Pediatric INSIGHTS, Fall 2022

Back to Basics: Overcoming Severe Brain and Foot Injuries with Help from the UPMC Children’s Hospital Rehabilitation Unit

Back to Basics: Overcoming Severe Brain and Foot Injuries with Help from the UPMC Children’s Hospital Rehabilitation UnitOn a Sunday evening in February 2019, 16-year-old high school sophomore Emily Spielvogle and three of her friends were on the way from their hometown of Hermitage, Pa. in Mercer County to a faith-based program at Grove City College. Snowy conditions led to the girls being involved in a major car accident involving two tractor trailers and Emily suffered severe trauma to her head and one of her feet. After reconstructive foot surgery, she came to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Rehabilitation Unit (CHRU) to heal and improve some of her motor and communication skills that had been affected.

Read Emily’s full story.

Also in This Issue

  • UPMC Children’s Hospital once again earns prestigious Magnet® Recognition for nursing.
  • Andrew Urbach, MD, senior medical director, Patient Experience and Development, highlights the life-saving work of the Critical Care Transport Team at UPMC Children’s.
  • UPMC Children’s Express Care re-opens in Lawrenceville.

Top Accolades

UPMC Children’s Hospital Again Earns Prestigious Nursing Recognition

UPMC Children’s Hospital Again Earns Prestigious Nursing RecognitionUPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh has earned the distinguished Magnet® Recognition once again, granted by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which distinguishes organizations that meet rigorous standards for nursing excellence.

UPMC Children’s Hospital is receiving the recognition for the third time, an accomplishment made by fewer than 5% of hospitals nationwide.

“This recognition represents our nursing staff’s continued commitment to providing excellent care at UPMC Children’s Hospital, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Diane Hupp, president, UPMC Children’s. “We are proud to offer the highest quality of care in the communities we serve and applaud our incredible staff for their continued dedication.”

UPMC Children’s Hospital first achieved Magnet designation in July 2012 and again in 2017. The hospital is one of 10 hospitals in the state with three or more designations. In addition, UPMC Children’s is one of only 40 pediatric hospitals nationwide who have earned this recognition.

Only 9.4% of U.S. health care organizations have achieved Magnet recognition, which is considered the highest honor and gold standard for nursing excellence, and a significant factor when the public evaluates health care organizations. Factors for Magnet consideration include the quality of nursing leadership and coordination and collaboration across specialties, as well as processes for measuring and improving the quality and delivery of care. To maintain designation, organizations must reapply every four years.

Magnet designated hospitals are known to have fewer reports of nurses intending to leave their positions, higher overall job satisfaction among nurses, higher patient satisfaction with nurse communication and availability of help and receipt of discharge information and lower risk of 30-day mortality and failure-to-rescue rates.

Other hospitals in the UPMC system that have received Magnet designation include UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Passavant, UPMC Community Osteopathic, UPMC Hamot, UPMC Harrisburg, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, UPMC Shadyside, UPMC St. Margaret and UPMC West Shore.

UPMC Children’s Receives Excellence in Healthcare Award from Huron Consulting Group

In August, UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh won the Excellence in Healthcare Award at the “What’s Right in Health Care” conference hosted in Chicago, IL, hosted by Huron Consulting Group.

The “What’s Right in Health Care” conference is an annual meeting to hear from other industry professionals and share learnings. In addition to the Excellence in Healthcare Award.

“We are living in an extraordinary moment in health care – full of constant change, uncertainty, and new opportunities,” said Leslie Davis, president and chief executive officer of UPMC. “It’s never been more important to understand different perspectives in our field. And to our Children’s team, congratulations on yet another recognition of your tremendous work!” Ms. Davis was also presented with Huron’s Leadership Hall of Fame Award at the conference.

Dr. Ken Nischal Named Medical Director of Digital Health at UPMC Children's

Last month, it was announced that Ken Nischal, MD, FAAP, FRCOphth, would assume the new role of Medical Director, Digital Health at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

In 2011, Dr. Nischal joined UPMC Children's as chief of the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology, Strabismus, and Adult Motility. He also directs pediatric program development at the UPMC Eye Center and is a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is one of the world’s foremost pediatric eye specialists and an author of more than 100 published research articles. Over the past few years, Dr. Nischal has been helping to advance strategies to grow our digital health and we are pleased to formalize his role.

In addition to his current roles, Dr. Nischal will now be responsible for:

  • Maintaining and improving the digital health experience for our patients and families
  • Developing growth strategies for our virtual visits across all pediatric subspecialties
  • Supporting the advancement of our telehealth platforms
  • Serving as liaison with pediatric division directors and chiefs for digital health

Congratulations to Dr. Nischal on this new, expanded role!

