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No parent wants to entertain the thought of their child needing surgery, but if they must, the knowledge that there is an experienced pediatric surgical team in their home state can provide a great deal of assurance. Logan Health Children’s is proud to provide such a team. This team consists of two pediatric surgeons, Dr. Rona Norelius and Dr. Katrina Weaver, advanced practice providers Rachel Desimone and Brianne Peltz, a dedicated outpatient nurse, Susan Eisenzimer, LPN, and a medical assistant. Their mission is to ensure that every child and family receives the personalized care they need in an environment that feels as close to home as possible.

Many are unaware that pediatric surgery is different from adult surgery and that a multidisciplinary pediatric department is often necessary to address all of the care needs of a child and their family. “There’s a saying in pediatric surgery, that ‘children are not little adults.’ Anybody who has spent any time near a child knows that they respond differently to things, and so you have to treat them differently, both socially and physiologically,” Dr. Norelius explained. “The care that we provide is specialized, not only because of my specialized training, but also because everybody that’s taking care of that child is specially trained, from our pediatricians to our Child Life specialists, to our speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and nurses. They are all focused on pediatric care.”

With support from the broader pediatric staff, the pediatric surgical team sees a wide variety of cases, making their jobs both challenging and rewarding. Among the most common procedures are appendectomies and hernia repairs, but a diverse set of skills is essential for other complicated cases, such as tumors, congenital abnormalities, weight loss surgeries, burns and more. “I tell people that we operate on everything except for bones, brains and transplants,” Dr. Weaver said. “We’re operating on kids weighing one pound to 18-year-olds needing weight loss surgery. It’s the whole spectrum, and I’d say it’s like being the last general surgeon.”

As they tackle these cases of all varieties, the surgeons appreciate having advanced tools that can help immensely. Using the da Vinci robotic system, surgeons can use their fine motor skills to conduct minimally invasive surgeries, a huge improvement from traditional surgeries that require larger incisions. Patients often experience a faster and less painful recovery. “If you have a smaller child, we do a lot of what is called intracorporeal sewing. That’s where we’re sewing laparoscopically inside of the belly. Using the robot has actually improved those outcomes by making the surgery easier on us as well as easier on the patient as far as pain.” Dr. Weaver said.

Pediatric team keeps surgical care instate

From left to right: Rachel Desimone, NP, Brianne Peltz, PA-C, Dr. Katrina Weaver, Dr. Rona Norelius, Susan Eisenzimmer, LPN, Misty Taylor, CMA.

This technology also aids the surgeons as they are operating. “I think robotic surgery offers two main advantages to the surgeon,” Dr. Norelius explained. “One is visualization. Robotics magnifies things 10 to 20 times, which is obviously very helpful in kids when we’re dealing with small structures. The second thing is that the technology allows for better dexterity. We spend years and years training how to use our hands and then some of the technologies like laparoscopic surgery actually take away some of those skills. Using robotics gives them back to us. We can use our wrists in very agile ways.” Because of these capabilities and recovery benefits, Logan Health Children’s pediatric surgeons are proud to offer this method for several surgeries, a service that would normally require patients to travel to larger cities like Seattle, Denver or Salt Lake City.

Traveling long distances can be an inconvenient reality for Montana residents, but it should never prevent families from receiving timely care. Unfortunately, pediatric subspecialists, including surgeons, can be few and far between in an expansive state like Montana, and many families are asked to leave their home and travel out of state. This often brings about physical, financial, and emotional stressors for the child, their parents and the whole family. But these geographical challenges can be alleviated when parents and providers know there is a fully-equipped hospital that can care for patients in-state. “Currently in Montana, our practice is the only one staffed with full-time pediatric surgeons that live and work in Montana,” Dr. Norelius pointed out. “We are proud of that fact, and we are dedicated to trying to make care here better for our local and regional families.”

Pediatric professionals also understand how invaluable teamwork is at all levels of care coordination. Rena Armstrong, a pediatric clinical nurse coordinator, is ready to help complex patients, crafting their schedules so that if they must travel to Kalispell for care, they can have appointments with their subspecialist providers in person before heading home. Once they are back in their hometown, every effort is taken by the team to find the best care options close to the family’s home. For appointments such as pre-surgical assessments and post-operative follow-ups, the provider can meet with the family through telemedicine. For necessary in-person visits, Logan Health Children’s providers take on the burden of traveling on behalf of the family, providing outreach at Logan Health clinics in Great Falls, Helena, Bozeman and Missoula. Providers may also partner with other hospitals or clinics in or near the child’s hometown, in order for them to receive the care that is closest and most convenient. In health care, as well as life, the saying is true: it takes a village to raise a child.

As Montana’s communities continue to grow, more and more children will need specialty services, including surgical care, and the teams at Logan Health Children’s are ready to provide for those needs. Already, their efforts have made quite an impression. “Time and time again we hear from families that they so appreciate the care that we offer here — that it’s personalized, thoughtful care.” Dr. Norelius said, “We want to provide that excellent, quality care that patients could get at a larger academic children’s hospital, but we want to do it in their home state.” Now when families are faced with the daunting reality of surgery, instead of preparing to cross state lines, they can focus on being cared for by their community.

Article as seen at 406Women.com.