Tag Archives: safety

The Compass in the Landscape

October 16, 2016 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With growing levels of philanthropic donations sloshing around Omaha, it’s important to keep in mind that underserved segments of the community remain. Sometimes these segments of the community are out of sight. Sometimes their needs are unknown, hidden to those who would otherwise
offer assistance.

Folks in charge of the Omaha Community Foundation are paying mind to the hidden needs of the metro area. In fact, Sara Boyd, CEO of the Omaha Community Foundation, unveiled a new initiative to confront the problem this fall.

“The Landscape Project is a data-driven reflection of the Omaha-Council Bluffs area,” says Boyd. “It is an online resource to integrate data in our community about how we are faring on certain issues with community priorities and lived experiences to help us gain greater insight into how we’re doing.”

The Landscape Project relies on existing data—along with direct engagement with specific segments of the population—to gauge where gaps remain in community support.

“The goal of the project is to create shared learning and understanding, for all of us, to see how we’re doing on some of these priorities,” Boyd says. “Then to potentially have a process or structure in place that allows for greater participation and prioritization on these issues; and then, from there to coordinate or align our efforts.”

While the Landscape Project is like a compass for philanthropy, Omaha Gives is the foundation’s vehicle for driving charitable donations to organizations around the metro. In 2016, the fourth annual Omaha Gives campaign amassed almost $9 million—a new record for the 24-hour funding drive—and generated more than $1 million in new donations from first-time participants. “That, for us, is very meaningful,” says Boyd. “It was not just a celebration of giving, but also to say, ‘can we grow the pie of giving in our community in some way?’”

“The Landscape Project is a data-driven reflection of the Omaha-Council Bluffs area.”

-Sara Boyd

Boyd says the foundation began developing the Landscape Project concept roughly five years ago while reviewing studies about local urban problems. Several of those studies were one-time only, others were outdated. So, the Omaha Community Foundation partnered with United Way and Iowa West Foundation to do a community assessment.

Moving forward with the Landscape Project, identification of local housing problems illustrates one way the new online resource could help inform philanthropy and public policy alike: “Throughout the country we know there is disparity in home ownership along many levels. One of those disparities is along different communities and different races. Blacks own their own homes at significantly lower rates in our community than they do elsewhere in the country.”

landscape-foundation1Home ownership, she says, is an indicator of wealth-building and asset accumulation. Boyd hopes data from the Landscape Project will help policymakers and nonprofits to cross-reference the experiences of other communities (nationwide) that have battled similar problems, analyze how the problems were alleviated, and bring relevant solutions to Omaha.

The Landscape Project will begin with six areas of focus: health, neighborhoods, safety, transportation, education, and workforce. “Really, the long-term goal is to strengthen our ability to solve problems as a community and move the needle on important issues,” Boyd says.

Visit thelandscapeomaha.org for more information.

Safe Summer Swimming

July 6, 2015 by

This article appears in Her Family July 2015.

Summer means swimming, and it takes a few precautions for parents to ensure the activity is safe and healthy, says pediatrician Melissa “Dr. Mel” St. Germain of Children’s Physicians at West Village Pointe.

Otitis externa, known as “swimmer’s ear,” is one of the most common conditions associated with swimming.

“Water that gets into your ear doesn’t dry out,” St. Germain explains. “It gets stuck behind wax or you get enough in there that it has a hard time getting out.” The condition is uncomfortable or even painful, and the moist environment encourages bacterial or fungal growth.

“There are a couple of things you can do to prevent it, and one thing is making sure your ears get dry after swimming. Use a hair dryer on a lower setting, keeping it at least one foot from the head,” she said. Over- the-counter eardrops may be helpful, or a home solution of one part white vinegar to one part rubbing alcohol; simply place several drops into each ear and tilt out the liquid.

“That dries out the ear, but also prevents bacteria and fungus from growing, because it has a little bit of an antiseptic property to it, too,” St. Germain says.

Another condition is chlorine sensitivity, St. Germain says.