UPMC Children’s Muscular Dystrophy Clinic Awarded CDCC Certification from Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy

In July, the Muscular Dystrophy Program at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in the Division of Child Neurology received certification as a Certified Duchenne Care Center (CDCC) Program from Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD). UPMC Children’s is the first center in Pennsylvania to receive the certification from PPMD.

Muscular Dystrophy Clinic Awarded CDCC Certification from Parent Project Muscular DystrophyThe multidisciplinary clinic is co-directed by pediatric neurologist Hoda Abdel-Hamid, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the EMG Laboratory and Pediatric Neuromuscular Program. Joining Dr. Abdel-Hamid as co-director Jane Taylor, MD, from the Division of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine.

Dr. Abdel-Hamid began leading the Neuromuscular and Muscular Dystrophy Programs at UPMC Children’s in 2006. Under her leadership, both programs have since expanded in scope and scale to include a complement of multidisciplinary provider. Along with Dr. Taylor from Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine, Jason Edinger, DO, from Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, specialist from physical therapy, orthopaedic surgery, cardiology, genetics, and social work collaborate on patient care in the clinic. The programs collectively now follow more than 250 patients with various neuromuscular conditions, including more than 120 individuals with Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy.

PPMD’s Certified Duchenne Care Center Program supports standardized, comprehensive care and services for all people living with Duchenne. Certification means centers maintain the highest standards in clinical and sub-specialty services, rapidly apply new evidence-based knowledge, minimize heterogeneity in clinical research outcomes, and comply with standards in clinical care that were established by the CDC’s Care Considerations. As part of its ongoing mission to end Duchenne, PPMD continues to insist that all people with Duchenne receive comprehensive care.

UPMC Children’s Earns ELSO Award for Excellence in Life Support

UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh has been awarded the ELSO Award for Excellence in Life Support – Platinum level.

The Award for Excellence in Life Support from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) recognizes hospitals and medical centers around the world that demonstrate exceptional commitment to evidence-based processes and quality measures, staff training and continuing education, patient satisfaction and ongoing clinical care in the use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

Leading the ECMO program and team at UPMC Children’s are pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Melita Viegas, MD; Marit Aspenleiter, BS, CCP, ECMO coordinator at UPMC Children’s; and David Palmer, EdD, CCP, LP, director of Perfusion and ECMO Services at UPMC Children’s.

UPMC Children’s ECMO program in the Heart Institute first began in 1979 and has provided some of the most advanced life support for critically ill children with complex heart and lung conditions for more than four decades.

In 2008, the program became one of a handful of programs in the United States to provide ECMO transport for children with advanced heart failure who are in need of transplantation or long-term mechanical circulatory support.

The award was presented at the 33rd Annual ELSO Conference in Boston in September.

UPMC Children’s Hospital Foundation News

DVE Rocks Children’s to a New Record!

For 15 years, 102.5 WDVE has rocked UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Over three days and 26-hours of broadcast, this year we set a new record, raising $1,085,643!

In addition to all of YOU, our sponsors came through in a BIG way! Special thank you to Mascaro Construction; Rohrich Toyota; Disaster Restoration Services; Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania; Ashely, Ben, and the Roethlisberger family; and our new friends at Acrisure: With a donation of $100,000, they helped us smash our goal!

We also extend a special thank you to 102.5 WDVE radio personalities and staff, our volunteers, patient families, and the thousands of donors who made this DVE Rocks Children's Radiothon event a success!

You don’t have to wait until 2023 to become a Rock Star — click here to rock all year!

KDKA Free Care Fund Telethon Set to Celebrate the Season

Join us on Dec. 8 to celebrate the 69th Annual KDKA Free Care Fund Telethon! Tune in to Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV from 4–8 p.m. to hear stories of hope and healing from patients treated at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

For 69 years, KDKA-TV has helped provide a platform for the Free Care Fund — ensuring that every child receives the care they deserve, no matter their ability to pay.


Andy Urbach, MD

Delivering Miracles: UPMC’s Critical Care Transport Team

The critical care transport team of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is ready 24/7 to travel to hospitals nearby, a state or two away, or even around the world. Its mission: To safely bring very ill infants, children, and teens to our hospital for advanced care.

Whenever I hear a STAT MedEvac helicopter approaching or see our UPMC Children’s ambulance pull onto our campus, I breathe a sigh of relief. I know that the child onboard is already receiving expert care, thanks to our remarkable critical care transport team. On average, they deliver three or more patients to our Children’s each day.

