MedStar Georgetown University Hospital named one of the Best Maternity Care Hospitals in the U.S.

WASHINGTON —MedStar Georgetown University Hospital has been nationally recognized as one of the Best Maternity Care Hospitals in the United States by Newsweek and The Leapfrog Group; an independent non-profit organization that monitors healthcare organizations in the U.S.  The list recognizes facilities that have excellence in providing care to mothers, newborns and their families as verified by the 2019 Leapfrog Hospital Survey.

“We are honored to be recognized for our commitment to excellence in women’s health and maternity care,” Dr. Helain J. Landy, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at MedStar Georgetown said. “It represents a strong testament to the outstanding contributions of everyone associated with the care of our patients and their babies, including physicians and nurses from Ob/Gyn, Pediatrics and Neonatology, Anesthesiology, as well as the outstanding administrative support which represents the foundation of our efforts,” she noted. “This designation also validates our dedicated efforts to apply evidence-based medicine and the philosophy of cura personalis (care of the whole person) for mothers and their infants.” 

The evidence-based, nationally standardized metrics met for this distinction include: 

  • Low early elective delivery dates (hospitals effort to limit births prior to 39 weeks of gestation without medical necessity)
  • Lower rates of cesarean sections for first time mothers
  • Low episiotomy rates
  • High rates of newborn screenings for jaundice prior to hospital discharge
  • High rates of prevention techniques to prevent blood clots of mothers delivering via C-Section

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital was among an elite group of hospitals from across the country that passed these standards of excellence to earn this recognition and is the only Hospital in the District of Columbia to earn this ranking. 

About MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is a not-for-profit, acute-care teaching and research hospital licensed for 609 beds located in Northwest Washington, D.C. Founded in the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, caring for the whole person, MedStar Georgetown is committed to offering a variety of innovative diagnostic and treatment options within a trusting and compassionate environment.  MedStar Georgetown’s centers of excellence include neurosciences, transplant, cancer and gastroenterology. Along with Magnet® nurses, internationally recognized physicians, advanced research and cutting-edge technologies, MedStar Georgetown’s healthcare professionals have a reputation for medical excellence and leadership.

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Nicole Vowell
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MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Division of Community Pediatrics Responds to Families in Need During COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON – The Division of Community Pediatrics, committed to delivering quality clinical services and programming to the most vulnerable children and families in Washington, D.C., amplified its services to help families experiencing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Since March 16, MedStar Georgetown’s Community Pediatrics team has provided families with navigation services, including social and legal support, to connect families with essential resources. The team also delivered 10,000 meals, 150 care packages and grocery store gift cards to patient families.

“We quickly recognized the disproportionate impact this pandemic has on our families' ability to access food and basic supplies, as well as heightened social, educational and mental health needs,” says Dr. Janine Rethy, division chief of Community Pediatrics. “We urgently redirected significant efforts and resources to identify and meet those needs.”

Throughout the pandemic, the Division of Community Pediatrics has continued to meet the needs of patients with in-person visits for urgent care and well child-care, prioritizing those children who need vaccinations. The team also expanded their scope of services to provide scheduled secure telehealth visits for children with special healthcare needs, such as asthma, ADHD and behavioral health concerns.

The Division of Community Pediatrics also expanded its family navigation and care coordination services for children and adolescents with complex health and social service needs, boosted mental health support, and provided intensive support to connect community and public benefits resources—including referrals to legal services with its medical-legal partner, Health Justice Alliance.

Additionally, the team distributed weekly mental health videos to partnering schools that focused on dealing with grief and anxiety during the pandemic, the videos have been incorporated into distance learning curriculums.

The Ronald McDonald Care Mobile® Focused on FITNESS program has also created and disseminated educational resources and videos on mindfulness and at-home yoga; these materials have too been shared with partnering schools to be incorporated into distance learning courses.

“We will not waver in our commitment to provide care and support for our patients as the disparities heightened by this pandemic continue to affect our community,” Dr. Rethy said. “We are grateful for the generosity of our community members and philanthropic partners such has Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC®, CVS Health, Share Our Strength, Power of 10, and the individual donors in our community who have helped make our outreach possible.”