“Chlorine is a chemical and it can be an irritant to some people,” she explains. Symptoms may include skin rashes and itchy, sensitive eyes, but a true allergic response is uncommon. St. Germain advises that children who seem sensitive to chlorine rinse well after swimming and shower or bathe at home later, and use saline eye drops if needed. “Kids that have a true allergic response can pretreat with antihistamine,” she says.

She also points out that sensitivity to chemically-treated water is better than the alternative: exposure to contaminated water. Small bodies of water on private property, public lakes that prohibit swimming, and any water that smells or looks bad are not good choices for swimming, she says. Public pools’ staff should monitor water quality throughout the day, and swimming lakes should also be regularly checked.

“If you’re an otherwise healthy person who has a good immune system, your body is going to take care of those tiny amounts of bacteria that might get in,” St. Germain says. “You don’t want your two-year-old swallowing large amounts of water, and if you have a kid who is immune-suppressed, you might not want them splashing around in a lake full of bacteria. A bigger lake with a more diverse ecosystem is probably more self-regulating.”

She also points out that small backyard pools with no filtering system can quickly become stagnant. “I always tell parents: ‘As soon as you’re done with that kiddie pool, drain it.’”

And the most important way to keep swimming safe? “The recommendation from the Academy of Pediatrics is that all kids over the age of 4 have swimming lessons,” St. Germain says.


Paint the Sky

June 30, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in summer 2015 B2B.

If you’ve ever been dazzled by fireworks at TD Ameritrade Park or Memorial Stadium, you know Paint the Sky Productions.

Owner Ted Kallhof has coordinated some of the area’s largest fireworks displays for the past 15 years. A pyrotechnician since 1985, Kallhof started Paint the Sky Productions (a subsidiary of nationwide J&M Displays) as a way to make extra money doing something he loves. Today, the company includes 65 part-time employees who put on more than 130 events each year.

Walking the grounds of Kallhof’s 25-acre rural Council Bluffs property, you would never suspect that at times there are thousands of pounds of explosives tucked away out of sight. Next to the chicken coop, not far from the dilapidated old barn Kallhof is in the process of demolishing, stand storage containers housing enough explosives to light up the sky like the Fourth of July.

In the fireworks business, safety must be of the utmost concern, and Kallhof employs strict measures to ensure his operations are safe. He could not take me near any of the storage facilities, saying, “We can’t even make the address public, because of the amount of explosives out here.”

Kallhof trains his employees on the property, holding week-long certification courses where they learn how to safely and effectively handle fireworks. Paint the Sky’s website boasts a perfect safety record across 750 events.






“It’s changed a lot over the years,” Kallhof says. “Ten years ago, everything was lit by hand, but today it’s almost completely computerized. We only do five or six shows a year by hand, everything else is computer or wireless.”

Paint the Sky has created fireworks spectacles for every kind of event you can imagine—personal, corporate, municipal, and sports-related. Lots of sports-related events.

“We became an NCAA preferred vendor a few years ago,” Kallhof says. “I’m a lot busier now than before.” As an NCAA preferred vendor, Kallhof visits stadiums around the country to facilitate shows.

They also specialize in effects for television programs, like ABC’s In an Instant, which was recently filmed in the area.

Throughout the years, Kallhof says some events have been particularly memorable.

“We did a memorial service for a woman who had breast cancer,” he remembered. “I met her about six months before she passed away. She didn’t like that her family couldn’t enjoy themselves around her when she was sick, so she wanted it to be fun.” She was cremated and her ashes were shot up into the sky with the fireworks.

Omaha’s 150th birthday celebration in 2004 also stands out for Kallhof. Paint the Sky put on a display using 50,000 pounds of explosives deployed in eight minutes at three sites within a mile and a half of each other.

When you are working with something captivating that brings joy to so many, it feels good to give back. Kallhof says he enjoys working with groups like Molly’s Miracles, an organization for children battling brain cancer.

“We put on a free show for the kids every year,” he says. “It’s great to see their reactions.”

Kallhof plans to continue using his passion to make the world a brighter—much brighter—place, painting the sky one night at a time.



June 26, 2015 by

This article appears in June 2015 edition of Her Family.

