New London - This summer, as the safety hazards of outdoor play have repeatedly come to Dr. Kay Hesse's attention, she has found herself talking a lot about helmets.
"If it's got wheels, put a helmet on," she said.
For Hesse, the medical director of pediatric emergency medicine at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital since March, one of the most satisfying aspects of her new job is using her mantle of authority on matters related to adolescent and child health to help persuade injured children and their families of the need for helmets when riding bicycles, skateboards, scooters and other contraptions.
"There are so many things that are preventable with a simple conversation," said Hesse, who has degrees in pediatric emergency medicine and public health - a background she draws on daily, she said, when dealing with the variety of patients and parents she treats.
The new department opened for a two-nights-a-week trial in March, with Hesse, who previously worked in the emergency department at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, at the helm. On July 9, the service, which is affiliated with Yale-New Haven Hospital, expanded to five nights, 3 to 11 p.m., providing care after pediatricians offices are closed. Plans are to offer the service daily once a third physician trained in pediatric emergency medicine is hired. It is now staffed by Hesse and Dr. Lawrence Siew.
Thus far, 10 to 12 patients are being treated daily in the new department off the main emergency room in the area used during the day for outpatient surgery. Before it started, kids from southeastern Connecticut had to be taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, Connecticut Children's in Hartford or Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, each about an hour's drive away, for specialized pediatric emergency care.
"Being on the receiving end of patients (at Connecticut Children's Hospital), I often felt bad when patients and their parents had to come an hour for care," Hesse said. "This is better for families not to have to be an hour from home."
Having a separate area is also more "family-friendly," said Hesse, because it keeps youngsters apart from the and troubling cases that can come into the main emergency room. It is also more reassuring to parents, she said, to know their child is being treated by someone with specialized training.
Patients may be admitted from the new department to an inpatient bed at L&M, or, in more complex cases, may be sent to Yale or Connecticut Children's for more specialized care, Hesse said.
In addition to treating concussions, abrasions and broken bones from several bicycle and skateboard accidents this summer, the new department has handled a wide variety of cases over the last few weeks. These range from children brought in after incidents of suspected child abuse, a broken hand from football practice, and some typical summer illnesses such as Lyme disease and hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a common virus, Hesse said.
"We've had to intubate patients who were not breathing, given sedations for different procedures and stitch wounds," she said. "We've had patients from late adolescence to brand-new babies. It's always different, and that's the thing that makes it exciting."
A Guilford resident, Hesse said growing up as the big sister of four younger brothers taught her at a young age about the importance of injury prevention. Now, her two daughters, ages 2 and 4, provide her with a new source of first-hand experience to draw on when advising parents about feeding problems, safety issues and other concerns.
"Being a parent, I can give more sensible pearls of wisdom rather than just telling them something I've read out of a book," she said.
L&M'S PEDIATRIC EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT
Open from 3 to 11 p.m. five nights a week on a changing schedule. Parents may call the hospital at (860) 442-0711, ext. 2261, to ask whether the department is open on a particular night; on nights it is closed, children are treated in the main emergency department.