Down Syndrome Center at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

Kishore Vellody, MD, Medical Director of the Down Syndrome Center at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh introduces you to this podcast series. After discussing his background, Dr. Vellody interviews Sheila Cannon, MEd, coordinator for Children’s Down Syndrome Center.

Released: 2/11/13


Dr. Vellody: Hello everyone. My name is Dr. Kishore Vellody and I will be your host for the all-new podcast from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. This podcast will focus on issues specifically related to Down syndrome. I am the medical director of the Down Syndrome Center of WPA, and I am excited to use this technology to bring awareness to Down syndrome and to expand the knowledge base for parents and practitioners. I am here today with Sheila Cannon who is our program director. Our hope is to establish a podcast series with updates once or twice a month. The podcast will include interviews with a variety of experts in the field of Down syndrome to discuss common issues that people with Down syndrome face. We will plan on having experts from Cardiology, ENT, sleep medicine, gastroenterology, infectious diseases, and a variety of other specialties to discuss common issues in their subspecialties as it relates to Down syndrome.

We would like your help to do this best. Please send us e-mails with questions that you would like answered about Down syndrome to Please know that we cannot answer specific questions related to the medical care of your child, but we can answer general questions about Down syndrome and the medical or behavioral or developmental issues that you would like discussed.

With today being our first podcast, I would like to spend some time introducing you to the Down Syndrome Center of Western Pennsylvania. I have been medical director of this center since March 2009. However, my experience with Down syndrome starts long before that . . . at birth, actually. My brother has Down syndrome, and he’s in his late 30s. Growing up, his friends were my friends and vice versa, and I never really felt that there was much difference between us when we were younger. As I grew up, I recognized that there were many differences between us, but most of it was that people always seem to like being around him more than me! He’s still is the most loving, forgiving, and caring person I have ever met. It is because of him that I went into medicine in the first place, and it is definitely because of how much he has given me that I have chosen a career where I can take care of children with Down syndrome.

I did my medical training at University of Illinois at Chicago, and my pediatric residency training at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. I have worked at Children’s in Pittsburgh since 2005. I am an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and I work as both a hospitalist and also at the Down Syndrome Center. In case you were wondering, a hospitalist is someone who takes care of the children who get admitted to the hospital. At the Down Syndrome Center, I get the wonderful opportunity to work with our program coordinator, Sheila Cannon. Sheila, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ms. Cannon: Thanks, Kishore. My training is focused mainly on education. I have a Masters Degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Education with a focus on early intervention for children with developmental delays. I had worked in early intervention for several years as a developmental specialist prior to starting at the Down Syndrome Center. I also worked for Allegheny County as a private developmental evaluator for early intervention services.

So you may wonder how did I actually get involved. Well, in 1986, our daughter Kerry was born into our family. Kerry has Down syndrome. That news, although unexpected, started a new journey for our family. After we brought Kerry home from the hospital, I immediately called every local agency in the Pittsburgh area for information on the care of a baby with Down syndrome. There was very little information, and most was outdated. I knew then that my career path would be different. Kerry was involved in the early intervention programs provided at that time. Early intervention was and continues to be an essential component of future success for children with developmental delays, especially with Down syndrome. Participating in the efforts of the Down Syndrome Group of WPa to create the Center seemed like a great way to make a difference in our community. I feel very fortunate to be able to use my skills and experiences as a developmentalist, teacher, advocate, and most of all Kerry’s mother in this position as coordinator.

Dr. Vellody: Sheila, thank you for sharing. If you don’t mind, could you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of this Center? After all, you were here several years before I started.

Ms. Cannon: Sure, Kishore. Many families have asked just how the Center began. Well, I can tell you first hand that is was started by a group of families in Pittsburgh and some professionals also caring for someone with Down syndrome who wanted to improve the lives of both children and adults. In 1988, the Down Syndrome Group of WPA (now known as the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh) approached several health care institutions in the Pittsburgh area known for the outstanding level of pediatric care. Fortunately, several specialty physicians at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh recognized the need for a centralized level of care for children and adults with Down syndrome. So in 1989, the Down Syndrome Center of WPA began its clinical practice seeing both children and adults with Down syndrome at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Due to the considerable level of financial support received from the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh, the Center now has expanded to 2 programs – a pediatric program directed by Dr. Kishore Vellody and the adult program held at Montefiore Hospital and directed by Dr. Peter Bulova. I continue to serve on the Board for the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh as liaison between the Center and the Board, participating in both fund raising efforts and community programs for individuals with Down syndrome. Kishore, families often ask, “What is our role?” What’s your opinion of this?

Dr. Vellody: Thanks, Sheila. The Down Syndrome Center of WPA exists so that people with DS get the best possible care that they can get. We see children from birth and then are fortunate to have an adult component to the center where we can transition the children when they become adults at 18. We do not take over what the primary care physician does. Instead, we provide a subspecialty consultation that specifically addresses issues related to Down syndrome. We focus on the overall medical and developmental issues that can arise in Down syndrome and hope to uncover and address any issues before they become more significant. We follow the AAP (or American Academy of Pediatrics) Healthcare Guidelines for children with Down syndrome that were updated in 2011. I guess we are essentially people who focus on the “big picture.” So often, children with Down syndrome are followed by so many specialists who are very good at looking at their specific organ of interest. A cardiologist looks at the heart. An ENT looks at the ears or the sinuses. But we take a general pediatric approach and make sure that all the subspecialty services are coordinating well together and that the whole patient is being taken into consideration. Hey Sheila, can you give us an idea of what you do at the DSC?

Ms. Cannon: My responsibilities as the program coordinator are quite varied. I coordinate appointments for both the pediatric and adult centers. I connect families to community resources, providing information on various topics related to the care of children and adults with Down syndrome, and, lastly but probably the most important, is supporting parents on this journey. Those are the main responsibilities of this position. Families come to the Down Syndrome Center for many different reasons. We try to provide each family with the tools they need to facilitate the growth and development of their loved one with Down syndrome.

Dr. Vellody: Sheila, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

All right, well that just about wraps up our time for our first podcast. Sheila, I’d like to thank you for being here with me today. I’d like to ask our listeners to stay tuned for future podcasts. Please feel free to let anyone know who might be interested about these podcasts. Any of you can send us your questions about Down syndrome that you would like answered to We’ll talk with you all again soon! Bye, bye.

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