Pediatrician, Columbus Regional Healthcare System
I still remember everything about my first patient who died. It was my first month as a pediatric intern. She was 9 years old and waiting in the emergency room. As I happened to walk by her, I noticed she was blowing bubbles out of her mouth. When I got closer, a sickening feeling overtook me- I realized those were lung secretions pouring out of her. I tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t respond. My heart sank and I raced her to the code room and worked to save her for hours without success. Ending the code was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I remember thinking, “I went through medical school to make a difference; I have to save her.” She died of meningitis. It took me years to rationalize and understand what “making a difference” meant.
Twenty-four years later, I am still passionate about making a difference when I see childhood adversities in my pediatric practice. Childhood adversities is a broad term that refers to a wide range of circumstances or events that pose a serious threat to a child’s physical or psychological well-being. Common examples of childhood adversity include child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, bullying, serious accidents or injuries, discrimination, extreme poverty, and community violence. Research shows that such experiences can have serious consequences, especially when they occur early in life, are chronic and/or severe, or accumulate over time. For example, the effects of childhood adversity can become biologically embedded during sensitive periods of development and lead to lifelong physical and mental health problems.
However, adversity does not predestine children to poor outcomes, and most children are able to recover when they have the right supports—particularly the consistent presence of a warm, sensitive caregiver.
This is how you can make a difference.
By providing that stable, responsive, nurturing relationship in the earliest years of life, you can prevent or even reverse the damaging effects of early life stress, with lifelong benefits for learning, behavior, and health. Children develop in an environment of relationships that begin in the home and include extended family members, early care and education providers, and members of the community.
This is the time to make a difference. By supporting and advocating for policies and programs that identify and support children and families who are most at risk for experiencing toxic stress as early as possible, you will reduce or avoid the need for more costly and less effective remediation and support programs down the road.
Let’s make a difference in a child’s life together, you and I.