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Putting Our Children First

Published by , on May 12, 2013

By Suzanne R. Lavoie, MD, Professor and Chief, Division of  Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCUFamily Picture (3)I certainly did not take the traditional route to parenthood. At the age of 42, I had achieved many of the career goals I had set out to accomplish. As a pediatrician, I spent most of my life focusing on my career and- I’ll admit it – I was a workaholic, often staying at the hospital past 8 p.m. I wrongly assumed Mr. Right would find me there, just as I believed my parents when they assured me Santa would find my house, chimney or no chimney!Being raised in a close knit family of seven children, family has always been important to me; but by the time I was in the 7th grade, I had already discovered my life purpose. After completing my residency in 1990, I arrived at VCU Medical Center for my Infectious Diseases fellowship and I’ve never looked back. My unusual dual specialty in internal medicine and pediatrics put me in the unique position to help out in the newly formed HIV clinic at VCU and one of the biggest needs was a pediatrician to provide care for the few HIV infected children in the area at the time.  As this population unfortunately grew, and I completed my fellowship, I was asked (and eagerly agreed) to start the first family centered, Pediatric AIDS Program in the region.  We developed the HIV Family Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) to be a model program for the provision of care to both adults and children in a single family affected and infected with HIV.  Nearly as important, though, as an infection disease specialist, I also had the opportunity to diagnose and care for patients with a diverse array of infectious diseases and immune issues.Needless to say, I was busy living my dream and the children I cared for every day were my number one priority. But I became a pediatrician in part because of my love for children and had always dreamed of one day having a family of my own. So, at a time when most people have finished having children, at the age of 42, I started my own family. My journey as a parent began with the international adoption of two baby boys, followed by another baby girl; five years later, I adopted my youngest child, another baby girl from Russia.

Switching gears from a workaholic to a single parent of four meant I needed to make strict rules –for myself and my children. Staying at the office until 8 p.m. at night was no longer an option. I still had the same passion for my career, but having children changes your focus in amazing ways. Balancing work and family is something I do on a daily basis, which includes setting healthy limits, such as one sport per child at a time. Parenting is all about making compromises and sacrifices based on what my family needs now and what we need in the long term.

Recently, as I reflected on how I balance the short and long-term view of my family, I realized this also transcends into my career. The compromises and sacrifices I make to raise my own children have also guided my career goals of providing the best care for Richmond’s children today, while always keeping their long-term best interests in mind.For over two decades I have witnessed the dramatic pediatric healthcare milestones in Richmond firsthand, and I have had the privilege of playing a key part in advancing children’s health as a pediatric specialist at CHoR. While I believe that a free-standing children’s hospital is a great idea, and something any parent would want, I also believe our number one priority should always be providing access to all the different healthcare services our children need, which is the goal of ChoR at VCU and began with the opening of the current Children’s Pavilion in 2004.As pediatric demand continued to grow, we envisioned our next step in advancing children’s health should be the development of a comprehensive faculty in pediatric subspecialties combined with a unique facility where we could offer family-centered, disease-centered care. As an example, the goal of this facility would be to consolidate and coordinate care – while this is particularly important for children with complex chronic health care needs it will benefit all of our patients. As an example, a parent has a child with cystic fibrosis (and complications of malnutrition and diabetes) could take their child to one appointment and be seen by a pulmonologist, nutritionist, and endocrinologist. This vision for coordinating care across multiple specialists in one place will become a reality with the opening of the new Children’s  Pavilion in 2015.When I think of what Richmond needs now, the Children’s Pavilion is the first thing that comes to my mind. That’s because the majority of pediatric care we provide now is outpatient with only a small percentage of patients being admitted to an inpatient facility. In fact, there has been a growing trend over the past 10-15 years to provide more care at home, resulting in shorter hospitalizations, and in some cases avoiding hospitalization altogether. I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way. By no means am I implying we shouldn’t make investments for children that do require hospitalization, but in order to ensure we have appropriate access to care for as many patients as possible, we must first enhance and maximize our outpatient facilities now and for the long-term.

As a mother of four and a pediatrician in the Richmond community for almost 25 years, I have as vested an interest as anyone in having a dedicated children’s hospital building in Richmond one day.  But in order to deliver the best care for all children, we must continue to focus on building our programs and physician specialists where they add the most value for our children. Without this, a building alone has no meaning, no sustainable foundation.

As I look back on my years at CHoR, I can honestly say I’m proud of how far we’ve come. But this is a journey, not a race. When other mothers ask me how I do it all, I tell them I don’t. I do what I can. But I’ve learned if you stay focused on what’s important, over time, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. And I truly believe that while that might mean making compromises and sacrifices now, if Richmond stays focused on building the programs and physician specialists we need to care for children, the buildings will follow. By putting our children first, we have already created a children’s hospital that Richmond can be proud of – and like I tell my kids with all things – if you focus on reaching one goal at a time, your successes will ultimately pave the way to your dream.

And Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms reading this post!

Suzanne Lavoie Infectious Disease/Pediatric Infectious DiseaseSuzanne R. Lavoie, MD  joined the faculty of both the departments of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at VCU in 1993 after completion of her fellowship. She founded the Pediatric AIDS Program in 1994 and later became director of the HIV Family Clinic, the only source for Pediatric HIV care in the region. She has been the program director for the  Pediatric Residency Training Program since 1999. In 2007, she founded the International  Adoption Clinic.

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