Tag Archives: parents

Help For Behavioral Health Issues is Just a Few Doors Away

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting help for a child with behavioral health problems is just a few doors away at your pediatrician’s office at Boys Town Pediatrics clinics. All of the Omaha-area clinics staff one to two psychologists who are available to work closely with your child’s pediatrician to provide a comprehensive, seamless plan of care.

“Working in the same clinic allows us to communicate more closely with the on-site psychologist so that we both understand each other’s perspectives and can work together to develop a game plan for each child,” says Nancy Vandersluis, M.D., pediatrician at Boys Town Pediatrics. “It also allows us to stay up-to-date with the child’s progress and readily provide input when appropriate. In the end, we think it results in better outcomes for the patient.”

More importantly, the parents and children love the setup, notes Dr. Vandersluis. “It’s been a very successful arrangement for us and the family,” she says. “Families love to be able to come to their pediatrician’s office for counseling because it’s familiar, more comfortable, and less stressful for the child.”

“Working in the same clinic allows us to communicate more closely with the on-site psychologist so that [we] can work together to develop a game plan for each child.” – Nancy Vandersluis, M.D., pediatrician at Boys Town Pediatrics.

The easy accessibility of the psychologists relieves some of the apprehension and stigma of seeing a psychologist, notes Tom Reimers, Ph.D., director of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic with the Center for Behavioral Health. “We’re seeing a greater willingness among families to reach out for our services.”

Parents often discuss their child’s behavioral concerns with their pediatrician, says Dr. Reimers. That makes the close relationship we have with the pediatrician’s and medical clinics so important. The Behavioral Health Clinic treats a wide variety of behavioral health problems in children, from infants to adults. Some of the problems treated include defiance, tantrums, toilet training, learning problems, anxiety and depression, bedtime problems and sleep disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), peer relationships, phobias, habits, and eating disorders.

Determining when it’s time to seek help is something that should be discussed with your pediatrician. A good rule of thumb, notes Dr. Vandersluis: If there is a disruption of your family’s ability to function on a normal basis due to your child’s behavioral health problems, or it is affecting your child’s ability to be successful in his or her daily activities, it may be time to seek help.

“If you’re concerned with your child, whether it’s academics or behavioral problems at home, don’t be afraid to seek help.” – Tom Reimers, Ph.D., director of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic with the Center for Behavioral Health

“By the time they come to us, parents have likely been concerned about a problem for some time. They’ve reached out to family and friends and exhausted most of their accessible resources,” notes Dr. Reimers. “In some cases, waiting can make the problem worse. We encourage parents to seek advice early rather than later.

“We use evidence-based interventions with the goal of providing the most effective treatment in the shortest amount of time possible,” says Dr. Reimers. “If you’re concerned with your child, whether it’s academics or behavioral problems at home, don’t be afraid to seek help. In many cases, we can provide help easily and readily and get your child back on the right track.”

The Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health offers three services, which include the Behavioral Health Clinic, Chemical Use Program, and Assessment Program. Children may be seen in their doctor’s office or at the Center for Behavioral Health’s main office at 13460 Walsh Drive on the Boys Town campus. For more information, visit boystownpediatrics.org or call 402-498-3358.

Food Allergies Abundant in a Purell Society

Food allergies are on the rise, and there are many theories as to why.

“We are too clean,” says Carlos Prendes, M.D., family medicine physician with Alegent Creighton Clinic. “We do not let our immune system do its job. Anything that comes in that is not a part of our routine, our body will attack and protect us against.

“Food allergies were very rare in the 1900s (and Purell did not exist). As we have developed a more antiseptic society, we are also developing more allergies. There is something to be said for a bit of dirt in your life.”

There are eight foods that are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies. The “big eight” are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish.

“Many common food allergies for kids (milk, soy, wheat, and eggs) are not major allergens for adults. Adult food allergies tend to be lifelong and potentially severe. Many childhood allergies can be ‘grown out of,’ but adult allergies tend to stick,” says Dr. Prendes. “Most kids outgrow an allergy to milk and eggs by age six (this is different than being lactose intolerant).” However, he adds, this is not the case for peanuts.