I was introduced to critical care transport in the 1980s as a second-year resident here at Children’s. Back then, each team had a nurse and resident or doctor. Today, each team is staffed by a pediatric critical care nurse and respiratory therapist who bring deep expertise, skill, compassion, and a laser focus to their work.

I recently spoke with several key individuals who work with our critical care transport team. Because they’re responsible for an important aspect of our care here at Children’s, I wanted to share their insights with you.

Who we serve:

“We’re primarily a hospital-to-hospital service. Once we get a request through UPMC MedCall, we dispatch our transport teams to any hospital needing advanced pediatric care for a critically ill child — from infancy to adolescence,” explains Carrie Vincett, MSN, RN, CPN, senior director of Critical Care Medicine at Children’s. “The team begins delivering care at the patient’s bedside and continues throughout the transport back to Pittsburgh.

“Our goal is to reach the referring hospital as quickly as possible, then take as long as needed to stabilize the patient to safely make the return trip to Children’s,” notes Vincett. “We have provided transport for patients all along the eastern seaboard, mid-Atlantic, and South — and as far away as Japan.” UPMC MedCall can be reached at 412-692-5000.

How we reach patients and the resources we bring:

“Depending on a patient’s location, our team will travel by air (fixed wing or helicopter) or by ground in Children’s own critical care medicine ambulance,” says Sarah Dady, RN, BSN, PHRN, a transport team Andy's Insights Children's Critical Care Medical Servicesmember since 2010. “Whatever our mode of travel, the transport team functions as a mobile pediatric intensive care unit. All our equipment and supplies are sized for infants and children. We even have a transport isolette with a ventilator for newborns — just like you’d find in a NICU. Our new ambulance is state-of-the-art, outfitted with the latest medical technology — including WiFi and GPS tracking so the team at Children’s can provide remote support and prepare for their arrival.

“We also carry a full range of emergency drugs, including antibiotics, and shock and cardiac arrest medicines,” adds Dady. “As nurses, we’re trained to mix our own medications ¬— based on a patient’s specific needs — as we travel to the hospital. We’re also one of the few teams that transports nitric oxide to support breathing.”

The added difference of respiratory support:

“When I started with the transport team, Children’s was one of the few pediatric hospitals in the country to offer extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which is basically a heart/lung bypass machine,” says respiratory therapist Karen Luksis, BS, RRT, C-NPT, who has been a transport team member since 1988. “Over the years, we’ve developed a real expertise in pediatric ventilation with ECMO a central part of our transport services. We are increasingly transporting very frail and sick neonates. Using ECMO is critical to our ability to safely transport many of these babies, whose lungs aren’t fully developed.

“We’re able to do what we do because of the incredible training and support we get from the doctors at Children’s,” notes Luksis. “And we can’t overstate the importance of the STAT MedEvac pilots and EMT professionals we work with. They make what we do possible — in what are often challenging conditions.”

For the families and doctors of critically ill pediatric patients, our transport teams are often their first point of contact with our hospital. If you are ever among them, it’s my hope that you’ll share my full confidence in the skill and dedication its members bring to your patient’s care.

Andy Urbach, MD, is senior medical director for Patient Experience and Development at Children's. He welcomes your comments and questions. Please send an email to

Laurels for Our Staff

These UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh staff members recently received recognition in their fields.

In August, the UPMC Children’s Child Neurology Division welcomed a new epilepsy specialist, Ruba Al-Ramadhani, MD. Dr. Al-Ramadhani earned her medical degree from the University of Baghdad College of Medicine in 2008. She completed her pediatric and child neurology residencies at the University of Mississippi in 2019, followed by a fellowship in Clinical Neurophysiology-Pediatric Epilepsy at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2020. After completing her fellowship, Dr. Al-Ramadhani joined the Emory University School of Medicine faculty as an Assistant Professor of Neurology, with a clinical appointment as Assistant Professor of Pediatric Neurology at Children’s Health Care of Atlanta and Brain Health Center, also in Atlanta. At UPMC Children’s, Dr. Al-Ramadhani joins The Epilepsy Center with a role in furthering the development of the Epilepsy Surgery Program.

In September, Brian Campfield, MD, was awarded an R01 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his project titled “Follistatin-like 1 Mediated Host Defense in Bacterial Pneumonia.” Dr. Campfield and team aim to determine the molecular and cellular requirements of FSTL-1-mediated pulmonary host defense pathway, and outcomes of these studies will inform host-derived, immune targeting therapeutic approaches for the treatment of bacterial pneumonia.