Perhaps there is no age that can appreciate the joys of summer more than the teens. Swimsuit weather, no homework, driving privileges…finally. Even those older teenagers with jobs have time and freedom unlike during the school year. It is a glorious time in which lifelong memories are made.

But getting there safely takes a little planning and, perhaps, good ideas and a little encouragement from mom or dad.

Left to their own devices, it would be easy for many teens to quickly fall into negative patterns once the last bell sounds on the school year. While there’s certainly a place for sleeping in, lazy days, and video game marathons, no one, including your teen, is going to feel good about a summer in which nothing else is accomplished. Or, as they might say the week before school starts, “I feel like I wasted my whole vacation.”

Or, even worse, they have too much freedom, leading to trouble or tragedy.

In the Omaha area, there are many options for teens to get involved. If you haven’t already talked with your student about creating a plan for how they will spend their break, you still can.

Many of the big-three choices are already determined by this time: summer employment, summer school, or other school-related activities like athletics or band camp. It may not be too late for your teen to still find a job, but the longer they wait, the harder it may be for them to find something they like that will be flexible enough for their other summer activities.

If a job is not an option, there are other ways to encourage your teen to stay somewhat productive and busy. Look for volunteer opportunities. Even if they are not ongoing, having established projects will keep kids active and learning. Check with your place of worship, your school—even your own workplace might provide opportunities for teens to volunteer.

Teen driving fatalities start going up in June and peak in August.

Local nonprofits have their own rules about their volunteer workforce. Special rules apply when working directly with clients, but in Omaha especially, non-profit organizations hold events nearly every weekend and can always use willing workers to help. Fundraising events like golf tournaments, 5K runs, or auctions generally rely on volunteer power to be successful. Projects like these are terrific ways for older teens to strengthen their resumes for college or future employment.

Just setting a minimum standard or goal for the summer is a step forward for many kids. For example, one goal might be that your child will be responsible for getting dinner on the table twice each week, plus keeping the yard mowed and trimmed—whatever makes sense in your home. The idea is that your teen is not left with endless and empty days to fill with no direction or support.

Parents should also be aware that summer—not winter—is by far the most dangerous time for teen drivers. Teen driving fatalities start going up in June and peak in August. You may want to have a conversation that revisits basic safe driving rules about having additional teens in the vehicle, drinking and driving, texting and driving, and frankly, unnecessary driving.

Above all, cherish the time you still have with your children at home. Enjoy the adults they are becoming, and do what you can to help them get there—happily and safely.



Fighting the World’s Worst Diseases

February 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Magazine.

When patients with Ebola flew into the heartland, the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit activated for the first time.

Local healthcare workers are now helping hospitals nationwide to prepare for the next generation of infectious diseases.

* * * * *

As the Ebola epidemic worsened in West Africa last summer, a Nebraska nurse-turned-administrator wondered if Omaha might receive any patients. Shelly Schwedhelm wasn’t scared. She was ready.

“We were watching what was happening in Africa and started to gear up,” she says, speaking from her office inside Nebraska Medicine’s labyrinthine hospital cluster in Midtown at 42nd and Dewey.

Schwedhelm, 54, oversees the Medical Center’s biocontainment unit. She leads administrative, nursing, and logistical support for the unit’s 40-person staff of nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, and patient-care techs. Few biocontainment units exist in the United States. The Med Center unit is especially rare, housing the nation’s largest hazardous patient capacity. It consists of five rooms and 10 beds, isolated behind security-card locked doors, and a decontamination room on the seventh floor of University Tower.

Before Schwedhelm knew any Ebola patients might arrive, she made sure all safety protocols were in place. The unit’s self-contained air ventilation system and autoclave—a pressurized heat chamber used to sterilize large amounts of waste—operated without flaw. Ebola can cause uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea; any potential pathogens would be contained and decontaminated behind sealed doors. The unit opened with federal, university, and hospital funds made available in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. The 2003 outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in Asia and Canada added impetus to local, state and federal coordination. It went online in March of 2005.

