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Worcester

UMass Memorial Neonatal unit turns 40

Telegram & Gazette Sept 14, 2014

Registered nurse Lynn Ellsworth of North Grafton plays with her former patient, Luke Goyette, 11 months, of Millbury during the UMass Memorial Neonatal Intensive Care Unit's 40th anniversary celebration Saturday. (T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN)
Registered nurse Lynn Ellsworth of North Grafton plays with her former patient, Luke Goyette, 11 months, of Millbury during the UMass Memorial Neonatal Intensive Care Unit’s 40th anniversary celebration Saturday. (T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN)

By Michael Gelbwasser CORRESPONDENT

WORCESTER — Aaron Bissell spent his infancy fighting for survival in the UMass Memorial Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Now, 21 years later, “I’m well. I’m doing a lot of writing. And I take singing lessons. I pretty much do a lot of creative stuff,” said Mr. Bissell, of Grafton.

The neonatal intensive care unit’s 40th birthday was celebrated Saturday at the UMass Memorial Medical Center — University Campus, 55 Lake Ave. North. Numerous former patients of all ages gathered for a group photo on the front lawn.

The festivities celebrated “all the families that were able to have their children come home with them,” to remember the children “that left this world, frankly, too soon,” and to thank the families for letting the doctors and nurses “care for their children,” said Dr. Alan Picarillo, the UMass Memorial Medical Center’s chief of neonatology.

“It was a total privilege of caring for these children,” he said. “These families would leave them with us for long periods of time.”

The unit has cared for more than 20,000 infants since opening in 1974 with six beds, hospital officials said. The program now has 49 beds. Aaron Bissell and his twin brother Eric, born at 26 weeks, were treated “at the old NICU, over at Memorial Hospital,” in 1993, according to their mother, Cynthia.

“I can tell you, the first couple of years, both of the boys were very medically fragile. It was totally scary,” she said. “I’m a nurse, so I knew the risks involved in twins being born 3 1/2 months too soon.”

“I really came here today to thank some of the doctors. I remember all of them,” Mrs. Bissell added.

Dr. Picarillo said “the caring of the front-line staff” has been the one constant during the unit’s 40-year history.

“The amount of time they spend with the families, comforting them, encouraging them, empowering them. That’s what hasn’t changed,” he said.

Dr. Picarillo noted that infants brought to the unit are living longer than ever.

“In 1974, typically under 28 weeks wouldn’t survive at all. Now, we routinely save babies with 23 weeks,” he said.

Triplets Jameson, Payton and Callie Kaska of Northbridge are now 3 years old, said their mother, Lindsay. Their earliest days were “an emotional roller-coaster ride, living day to day,” Mrs. Kaska said. Now, the kids “are amazing. They’re right on target. They’re healthy,” she said.

Many families and staff reconnected on Saturday. Nurse Christina Evans was especially proud of Edward Parker Gagne, 4, of Holden.

“This little guy was one of my first babies I cared for,” said Ms. Evans, who has worked in the unit for 14 years. “To see him where he is today brings tears to my eyes.”

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Flat Stanley

Flat Stanley

Flat Stanley was written in 1964 by Jeff Brown (illustrated by Tomi Ungerer). It is the first in a series of books about Stanley Lambchop who became flat after a bulletin board fell on him. He discovered that being flat could be fun. He could fit into a large envelope and travel easily (and cheaply) by mail!

In the mid-1990’s a 3rd grade teacher in Canada decided to use the Flat Stanley story as a teaching tool to facilitate letter-writing for his students. The students would make paper Flat Stanleys and then take Stanley with them and document the places they went in a journal. The students would then mail Stanley and the journal to others, who were asked to treat Stanley as a guest, add to his journal and then return him to the student.

The focus of the project was literacy, but students also learned about the different places that Stanley had visited. Many Stanley’s were returned with photos and interesting information about the places he visited. His travels could also be tracked on maps for a lesson in Geography.