For 27 years the Division of Community Pediatrics at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital has devoted itself to providing access to evidence-based, comprehensive, coordinated health care to children who need it most throughout the Washington, D,C. area.  Programs include the KID Mobile Medical Clinic/Ronald McDonald Care Mobile®, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile® Focused on FITNESS program, and two school-based health centers at DC Public Schools: Theodore Roosevelt High School and Anacostia High School.

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Program Giving Children Hospitalized Long-Term “A Room of Their Own” Launches at MedStar Georgetown

WASHINGTON, DC – Decorative pillows, plush bed blankets, colorful throw covers, fun wall decals, picture frames, string lights and colorful message boards are not the typical décor you think of when you envision the hospital room of a very sick child who needs extended care away from home.

Thanks to “A Room of Your Own,” just launched by Dormify and Hope for Henry Foundation, the sickest children at MedStar Georgetown have the chance to decorate their rooms with items to bring a sense of home to ease the difficult transition from home to hospital.

One of the program’s first recipients, 12 year old Michael Rubio was thrilled to receive his new blanket, pillow, wall stickers, a Polaroid camera and a sound machine that can play a crashing ocean or a gentle falling rain.

“Thank you,” Michael said as Amanda Zuckerman, co-founder of Dormify, and Laurie Strongin, founder and CEO of Hope for Henry delivered the bags of goodies to his room at MedStar Georgetown. “This is so awesome.  Everything is so cool. This feels less like a hospital room. I love it.”

“A Room of Your Own” provides kids undergoing bone marrow transplantation, cancer treatment, organ transplant and other medical interventions that require lengthy hospital stays with everything they need to create a comforting and personalized space. Décor packs are themed by a child’s age and gender. 

About Hope for Henry

Hope for Henry is reinventing how hospitals care for seriously ill children and their families through innovative programs that entertain, reduce stress and empower children to be active participants in their own care. Founded in 2003 and led by social innovator, patient advocate and author Laurie Strongin, Hope for Henry has served more than 35,000 of the sickest children in hospitals in Washington, DC, Baltimore and around the country.

About Dormify

Dormify is a one-stop-shop for small space decorating and inspiration designed for the fashion-minded. Dormify simplifies the decor shopping experience by creating and curating exclusive products specifically designed for the style-obsessed, merchandising them into easy to shop looks to make decorating stress-free and fun.  Founded by Washington, DC-based Amanda Zuckerman and her mom Karen in 2011, Dormify has grown into trusted resource for original ideas and distinctive decor.

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Marianne Worley
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Pager: 202-405-2824
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Brendan McNamara 
Media Relations Specialist
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MedStar Georgetown First and Only Center in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Region to Offer Proton Therapy for Cancer Patients

Dr. Brain Collins with MedStar Georgetown’s first patient to receive proton therapy.(Washington, D.C) April 17, 2018- For the first time, cancer patients in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region have access to the latest cancer-fighting technology, proton radiation therapy, now available at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Proton Therapy Center.

Martha Ramos, 53 of Maryland became MedStar Georgetown’s first patient to receive proton therapy.  Ramos is being treated for recurrence of a brain tumor.  

“It’s encouraging to know that this kind of radiation will result in less damage to the healthy area of my brain,” says Ramos. 

Proton therapy is more precise and targeted than conventional radiation. It works by using pencil beam scanning, similar to a 3D printer, to match the tumor’s exact shape and size with superior accuracy that eliminates the exit dose of traditional radiation, and spares healthy tissue.

MedStar Georgetown is the first and only proton center in the world to offer the Mevion S250i with HYPERSCAN™ technology, producing beams that are sharper than previous proton systems. Proton therapy with HYPERSCAN is also faster than other proton systems, benefiting patients whose treatment includes holding their breath.

“I am extremely excited to be able to offer this latest advancement, proton therapy, to my patients,” says Brian Collins, MD, a radiation oncologist and clinical director of the new proton therapy center.  “It’s clear that this treatment will help to improve the clinical outcomes for our cancer patients and decrease their side effects when radiation is needed.”

 “In certain cases, proton therapy can be a game changer,” says Keith Unger, MD, radiation oncologist at MedStar Georgetown.  “It allows us to treat cancers where traditional radiation might not even be possible."

