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Pediatric

The head of pediatrics at Stony Brook Children's Hospital said current restrictions on daily life has not meant young people have not been exposed to normal childhood diseases. Stock photo

The school and day care mixing bowl of bacterial and viral illnesses has changed. As schools, day-care centers, clubs, sports teams and other organizations change the way they manage group gatherings amid the pandemic, the game of illness tag children seem to play has slowed.

“We are seeing potentially less viral illnesses thus far in the sense that we have not seen an increase yet in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV,” said Christy Beneri, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Program Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “We are still waiting to see what happens with the flu.”

The chance of children contracting some of those illnesses would likely be less this year amid the infection control measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease responsible for the pandemic.

Beneri said children are getting somewhat fewer infections, although doctors are still seeing strep throat, ear infections and pneumonia.

Viral-induced asthma visits have declined at Stony Brook. Children who have asthma are still seeking medical attention, particularly if their condition doesn’t have a viral trigger.

At the same time, the effects of social isolation, uncertainty about the future, and household anxiety has triggered an additional mental health burden, particularly for adolescents.

Pediatricians are “asking patients more about those issues,” she said. “We maybe didn’t ask as much as we should have in the past.”

Even though children generally have less contact with their contemporaries this year, they are still developing illnesses, as their immune system receives challenges from microbes through dirt, pet saliva and other sources.

The dynamic is “slightly different in terms of getting some of these viruses from other people, [but] there are still pathogens in their environment,” she said.

In the current environment, with positive tests for COVID-19 setting new national daily records, Beneri said it is important to practice infection control measures in certain settings, which will impact what children are exposed to over time.

The cultural shift from sending children who might have mild symptoms to school to keeping children home for the good of their fellow students and staff has helped reduce the spread of COVID and other potential infections.

“We’ve taken a step back from what makes sense not just for my child, but for others my child might be exposing,” Beneri said. The decision about whether to send a child who might be battling an illness, cold or minor discomfort to school “is not just about us. It’s about those in our communities and, hopefully, there’s a better recognition” about the impact an infected child can have.

Some of the infection control measures, such as hand hygiene and staying home when children are sick should continue even after companies start providing a COVID-19 vaccine.

At this point, with the virus still prevalent in the community and country, she said acute care visits are declining, as parents are managing at home and are watching and waiting to see how their children recover from any infection.

As a parent, Beneri is dealing with the disappointment and disruption of life in the pandemic for her seven-year-old daughter. Twice, the family has had to cancel a trip to Disney World and has scheduled it for a third time.

Once the worst of the pandemic passes and children get back together again, the pediatric program director said there might be an increase in certain infections, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the county will see horrific outbreaks.

With the approach of Thanksgiving and the December holidays, Beneri urges families to be creative about gatherings. She suggested that smaller groups might want to get together over two weekends, rather than all gathering at the same time.

As for advice to schools, Beneri urges people to remain mindful of their activities outside of school.

“It’d be a shame to have to close schools,” Beneri said.

Beneri added people can celebrate milestones like turning 16, but they should not have a 40-person event in the current environment.

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Steven Matz talks with Stony Brook Children’s patient Rachel Dennis. Photo from Greg Filiano

Three Village baseball star Steven Matz of the New York Mets brought holiday cheer and big smiles to the faces of dozens of Long Island’s youngest Mets fans: pediatric patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Steven Matz poses with Stony Brook Children’s patients Nicholas Reinoso, left, and Anmol Jaswal, both displaying their Mets-themed colored drawings, which Matz autographed. Photo from Greg Filiano
Steven Matz poses with Stony Brook Children’s patients Nicholas Reinoso, left, and Anmol Jaswal, both displaying their Mets-themed colored drawings, which Matz autographed. Photo from Greg Filiano

The Mets pitcher spent time talking to the children and encouraged them to keep getting better and to finish all their treatments. Patients like Nicholas Reinoso, 9, of Bellport, shared artwork with Matz – colored drawings of Mr. Met and other Mets-themed images.

“It’s great to see these kids at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and take time to learn about them,” said Matz. “That’s what it is all about this time of year.”

He signed their drawings and chatted with patients in the pediatric floor playroom and in some of their hospital rooms in the acute care and intensive care units.

“It was cool to meet him,” said Anmol Jaswal, 21, of Blue Point, a college student who attends Long Island University.