“We’re centrally located,” Schwedhelm says, explaining the logic for an Omaha site in case of a national health emergency. “We’re about as close as you can get to being smack dab in the middle of the country.” March is the unit’s 10th anniversary. Schwedhelm has managed the operation for approximately eight years. She credits the establishment to Medical Director Dr. Phil Smith.

Her career with Nebraska Medicine spans 33 years. She started working in the emergency room as a nurse, but she quickly transitioned into leadership positions. She has managed the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, operating room, and emergency room before assuming her current title, Executive Director of Emergency Preparedness. Schwedhelm first learned about Ebola during her nursing studies. At the time, Ebola was a virtual unknown, a mysterious killer that could wipe out entire villages. Even today there is no proven treatment or vaccine, though UNMC staff are working on some leads.

In 1976, the viral hemorrhagic fever known as Ebola first emerged in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The virus took its name from a local river. In subsequent decades, rare and isolated outbreaks persisted in central Africa due to human contact with contaminated primates, bushmeat, or bats. West Africa’s crisis started in Guinea, spreading unnoticed in early 2014. By spring, Ebola reached Sierra Leone and Liberia. Doctors Without Borders declared the epidemic “out of control” in June with a global tally of 528 cases and 337 deaths.

The outbreak gained momentum fast. By Aug. 22, the disease struck 2,615 people with 1,427 deaths. In stark contrast, the world’s previous worst Ebola outbreak occurred in Uganda with 425 reported cases in 2001. By the year’s end, West Africa’s epidemic would surpass 20,000 cases and 7,800 deaths. The epidemic has continued into 2015. The World Health Organization reported on January 19 that 21,759 had fallen sick and 8,668 died from Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

African jungles where Ebola originated are a far cry from the rolling cornfields of northeast Nebraska, the land of Schwedhelm’s birth. She grew up on a dairy farm near Pender. Nursing has supplanted agriculture as her family’s occupation. Two of her sisters, her husband, and her brother-in-law work in nursing.

For the past decade, her biocontainment team trained regularly for infectious disease scenarios ranging from novel strains of influenza to coronaviruses such as SARS or MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), smallpox, or potential biological warfare by terrorists. Ebola has been on the unit’s list of disaster scenario drills from the beginning. But the hospital had not been tested with real-world activation. One near-activation roughly six years ago turned out to be a false alarm, malaria. “The unit has sat idle from the standpoint of patients, but we’ve always remained in a state of readiness,” she says.

Then in August 2014, she received the phone call that confirmed her premonitions. A representative from the State Department was coming. He arrived, toured the facility, and asked questions about logistics, transport, and protocol. Suddenly, the Nebraska Medicine joined two East Coast hospitals on a list of destinations for repatriated Americans with Ebola. “At that time it became very real to us,” Schwedhelm says. Preparations went into overdrive. “We spent the next month fine-tuning details, enhancing our staff, running through all the motions of testing all those things that we had tested for so many years.”

The State Department began a rotation: Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, collaborating with CDC headquarters. The National Institute of Health’s hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Then came the Nebraska Medicine’s turn.

Omaha’s first patient arrived on Sept. 5. Dr. Rick Sacra had contracted Ebola in Liberia. The 51-year-old doctor was working for the Christian missionary group SIM. He flew from Africa to Omaha. “We had been in touch with our Emory colleagues, to gain insights on how they had dealt with their patient,” says Schwedhelm, “but we really didn’t know what to expect.” Text, e-mail and phone alerts buzzed biocontainment staff wherever they were. Kendall Ryalls received the notice while traveling with her fiancé. A programmed robotic voice broke the news to the registered nurse, “Biocontainment unit has activated. Please call.” She rushed back to Omaha.

Ryalls changed from street clothes into special scrubs. She donned personal protective equipment with the help of a colleague: booties tied up to her knee, an isolation gown wrapped around her body from neck to knee, blue hood draped over head and neck, clear face shield, white respiratory mask, three layers of gloves, etc. Then she took her temperature. Ready to go.