“We are too clean. We do not let our immune system do its job.” – Carlos Prendes, M.D., family medicine physician with Alegent Creighton Clinic

Think you have a food allergy? “Symptoms usually begin within two hours after eating. If you develop symptoms shortly after eating a certain food, you may have a food allergy,” says Dr. Prendes. “Key symptoms of a food allergy include hives, a hoarse voice, and wheezing.” Other symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, nausea, and stomach cramps.

“Any food allergies can be very serious,” says Dr. Prendes. “And mild reactions in the past do not always mean mild reactions in the future. If you are allergic to something, you cannot eat it; subsequent exposures can make the allergic reaction worse.”

There is a lot being done to make life with food allergies a little easier. The FDA requires by law that “the big eight” allergens are labeled on packages, even if the food does not contain any of “the big eight” but is produced in a factory that also produces any of these common allergens.

Schools and daycares are working to maintain peanut-free and milk-free zones or lunch tables, and to notify other parents that there is an allergy in the classroom.

Dr. Prendes recommends that the child takes responsibility for his or her allergy. “It is very important that the child is aware of their food allergy and cannot take a break from it. If you are at a birthday party and you are allergic to milk, you cannot have the ice cream. The sooner that they are aware of this allergy and that it is part of their life, the better off they will be.”

There are a lot of emerging ideas on how to reduce your risk of developing a food allergy. Some of the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics—no cow’s milk until age 1 or peanuts until age 3—may be changing. “It is hard to tell parents to get their kids dirty more often,” says Dr. Prendes. “We have to figure out a balance to avoid developing these allergies and keeping people healthy.”

Family Camping

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s something about lying under the stars in a sleeping bag surrounded by trees and chirping crickets that’s calming. It’s the spirit of camping—that feeling of being completely absorbed in the wonders of nature.

It’s also a feeling that many people don’t experience anymore. Some say it’s because they don’t care much for being outdoors; others say it’s because they’d miss the comforts of home too much; and still others say it’s because they don’t have the patience to spend that amount of “quality time” alone with their families.

But ask any camper, and they’ll tell you that you’re missing out on a peaceful experience, one that all family members can benefit from and appreciate.

Papillion firefighter Michael Borden, 33, is a big proponent of camping. While growing up in Harlan and Underwood, Iowa, he went camping often with his parents and grandparents. “My grandparents had a Winnebago at a spot near Stanton [Iowa],” he says. “They slept inside while we slept outside in a tent. We’d set up all season long on the weekends with them, so I have a lot of fond memories of camping.”

Borden says that, while he could do without the bugs, he still thoroughly enjoys camping as an adult. “My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” His wife, Tracy, however, doesn’t share the same view of camping. “If it were up to her, she would have an RV and be out at Mahoney [State Park] with a swimming pool and activities for the family.”

Borden explains their different takes on camping reflect their different personalities. “She’s the worrier and likes to plan things. I’m more go-with-the-flow and just like ‘whatever’…but we usually compromise. We’ll take the car out and set up tents. We find middle ground.”

“My idea of camping is a backpack and maybe a tent. Just hiking out where we won’t see anybody and spend a couple of days out there.” – Michael Borden

But it’s not just Borden and his wife that go out camping. They also bring their two daughters, Ella, 8, and Ayda, 6, who enjoy creating memories while family camping.

“Two years ago when we were camping, the cicadas were coming out, and the shells were everywhere,” remembers Borden. “My oldest, Ella, was 5 or 6. I consider her to be the girlier of my two, but she thought the shells were so neat.

“She had a friend there, too, and both of them were filling all of the cupholders in our camping chairs with the shells. It’s fun to watch kids go camping because they see things so differently—like everything is just fascinating.”

The family used to go camping nearly every free weekend, spending a lot of their time out at Two Rivers State Park, but Borden says it’s harder to go camping now because his daughters are older. “They’re involved in things, so we’ll try to get out as much as we can, but it depends more on schedules—swimming lessons, soccer, and everything else.”

_DSC0906_WebThey have a few camping trips planned for this summer, so long as the weather cooperates. “I wish we did it more often,” he says. “But it’s nice during the summer because I have odd hours [as a firefighter], and Tracy is a teacher, so she has the entire summer off. We can go out on a Wednesday during the summer instead of a weekend, which is usually busier.”

Borden believes it’s good for kids and their parents to spend time outdoors because it’s a perfect opportunity to be together as a family. “We just got Ella an iPod Touch for her birthday, and she always wants to be listening to music, playing games, and texting friends. I remember playing when I was a kid. We didn’t have cell phones or computers. There’s almost too much accessibility with that stuff, so it’s nice to get away from all of it and just be in the moment.”

