Pediatric INSIGHTS, Winter 2023

One Teen's Story of Surgery and Recovery from a Rare Tumor

Luke CunninghamWhen high school sophomore Luke Cunningham began experiencing frequent and intense nosebleeds, his family’s search for answers led them to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. There, doctors discovered that Luke had a juvenile nasopharyngeal angiofibroma tumor that would need to be removed.

Read Luke’s story.

Also in This Issue

  • UPMC Children’s Hospital earns the 2022 Leapfrog Award in recognition of the Hospital’s commitment to patient safety and quality.
  • The UPMC Children’s Hospital Foundation raised $1,668,016 during the 69th Annual Free Care Fund Telethon in December.
  • Andrew Urbach, MD, senior medical director, Patient Experience and Development, highlights the lingering Emergency Department crisis facing hospitals across the country and how you can help.

Top Accolades

UPMC Children’s Earns 2022 Leapfrog Top Hospital Award for Outstanding Quality and Safety

The Leapfrog Group Top Children's Hospital 2022The Leapfrog Group recently named UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh one of its “Top Children’s Hospitals,” highlighting the hospital’s commitment to patient safety and quality. UPMC Children’s is one of only 12 pediatric hospitals in the country named to this elite class.

The Leapfrog Top Hospital award is widely acknowledged as one of the most competitive awards American hospitals can receive. The Top Hospital designation is bestowed by The Leapfrog Group, a national watchdog organization of employers and other purchasers widely acknowledged as the toughest standard-setters for health care quality and safety.

“The Leapfrog Group’s national recognition highlights our remarkable team of devoted physicians, nurses, and staff who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and the ongoing surge of respiratory illnesses to ensure every patient and family has the safest experience and receives the highest-quality compassionate care they deserve,” said Diane Hupp, president of UPMC Children’s.

More than 2,200 hospitals were considered for the award. Among those, UPMC Children’s received a Top Children’s distinction. A total of 115 top hospitals were selected as Top Hospitals, including:

  • 12 Top Children’s
  • 32 Top General
  • 13 Top Rural
  • 58 Top Teaching

The quality of patient care across many areas of hospital performance is considered in establishing the qualifications for the award, including infection rates, practices for safer surgery, maternity care, and the hospital’s capacity to prevent medication errors. The rigorous standards are defined in each year’s Top Hospital Methodology.

“We are honored to recognize UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh as a Top Hospital this year,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group. “UPMC Children’s has demonstrated that they truly put patients first. We congratulate the board, staff, and clinicians whose efforts made this honor possible.”

To qualify for the Top Hospitals distinction, hospitals must rank top among peers on the Leapfrog Hospital Survey, which assesses hospital performance on the highest standards for quality and patient safety, and achieve top performance in its category. To see the full list of institutions honored as 2022 Top Hospitals, visit

UPMC Children’s Hospital Foundation News

KDKA-TV's free care fund $1,668,016 Thank You!

69th Annual Free Care Fund Telethon Kicked Off the Holiday Season

For 69 years, UPMC Children’s Hospital Foundation and KDKA-TV have teamed up to raise crucial funds for the Free Care Fund. This year’s event raised $1,668,016, ensuring no child goes without the care they deserve! It’s not too late to become a Hero in Healing, visit to make a $20 monthly gift!

Keisel Cuts for da Kids

Keisel Cuts for da kidsUPMC Children’s Hospital Foundation celebrated the new year with an old friend! Former Pittsburgh Steeler Brett Keisel was in need of a beard trim, so he stopped by to get a new look from some of his pals. Joined by cancer patients, Brett cut his famous beard to kick-off the new year. Each patient was able to help with Brett’s new look - all while raising funds for kids with cancer! To learn how you can join Brett is supporting the cancer programs at UPMC Children’s, visit

Regional News: Central Pa.

UPMC in Central Pa. continues to expand its children’s specialty services in the region with the addition of Melissa Meyer, DO and Shawn Safford, MD.