Sacra was non-communicative, very ill, severely dehydrated, depleted of electrolytes. Gradually, he improved with a cocktail of experimental drugs and a blood transfusion from a fellow doctor who had recovered from Ebola. “You are with the patient one-on-one for hours and weeks at a time,” Ryalls says. “You are with them so much. You don’t have that with any other nursing job.”

When Sacra regained enough strength, he used a stationary exercise bike (to minimize muscle atrophy) in confinement. He and Ryalls are both avid cyclists. The nurse would sit in the room, wearing full-body biohazard suit, encouraging Sacra’s effort on the bike or just chatting. Ryalls’ dark brown eyes were the only distinguishable features behind her mask and visor. Three weeks later, Ebola cleared from Sacra’s blood. He was released. Ryalls could finally shake Sacra’s hand without layers of gloves. He instantly recognized Ryalls “from my eyes,” she recalls with a laugh.

“I’m now an official lifetime Huskers fan! Go Big Red!” he announced at a celebratory press conference. Sacra also reaffirmed dedication to his medical mission, planning a return to Liberia where he contracted the disease. Recovered Ebola patients are thought to have immunity.

Spirits soared in Omaha. The same day Sacra was discharged, disaster struck Texas. A sick Liberian national named Thomas Eric Duncan reported to a Dallas hospital. Duncan had Ebola. He infected two nurses before dying on October 8. It was the first case of Ebola diagnosed on U.S. soil.

“We felt like we were going really good, and then that happened. There were a lot of questions from the outside, ‘Could that happen here in Omaha?’” says Schwedhelm. She felt “an almost overwhelming responsibility to make sure that every precaution was taken.” She questioned herself, “was every conceivable safety feature in place?” And her answer was always the same. “Yes. The staff was confident, and I was confident,” Schwedhelm says.

After the Dallas story broke in national media, the staff started to feel pressure from the community. One biocontainment nurse’s daughter was disinvited from a birthday party. Another was excluded from a family Thanksgiving dinner. In contrast, others received letters applauding the hospital’s efforts and unconditional support from informed family members. Ryalls told a friend about her job in the hot zone. Before a scheduled meet-up, the friend left her one-year-old baby at home to be extra safe. Ryalls didn’t take it personally. “She was just being cautious. There are pretty scary numbers about the disease in the media.” But at the same time, Ryalls felt assured that strict protocol and safety gear would prevent possible contact with fluid. The virus can only spread via body fluid to mucus membrane contact.

“I think the entire country has stepped up because of all this. Unfortunately for Dallas, they were first in having someone randomly come in, but because of them, I think the country is better prepared at all entry points,” Schwedhelm says.

The next patient, Ashoka Mukpo, arrived in Omaha on October 6. He had contracted Ebola in Liberia. The 33-year-old cameraman for NBC tested Ebola-free 16 days later, adding another victory to the Med Center’s effort. The third patient, Dr. Martin Salia was gravely ill upon arrival. A false negative test in Sierra Leone had delayed his evacuation and treatment. He came off the airplane at Omaha Eppley on a ventilated isolation stretcher.

Up until Salia’s arrival, respiratory therapist Jean Bellinghausen had been helping the biocontainment team with donning and doffing protective gear. Salia’s urgent medical condition necessitated a breathing tube, and Bellinghausen transitioned into the hot zone. The 44-year-old Salia died two days later on November 17. “Deeply saddened would be an understatement,” Bellinghausen says, recalling the mood of the biocontainment unit. “We all felt like it was a great privilege to care for him. In that small window of time he shared his life with us.”

Biocontainment unit staff gathered to hold a memorial to honor the life of the U.S. immigrant who chose to serve his native Sierra Leone during a time of need. He was the chief medical officer and only surgeon at United Methodist Kissy Hospital in Freetown. His wife and two children live in Maryland.

After a lull, activation status resumed in the biocontainment unit. An anonymous medical worker in Sierra Leone had high-risk exposure to Ebola while caring for patients. The patient flew to Omaha for monitoring and requested privacy. No signs of Ebola showed after 21 days in isolation. The patient departed Omaha on January 22.