Like Borden, Elkhorn native Elizabeth Bullington, 27, grew up camping. “It’s always been a part of the family tradition,” she says. Bullington’s brother, uncles, and grandfather were all Eagle Scouts, so her family has been very involved with the Boy Scouts, which meant plenty of camping opportunities.

“One camping trip I’ll always remember was a Boy Scouts outing my sister and I went on with our dad and the scouts,” Bullington recalls. “It was almost wintertime, so it was really cold. My sister and I were sleeping together to keep warm, and our dad came in and tucked us in to make sure we’d stay warm. The next morning, our bodies were warm, but our heads were freezing,” she laughs.

Bullington, who now works as a program supervisor with Childhood Autism Services, says camping is a tradition that she’s been able to share with her husband, Nick, and almost 2-year-old son Reese.

“There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.” – Elizabeth Bullington

“I think a lot of people find it hard these days to go camping because of the comfort issue. [Nick and I] have a queen air mattress in our tent, but sometimes people in my family like to sleep under the stars in sleeping bags. We’ve done a camper once before, but we prefer a tent because it feels more like camping.”

For Bullington, it was easy to share this experience with Nick because his entire family camps also, gathering every year at Ponca State Park for an annual camping trip. In fact, the idea of doing an annual family camping trip spread to Bullington’s family as well. “My parents wanted to find something we could all do, and we thought, ‘Let’s go camping!’”

Bullington says she and her family are planning to meet for their annual camping trip in Clear Lake, Iowa, this July, and she’s looking forward to it. She and Nick have gone on the family trip for the last three years. “We try to choose somewhere between Madison, Wis., and Omaha because my sister lives in Madison and the rest of us live here. We’ve camped in Iowa the past few years.”

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese.

Nick and Elizabeth Bullington on a family camping trip outside the Amana Colonies in Iowa before the birth of son Reese. Photo by John Gawley.

The annual trip became a lot more special for Bullington when she was able to bring Reese, even though he was still fairly young when he went for the first time last year. “We’re not going to let the age of our child stop us from camping. The way we see it, he’ll adapt to the outdoors just as we do,” she says.

Though Reese wasn’t yet walking the first time they went camping, Bullington says it was fairly easy to take him with on the trip. He slept on his changing pad in the tent with them, and they brought toys to keep him entertained while they were inside and outside of their tent. “We didn’t do a whole lot of water activities or hiking, but you have to give up some of the things you like to do to include family. [But] that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun.”

Bullington agrees that society’s dependence on technology has made it difficult to get children (and even other adults) to spend time outdoors. But she maintains, it’s an essential part of childhood. “There’s something about being lost in nature that develops imagination and other useful skills. It’s important for kids to discover the outside and learn to relax and have fun.”

Family Success Story: The Codrs

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Fertility issues are something that Jim Codr wouldn’t wish on anyone—not even his worst enemy. “You just sort of float along indefinitely with no end in sight. You start to question what you are, what you want, and how bad you want it.”

Emily, his wife of nearly 10 years, agrees. “There was a time when we didn’t think we would be able to have any children,” she says. “Our biggest obstacle, as a couple, [was] the difficulty of starting a family.”

Nora, 3.

Nora, 3.

But then, one day, everything turned around for the Codrs. They were blessed with a daughter, Anna. And then twins Nora and Margaret. And then a son, Edward. All of these fairly back-to-back pregnancies were surprising. “We got all sorts of raised eyebrows when we announced No. 4 was coming,” Emily adds.

What the Codrs didn’t realize was that the little blessings they had hoped for would turn out to be just as testing on their marriage as the fertility issues. “Having four children under 4 made life very stressful,” Emily says. “We had heard that multiples put a lot of stress on a marriage, but we had no idea just how little time we would have for each other, let alone ourselves.”

Each day presents a new set of obstacles for Jim and Emily. Not only do they have to ready themselves for work every morning; they also have to feed, dress, and drop off their four kids at school and daycare. It’s quite the hassle already, but it can be even more taxing when the children don’t want to cooperate. “[It] requires a great deal of organization and pre-planning the night before,” Emily says.

Eddie, 2.