How Protons Destroy Cancer

“Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation that can destroy cancer cells,” says Peter Ahn, MD, a radiation oncologist at MedStar Georgetown.  “A machine called a cyclotron speeds up protons to two thirds the speed of light and they become highly charged.  These high energy protons are then delivered to the tumor as an invisible beam that eradicates the cancer.  Because we can more tightly control the protons than we are able with traditional radiation, proton therapy can be given without damaging critical tissues and structures near the tumor because the beam conforms  precisely to the tumor’s size and shape, sparing healthy tissue.”

Advantages of HYPERSCAN™

HYPERSCAN is an FDA-approved proprietary technology that has advantages over existing proton therapy systems. In addition to producing a micro beam that is sharper than many current proton systems and reducing damage to nearby healthy tissue, HYPERSCAN is also faster than other pencil beam scanning systems which can reduce the margin of error in treating tumors that are affected by breathing or organ motion.  This improves both treatment accuracy and patient comfort as patients need to spend less time lying still.

“HYPERSCAN is currently the most precise type of proton therapy in the world,” says Dr. Ahn. 

“Proton therapy with HYPERSCAN can be given from head to toe,” says Dr. Collins.

Cancer Treatment for Patients with Fewer Side Effects

Proton therapy is beneficial for pediatric cancer patients because it lowers their exposure to radiation avoiding unnecessary exposure to healthy tissue and resulting in less growth impairment as they grow up.  Children are less likely to develop a secondary cancer later in life when treated with proton therapy as it treats tumors while keeping health surrounding tissues unharmed.

proton therapy patient with doctorProton therapy is also effective in treating re-current tumors.

 “There are also certain types of cancer where you have to deliver a very high dose of radiation right next to a critical structure like the spinal cord or brainstem,” says Sonali Rudra, MD, radiation oncologist at MedStar Georgetown. “With proton therapy we can deliver a high dose to the area we are trying to target and minimize the radiation beyond the tumor.  So for some patients, proton therapy might be their only radiation treatment option.”

“Proton therapy can also be a good option for patients with left-sided breast cancer, which is close to the heart,” says Dr. Rudra. “When indicated for breast cancer, using proton therapy instead of traditional radiation means more control over the radiation itself and less potential damage to the heart and lungs.”

Proton Therapy Closer to Home and Under One Roof

“The addition of proton therapy is a logical next step for a center like MedStar Georgetown as part of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, dedicated to and recognized for providing the latest cancer treatments and access to clinical research trials,” says Dr. Collins.

Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of only 49 sites in the nation and the only center in Washington, D.C. to earn the prestigious Comprehensive Cancer Center designation by the National Cancer Institute.

“All the multiple specialties and disciplines involved in cancer care are here helping to support patients through their treatment, in one location, under one roof,” says Dr. Unger. “They no longer have to travel outside of our area to receive this advanced treatment.”

 “The addition of proton therapy means MedStar Georgetown offers the full range of radiation treatments for cancer that are available,” says Dr. Collins.  “For patients that means we take an individual approach when considering radiation therapy. Whether it’s CyberKnife, proton therapy or conventional radiation, we will choose the optimal treatment to achieve the best outcomes with the fewest side effects.”


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Marianne Worley
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Surprise Visit: D.C. Fire and EMS Encourage Pediatric Transplant Recipient

Surprise Visit: D.C. Fire and EMS Encourage Pediatric Transplant Recipient

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services (D.C. Fire and EMS) surprised eight-year-old Hunter Scarborough, a transplant recipient who dreams of becoming a firefighter, at MedStar Georgetown in December.

“It was amazing – They even brought a fire truck! It was the coolest part,” said Hunter.

Wearing a robe and a mask, and given little information about the surprise, Hunter was wheeled down to the circle by the Emergency Department. Battalion Fire Chief David McLain and his team from Engine 5 and Truck 5 created a welcoming tunnel for Hunter. When the automatic sliding doors opened, the firefighters cheered and gave high-fives to Hunter as he made his way out to see the fire truck.

“You couldn’t see it, but his face really lit up behind the mask,” said Jessica Uze, a child life specialist who helps children cope with being in the hospital. “Hunter has spent so much time in the hospital for serious things, and having real-life community heroes visit and remind Hunter that the world is out there pulling for him was really sweet!”