“Situations are getting better in West Africa all the time: better supplies, better support services, and better control of the environment,” says Schwedhelm. “We have a lot of military support there, but there is still a raging epidemic that we need to control.” While she suspects more Ebola patients could arrive in Omaha, the center is also leading U.S. hospitals to prepare for potential infectious disease outbreaks on American soil. Schwedhelm’s team has hosted four training courses in collaboration with the CDC in late 2014 and early 2015. Medical professionals and administrators traveled to Omaha from nearly 40 health systems nationwide. She says the CDC hopes to establish between 35 and 50 hazardous disease centers across the United States.

“We really weren’t ready, as a country, and that’s frightening,” she says. “If you have a novel virus, then we need more than three places that could care for patients and do it safely.”

Time magazine recognized “The Ebola Fighters” as the 2014 Person of the Year. Likewise, the Omaha World-Herald recognized Nebraska Medicine’s Ebola team as “Midlanders of the Year,” an honor reserved in past years for such luminaries as Husker legend Tom Osborne and then-U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel.

Schwedhelm and her nurses—though humbled and honored by the distinction—are quick to deflect praise. “Those real heroes and ‘People of the Year’ are on the front lines fighting every day with limited supplies, working in dire circumstances,” she says.

Ebola continues to spread in West Africa. People continue to die. Doctors continue to risk their lives to squash the outbreak. Schwedhelm and Nebraska Medicine will continue doing everything they can to aid the effort until the goal is accomplished.


Building (and Affording)

January 16, 2015 by and

Many of the financial aspects of parenting can be scary. Diapers, day care, tuition, sports, clubs, lessons, field trips… the list of expenses involved in raising a child from crib to college can be daunting. Recent estimates have middle-income parents spending $245,000 from birth to graduation on babies born last year. And that’s before college expenses begin.

Since my oldest is a son, I’ve heard years of horror stories about how one day adding him to our auto insurance policy will cause our rates to skyrocket. “Whatever you once spent on daycare, will now go to pay car insurance,” I was once told. The factors that insurance companies consider: age, gender, marital and/or student status—all work against new 16-year-old male drivers.

Well, frankly? It’s all true. But be assured, there are many, many things that you, as the parent of a pre-teen driver, can be doing right now to significantly reduce the sticker shock the day your oldest gets his license. I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan for this. Otherwise, you will be like the families who walk out of their insurance agent’s office absolutely stunned with an annual auto insurance bill that just vaulted well over $2,000. That’s not a one-time payment, friends. That’s every single year until their son turns 25 or otherwise leaves their policy.

Here are a few things that you can do that will not only help you reduce your insurance costs, but also, hopefully, hand the keys to the safest, most responsible driver you can.

  1. Contact your car insurance agent when your oldest is approaching time to get a driving permit (usually at age 15 in Nebraska). Find out what kind of discounts your insurer offers for safe teen drivers. Most major insurers have a number of incentives to give new drivers a great start.
  2. Monitor your child’s grades. Boys with good grades can have their rates cut as much as 25%, simply for showing that their last report card was solid, generally a B-average. The reduction isn’t as high for girls.
  3. Look into teen driving courses. The National Safety Council of Nebraska offers an excellent training program with requirements both in the classroom and behind the wheel. Classes are offered all over Omaha, all during the year. There is a one-time fee. You can learn more at www.safenebraska.org. Earning that certificate can slice another 20 percent off your child’s insurance.
  4. Meet your insurer’s teen driver requirements. Most major insurers have their own teen driver programs, and once completed, those can shave yet another 15 percent off your rates. In our case, the program reinforced what our son was learning in his driving training, plus instilled defensive 
  5. awareness skills I don’t think he would have picked up as quickly elsewhere.
  6. Consider combining policies. Insurers give credit to those customers who have multiple lines of insurance with them. Not just multiple vehicles, but other lines as well, like home insurance. If the current drivers in the home have good driving histories, that will also bode well for new drivers coming onto the policy.
  7. Choose your child’s vehicle carefully. There’s a huge, huge difference between insuring a new sports car with your teenager as the principle driver and insuring an older, less flashy vehicle for him to drive. Check with your agent before you buy something new. I promise you will be glad you did. We did, and it changed our buying decision.