Eddie, 2.

Fortunately, Jim and Emily, who both grew up in Omaha, have plenty of support around them to take some of the edge off of raising four young children.

“We lived in Kansas City for about five years prior to moving [back] to Omaha. I came to work for my father,” Jim says. “We came to that decision primarily because we [knew we] wanted to start having kids and thought the career move would be a better fit…Boy, I’m glad we did. The flexibility and benefits are huge.” Emily, too, has a flexible job that allows her to attend to the needs of her family when problems arise.

“We have an amazing network of people that have done nothing but help us along the way,” Emily says. “We have wonderful friends that didn’t forget about us when the days were long and hard caring for multiple babies…We often remark that life would be a whole lot more complicated for us outside of Omaha. [It’s] such a wonderful place to raise a family.”

When it comes to parenting, Jim and Emily try to stay away from the “divide and conquer” philosophy and focus more on working together. Leaving the house is a perfect example. Going anywhere with their children is one of the most hectic things they deal with on a regular basis, but they’ve gotten to the point where they have a system. “Logistically [for us], we simply need two adults minimum…It has sort of forced us to another level of parental participation,” Jim explains.

“We always wanted a big family…We may not be taking our kids on trips around the world, but at the end of the day, we tuck in four, healthy, balanced children whose parents love them and love each other.” – Emily Codr

“We don’t have roles as parents. If something needs to be done, we just do it,” Emily adds.

“I disagree with Emily about roles. She has a role—just do everything!” Jim counters with a laugh. “But seriously, she is a really terrific mom and keeps the engine going. I’d be lost without her.”

Having so many young children so fast brought the family closer together, in the Codrs’ opinion. Before they had kids, Jim and Emily had been more “carefree and freewheeling…even self-absorbed and a little immature.” Or, at least, that’s how Jim saw himself. Nevertheless, being parents has taught them many lessons.

Anna, 6.

Anna, 6.

“Being together is a priority for us,” Emily says. “We do most everything as a family, and we enjoy sharing experiences with each other. We [also] appreciate the ordinary days.”

“You learn what patience and determination really are,” Jim says. “It’s very easy to lay blame when things are going wrong, especially when they’re out of your control…You learn to stop hitting below the belt and lean on each other instead.” He adds that he admires his wife for her calm collectiveness. “I wish I had the grace under fire that she does.”

Although raising four children is quite enough to deem Jim and Emily saints in some people’s eyes, they don’t feel like they’re doing anything extraordinary. “We always wanted a big family…We may not be taking our kids on trips around the world, but at the end of the day, we tuck in four, healthy, balanced children whose parents love them and love each other,” Emily says.

Of course, the Codrs say their kids are just like other kids (in other words, they fight constantly). But in the end, they work well together and love one another.

Maggie, 3.

Maggie, 3.

“One of the coolest things about having several kids stacked together is that they have such an emotional attachment to each other,” adds Jim. “They always want to do things as a family. They love the weekends and nicknamed it ‘family day’…Their sibling relationships are just as important as the child-parent relationships. We try to stress that.”

“From what we have been told, parenting doesn’t get any easier as the kids get older, but we are sharpening our teamwork skills every day, and life must be getting easier because we cannot imagine how we did it,” Emily says.

“Oh yeah,” Jim adds. “It never ends. But that’s part of the fun, right? You get better. The kids get better. We’re all learning how to cope with one another.”

The Hancock Menagerie

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chris and Kim Hancock and their kids, Trevor, 13, and Sydney, 11, are an active family. “There’s always something going on,” Kim says. The kids go to school in the Omaha Public Schools district; Trevor plays baseball for Keystone, and Sydney swims with the Metro Omaha Swim Team.

With the kids so involved in extracurricular activities and Chris and Kim both working full-time jobs, it’s hard for the family to catch a moment together. “After we get back home from everything, it’s late by the time we eat, so we all kind of separate and go off to do our own things.”

But one thing brings them together during their hectic schedule—the love for their family pets.

Ernie

Ernie

The Hancocks have four pets: a Russian tortoise named Henrietta, a guinea pig named Ernie, a hamster named Pooh Bear, and a Boxer named Bella.

Bella was the family’s first pet. Chris had always wanted a Boxer, so when he and Kim found Bella on Craigslist, they felt like she was meant to be theirs. “Right when we got her, she got super sick with pneumonia, and we nursed her back to health,” Kim explains. “She’s been our baby ever since.”

