When Dr. Alan R. Seay, a pediatric neurologist, finished testing her balance and reflexes, 6-year-old Bella Saren had a big smile and dad Bryan had reason to heave a sigh of relief.
The simple tests confirmed results of a recent brain scan – that the electrical wiring in Bella’s head was functioning normally. She already was being weaned off medication to control the absence seizures (known as petit mal, French pronunciation please, that her parents first noticed about three years ago,
Seay, a regular visitor to Durango from Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, explained that in an absence seizure – more common in children than adults – the afflicted person suddenly stares vacantly for a few seconds, unconscious of surroundings, before continuing the previous activity. The seizures are caused by disruption of the normal electrical signals in the brain.
Bryan Saren calls himself a metal fabricator. an art form that includes his work in steel and copper commemorating Colorado’s 125th birthday that graces the entrance of Durango City Hall.
He and wife, Beth, noticed Bella’s lapses of attention about three years ago, Saren said. They consulted their pediatrician, who recognized the need for a specialist, he said.
Seay holds three-day clinics four times a year in Durango as part of the Health Care Program for Children with Special Needs funded with federal dollars through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Seay saw 31 other children with neurological issues during his three days at San Juan Basin Health Department last week.
Dr. Dennis Matthews, a rehabilitation specialist, comes to Durango under the same program twice a year for one day to help children with mobility problems adapt to their environment. Typical of his patients are youngsters with cerebral palsy or spina bifida.
The clinics serve children from birth to 21 years who live in rural areas throughout Colorado where medical specialists aren’t readily available. Specialists vary according to local needs.
In 2012, the two specialists who came to Durango saw 155 children, some more than once.
San Juan Basin Health Department has its own team of specialists who coordinate the visits from Children’s Hospital Colorado and act as liaison with families and their local pediatrician.
The team members are Sue Austin, a registered nurse; Jenny Harrison, a dietitian; Cindy Kraushaar, a physical therapist; Vanessa Boyd, the care coordinator manager; and Jill Brooks, the family coordinator.
Brooks knows well the value of clinics, which she called “a great asset to a community.”
“I came here 20 years ago with my daughter who had seizures,” Brooks said. “She’s too old for the clinics now, but she’ll always have a neurologist in her life.”
Visiting professionals from Children’s Hospital have come to Durango for probably 35 years, said Patsy Ford, a registered nurse and now the director of San Juan Basin Health’s health programs division.
Ford has been involved with the program since 1985, first with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association in Routt and Moffat counties.
“The program allows residents to have children treated without traveling to Denver, although on occasion they need service or equipment available only there,” Ford said. “It also facilitates communication among families, their pediatricians and the specialists.”
Seay and Matthews, the rehabilitation specialist, see families from La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma, Dolores and San Juan counties. Seay’s clinics were held one day each in Durango, Cortez and Pagosa Springs until last year, when budget cuts required consolidating them in Durango.
Seay received the 2013 James E. Strain Award in pediatrics last week at the annual medical staff dinner at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Strain was a long-tine fixture at the hospital. The award, one of the highest given hospital faculty, honors a practitioner who exemplifies the ideals of the American Academy of Pediatrics.