After firefighters from Hunter’s hometown in Livonia, Louisiana contacted D.C. Fire and EMS about this “brave young boy,” Uze and Hunter’s mother quickly coordinated the surprise visit. Hunter suffers from chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, and received a transplant for his small and large intestine in November 2016.

“It was so special that the firefighters went out of their way to do something for a child they didn’t know,” said Kymberly Scarborough, Hunter’s mother. “I knew this was something for Hunter to look forward to, so keeping the surprise a secret was worth it!”

“I think that kids around Hunter’s age enjoy visits from role models and heroes. These visits break the routine of their long and hard medical journey, which is often riddled with uncomfortable interventions and situations they have no control over,” said Dr. Nada Yazigi, Medical Director of Pediatric Liver Transplantation, who was seen on the unit wearing one of the red firefighter hats.

Hunter wore a firefighter hat during the visit and learned about the special equipment firefighters use to stay safe in a fire. He later asked some of firefighters to follow him back to the pediatric unit to meet some of his friends, and the firefighters handed out more firefighter hats to other young patients to brighten their day.

“I was crying because I was so happy,” said Hunter. “I didn’t know I would get to meet firefighters while I was in the hospital!”

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Marianne Worley
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Pager: 202-405-2824
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Washington Capitals Bring Holiday Cheer to Pediatric Patients

Washington Capitals Bring Holiday Cheer to Pediatric Patients

“It’s the ovechkin and traceys kidsbest day on earth!” said Joe Miller, a 6-year-old battling a rare blood disorder, who says he is a huge fan of the Washington Capitals.

It was a sea of red in the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Clinic as Caps players visited with patients and their families. The Players autographed jerseys and hats and helped with various art projects. The young patients, parents and siblings were excited to see their favorite players take time off the ice for the visit.

The Capitals teamed up with Hope for Henry and its founder Laurie Strongin whose son was treated at MedStar Georgetown 14 years ago. Addressing the team she said, “My son Henry was a total Caps fan. You guys made so many people happy today. It’s so hard to be in the hospital during the holiday season.” 

Many kids enjoyed playing with Play-Doh, including 4-year-old Brock Ludwigson who was diagnosed with a rare cancer when he was 12 months old. Defensemen #88, Nate Schmidt was helping him make planets with the Play-Doh. “We’re all having a great time. I haven’t played with Play-Doh in awhile. The kids have been through so much, yet they still are smiling and having a good time. It’s an enlightening experience for me,” said Schmidt.

Players handed out hats and caps through Ellie’s Hats and everyone enjoyed treats from Georgetown Cupcake.syringe-painting

The Caps invited the children to create portraits of the players for a fundraising project for Tracy’s Kids, which helps young patients cope with cancer through art. Kids completed the portraits at the party by squirting paint through a syringe onto the white spaces of the canvas.

19-year-old Charlotte Hay, who was treated for leukemia at MedStar Georgetown, drew a portrait of T.J. Oshie. “I’m a hardcore Caps fan. Not just a little fan. They’re such nice players, such great guys.”

-Shannon McCarthy


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Marianne Worley

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Yvette Rattray
Media & Communications Specialist
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MedStar Georgetown Hosts Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony for New Pediatric Mobile Clinic, Gives Toys to Local Children


Pediatric Mobile Clinic

“We’ve been coming here since we were babies,” said Demarco Corbett, 10, and his friend Navaeh Edwards, 12, holding a big pair of scissors about to snip a big blue silk ribbon.

Naveah and Demarco, patients who visit the KIDS Mobile Medical Clinic/Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, cut the ribbon at MedStar Georgetown’s ceremony, which officially opened the new KIDS Mobile Medical Clinic/Ronald McDonald Care Mobile at the King Greenleaf Recreation Center on Dec. 8. The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, D.C. provided the care mobile, a new state-of-the-art pediatric mobile clinic that will serve patients in Wards 4, 6, 7 and 8.

“Because of the support of our partners, our staff can be more efficient, have a reliable office and better serve our patients in a comfortable environment,” said Matthew Levy, MD, division chief of Community Pediatrics at MedStar Georgetown.

Dr. Levy and team gave tours of the care mobile before and after the ceremony. The vehicle measures 500 square feet with six hydraulic bump-outs to hold larger exam tables and an expanded lab and waiting area. Some of the primary care services on the KIDS Mobile Medical Clinic/Ronald McDonald Care Mobile include well-visits, immunizations, fluoride varnish, nutritional counseling, sick visits, ophthalmology and mental health services.