Being like another child in the family is the reason why Bella’s inoperable cancer diagnosis hit home so hard. “We found out last year,” Kim says. “They could’ve done an expensive biopsy and leg reconstruction, but we decided instead of putting her through treatments and all of the pain that we would just enjoy the time we still have with her. As long as she seems happy, that’s enough for us.” She adds that Bella used to sleep in a kennel, but the moment they heard about her cancer, she began sleeping in bed with her and Chris.

Bella

Bella

With Henrietta, Trevor’s tortoise, Kim says they got her after “his fish committed suicide,” she laughs. “We wanted something that wouldn’t die so easily, so we did some research and learned that tortoises have long lives. They’re also low-maintenance.”

Ernie the guinea pig and Pooh Bear the hamster came along after Sydney got familiar with her friends’ pets and wanted some of her own. “She actually had another guinea pig and hamster before now, but they passed, so these are the new ones,” Kim says.

“Our rule with getting the kids pets has always been that they have to be able to hold them comfortably at the pet store and not get squeamish; otherwise we won’t buy them.” That’s because, in the Hancock family, the kids are the primary caretakers of the pets. “They clean out the cages once a month, make sure the animals are fed, let us know when food supply is getting low—they’re completely responsible.”

Pooh Bear

Pooh Bear

Sydney, especially, is very nurturing of her pets. “On Mother’s Day, she made a comment about how she wanted to get herself something because she thinks she’s a mother to her pets,” Kim says. “She also keeps cages for them down in the basement all the time because she’s very concerned about tornadoes.”

Kim didn’t realize how much Sydney loves her pets until after her first guinea pig passed away. “She cried and cried, and she truly mourned her pet like it was a family member or her child. I don’t want to say it’s funny, but there’s something very sweet about how emotional she gets.”

Apparently, Sydney also has a tendency to throw elaborate funerals for each of the family’s lost pets. “She plans the burial. We have a service with speeches where we each say something special about the pet, and then there are flowers and songs. She even bakes a cake for a little reception after. They don’t last long, but they’re very…quirky,” Kim laughs.

Henrietta

Henrietta

Kim thinks that having pets really makes their family feel more complete and teaches her children valuable lessons. “It helps the kids understand responsibility. They learn how to show love and take care of something other than themselves.

“I think having pets makes us a little less selfish.”

Curfew

Curfew establishes freedom and trust. It’s one of the many building blocks to adulthood. Getting that taste of freedom is what every teenager craves. It’s a huge responsibility, but that is what makes freedom so worth it.

As for my own curfew, my parents are very laidback. They don’t have a set time for me to be home. The important thing to them is that they know where I am at all times. My parents have placed a tremendous amount of trust in me, and I would never disobey them. I enjoy having the freedom of no curfew with few exceptions, and I don’t want that privilege to be revoked.

Of course, on school nights, there is a curfew. My parents don’t want me to stay out late on a school night, unless it is for a school event. During the summer, they don’t mind me being out as long as, again, they know what I am doing at all times.

I think it’s important for teenagers to have some freedom with friends. It gives them a taste of what it would be like to live on their own. They also have to manage that responsibility of earning or building on the trust of their parents.

Curfew is important, especially for teenagers. It’s another responsibility to manage, but it’s a stepping-stone to adulthood and making bigger, independent choices in life. Having some rules set in place as the foundation and building trust is a good idea. Freedom is important to teenagers, and it prepares them for the future.

Halston Belcastro is a student at Millard West High School.

Stimulate Your Kids’ Brains This Summer

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Summer Time = Fun Time! This is true for all of us, especially kids who are looking for a break from school. But according to Harris Cooper, author of Summer Learning Loss: The Problem and Some Solutions, a concern of educators and parents is that the long summer vacation breaks the rhythm of instruction, since children learn best when instruction is continuous. Long breaks from school can often require educators to do a significant amount of review of material when students return to school in the fall. Below are some suggestions on ways to keep your child’s brain engaged throughout the summer while still having opportunities to practice skills they acquired in the classroom.

Lakeshore Learning Center, located at 12005 W. Center Rd., offers free crafts for kids every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can even check the website to preview the craft. While you are there, pick up some educational games and activities your child can do during the week. The store offers educational games for all ages and in every subject area in which your child may have an interest.

