Families of hospitalized children stay connected with "Family Link"

Family Link

Janice Carpenter knows the difference that a telephone call from a loved one can make in the life of a hospitalized child. It's even better when that child can see their loved one's face smiling back at them from a television screen.

That's what encouraged Carpenter to become the volunteer force behind "Family Link," a service that uses a videophone to link seriously ill children with loved ones who cannot be at their bedsides because of other obligations or distance.

"I see such joy on their faces for the first time when they can see their brothers or sisters or their grandma. It's really quite rewarding," said Carpenter, whose real job is program coordinator for the Center for Health and Technology.

"I had one case of a 14-year-old boy who had developed Guillain-Barré syndrome and was completely paralyzed. His grandfather was quite ill, too, so they had a camera sent home so that he could stay connected with his father and his grandfather. I know it meant a lot to him," Carpenter said.

Family Link has also been used to keep adults connected with their families, she said.

"We had a case where a 34-year-old gentleman from Montana was in the hospital and his family and friends were holding a fundraiser for him. We were able to connect him with the fundraiser in Montana so he could see all of these people rallying around him to support him," Carpenter said.

Family Link works through connecting a normal television set with a ViaTV videophone which coordinates the image on a television screen with audio from the phone. One phone is placed in the patient's room while a second one goes home with the child's loved ones so that they can communicate and see one another. The program is free, with the exception of long-distance telephone fees. In March the program received an award for family-centered care from the Society of Critical Care Medicine for family-centered care.

James Marcin, a professor of pediatric critical care medicine and director of Pediatric Telemedicine, applauds Carpenter for her efforts on behalf of patients in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

"It has been incredibly satisfying and fulfilling and nice to be able to provide this service to our patients. For a lot of the doctors it's not at the forefront of what they're thinking when they have a critically ill patient. We're really grateful for Janice's efforts," Marcin said.

UC Davis Children's Hospital is the Sacramento region's only comprehensive hospital for children. From primary care offices to specialty and intensive care clinics, pediatric experts provide compassionate care to more than 100,000 children each year and conduct research on causes and improved treatments for conditions such as autism, asthma, obesity, cancer and birth defects.