Author Archives: Dr. Suzanne Prestwich

Dr. Suzanne Prestwich

About Dr. Suzanne Prestwich

Dr. Suzanne Prestwich is the Medical Director of Kennedy Krieger’s Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit.

No Limits

Mohammed and Ahmed Al-Ali are brothers from Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Both of their lives have been greatly affected by a diagnosis of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a condition that brought them half-way around the world in search of help.

SMA is a rare disease in which nerves in the spine become progressively weaker. In its most severe form, SMA can cause death in infancy. However, many children with milder forms can live long and fulfilling lives, despite challenges with scoliosis, breathing and the likelihood that the need for a wheelchair will limit their mobility.

Although Mohammed and Ahmed struggle at times with their limited mobility, I know that their futures are very bright and far from limited.

I first met Mohammed, the eldest of the pair, in 2009 when he came to Kennedy Krieger’s inpatient unit after a successful spinal fusion surgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. The first thing I noticed about Mohammed was his smile; the second was his flawless English. But perhaps the most noticeable thing was Mohammed’s amazing family. Continue reading

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Walk a mile in their shoes…

I am blessed with two happy, healthy kids. My boys, Will and Tom, have never had major medical issues. My days, however, are filled with children facing tremendous challenges, so when my youngest son needed surgery for the first time, it was an opportunity for reflection.

Like me, Tom had huge tonsils and was often sick during the winter with the dreaded strep throat. Our friendly ear, nose and throat surgeon at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Stacey Ishman, recommended a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. As a physician, I already knew the risks of surgery. I know that many things can go wrong during an operation. I have seen firsthand the unexpected complications of routine medical procedures. In reality, there’s no such thing as a “routine” surgery. Continue reading

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Pretty in Pink

It’s a classic backyard image: a kid flying through the air on a swing set.

Aside from the occasional bumps and bruises, it’s also not something that seems especially fraught with danger. And in truth, although swing sets and playgrounds are often cited for safety concerns, serious injuries remain relatively rare.

Rarity, however, seems to make tragic accidents an even tougher pill to swallow.

It started with Mikaela Deenen innocently swinging in the backyard. But, unbeknownst to her or her family, torrential rains here in Maryland had caused the swing set to come loose from the ground. When it toppled over, the swing set landed on top of Mikaela, crushing her spine. Continue reading

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Job Opening: Fairy Godmother

If I had a magic wand, I would use it to prevent the illnesses and accidents that lead children and young adults to the inpatient rehabilitation unit at Kennedy Krieger. I would stop cars from crashing. I would stop cancer cells and tumors from growing. I would stop diseases that cause paralysis.

Unfortunately, my medical degree didn’t come with the additional title of Fairy Godmother. If it did, I could have used my magic wand on October 19, 2008. On that day, I would have stopped Matthew Silverman, a vibrant young teenager who loved music and fishing in his home state of South Carolina, from becoming ill. Continue reading

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Defining Determination

I wouldn’t be surprised to look up the definition of “determination” in a dictionary, only to find a photo of a smiling John “Alex” Curtis.

On the day he was admitted to our inpatient rehabilitation unit, his mother told me, “You know, Alex is a very special child.” Of course, all of us parents think the same about our kids. But throughout his time with us, Alex proved his mother right.

Alex came to Kennedy Krieger Institute for intensive inpatient rehabilitation after he had an operation elsewhere to fix a chest wall abnormality called Pectus Excavatum. If severe and untreated, the condition can affect the ability to breathe. Unfortunately, a complication occurred during the procedure and Alex woke from surgery unable to walk.

I remember within those first few days, Alex told me in a matter-of-fact way that he was going to walk again. I hope for a full recovery for all of my patients, but experience has told me that nothing is guaranteed. Alex, however, didn’t need my hope or guarantee: He knew he would walk again. There was simply never any doubt in his mind. Continue reading

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“Houston, we have a problem…”

One of my favorite movies is “Apollo 13”, a tale of astronauts who experience a near-fatal accident en route to the moon. With the help of mission control in Houston, they ultimately survive a harrowing attempt to return to earth alive. For them, failure was not an option.

For most of 2009, Daniel was a typical 13-year-old boy who enjoyed hanging out with his twin brother and loved playing with LEGOs. But that Fall, he caught H1N1 Influenza and never fully recovered. There was no explanation for why the influenza virus had hit Daniel so hard. He grew very weak, and, unable to eat, he needed a gastrostomy tube to provide the nutrition and calories his body demanded. Severe pain kept him out of school, out of his life, for over a year. His parents desperately wanted help for their bedridden son, who spent most of his time curled up in a fetal position. They saw doctor after doctor in New York, but nothing seemed to help.

Daniel’s last hope was Kennedy Krieger Institute. And so, in a final attempt to relieve the chronic pain that was ruining his life, he and his family came to Baltimore.

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Matthew’s Posse

When I first learned of Matthew Slattery’s story, I had the same reaction that anyone would. The circumstances of his injury can only be described as heartbreaking, a feeling that even physicians aren’t immune to. And with Matthew, it all felt especially close to home for me.

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Getting Her Voice…Again

Many of the children admitted to the inpatient rehabilitation unit at Kennedy Krieger have experienced a trauma or illness that resulted in needing a procedure called a tracheostomy. The procedure involves placing a tube in a patient’s neck to help him breathe, but the downside is that it robs them of the ability to speak. Seeing a child with a “trach” tube in place can be heartbreaking for the casual observer. Seeing your own child with it is devastating. Continue reading

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Best Job in the World

Hi, I’m Suzanne Prestwich, the medical director of the Inpatient Pediatric Rehabilitation Unit at Kennedy Krieger Institute. I’m looking forward to sharing stories of our patients with you each month. I work as a pediatric hospitalist—a growing term in medicine for those of us who specialize in taking care of patients while they are staying at a hospital.
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