If your budget is a little tight, your children can participate in the Omaha Public Library’s free summer reading program. Each library will post a schedule online describing the special activities your children can participate in, along with the days and the times they will be taking place. They also can earn points for reading each day and exchange their points for prizes. Another good source for free activities is familyfuninomaha.com. This website features a page entitled “Summer Fun Series,” in which parents can find free summer activities throughout Omaha. Some of these may include special kid-friendly activities at the local malls, free local fine arts performances, and community events.

We all know how much our children love to spend time on the computer, so make it worth their while by directing them to websites that encourage them to practice reading and math skills while still having a good time. Try out some of the following sites:

Remember—making sure your kids’ brains stay active throughout the summer will help them transition into the next grade smoothly and lessen their stress level at the start of the year.

Family Success Story: The Dotsons

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Date night” is not a term often used in the Dotson household; however, “family” is. After 11 years of marriage, David and Susie Dotson have experienced more than any parents should, but they still find time to come together as a family and cherish the moments they have. “Our marriage has shaped us to be better parents,” Susie explains.

“Strength” is another word thrown around a lot when discussing the Dotsons. Their first child, Noah, was born with autism. “He suffered from anxiety [when he heard] any loud noise growing up. He didn’t develop his speech to explain his fears and anxiety until around age 4.” Susie became focused on trying to help Noah by going to autism events, getting involved in discussion groups, and doing her own research. The Millard Public Schools district was able to get Noah started with homebound help at age 2, and eventually into Halo, a gifted learning program at Wheeler Elementary School, where he continues to build his communication skills.

20130407_bs_0073 Medium Copy

A couple years after Noah’s birth, Lily was born five weeks early and had to stay in the NICU for two weeks. She went home on a heart monitor and eventually grew into a healthy baby girl. Five years later, however, Lily was suddenly diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer common in childhood and characterized by the overproduction of immature white blood cells in the bone marrow.

Susie remembers the day they found out. “I felt all summer long that something wasn’t right with her. I had mother’s intuition.” After complaining of stomach aches and her legs hurting when she played sports, Susie took Lily out of gymnastics, soccer, and swimming. She thought the schedule may have been too daunting for her little girl. “After a couple of weeks into school, I noticed bruising,” she says, “After about two weeks of the bruising getting worse and showing up in places that you normally don’t bruise, I made an appointment.”

“I feel like we are still figuring it all out. There are days that are not pretty. One of my favorite quotes for my family is, ‘We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all.’” – Susie Dotson

The night before Lily’s doctor’s appointment, Susie decided to google her daughter’s symptoms. Every result came back the same: cancer. Susie’s heart sank. “I took a photo of her eating breakfast before school that morning, knowing that this is what a normal day looked like before cancer.” Later that day, after five minutes of examining Lily, their pediatrician told Susie that her daughter had cancer and needed to go to the emergency room immediately. “Within 24 hours, she started blood transfusions, chemo, spinal tap, and a bone marrow scan. She has had over a dozen platelet and whole blood transfusions. She was put on high risk and only a 40 percent chance of making it the first year. She is now up to 65-70 percent.”

Lily’s fight not only took a toll on her but also on the Dotson’s marriage and Susie’s relationship with Noah. “Communication is key, and we are slowly finding that. During the heavy treatment, it was very hard to have a meaningful relationship [with David or Noah] with the high demands of Lily’s cancer treatment. But we are now learning how to heal as a married couple. I’m also loving my ‘Noah time.’ I feel like I missed a whole year of his life. I missed him.”

Lily’s treatment doesn’t end until January 2014, but the heavy treatment portion concluded last July. Lily can now do daily chemo treatments at home and go to school.20130407_bs_0015 Medium Copy

While life is far less stressful than it was a year ago, Susie says, “No matter what day it is, cancer doesn’t let you forget you’re fighting it. Once your family is hit by cancer, you are constantly in the battle…You never get to leave the battlefield.” The Dotsons still find time to be a normal family, with Lily dressing up the family Maltese, Santana, and Noah writing letters to the family beta fish: Patrick, Sandy, Rainbow Buddy, and Red Nose Clown Nose. And maybe soon, Susie and David will finally get that date night.

“I feel like we are still figuring it all out. There are days that are not pretty. One of my favorite quotes for my family is, ‘We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all.’”