Zachary Cottrell gets a bedside visit from Steven Matz at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Greg Filiano
Zachary Cottrell gets a bedside visit from Steven Matz at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Greg Filiano

Decked out in her tennis sweat suit, Anmol mentioned to Matz that it was her birthday the day before and talked about her tennis game and hopes to play for Long Island University. He wished her a happy birthday and said he would root for her.

Matz also visited the hematology and oncology clinic at the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, signing autographs and visiting with children undergoing chemotherapy.

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Paul Fick, center, poses for a group photo after the coin flip for the Major League Soccer game at Yankee Stadium. Photo from Liz Zarins

By Clayton Collier

Kings Park native Paul Fick has helped hundreds get “back in the game.”

This past Saturday, Fick had the opportunity to help 22 Major League Soccer soccer players get their game started with the coin flip at Yankee Stadium prior to the match between the New York City Football Club and the Montreal Impact.

Before a crowd of more than 27,000, Fick was selected for the honor by Coco Joy in recognition for his work with Back in the Game, an organization he co-founded that helps young cancer patients regain strength, balance, flexibility, and confidence in an effort to return the children to a condition where they can participate in sports and physical activities again.

“It’s really not about me at all,” he said. “I just have been the beneficiary of working with these children and getting to watch them progress through their treatment. It’s about the program; it’s not about one individual. I was the representative, but it was great to see Back in the Game get more awareness so we can help more kids throughout the area.”

Fick was also recently nominated as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year. Gilbert Salon, a volunteer for Back in the Game for the last five years, said the recognition is well-deserved.

“He’s been running that program for nearly 10 years,” he said. “His dedication, year after year, all the work he puts in, it’s really amazing.”

The program is run through Professional Physical Therapy in Garden City and is funded by the Miracle Foundation.

The idea for Back in the Game was started by Rob Panariello, a Professional Physical Therapy founding partner, and his friend Peter Menges. The inspiration for the program began when Menges’ son, Bobby, broke his leg on a relatively mild slope while skiing after doctors deemed him to be in remission from cancer. It wasn’t until after the fact that they realized that, while his son had responded to the treatment in getting rid of the cancer, his body had not fully recovered.

“His body wasn’t ready to go back to physical activities yet,” Fick said.

Paul Fick, a co-founder of Back in the Game, which helps pediatric cancer patients regain their strength, balance and flexibility, exercises with some of his young patients. Photo from Fick
Paul Fick, a co-founder of Back in the Game, which helps pediatric cancer patients regain their strength, balance and flexibility, exercises with some of his young patients.
Photo from Fick

Menges said at the time of his son’s injury, he realized that there needed to be a heightened focus on post-treatment life for children like Bobby.

“I think the disconnect was that the physicians were encouraged because the kids were responding favorably to the treatment and wasn’t that great, but what they weren’t seeing was a kid that used to participate in soccer or lacrosse or football, can’t even participate in gym class,” Menges said of his experiences following his son’s cancer treatment. “So yeah, they’re doing fine from a treatment standpoint, but they’re not doing well from a physical participation life standpoint.”

Menges said once the concept was organized, Fick was brought in to structure the program into what it is today.

“He was a real catalyst for taking the idea, figuring out how to make it work and bringing it to life,” he said.

To make the idea of Back in the Game a successful reality, the men presented the idea to Dr. Mark Weinblatt at Winthrop-University Hospital. Weinblatt’s endorsement was crucial to the program getting off the ground.

“Doctor Weinblatt was very supportive in recognizing the need for the program and referring the kids to us,” Fick said. “The trust that he had in Rob and myself enabled us to work with the kids. If we didn’t have that, it would have been very difficult.”

Nine years later, Weinblatt said the program is a terrific success.

“A lot of our patients, who really had a lot of difficulty in getting back to their usual routine, found it an immense help, not just in sports but in feeling good about themselves in day-to-day activities,” he said. “Walking around, going up stairs; the things we take for granted have been helped a lot by the program. They really do a terrific job with our patients.”

Through their work with the Miracle Foundation, the services provided by Back in the Game come at no cost to the families of the children recovering from cancer.

Though Fick doesn’t like to take any credit, Menges said the program, like Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium, couldn’t have occurred without Fick getting things started.

“Paul has embraced the concept and program from the beginning, and transformed it from an idea into a highly organized and professional program,” he said. “He is great with the kids and parents, and has continuously worked to grow and improve the program. His dedication and passion is incredible.”