8/22/12 | 924 views
New Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers Nurtures Special Needs Children at Rest and Play
Stephanie Gabaud, a 14-year-old girl who has bravely lived with spina bifida since birth, stares determinedly at a statue that depicts her likeness in the lobby of the new Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers.
The artwork, commissioned for the center when Stephanie was 3 years old, also features a bronze tracheostomy on the figure of the then-toddler.
Although Stephanie never actually wore what is commonly referred to as a trach, the artist included one on the statue to calm the fears of the many young patients there who do.
Stephanie admits that when she was younger that aspect of the artist’s rendering bothered her. But with age comes wisdom. Stephanie now knows she is as an integral role model for patients of all kinds.
An alumna of the center who sometimes returns to her alma mater as a patient, Stephanie—who was a resident from when she was a few weeks old through age 6—could almost be called Madame Mayor, she is that popular there.
A member of Our Lady of Sorrows parish in White Plains, Stephanie willingly befriends new patients and helps them feel at home.
Stephanie gives rave reviews to the 25-year-old center’s new home at 300 Corporate Blvd. South. It opened its new doors March 5, relocating from Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
The $125 million “green” complex situated on six-and-a-half wooded acres is so stately that some tourists and business travelers have mistaken the towering center for a neighboring hotel.
It serves children from infancy through age 21 who are and physically and neurologically challenged and among the most vulnerable.
Illnesses include those caused by complications from premature birth, as well as cerebral palsy, congenital heart disease, chronic lung disease, chromosome disorders, metabolic disorders, respiratory disorders, and muscular and neurological diseases. Nearly 70 percent of the young patients are afflicted with developmental delays.
Stephanie is one of many captivated by the new center.
“It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to the city of Yonkers in the last 50 years. It’s magnificent,” said the center’s chaplain, Father Francis Gasparik, O.F.M. Cap., provincial of the Capuchin Franciscans of the Province of St. Mary.
The Sisters of Charity of New York established the center in 1987 as an affiliate of the New York Foundling, the social services agency begun by the congregation 140 years ago.
Today, the center boasts a 137-bed pediatric and acute rehabilitation center with affiliated corporations providing special education services at the John A. Coleman School and specialty medical services offered at the Children’s Rehabilitation Center, both in the four-story, 165,000 square-foot pavilion.
Patricio and Mirella Escobar of St. Bartholomew’s parish in Elmhurst, Queens, definitely don’t mind the drive to visit their son, 15-year-old Joseph, who has been a patient and resident of the center since he was a year old. He has a partial agenesis of the corpus callosum, a brain abnormality.
“My son is very happy here,” Mrs. Escobar said.
“We are very happy,” her husband added. “It’s a beautiful place, nice and clean.”
Joseph’s parents both said they appreciate the professionalism of the physicians and staff in meeting not only his medical needs but his social needs as well. The ample attention the personnel bestow on their son, particularly the kind way in which they speak to him, is encouraging, the Escobars said.
The center shows its New York neighborliness as well. Each wing bears the name of one of the city’s boroughs or parks.
Sunlight streams brightly into the window-lined walls and glass doors that open onto cushioned outdoor playgrounds. That in itself is a significant contrast to the barriers that blocked much of the sun in the former facility, a city skyscraper.
Ceilings are adorned with both restful and cheerful colors and with age-appropriate drawings, such as the moon and the stars, the sun and clouds. A number of mobiles are displayed for patients who are bedridden, some crafted by their own hands.
For those who are better able to move around, wheelchair art is a fun-filled pastime that uses the wheelchairs themselves as the medium. Washable paint is applied to the wheels of the chairs and the young patient passengers wheel across the floor on a wide-open canvas.
The sporty yet serene aquatic therapy center features an inviting, handicap-accessible rehabilitation pool.
There is also a sensory spa and a physical therapy gymnasium equipped with age-appropriate equipment such as exercise balls and walkers. Small staircases with rails and parallel bars that bear weight as patients gradually become more ambulatory prepare them to walk or resume walking on their own.
In the music therapy wing, gross and fine motor skills are developed and communication and social interaction skills are honed as children are encouraged to improvise on the piano, xylophone, chimes, drums and many other musical instruments.
The recording studio is popular with parents as it allows them to record stories from books for their children to hear in their absence. As parents read to their children in person while on the premises, their recorded stories soothe youngsters who savor the narrations in their parents’ voices long after the parents have returned home from a visit.
“We’re taking care of chronic-care kids,” said Dr. Anthony D’Angelo, a pediatrician who is also known as “Dr. D.” “I’m here every day and I hear about them every morning, and how they did overnight.”
What’s the best-kept secret of the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center? “These kids are here, in part, because they’re not able to be cared for someplace else,” he said.
As such, “they have a place that is more like a home,” the doctor said.
Despite the chronic diagnoses, happy medical surprises surface from time to time. “As is true of a number of different genetic or chromosomal disorders, the book in medical school says the child dies by a year” but in reality the child defies the odds and lives years beyond that prognosis.
Although children in general are known for their resilience, “I think that has something to do with the care and the attention here,” Dr. D’Angelo said. “It makes a big difference in the families’ lives, in our lives and in their lives.”
Dr. D'Angelo is grateful that many good things are happening, and will continue to happen, at Seton. “There’s been a lot of money poured into this” new center “but the statement really is, ‘these kids are important,’” he said.
“Perhaps they can’t go to college or high school as we know it, perhaps they can’t do things that society might expect of them…but just by being human, we’re reminded every day by them, they’re important.”
In that regard, Dr. D’Angelo claims the patients “do more for me than I can do for them. They’re really more my way of getting to heaven.”
Dr. D’Angelo is one of the many Catholics who staff the center and who attend Mass celebrated in the center’s chapel. Among the others are Patricia A. Tursi, the center’s chief executive officer who belongs to Our Lady of Sorrows parish in White Plains.
Father Gasparik, the chaplain, commended the staff and volunteers to whose care the patients are entrusted “as these children live out, literally, the passion of Christ in their day-to-day life.”
Although the majority of the pediatric center’s children are not communicative in the traditional sense, the chaplain believes each has been called, in his or her unique way, “to bring out goodness—the mercy, the charity and the love—in others.”
In that regard, “they’re saving us in the redemptive mission of Christ,” Father Gasparik said.
Mindful of the cross carried by parents of multiple-handicapped children, Father Gasparik reminds parents “that these children were given to their families…because they are the best families for them to be with,” he said.
“They may never get to see them walk down the aisle for First Communion, but they will certainly see them at the banquet table of heaven on the last day.”
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