Sibling Harmony

Photography by Bev Carlson

I had an interesting conversation recently with a friend, a father of three. He was talking about his two oldest children, both incredibly talented musicians. The son can play just about any instrument. The daughter has a voice like an angel.

“It’s just such a shame they refuse to perform together,” he said. When I asked why, he shrugged and said, “They just can’t stop fighting.”

His response surprised me. My guess? These kids will grow out of it. This was a family that exuded harmony on almost every level. Very engaged, involved parents. Bright, accomplished children. But siblings that, for now, could barely get along. Ever.

I understand sibling conflict. I really do. I have a younger brother, emphasis on “younger” because “little” stopped working when he hit six feet or so. Now, at 6’5”, he’s an officer in the U.S. Navy who carries a wide command and a powerful presence.

Well, I clearly recall back to the days when I could push him around at will. Of course, I was the ONLY one who could do so. If anyone else even looked at him like they were going to tease him or bully him, they had to get through me first—and that simply wasn’t happening. We were four years apart, and even though he could irritate me just by walking into my bedroom, he was still my little brother, and that meant I had his back.

I still do.

“Relationships that never really gelled in childhood only grow more distant with time…I hear friends talk about it a lot, and it makes me sad. I don’t want that for my children.”

It’s not that way for a lot of siblings—adult or otherwise. Relationships that never really gelled in childhood only grow more distant with time. Brothers and sisters who experience mutual trauma walk away from the conflict and each other. Siblings with oil-and-water personalities determine that it’s not worth the effort to find a balance, especially once the parental connection is gone. I hear friends talk about it a lot, and it makes me sad. I don’t want that for my children.

I really don’t know any of the secrets of creating sibling harmony, but I do claim a couple of kids who, for the most part, get along and enjoy each other. I love to hear their conversations about books or teachers or issues. Video games and YouTube videos are other common topics. They brag about each other when they think I’m not listening. They have their moments when they genuinely annoy one another, but I rarely have to intervene.

Maybe it’s helped that they’ve heard since day one that they are expected to look out for each other. “You guys run in nearly the same circles,” they’ve heard from me. “You have a better idea of whether the kids you’re hanging out with are nice or not.” They attend each other’s events and performances. They partner up on amusement rides. They are generally encouraged to help each other when they can. “Because,” as they hear from me, “you are lifetime friends.”

I may have just gotten lucky with the personality mix of my two, but I also took some advice that I got when they were very small. Now that they are young teenagers, I believe it might be paying off.

Here are some expert suggestions from Scholastic.com:

  • Avoid comparisons. Nothing causes more short- and long-term damage to the sibling dynamic than comparing academic or extracurricular achievements. Give honest, specific feedback and support each of your children toward their individual strengths and the skills each needs to strive for. Don’t ever stack them against each other.
  • Intervene when they argue, but be selective. There’s a big difference between fighting and problem solving. Rather than letting them always duke it out, teach them cooperation and conflict-resolution skills, like taking turns.
  • Introduce meaningful apologies. Rather than forcing an angry child to say he’s sorry, which will only produce an insincere apology, let him cool down first. Then talk to him about how to make amends for hurting another person’s feelings.

As it usually is, starting early and being consistent is key. And children also benefit when they see their parents model warm and loving relationships with their own siblings. But for the most part, some discontent with a brother or sister is simply part of growing up and provides a training ground for finding your voice.

Oh, and one last thing. Tell all of your children how much you love them. All the time. A child who feels well-loved has fewer reasons to lash out at their siblings.

From Patients to Caregivers

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Margaret Ludwick spends her days sitting in a wheelchair at a senior care center in Elkhorn. She never speaks. The only expressive motion involves her hands—she constantly puts her long, tapered fingers together like a church steeple. Her big blue eyes stare straight ahead but focus on nothing. No one can reach her anymore, not her daughters, not her husband.

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia in adults 65 and over, robs even the most intelligent people of their brain and eventually destroys their body. There is no cure. There is no pill to prevent it. There’s not even a test to definitively diagnose it. Effective treatments have proven as elusive as the disease, itself.

“We do have medications that may help with symptoms in some patients, especially in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Daniel Murman, a specialist in geriatric neurology at The Nebraska Medical Center. “But they don’t truly slow down the disease process.”