In June, Catherine S. Forster, MD, MS, FAAP, pediatric hospitalist and researcher at UPMC Children’s, received a Supporting Our Scientists (SOS) Award from the Institute for Clinical Research Education. SOS is a “year-long program that supports faculty members who have experienced undue caregiving responsibilities as a result of COVID” and whose research or career have been challenged due to their responsibilities. Aspects of the SOS award include research funding, career development and work-life integration. Dr. Forster will receive $35,000 for research, along with things like mentoring from certified coaches, participation in courses to grow their career like writing and presentation courses, and work-life integration help with a gift card that can be used to “pay for time-saving activities.”

In July, Dr. Forster and Maha Kaissi, MD, pediatric hospitalist, were awarded the Collaborative Impact Award at the Pediatric Hospital Medicine (PHM) Conference in Orlando, Florida. Dr. Forster and Dr. Kaissi, along with their colleagues in the APP’s Section of Hospital Medicine Women in Pediatric Hospital Medicine Sub-Committee, have envisioned creating a community to engage all members of PHM who identify as women. Their mission is to promote equity by creating a supportive venue for dialogue and education, developing opportunities for mentorship and career development, identify resources for work life integration, and by engaging, including, and collaborating with all members of PHM.

In August, Erika Friehling, MD, pediatric hematologist/oncologist at UPMC Children’s, was elected as a faculty representative to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Executive Committee of the Faculty. Her service as a faculty representative began July 1, 2022 and will run through June 30, 2025.

In August, Jacqueline Ho, MD, MSc, was appointed as the new Pediatric Nephrology Division Chief. Dr. Ho succeeds Carlton M. Bates, MD, who retired at the end of June 2022. She joined the Division of Pediatric Nephrology at UPMC Children's in 2010. In addition to her clinical and research work, she has served as the director of the Pediatric Nephrology Fellowship program and co-director of the Pediatric Scientist Development Program in the Department of Pediatrics.

In June, Dwi Kemaladewi, PhD, received a R01 grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) under the National Institute of Health (NIH). The R01 grant was titled “Therapeutic Genetics and Disease Modeling in LAMA2-deficient Congenital Muscular Dystrophy.” Dr. Kemaladewi’s team in the Division of Genetics and Genomic Medicine plans to use CRISPR activation technology to activate a gene called LAMA1 to compensate for the lack of LAMA2 in mouse and patient derived mod Collaborative Impact Award. This award was announced at the Pediatric Hospital Medicine (PHM) Conference in Orlando, Florida in July 2022.

In June, Geoffrey Kurland, MD, director of the Pediatric Lung Transplant Program at UPMC Children’s, received the ATS 2022 Pediatrics Assembly Lifetime Contributions to Pediatric Respiratory Medicine Award. Dr. Kurland’s clinical work has spanned the range of pediatric pulmonary conditions with an emphasis in pediatric lung transplantation, interstitial lung disease, and flexible bronchoscopy. Much of Dr. Kurland’s research over the years has involved interstitial lung disease in children and the development of novel approaches to lung transplant graft surveillance.

Anita McElroy, MD, PhD, pediatric infectious disease physician at UPMC Children's, received a R01 award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for her project titled “Innate immune recognition and response to Rift Valley fever virus.” Dr. McElroy and team are trying to determine how the mammalian host innate immune system recognizes and responds to RVFV infection and this modulates viral pathogenesis, and their central hypothesis is that differential innate immune recognition and response by infected cells modulates viral pathogenesis.

In August, Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and medical director of Community Health at UPMC Children’s, was hired as the new medical director for Adelphoi, one of Pennsylvania’s leading providers of services for at-risk youth and their families. In this role, she will serve as the physician responsible for the overall care and clinical practice carried out at Adelphoi.

An article entitled, “Nonprofit Board Membership: A Novel Mechanism for Authentic Community Engagement and Leadership Development for Resident Physicians” by Braveen Ragunanthan, MD, MPH, FAAP; Amy Nevin, MD, FAAP; Jennifer Wolford, DO, MPH; and Katherine Watson, DO, FAAP, was featured in Volume 14, Issue 3 of the Journal of Graduate Medicine Education. The article stresses the importance of genuine community engagement and leadership development for resident physicians in nonprofit board membership through their data and findings.

In August, the UPMC Children’s Heart Institute welcomed a new director of Noninvasive Cardiac Imaging, Laura J. Olivieri, MD. In addition to her role in the Heart Institute, Dr. Olivieri is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. Dr. Olivieri comes to UPMC Children’s and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine after having spent the last 15 years of her career at Children’s National Medical Center and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she was an associate professor of Pediatrics and director of the 3D Cardiac Visualization Laboratory and director of the Cardiac MR and CT Clinical Program. Dr. Olivieri’s clinical work and the focus of her research program have revolved around the use of cardiac imaging modalities, in particular cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, to advance and improve diagnostic capabilities and treatment approaches for a wide range of pediatric congenital cardiac anomalies and diseases.

