Football, baseball, soccer, scooters, rollerblades…
If there’s an activity or sport that kids can do, Anne and Steve Skinner’s kids want to do it.
And having such active children means that these young Lake Forest parents don’t sweat the small stuff. They don’t lose sleep at night thinking about the everyday bumps and bruises that come with kids who would rather run and play then spend their summer on a couch.
But when their son Jack, 12, and daughter Caroline, 9, experienced three separate injuries within one season, they gained a new understanding of what specialized pediatric care—and having world-class doctors right next door—can mean for a parent’s peace of mind and a child’s well being.
It began at the start of summer when Caroline broke her wrist while playing football with some kids in the neighborhood. (She played on an all-boys team during the school year.) Anne and Steve called Tomas Nemickas, MD, a board-certified orthopaedic physician who treats both adults and children.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that some of the area’s most amazing doctors are right here. They may even be your neighbors,” Anne says. “It was a Saturday, but he met us in his office right away. Dr. Nemickas could work anywhere in the city, but thankfully we have physicians like him right here at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.”
One child heals, another enters surgery
With her bandaged daughter in tow, Anne went to a wedding out of state while Steve stayed home with son Jack. But during that weekend, Jack went to a friend’s house and hurt his big toe while playing basketball.
“My husband called me and said the toe was really bloody. But still, we assumed it was a relatively minor injury, like maybe a bad bruise,” Anne says. “I thought to myself, ‘Hopefully this isn’t that big of a deal.’”
Steve took Jack to the Emergency Department at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and learned that the toe was fractured.
Specialists calm children—and their parents
Steve followed up the ER visit with another trip to Dr. Nemickas’ office. Closer inspection revealed that the fractured growth plate had broken through the nail bed and skin. Urgent surgery was needed to prevent infection and enable proper healing and growth.
“It was more serious than we thought. I was surprised to learn that he would need surgery right away, under general anesthesia,” Steve says. “The general anesthesia was our greatest fear in the whole process. Luckily we had Dr. Dee, an anesthesiologist with pediatric specialty training. He made Jack feel very comfortable.”
Aside from managing the anesthesia specifically for a child, Stanley Dee, MD does things that adult anesthesiologists don’t do. He brings in toys and stuffed animals, rocks his infant and toddler patients and establishes trust and rapport to make the experience as non-threatening as possible.
“Kids are entirely different,” he says. “Not only do they have their own unique set of fears about anesthesia and surgery, but they sense their parent’s apprehension. There are also lots of unfamiliar sights and sounds in the operating room.”
More active kids, more broken bones
The high rates of injuries and accidents among children mean that pediatric specialty care is critical for families, especially those with highly active kids.
According to the National Safety Council and the National Center for Injury and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of death among children between the ages of one and 14—ahead of illness, congenital disorders, or water- and food-related accidents. Falls like Jack’s account for over a third of all emergency room visits. And they don’t just happen on the playground or during sports practice—most occur in and around the home, despite the presence of vigilant parents and caregivers.
And in the Skinner household, the expression “when it rains, it pours” seemed to be coming true. While her right wrist was healing, and her brother was still recovering, Caroline’s other wrist broke when she fell off a RipStik (a snowboard for dry ground). Dr. Nemickas and Ed Hamming, MD treated Caroline for her new injury.
According to Dr. Nemickas, the technology of recreational equipment has advanced, and it’s faster than it used to be.
“The protective gear has advanced along with the equipment, but parents don’t always use it. Sometimes they outfit their first child, and when nothing happens they slack off a bit with the second,” he says. “In this case, Caroline was wearing a helmet. But I’ve seen kids ride bikes without shoes, race scooters in the streets without helmets, use skateboards to do jumps and tricks on half-pipes in driveways—moves that used to be limited to a small group of people who had special training or conditioning.”
Trusting your gut
So how do parents with an injured or ill child know when to see a specialist?
Dr. Nemickas explains that while there are no hard and fast rules, parents can do well by following their own awareness of their child’s disposition.
“You know your kids better than anyone else, and often a parent’s gut feeling is very reliable,” he says. “If the child’s reactions seem out of character, or there’s no change in the condition, it might need additional, specialized attention.”
And, he adds, when it comes to preventing child injuries, a little protection and some old-fashioned common sense can go a long way.
“I get it. I’ve got kids. You can’t roll them in bubble wrap. But consider helmets and wrist guards. We see about two wrist and elbow injuries a day in the summer,” he says. “And the old rules of no running or jumping in the house really do work. Accidents will happen, but you want to find the balance between not being too restrictive and providing appropriate supervision.”
Advanced care around the corner
As for Jack and Caroline, their summer was sidelined somewhat, but both have healed and are back in action. Despite their injuries, Anne and Steve’s approach to managing their kids’ activities hasn’t changed all that much.
“We want them to continue to be active in sports, activities that are good for them in lots of ways. But let’s just say that we’re thankful to have great local doctors,” Anne says. “My friends were thrilled to hear that we could get treated by physicians like Dr. Dee and Dr. Nemickas right here in Lake Forest.”
And for Steve Skinner, location makes all the difference in the long road ahead as his kids grow up and likely become more active and involved in athletics.
“It’s very comforting to have physicians who live in the community looking after us,” he says. “It wasn’t just the expertise or specialized pediatric care, but that they could see us quickly and answer questions any time of day or night. You get a sense of people who really care about your kids’ well-being.”
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