This project soon caught on in many other schools across several different countries and now thousands of school children are doing Flat Stanley projects. Several variations on the original idea have also developed over the years. Some projects are quite elaborate, such as this excellent video showing Stanley’s adventures in Hollywood.

Stanley has also visited many exotic places and met many famous people in his travels. He is sort of like the traveling gnome, except the focus with Stanley is educational.

Flat Stanley Skydiving
Flat Stanley visits the President

This summer Eric’s class did a Flat Stanley project in which Stanley spent part of summer vacation with the students. The kids were asked to take photos of the places they visited with Stanley to share with the class. This turned out to be a fun project for the whole family.

Here are some of the places Eric took Stanley:

Stanley at the Nelson Park Ice Cream Social, Worcester, MA
Stanley at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Stanley at WaterFire, Providence, RI
Stanley at the Concert on the Common, Grafton, MA
Stanley at the Kennedy Library and Museum, Boston, MA

More Photos of Eric and Stanley’s summer travels on Flickr: Flat Stanley Set

The students were also asked to make two Flat Stanleys to send to friends or relatives in other states, so that the students could learn about different states. Eric sent Stanley to Aunt Phyllis in Florida and to Aunt Joyce in New York.

The Official Flat Stanley’s Website

Rock & Shock

We took Aaron and a couple of friends to Rock & Shock 2009 at the Worcester DCU Center last night. Rock & Shock is a Horror convention that mixes artist and vendor displays with rock music. We didn’t do the music part, we went primarily because Aaron is a huge horror/thriller movie buff. As I’ve mentioned before, he does his own thriller show on local cable TV, so he just loves dressing up and going to events like this.

Where he got this interest in horror movies, I have no idea. Rich and I are not fans of this genre. In fact, I avoid scary movies as much as possible. Real life is plenty scary enough for me! Rich tolerates them for Aaron and usually takes him to the movies he wants to see. I decided to come to this event since it’s the Halloween time of year and also brought Eric along. I figured, if it was too much for him or I, we could just leave. As it turned out we all had a great time. Eric loved all the action and especially enjoyed the people dressed up in costumes.

There were lots of horror film actors, directors, make-up artists, costume designers, film makers and distributors there. You could get an autograph and photo taken with lots of horror celebrities (usually for a price). I was excited to meet Malcolm McDowell who was the villain in Star Trek Generations among other films. I confess, I’m a Star Trek nerd and I would surely fit in better at a Star Trek convention.

Malcolm McDowell
Malcolm McDowell

Some people actually thought that was my real hair!

In addition to actors, there were also tattoo artists, toy and model makers, costume contests, horror industry professionals and vendors, comic book artists & vendors, film screenings, CD and DVD vendors, models and actors in costume, and many other artists and vendors. Aaron came home with lots of new props for his movies and also did some networking with a couple of local film makers.

Aaron, Katie, Eric and Ryan
Aaron, Katie, Eric and Ryan

Aaron, Katie and Ryan are big fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Here is Aaron as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Ryan is Brad. Eric is wearing his prisoner Halloween costume. Hey, must always keep a sense of humor!

Katie was thrilled to meet Jason Mewes.

The highlight for Ryan was meeting Adrienne King from the original Friday the 13th.

Eric grabbed Gunnar Hansen around the collar and wouldn’t let go! He was very nice about it, except to say, “You’ll be next!” Gunnar Hansen played Leatherface in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. LOL!

More Photo at Flickr.

R.I.P. Ted

The last time I say Ted Kennedy was at a rally for Deval Patrick when he was running for Governor of Massachusetts in October of 2006. Here is a photo I took of Kennedy speaking at the DCU Center in Worcester. Behind him is Tim Murray, Patrick’s running mate and current Lieutenant Governor of Massachussetts, President Bill Clinton and Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern.

“For all my years in public life, I have believed that America must sail toward the shores of liberty and justice for all. There is no end to that journey, only the next great voyage. We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.” –Edward M. Kennedy