in alphabetical order.

Her literary contribution inspired me to do something similar. Take a look at the list of articles in this Seminars edition:

  1. Creating a collaborative program for the care of children with colorectal and pelvic problems. Alejandra Vilanova-Sánchez, Julie Choueiki, Caitlin A. Smith, Susan Callicot, Jason S. Frischer and Marc A. Levitt
  2. Optimal management of the newborn with an anorectal malformation and evaluation of their continence potential. Sebastian K. King, Wilfried Krois, Martin Lacher, Payam Saadai, Yaron Armon and Paola Midrio
  3. Lasting impact on children with an anorectal malformations with proper surgical preparation, respect for anatomic principles, and precise surgical management. Rebecca M. Rentea, Andrea T. Badillo, Stuart Hosie, Jonathan R. Sutcliffe and Belinda Dickie
  4. Long-term urologic and gynecologic follow-up and the importance of collaboration for patients with anorectal malformations. Clare Skerritt, Daniel G. Dajusta, Molly E. Fuchs, Hans Pohl, Veronica Gomez-Lobo and Geri Hewitt
  5. Assessing the previously repaired patient with an anorectal malformation who is not doing well. Victoria A. Lane, Juan Calisto, Ivo Deblaauw, Casey M. Calkins, Inbal Samuk and Jeffrey R. Avansino
  6. Bowel management for the treatment of fecal incontinence and constipation in patients with anorectal malformations. Onnalisa Nash, Sarah Zobell, Katherine Worst and Michael D. Rollins
  7. Organizing the care of a patient with a cloacal malformation: Key steps and decision making for pre-, intra-, and post-operative repair. Richard J. Wood, Carlos A. Reck-Burneo, Alejandra Vilanova-Sanchez and Marc A. Levitt
  8. Radiology of anorectal malformations: What does the surgeon need to know? Matthew Ralls, Benjamin P. Thompson, Brent Adler, Grace Ma, D. Gregory Bates, Steve Kraus and Marcus Jarboe
  9. Adjuncts to bowel management for fecal incontinence and constipation, the role of surgery; appendicostomy, cecostomy, neoappendicostomy, and colonic resection. Devin R. Halleran, Cornelius E.J. Sloots, Megan K. Fuller and Karen Diefenbach
  10. Treating pediatric colorectal patients in low and middle income settings: Creative adaptation to the resources available. Giulia Brisighelli, Victor Etwire, Taiwo Lawal, Marion Arnold and Chris Westgarth-Taylor
  11. Importance of education and the role of the patient and family in the care of anorectal malformations. Greg Ryan, Stephanie Vyrostek, Dalia Aminoff, Kristina Booth, Sarah Driesbach, Meghan Fisher, Julie Gerberick, Michel Haanen, Chelsea Mullins, Lori Parker and Nicole Schwarzer
  12. Ongoing care for the patient with an anorectal malfromation; transitioning to adulthood. Alessandra Gasior, Paola Midrio, Dalia Aminoff and Michael Stanton
  13. New and exciting advances in pediatric colorectal and pelvic reconstructive surgery – 2021 update. Marc A. Levitt

The first letter of each article forms an acrostic of the word “COLLABORATION” which is the secret sauce behind any success in the field of pediatric colorectal care.