“I look forward to seeing this newest KIDS Mobile Medical Clinic/Ronald McDonald Care Mobile setting up shop in neighborhoods across the District,” said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). “Every child, regardless of income or circumstance, deserves quality health care. I am grateful to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.”

Pediatric Mobile Clinic 6Congresswoman Norton was one of the speakers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony who expressed her gratitude to all who serve “those who need it the most” with critical pediatric care. Other speakers, like Councilmember Charles Allen of Ward 6, echoed her remarks.

“The Southwest community is very grateful,” said Councilmember Allen. “The ability to have a clinic roll up, matters in our neighborhood. We see it as a big difference because sometimes you need care to come to the homes.”

Councilmember Allen highlighted the Southwest community’s large proportion of disparities and lack of health centers in the neighborhood. Mike Sachtleben, chief operating officer of MedStar Georgetown, agreed on the need for special care and provided insight into MedStar Georgetown’s commitment to proving the cura personalis approach to care in Southwest D.C.

“We are a proud member of the D.C. community,” he said. “The new mobile clinic means more space, advanced equipment and better care for children in our community!”

Pediatric Mobile ClinicMedStar Georgetown has served Washington, D.C. with mobile care since 1992. The new KIDS Mobile Medical Clinic/Ronald McDonald Care Mobile is the program’s fourth mobile unit. The staff shared that a few generations of patients have now come through the mobile clinic, which helps its team develop closer relationships with patient families.

“I found the mobile clinic at a very difficult time in life,” said Naveah’s mother, Tracy Edwards. “While the staff’s main focus is on children first, they also have a lot of resources to help parents be able to put their kids first. I’m so thankful for the personalized care that Dr. Levy and his team have shown us! I’ve always been very impressed!”

According to Dr. Levy, his team will continue to focus on the five pillars of health: physical health, mental health, oral health, nutritional health and the social determinants of health.

“We know our families very well, and they have been so special to us for many years,” said Dr. Levy. “For us, it’s about being able to build programs to help people. That’s what we do.”

Following the ceremony, the mobile care staff distributed toy gifts, which were collected during a recent holiday toy drive at MedStar Georgetown.

When it was Navaeh’s turn to select a gift, she chose a bracelet-making box. Damarco was excited about his air hockey table.

“As far as I’m concerned, kids come first,” said Congresswoman Norton (D-DC), “especially at this time of the year.”

Media Contact

Marianne Worley

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Pager: 202-405-2824
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MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Children’s National Health System Receive $6 Million from The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation to Launch Early Childhood Innovation Network


Funding Will Improve Children’s Lives through Early Intervention and Prevention

(Washington, D.C.) — Children’s National Health System and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital/Georgetown University Medical Center have announced a new collaborative effort focused on transforming the lives of young children in the District of Columbia. Thanks to a $6 million, five-year commitment from The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, clinicians and researchers from these institutions will launch the Early Childhood Innovation Network (ECIN) in 2016.

The goal of the ECIN is to eliminate or decrease the impacts of toxic stresses on young children in Washington, D.C.—building a strong foundation that will last for a lifetime. This funding will help support a comprehensive and integrated approach to the implementation of innovative interventions aimed at children from birth to age five, as well as their parents and families. Examples of these interventions will include pre-school-based programs to promote emotional regulation and self-control in three and four year-old  children; professional training within primary care physicians’ offices to assist pediatric providers’ capacities to identify children and families experiencing toxic stress; teaching positive parenting skills to parents who have experienced trauma; and working with families in social services settings like shelters and food pantries to promote improved parent-child interactions.

The ECIN will be led by Lee Savio Beers, MD, a general pediatrician and the Medical Director for Municipal and Regional Affairs at Children’s National Health System, and Matthew Biel, MD, MSc, a child psychiatrist and Division Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown/Georgetown University Medical Center.