Melissa Meyer, DO

Melissa Meyer, DODr. Meyer is a fellowship-trained pediatric orthopaedic surgeon with Pediatric Orthopaedics of Central PA-UPMC. She received her medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her orthopaedic surgery residency at Rowan University/Inspira Medical Center, followed by her pediatric orthopaedic surgery fellowship at Washington University of St. Louis/St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Meyer’s office is in Hummelstown, Pa. at UPMC Children’s Express Care. She performs surgery at UPMC Harrisburg so that children can recover in the UPMC Children’s Harrisburg pediatric unit.

Dr. Meyer is passionate about her work. “Nothing is more important than making sure that the family feels comfortable with the care we’re providing and we’re all on the same page for the plan for their child,” she says. “It is a privilege to work with children.”

Dr. Meyer’s clinical interests include general pediatric orthopaedics, fracture management, hip dysplasia, limb length discrepancies, lower extremity deformity, and neuromuscular diseases. She is a member of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and the American Osteopathic Academy of Orthopaedics.

Outside of medicine, Dr. Meyer enjoys spending time with family and her dog, traveling, and hiking.

Shawn Safford, MD

Shawn Safford, MDShawn Safford, MD, is a pediatric surgeon and is board-certified in both pediatric general and thoracic surgery and general surgery by the American Board of Surgery. He received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and completed his general surgery and pediatric surgery research fellowship at Duke University, followed by his pediatric surgery fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Safford also holds a Master of Business Administration from George Washington University. He served in the U.S. Navy with the USNS Comfort where he led the surgical efforts in Operation Unified Response - Haiti disaster relief.

Dr. Safford’s clinical interests include complex neonatal surgery with special interest in intestinal perfusion as well as chest wall deformities. His bibliography includes numerous journal publications, books, and reviews in the fields of surgery and pediatric surgery, and he is a member of several professional societies including the Association for Academic Surgery/Society of University Surgeons, the Pediatric Trauma Society, American Academy of Pediatrics – Surgery, and the American Society of Military Surgeons. He has received multiple national awards including the American Pediatric Surgery Association Innovative Research Award and Penn State University Outstanding Scholar Alumni Award.

Outside of medicine, he enjoys sheep farming with his wife and four children. Dr. Safford and his wife were both originally from the area and graduated from local high schools before he set off on his medical and military career. They are both thrilled to return to the area and care for the community that was so instrumental in his development to care for children.

Dr. Safford's motto is to “care for children from cradle to college.”


A Lingering Crisis in the ED

Last fall saw the start of an unrelenting surge in respiratory infections that has pushed pediatric emergency departments (EDs) nationwide to their limits. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is no exception — and as we begin the new year, it’s a trend we expect will continue for several months.

At UPMC Children’s, we operate the busiest ED of any hospital in western Pennsylvania — adult or pediatric — treating more than 80,000 patients a year.

We typically see about 220 children in the ED each day but we’re now treating more than 300. That nonstop demand has stretched both our ED and our hospital beds to capacity -- and we’re just now starting to feel the added impact of recent holiday gatherings and travel.

How did this happen? When will it end?

During the pandemic, remote learning and diligent hygiene helped keep pediatric flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases at historic lows. But now, life has largely returned to normal. Fewer people are masking in public or self-isolating when they don’t feel well. Many parents have elected not to get boosters for themselves or vaccines for their children.

That’s all led to a trifecta of respiratory infections — largely driven by RSV — as well as COVID variations and influenza (flu). Other critical factors are at play, too.

“RSV cases emerged much earlier in the season than ever before,” says Raymond Pitetti, MD, MPH, director of our Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine. “And serious staffing shortages have unfortunately become the ‘new normal’ at pediatric EDs nationwide as a result of the pandemic, including here at Children’s.”

Dr. Pitetti says exposure to these viruses in the community will reach a saturation point and we’ll eventually get back to normal. But he suspects this trend may continue through Spring 2023.

How Children’s is working to respond

Quality service has always been our hallmark — and our promise to you and your patients. Our concern during this crisis is that longer wait times will cause families to leave without their child getting the care they need.