By doing all of these things, we were able to reduce our insurance costs significantly. Rather than paying thousands extra each year, we pay about $100 more per month to insure our son as a driver. As I’ve stressed to him, it really is up to him now to maintain that “safe driver” status. While he might not appreciate it much now, he will when he is one day making those payments.

Finally, something else to consider. I insisted on a pre-license conversation between my son and our wise insurance agent. It cost nothing but time, but might have had more impact than anything else we did. Jim talked to my son, in a very positive way, about his responsibility as a driver, not only for his own safety, but for everyone else on the road. The great take-away from that meeting was this: “Son, this is the first time in your life that the State of Nebraska can come after you. If you are careless, reckless, or irresponsible, mom and dad will not be able to swoop in and fix it. It will be you, on your own, talking to the police or sheriff. Make sure you understand that.”

That was many months ago, and so far so good. I hope some of these suggestions will help you find great success in creating a safe and affordable teen driver. Let’s keep looking out for each other.


Are immunizations safe?

Often, parents are concerned about the number of vaccines an infant or child may be given at one time. Extensive studies have shown that even a small infant’s immune system is safe with multiple exposures at the same time. Of course, the number of actual injections an infant or child receives is reduced by using combination vaccines. These have been studied thoroughly and are just as safe as giving each component individually.

Childhood immunizations protect against harmful and serious diseases caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses, like polio, measles, and bacterial meningitis. Though these diseases are now controlled by vaccinations, the harmful bacteria and viruses still exist. Unprotected individuals are still at risk of developing disease. Keeping your child’s vaccinations up-to-date will ensure your child’s safety if he or she comes in contact with an unvaccinated individual or if exposed to a disease outbreak.

There are side effects to vaccines. A mild fever the day or two after immunizations and a sore, tender area at the site of the injection are common. More serious side effects are possible, so if a severe reaction occurs, your child’s physician may choose not to give further doses of a specific vaccine.

Many parents are surprised to find that having a mild viral illness, even if it includes fever, is not a reason to postpone immunization. It’s more important to immunize your child according to the recommended schedules set by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice.

If you have concerns about a vaccine recommended for your child, definitely discuss this with your pediatrician. Skipping or delaying vaccinations leaves your child vulnerable to disease. Often, infants and small children suffer more from complications due to communicable disease than do adolescents and adults. Vaccine-preventable diseases can cause serious complications, including seizures, brain damage, and even death. The safest way to ensure your child’s protection against communicable disease is to visit your pediatrician regularly and keep up with immunizations.

Child About To Get An Injection


Up-to-date information for parents is available at any time at boystownpediatrics.org. Click on the Knowledge Center for physician articles, videos and podcasts. Visit the Pediatric Advisor health library for more than 9,000 pediatric topics. 

Does your family have a fire escape plan?

February 15, 2014 by

With the winter months upon us, families nestle in their homes trying to stay warm, spending time by the fireplace and preparing comfort foods. As the temperature drops, residential house fires occurrences rise. Several factors contribute to the increase, including the use of personal heating devices, candles, and unattended cooking equipment.

Knowing how to prevent household fires, along with what to do when a fire occurs, will be beneficial to your family when every minute matters.

Start with prevention

The National Fire Prevention Association suggests your family start with the basics by:

  • Checking your household smoke detectors monthly;
  • Replacing batteries in smoke detectors annually;
  • Ensuring that your house or building number is visible from the street;
  • Memorizing the emergency phone number to the fire department;
  • Ensuring all exits are properly working and free of obstructions, specifically windows;
  • Designing a home fire escape plan.

They also recommend that families conduct a fire safety walkthrough of their home monthly to eliminate any potential fire hazards such as overloaded electrical circuits or faulty wiring.