“More than half of the children in Washington, D.C. experience significant adversity before the age of five,” said Dr. Biel. “We use the term ‘toxic stress’ to refer to sustained exposure to extreme stress early in life.  We know that toxic stress is linked to the onset of significant problems later in life, including addiction, depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature mortality. We need to develop and deploy high-quality, coordinated resources to help families in these situations. This is where the ECIN comes in.  We will use evidence-based strategies to promote better public health starting early in children’s lives here in the nation’s capital. ”

Dr. Beers describes the network as a comprehensive approach to early intervention: “The interventions within the network have four pillars: pediatric primary care for medical visits; early childhood education; family supports in the home and community; and research and evaluation to assess the impact of our efforts across sectors and measure outcomes. Taking this broad-reaching and comprehensive approach will allow us to reach children and families where they are every day, and break down the silos that get in the way of providing the best support we can to families. By moving upstream through thinking preventatively and advocating for improved systems, children in Washington, D.C. will have a stronger start.”

In 2012 MedStar Georgetown and Children’s National joined forces to spearhead the DC Collaborative for Mental Health in Pediatric Primary Care, which united primary care providers across the District with government public health officials, community health organizations, and insurers to change the way the city approaches pediatric mental health.

“We feel the Early Childhood Innovation Network is the logical next step as these two proven institutions work together to expand on the successes they’ve achieved in just the last three years,” said Anne Gunsteens, Executive Director of The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. “We’re excited to be a part of this ground-breaking collaboration that will create a systemic and transformative approach to improving the long-term health and well-being of children and families in Washington, D.C.”

 “Neuroscience evidence shows that key cognitive and emotional skills are rooted in early brain development,” said Dr. Biel. “Providing strategies to the parents, physicians, educators, and community members who interact with these young children when their brains are in a critical stage of formation will help ensure bright futures for the children in Washington, D.C., and will give future generations in every ward of our city an enduring foundation.”

Media Contact

Marianne Worley

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Pager: 202-405-2824
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First Summer Camp in North America for Youth Impacted by Huntington’s Disease


Young People with Connections to Devastating Illness Enjoy a Break and a Common Bond


canoeing 2
Campers at HDYO's first summer camp in North America enjoy canoeing on the Wicomico River in Newburg, MD.

The setting was the beautiful great outdoors of southern Maryland at a waterfront summer camp with all the familiar trappings; games, hikes and campfires.  But the 40-plus campers, ages 15 to 23, who came from as far as Alaska and Canada for a week this August share a bond as unique as it is poignant.  These young people all know what it’s like to be affected by a disease that is devastating for their families to experience, challenging for doctors to treat, and for which, as yet, there is no cure.

“Camp is like an escape for most of us, but, for me, it’s really been more of a pause from everything,” said 17-year-old Lizzy, a local high-school student. “I’m having an amazing time! Here, we are connecting with people who know what you’re going through and relating on a level that I’ve never been able to relate to before. Our differences – our race, our looks, our interests – don’t matter here. You can just be yourself because we trust each other. It’s like our own little family of support.”

HDYO learning sessionThe Huntington’s Disease Youth Organization (HDYO), supported by MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, The Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA) and Huntington’s Society of Canada (HSC), offered the camp, the first of its scale and size to be offered in North America. The camp’s main goal is to have fun and to learn to live positively in the face of difficult situations.

Lizzy is one example of the many other resilient campers at North American HD Youth Camp. She has seen her sister and mother live with Huntington’s disease (HD), a degenerative neurological disease with difficult symptoms that can affect someone physically, emotionally and mentally. These symptoms force many young people to mature faster than some of their peers, assuming more responsibilities in care giving, finances, and, in some cases, changing plans for education.

“Camp is a great opportunity to give kids a chance to be kids again,” said Chandler Swope, LICSW and director of Youth Services at HDYO. “This is an opportunity for kids to meet other kids in this similar situation and not have to be an educator. They can make new friends, walk away with some practical tools, but mostly, have fun.”  

The camp staff also provided access to experts and resources that help young people learn how to live their life in a more optimistic way. They want to encourage young people to continue to dream and see their goals as achievable, despite the many HD-related obstacles they could encounter in their family life.  The camp’s daily agenda involved sessions on care giving, communications and relationships, grief and loss, genetic testing, research, bereavement and more.  They could round out their days with swimming, a ropes course, archery, canoeing, team building and paddle boating.

lizzy with bow and arrow“Archery was like a dream come true! I’ve always wanted to be like Katniss,” said Lizzy, a few minutes after her ringtone sounded the Hunger Games theme music. She smiled and posed like she was holding a bow and arrow.

