Pediatric cardiologist Kim Molina, MD, has a special way she connects with her young patients as part of the heart transplant team at Primary Children’s Hospital. These patients, like Alex Homer, are dealing with multiple surgeries and intense medical situations. Dr. Molina and the team have learned how to connect with their lives outside the hospital.
Alex has been a heart patient since he was days old, but like a typical kid he likes to have fun. By getting to know him on a more personal level, Dr. Molina and her staff have managed to make his medical visits and the big decisions weighing on the family a little lighter.
“These kids don’t have a lot of options, nor can they necessarily grasp everything that is happening in their medical care,” says Dr. Molina. “They may sense that major life and death decisions are being made, but as their doctor I want to make each encounter unique for them. I want to know, how can we connect as people, aside from medicine?”
For Alex as a young patient, one thing they quickly realized they have in common is a preference for gummy candy. “We connected over our sweet tooth,” Dr. Molina says. “During his visits we’d take a moment to talk about the shapes and types of gummy candies and do gummy candy exchanges. It really helped lighten up the visits and brought a human element to his care.”
Dr. Molina says Alex even brought her some brain-shaped gummies and anatomically correct heart-shaped gummies during Halloween one year.
For other patients, finding common ground can be talking about superheroes, Disney movies, or TV shows. One of the heart transplant coordinators, Deseret “Dez” Faull, says she will sometimes surprise patients with drawings of superheroes (or the bad guys) and take requests for drawings. Kids love it and Ninja turtle drawings are a favorite, she says.
“It’s really about having conversations and encounters that bring out their personality in a way that isn’t related to their heart disease,” adds Dr. Molina. “It gives you a more personal connection and an insight into their world.”