“We want families to know that we will absolutely see their child,” says Dr. Pitetti. “And we want them to be assured that we will provide excellent care — but it’s likely to involve a longer wait.”

Jennifer Woodring, MSN, RN, CPN, and Melony Murray, MSN, RN, CPEN, CPN — co-unit directors of our ED and observation unit — share some of the measures now in place to help reduce and manage wait times:

  • The overflow tent first introduced at Children’s during COVID is now back for low-acuity patients, adding another 10 beds to our 46-bed capacity in the ED. We also anticipate creating an additional space for eight to 10 more patients.
  • A full-time triage nurse is posted in the waiting room to constantly assess and manage patient needs.
  • ED wait times available online so families can be aware of “real time” waits before coming to the hospital. There have been evenings when more than 90 patients were in the ED, some waiting as long as eight hours to be seen.

Recruiting new staff remains our top priority — and we are making real progress in that area — but it takes time. For now, we continue to benefit from the commitment of our current team of experienced and dedicated providers to care for your families.

How you can help

It can be hard for families to tell the difference between a really bad cold or a severe respiratory sickness in children. Signs parents should be on the lookout for include:

  • Wheezing or grunting
  • Labored or rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems drinking or swallowing
  • Blue lips or fingernails

“The vast majority of children we see do need some degree of medical intervention,” says Dr. Pitetti. “But the best care doesn’t always mean emergency care — especially when resources are strained and waits are long.”

When possible, families should first see you, their primary caregiver. If it’s not a true medical emergency and your office is closed or unable to provide initial care, we encourage your families to make use of these timesaving services:

UPMC Children’s AnywhereCare

With AnywhereCare, a family can schedule a virtual visit with a pediatric expert at any time of the day or night, 24/7. These experts can offer a high-level opinion on next steps, including:

  • Assessing the child and determining if they need to come to the ED for care,
  • Diagnosing minor problems and prescribing medications (including ordering a COVID test.

Orthopaedic Urgent Care

Families with minor orthopaedic problems can bypass long waits in our ED by using our hospital-based Orthopaedic Urgent Care service Monday through Friday from 5-9 P.M. Minor bone and joint injuries can be quickly treated by an orthopaedic specialist — and more serious conditions can be diagnosed and expedited for ED treatment.

UPMC Children’s Express Care

With 10 locations in the region, UPMC Children’s Express Care physicians and staff are available to treat your child’s minor injuries and illnesses when your regular pediatrician’s office is closed.

With thanks

On behalf of the entire ED team at Children’s, I want to express our gratitude to you and the families you serve for their trust and support during this challenging time. If you have any questions or insights you’d like to share, I personally welcome hearing from you. We also extend our best wishes for a very happy — and healthy — New Year.

Andy Urbach, MD

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.

Sameer Agnihotri, PhD, received a Distinguished Scientist Award from the Sontag Foundation. This award is an honor of major international significance recognizing scientists at the early to mid-career transition who have extraordinary potential and institutional backing to advance the field of Neuro-Oncology. This is the first time that a physician from UPMC Children’s has received this award. Since 2003, the Sontag Foundation has invested over $50 million to launch the careers of extraordinary scientists with the potential to make a significant impact in the field of brain cancer.

In November, Diego Chaves-Gnecco, MD, MPH, developmental-behavioral pediatrician and director and founder of Salud Para Niños, the Spanish language clinic at UPMC Children’s Hospital, was awarded the 2022 Herbert L. Needleman, MD Lead Champion Award at the Life Without Lead Summit. This award was created to recognize community champions who are making a difference in the lives of children across the region by raising awareness, advocating for change, and reducing exposure to lead. In December, Dr. Chaves-Gnecco also received the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s 2022 Provost’s Award for Diversity in the Curriculum. This award is sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the University Center for Teaching and Learning to showcase excellence in creating a learning environment for our students that recognizes diversity and is inclusive of all.