 Each activity and learning session seemed to trigger another story, a deeper conversation and the eventual exchanging of phone numbers and social media contact information. By the second day, Lizzy already had new friends to follow on InstaGram and Snapchat. The staff, anticipating the campers’ engagement on social media, created a Facebook page to be a “safe space” for keeping in touch and reaching out for help.

“There is a great need for a camp like this! The heavy demands of HD symptoms can burden family members, so it is important to have an intentionally structured program that can provide social support and coping skills for young people impacted by HD,” said Karen Anderson, MD, director of the Huntington Disease Care, Education and Research Center (HDCERC), a joint endeavor of Georgetown University Medical Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “HD can cause behavioral changes including drastic mood swings, which could mean that, on one morning, an affected parent could appear ‘normal’ and, on a different day, the parent could be frustrated or angry. It is difficult for family members to gauge when the changes will occur in a loved one.”

ropes course 1One of the most memorable sessions for campers occurred around a campfire. Campers wrote their biggest fears on a piece of paper. When it was their turn, they shared their fear with the group and tossed the paper into the fire. It was an emotional evening for some, but it was also a big step forward to living positively, according to the camp staff.

The night after the bonfire, Lizzy was the first to wake up in her cabin. She said she wanted to go somewhere to think, so she walked down to the camp shore of the Wicomico River.

“It felt so peaceful listening to the waves of the river crashing against the rocks and to be able to see the sunrise,” said Lizzy. “I’m not sure why, but this morning is one of my highlights. I don’t get to do this in the city a lot.”

The camp experience encouraged attendees to remember to take time to “pause” from any situation at home. Swope said the self-awareness focus at camp helped campers determine what each individual needs to stay positive. By focusing the idea of support at an individual level, campers learned how they cope and how to best ask for help. Swope hopes the campers leave feeling more supported and with a better understanding of what it means to live with HD in their family.

“These events make a huge difference in the lives of these young people.  You see it instantly,” said Swope. “We all have a lasting bond because of a common connection.”

Swim Safety Tips for Making the Summer Safe and Fun

Tips for Swim SafetyWith summer just around the corner, most of us will be making plans for a poolside or oceanfront vacation. But before you dive into the aquatic-sports season, make sure you know the basics when it comes to swimming and water safety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,400 people in the U.S. die from unintentional drowning each year, and drowning is the sixth-leading cause of accidental deaths for persons of all ages.

Unsafe swimming can also lead to numerous nonfatal injuries, such as concussions and head trauma, spinal cord damage, broken bones, muscle strains and sprains, exhaustion and hypothermia.

Here are some tips for making the swimming season safe and fun:

General Swim Safety

  • Take swimming lessons, or wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket if inexperienced.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Have a phone near the water, and learn how to perform basic lifesaving actions, such as CPR, in case of emergency.
  • Check local weather conditions— never swim during a thunderstorm.

 Pool Safety

  • Walk in or jump—don’t dive—when entering the water for the first time, especially if you can’t see the bottom.
  • Maintain chlorine at recommended levels to protect against E. coli and other dangerous microorganisms that can cause gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurological and wound infections.
  • Check pool chemical levels regularly. Overuse of chemicals can be harmful, irritating the skin or causing indoor air quality problems.
  • Keep a first aid kit and rescue equipment, such as a life-ring and rope, nearby.

 Beach Safety

  • At the shore, watch for dangerous waves and signs of strong currents. If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore. Once free of the current, swim diagonally toward shore.
  • Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards, if possible.

Boating Safety

  • Do not swim or operate a boat if you have been drinking alcohol or if you have taken medication that alters your mental capabilities.
  • If you go boating, wear a life jacket. Most boating fatalities occur from drowning.

If you are injured while swimming, remain calm and signal a lifeguard for help. Call 911 or head straight to the hospital if you experience dizziness or confusion, faintness, breathing problems (often characterized by wheezing or shortness of breath), heart palpitations, a drop in blood pressure or difficulty swallowing.

Spending a day on the water — at a pool, on a boat or at the beach — can be a great source of fun and fitness. But it’s important to make safety a priority to protect yourself and others in and around the water.

For more information about emergency, urgent and trauma care, call 855-546-0863.

Media Contact

Marianne Worley
[email protected]