In June, Raymond Pitetti, MD, MPH, FAAP, director of the division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at UPMC Children’s, was appointed to the Faculty Assembly of the University Senate of University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Pitetti will be sitting under School of the Health Sciences under Medicine. His three-year term began on July 1. This election also includes membership on the Senate Council for the final two years of his term.

In August, Amanda Poholek, PhD, researcher and director of the Health Sciences Sequencing Core at UPMC Children’s, had her study titled “Tumor microenvironmental signals reshape chromatin landscapes to limit the functional potential of exhausted T cells” published in Science Immunology. Dr. Poholek, Greg Delgoffe, PhD, coauthor of the paper, and their team profiled molecular features of T cells as they progressed from early to terminal exhaustion in a mouse model of melanoma. They unexpectedly found that even the most terminally exhausted T cells retain some capacity to be functional again and identified approaches to overcome exhaustion, opening potential new avenues for cancer immunotherapy.

In August, Maya Ragavan, MD, MPH, MS, violence prevention researcher and pediatrician at UPMC Children's, received a K23 Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Dr. Ragavan’s goal for her K23 award is to develop and test a strengths-based, culturally affirming dating violence prevention program for Latine adolescents and their parents or caregivers. She will start by conducting dyadic interviews with parents and adolescents, then design the intervention by adapting an existing program (Dating Matters for Parents), and finally conduct a pilot randomized clinical trial. Her work is in partnership with Salud Para Niños, a bilingual and bicultural pediatric medical home directed by Diego Chaves-Gnecco MD, MPH, and Casa San José, a resource and welcome center for Latine families.

In August, Mohamed Salah Emam Saleh, MD, pediatric endocrinologist at UPMC Children’s, received a KO8: Clinical Investigator Award from the NIH for his project “Loss of the Exocrine Pancreas Improves Glucose Tolerance and Insulin Secretion.” Dr. Saleh and team recently designed a surgical mouse model wherein a pancreatic ductal infusion of 1% acetic acid (AcA) led to complete ablation of the exocrine pancreas, but importantly with complete sparing of the islets. This model allowed them to study β-cell function in-situ in the pancreas, with the islets retaining their native innervation and vasculature, but in the absence of the exocrine pancreas.

Earlier this year, Amr Sawalha, MD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Rheumatology and a researcher in pediatric rheumatology at UPMC Children’s, received the Charles L. Christian Award for a Significant Advance in Understanding Lupus..

In September, Brittani Seynnaeve, MD, MS, director of the UPMC Pediatric Melanoma Program, associate fellowship program director of the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellowship program, and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, received a Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program Specialized Program of Research Excellence (MSCP SPORE) Career Enhancement Program (CEP) Award. She earned the award for her research titled “Defining the Telomere Length-Promoting Mutational Landscape and Associated Clinical Features of Pediatric, Adolescent, and Young Adult Melanoma.” The goal of this career enhancement program award is to provide support to advance disease classification and prognostication for pediatric and adolescent/young adult melanoma through multidisciplinary collaboration at the University of Pittsburgh with Jonathan Alder, PhD, combining his expertise in telomere biology with Seynnaeve’s clinical expertise in pediatric melanoma. This project utilizes resources from the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program SPORE Biospecimen Core and the UPMC Pediatric Melanoma Program.

News You Need

UPMC Children’s Express Care Re-opens at UPMC Children’s Hospital Campus in Lawrenceville

UPMC Children’s Express Care returned to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville in September. UPMC Children’s Express Care offers access to convenient and immediate care for infants, children, and teens after hours and on weekends for treatment of minor illnesses and injuries when regular pediatrician’s offices are closed. UPMC Children’s Hospital operates 10 other Express Care centers in western and central Pennsylvania.

Located on the third floor of UPMC Children’s, the center will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. No appointments are necessary and free parking is available on site.

For added convenience, families can secure a spot in line before they arrive by using the “Save My Spot” option. Families can download the UPMC Children’s app or visit to get started.

If a child’s injury or illness requires emergency or specialty care, UPMC Children’s Express Care at UPMC Children’s Hospital will follow the same practice as the other locations, which is to refer patients to the Emergency Department, or to a Children’s pediatric specialist.

For more information, visit

UPMC Center for Rare Disease Therapy Webinar Series

Join experts from the Center for Rare Disease Therapy at UPMC Children’s for webinars for providers, parents, and caregivers of children with a rare inherited disorder.

Learn more here.

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