According to researchers, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s will triple in the next 40 years, which means 13.8 million will have the disease by 2050 (Chicago Health and Aging Project research as reported by nbcnews.com).

Awareness of symptoms is crucial for early intervention.

“Memory loss and changes in behavior are not a normal part of aging,” stresses Deborah Conley, a clinical nurse specialist in gerontology at Methodist Health Systems who teaches other nurses and caregivers about Alzheimer’s. “I would urge family members to take [their loved one] to a family physician first, seek as much information as possible, and start making your plans.” An assessment that includes the person’s medical history, brain imaging, and a neurological exam can result in a diagnosis that’s about 85 percent accurate for Alzheimer’s.

Ludwick, a registered nurse, who worked at Immanuel Hospital for years, never received an extensive workup.

 “I would urge family members to take [their loved one] to a family physician first, seek as much information as possible, and start making your plans.” – Deborah Conley, clinical nurse specialist in gerontology at Methodist Health Systems

“I first noticed something was wrong about 15 years ago, when Mom was 70,” explains Ludwick’s daughter, Jean Jetter of Omaha. “It was the day I moved into my new house. Mom put things in odd places, like a box labeled ‘kitchen’ would wind up in the bedroom. And she stood smack in the middle of the doorway as the movers tried to carry large pieces of furniture inside, and she just stared at them.”

As Ludwick’s behavior grew worse, Jetter begged her father, Thomas, to get her mother help.

“He didn’t want to hear it. He kept saying, ‘This will get better.’ He had medical and financial Power of Attorney. Dad worked full-time, and she was home alone. This went on for eight years.”

Ludwick’s steady decline rendered her unable to fix a meal or even peel a banana. She lost control of bodily functions. After she was found wandering the neighborhood on several occasions, Jetter was finally able to call Adult Protective Services and get her mother into an adult daycare program. After breaking a hip two years ago, Ludwick arrived at the Life Care Center of Elkhorn.

“This is such a sad, but not unfamiliar case,” says Conley, who began working with Alzheimer’s patients in the mid-’70s. “Even in 2013, people do not know what to do, where to turn.”

Dr. Murman adds, “There is still a stigma attached to Alzheimer’s. People don’t like to hear the ‘A’ word. But it’s much better to be open and specific about it.”

A specific diagnosis may rule out Alzheimer’s.

“Depression can mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s…symptoms like mistrust, hallucinations, apathy, social isolation,” explains Dr. Arun Sharma, a geriatric psychiatrist with Alegent Creighton Health. “But we can treat that. We can treat depression.”

Dr. Sharma helped establish a 22-bed, short-term residential facility called Heritage Center at Immanuel Hospital to better diagnose the reasons for a person’s memory loss. Once a patient is stabilized and receives a proper care plan, they can return home. The more doctors learn, the faster a cure will come.

“I see something exciting in the next five to 10 years,” says Dr. Sharma. “If we identify and isolate the protein believed responsible for Alzheimer’s, perhaps we can do a blood test to catch the disease early.”

 “There is still a stigma attached to Alzheimer’s. People don’t like to hear the ‘A’ word. But it’s much better to be open and specific about it.” – Dr. Daniel Murman, specialist in geriatric neurology at The Nebraska Medical Center

But what about a cure? With 78 million Baby Boomers coming down the pike—10,000 of them turning 65 each day—this country faces an epidemic. And what about the psychological, financial, and emotional toll on the caregivers, who are very often family members? They, too, feel isolated.

“It was an impossible situation for me. I couldn’t get her the help she needed,” says Jetter, who bore the brunt of the family crisis since her married sister lives in Dallas. “Now that Mom is at [the nursing home], I can take a breather and concentrate on Dad, who also has mental issues.”

In recent weeks, her father, Thomas, has been admitted as a permanent resident of Life Care Center of Elkhorn as well.

What about her own family?

“I have no one. No husband, no boyfriend. I mean, what boyfriend would put up with all this?” asks Jean, who’s been shuttling between one parent and the other for years, all the while trying to run her own business. The situation has obviously taken a huge personal toll.

Conley has two words for anyone facing similar circumstances: Alzheimer’s Association. The Midlands chapter has support groups, tons of information, and can gently guide the adult child or spouse. They even have a 24/7 hotline: 800-272-3900.

For anyone dealing with Alzheimer’s, that number could become a lifeline.