In September, Alison Culyba, MD, PhD, MPH, adolescent medicine physician and director of the Empowering Teens to Thrive hospital-based violence intervention program for assault- injured youth at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, received an R01 grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for her project “Forging Hopeful Futures: A Racial and Gender-Justice Program to Reduce Youth Violence.” “Forging Hopeful Futures” will combine economic justice content from job readiness training, racial and gender justice content from gender-transformative programming, and leadership building as a novel multi-level violence prevention intervention. Near program conclusion, youth will be connected with employment opportunities and encouraged to continue participation in social change efforts, with scaffolding offered through community organizations and mentors in each neighborhood. Dr. Culyba and team will examine mechanisms through which the intervention creates impact and how pre-intervention risk and protective factors moderate intervention effects on multiple forms of violence.

In December, Dr. Culyba was also selected as a member of the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR) and for received the SPR New Member Outstanding Science Award. SPR is an international society of multidisciplinary pediatric researchers working to improve child health by connecting researchers, promoting collaboration, and catalyzing research by advocating for funding and policies that support research. The New Member Outstanding Science award from SPR recognizes new members who have contributed to high quality scientific research and who continue to demonstrate meaningful contributions in the pediatric academic field.

In December, Cassandra Lynn Formeck, MD, MS, pediatric nephrologist at UPMC Children’s, was published in American Society of Nephrology (ASN) Kidney360 with her article “Risk and Timing of De Novo Sepsis in Critically Ill Children Following Acute Kidney Injury.” Acute kidney injury (AKI) is common among critically ill children and is associated with an increased risk for de novo infection, however little is known about the epidemiology and temporal relationship between AKI and AKI-associated infection in this cohort. The team conducted a single-center retrospective cohort study of children admitted to the pediatric and cardiac ICUs at a tertiary pediatric care center.

Catherine Forster, MD, MS, FAAP, pediatric hospitalist and researcher at UPMC Children’s, recently received a Pilot Award from the RK Mellon Institute for Pediatric Research for her proposal “Scale development to enhance the validity of in-vivo UTI research.” Forster will receive funds over a two-year period along with this award. A goal of the RK Mellon Institute Awards is to provide financial support for new and innovative areas of research by CHP Investigators toward a goal of future external funding and to support research aimed at improving pediatric health.

Allison Moninger, RN, BSN, CCTC, from UPMC Children’s, has been named the 2022 Enduring Hearts “Heart and Soul” Transplant Coordinator of the Year. Allison was nominated by a family of one of her heart warriors. They wanted to recognize the dedication and compassion she gives all the children and families through their transplant journey. Enduring Hearts is dedicated to funding and advancing pediatric heart transplant research. Allison will be recognized formally at Enduring Hearts’ 2023 Bourbon Gala and Auction.

H. Westley Phillips, MD, pediatric neurosurgery fellow and clinical instructor in neurosurgery, won the Best Fellow Presentation Award at the Joint Section on Pediatric Neurosurgery of the AANS/CNS in December 2022 in Washington, DC. The topic was “Identifying somatic mutations across epileptic networks.”

In November, A. Kim Ritchey, MD, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at UPMC Children’s, received the Distinguished Career Award from The American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology (ASPHO). This award is presented annually by the ASPHO to a senior physician who during their career has had a major impact on the subspeciality, through some combination of research, education, patient care, and advocacy.

In October, Whitney Sunseri, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist, assistant program director for the Pediatric Gastroenterology fellowship, and program director for the Pediatric Gastroenterology Advance Practice Provider fellowship at UPMC Children’s Hospital, was awarded the 2022 “Whatever It Takes Award” from local chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Each year, the Foundation’s local chapter presents the “Whatever It Takes” award to an individual who has “gone above and beyond with their service and support for the chapter and its mission.” Dr. Sunseri received this years’ award for her work as a member of the Executive Leadership Council in 2019 and her annual commitment as Camp Doctor for West Virginia Camp Oasis, a week-long sleep away camp for children with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. She also received the award for her more recent Exclusive Eternal Nutrition Challenge where Dr. Sunseri consumed all her nutrition and daily calories for 8 weeks from a diet of 100% meal replacement shakes. She did this to increase awareness around exclusive enteral nutrition as an induction agent for mild to moderate luminal Crohn’s Disease.

News You Need

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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