Have a basic plan

Boys Town Pediatrics knows that developing a plan is important for those times when seconds are critical. Making a family fire escape plan can be a great opportunity to remind children about the importance of safety. Designing a fire escape plan can be easy with the following steps:

  1. Make a map of your house’s layout, showing all windows and doors.
  2. On the plan, make note of two exits out of every room, including the quickest exit outside.
  3. Pick a meeting spot outside the house where the family will gather after an emergency happens.
  4. Go over the basics in fire safety such as staying low to keep out of the smoke, never opening doors that are hot to the touch, and how to find the most immediate and safest route out.

Test the plan

The best way to ensure your plan will work is to hold a fire drill. Inform the family that there will be a fire drill within the next week. Waking your child in the middle of the night may be alarming, but we advise planning a drill in both the evening when it is dark as well as during the day.

After the mock drill, tweak your plan as needed. Remember to revisit the family fire escape plan every six months or after a child has changed rooms.

For more information on fire prevention and safety, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website at www.usfa.fema.gov.

Winter Ready

December 1, 2013 by

It would be nice to be able to call in to work every time we had a little bit of snow, but that just isn’t realistic. We have to get out there and brave the snow and ice in the winter months. Still, there are a few things you can check to make your winter driving safer:

Wiper blades – Your wipers should clear the dirty slush that continually flies onto your windshield without leaving a smeary mess. If not, they need to be replaced. Keep in mind that it’s recommended to replace wiper blades annually. Always having enough windshield wiper fluid is important, too, particularly fluid that withstands freezing temperatures.

Battery – If your battery is more than three years old, it’s a good idea to have a certified battery shop or mechanic test the battery. You don’t want to be stranded due to battery issues that could have been avoided.

Tires – Monitor your tire pressure and tread frequently throughout the winter. Your tire pressure may have dropped along with the temperatures. For every ten degrees the temperature drops, tires average a loss of one pound per square inch. Your tires should also have adequate tread on them. Having them checked out by a professional before a big snow is a good idea. Always have a spare tire and jack with you as well.

Belts and Hoses – Have a professional check them to make sure there are no leaks, bulges, or fraying. The cold weather will only exacerbate these issues, making the hoses and belts more brittle.

Radiator – Make sure that your radiator is filled with the proper water/anti-freeze mixture that is recommended by your vehicle manufacturer.

Gas tank – Always keep a quarter to a half-gallon of gas in the tank at all times to prevent moisture buildup in the tank.

It’s also a good idea to have a winter weather kit in your vehicle. To make an emergency kit, include a blanket, boots and gloves, an extra set of warm clothes, food and water, an ice scraper, a small shovel, a flashlight, windshield washer fluid, flares, jumper cables, a first aid kit, and an abrasive material to help if you get stuck (such as sand or kitty litter).

Motorized Shades Control Sunlight Easily

June 20, 2013 by

As we become more conscious of our footprint on this planet, we realize that making the most of daylight in our homes simply makes good sense. What’s great is that it’s easier and more affordable than ever to control sunlight. Motorized window treatments are no longer considered a luxury but a necessity by many homeowners.

Motorized shading systems offer numerous benefits:

  • Save Energy. Utilizing a shading system helps regulate your home’s temperature and saves money on HVAC costs well beyond what traditional shades offer.
  • Elegance & Ambiance. Stylish fabric options coupled with innovative technology elegantly transition a space while offering just the right amount of light for any activity. Shades align precisely within 1/16″ of each other, creating a balanced, beautiful look on a row of windows anywhere in your home.
  • Convenience. Shading systems can be controlled using a myriad of keypads, IR (infrared frequency) remote controls, and wireless tabletop controls, or may be set to an astronomic time clock for automatic adjustment.
  • Safety & Security. A whole-home shading system can be programmed for simultaneous control. Homeowners can set a pre-determined “away” time, then just hit a button when leaving to close all shades and restrict the view inside your home.
  • Reduce Glare & Protect Furnishings. Shading systems diffuse light and prevent glare from washing out a computer or television screen. They also protect furniture, fine art, rugs, and even wood surfaces from the sun’s damaging UV rays.

To learn more about motorized shading systems or request an in-home consultation, call on the professionals at Echo Systems in Omaha at 402-334-4900 or visit echosystemsomaha.com.