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We're celebrating another great year at SickKids!
16 minute read

We're celebrating another great year at SickKids!


A big thank you to all our staff, volunteers, patients, families, community partners and supporters for making 2018 another memorable year at SickKids. Join us as we take a trip back through the year to celebrate our many successes!

A big thank you to all our staff, volunteers, patients, families, community partners and supporters for making 2018 another memorable year at SickKids. Join us as we take a trip back through the year to celebrate our many successes!

A seamless care experience for children and their families

5:49 a.m. on Saturday, June 2 was a monumental moment in our evolution of the way we deliver care to our patients. Our integrated, state-of-the-art health information system went live. The system fundamentally changes the way SickKids provides care by bringing all patient information and charting into one integrated electronic system. The new system significantly improves hospital efficiencies, enhances patient safety and access to patient information, and overall creates a more seamless care experience for children and their families.

Staff, patients and families are already seeing many benefits from the system. For patient and families, one of the exciting new features is the online patient portal, MyChart, that provides patients and authorized family members and caregivers access to parts of their SickKids’ electronic health record, from anywhere, at any time.

We look forward to continuously developing and implementing the tools our new system can support in order to enhance the patient experience.

Caring Safely: Everywhere and every day

At SickKids, we put safety first. While this has always been true, the Caring Safely initiative that kicked off just three years ago has amplified and accelerated improvements in patient and staff safety.

There’s a lot of progress to celebrate over the past three years, as we have achieved and in some cases exceeded the objectives we chose to pursue at the outset of this initiative. SickKids has reduced its serious safety event rate by two thirds and we have trained over 90 per cent of staff and trainees in behaviours to prevent errors from occurring, and to ensure we’re all speaking the same language of safety.

We are proud of what we have achieved over our journey so far, but we know the work isn’t over. Sustaining this progress requires continued focus and effort. That’s why we’re starting the second phase of Caring Safely. We have incredible opportunities to enhance these areas with the implementation of our new health information system, and as we reimagine our campus with Project Horizon. We will continue to work collaboratively in pursuit of the goal of eliminating preventable harm.  

Researchers bust commonly held myth about medulloblastoma

By the time a patient has been diagnosed with medulloblastoma, the most common type of malignant paediatric brain tumour, there is a high probability the cancer has already spread. It was assumed this spread occurred through the cerebrospinal fluid but researchers from SickKids discovered that medulloblastoma can spread the same way the vast majority of cancers spread: through the blood. Finding out that medulloblastoma can spread through the blood has major implications for disease diagnosis and monitoring therapy response. In the future, clinicians may be able to diagnose these tumours through blood samples and perhaps deliver targeted treatments that will prevent the spread of medulloblastoma.

Advancing the health and well-being of children everywhere

The Centre for Global Child Health is the dedicated hub for global child health-focused activities at SickKids. 2018 marked the five-year anniversary of the centre and there is much to celebrate! Read a message from Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, Chief of the Centre for Global Child Health, with his reflection on the past five years, the progress that has been made in advancing the health of children and their families around the world, and his wishes for a healthy, happy and peaceful 2019.

Ontario invests $2.4 billion to build the SickKids of the future

SickKids received a commitment in March from the Government of Ontario of up to $2.4 billion to build a world-class state-of-the-art facility for patients and families. This historic and significant investment will enable SickKids to deliver leading-edge care to the most critically ill children in Ontario for generations to come.

Population growth and increases in medical complexity have driven a high demand for space and put pressure on existing facilities at SickKids. To keep up with demand and plan for the future, SickKids has proposed the construction of two new buildings and renovations to existing clinical facilities. Areas in need of crucial infrastructure renewal include a new emergency department, neonatal intensive care units, critical care units, bone marrow transplant unit and mental health units.

Dubbed Project Horizon, the redevelopment plan would build an inspired, re-imagined hospital of the future that will transform the experience of patients and their families, enable the delivery of cutting edge care, and ensure sufficient service capacity. A revitalized SickKids will also attract more of the world’s top clinicians and researchers to join SickKids in our fight against childhood illness and disease.

New layout, enhanced search functions and completely mobile-friendly!

The new went live in April. The site offers the same trustworthy, up-to-date health information from the experts at SickKids, with new features for patients, families and health-care providers. The redesigned website includes a new layout, enhanced search functions, and completely mobile-friendly content. Next year, we will be working behind the scenes to do the same to this website… but that’s a highlight for another year!

First use in Canada of deep brain stimulation to treat paediatric epilepsy

Neurosurgeons from SickKids and Toronto Western Hospital performed the first deep brain stimulation to treat drug-resistant paediatric epilepsy in Canada. With only 40 published cases of the procedure being performed in children for this condition, Andi Dreher, 9, is among the first in the world to undergo this treatment. When Andi first came to SickKids in 2016, she was seven years old and experiencing many seizures per day. This fall, she was having 100 to 150 small seizures per day.

It became clear that Andi’s best chance would be deep brain stimulation, which works by sending electrical impulses to targeted areas deep in the brain to relieve symptoms without harming the surrounding tissue. Although the full impact of the stimulation on Andi’s seizures remains to be seen, her family has seen changes in her seizure frequency.

Increasing access to mental health care for children and youth

SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health (CCMH) made progress in its goal this year to create easier access to services, decrease wait times, and match services to the needs of children, youth and families.

With changes to the intake process, clients’ wait times have decreased 48 per cent from their first phone call seeking service to completing their intake, the first step toward treatment. In the first two months of implementing this new streamlined approach, preliminary data showed that in a fifth of cases, families were referred to alternate community services that better matched their individualized needs, thereby making more SickKids CCMH resources available for more complex clinical situations. A new service was offered to these more complex cases, with approximately 65 per cent of clients proceeding to single-session clinics, after which their needs were further assessed and met.

The overall impact of this new model has been to dramatically increase access to mental health services for a large number of clients, a major goal of the integration with SickKids. Clinical, process improvement and data quality teams at SickKids CCMH will continue to collaborate, further enabling the development of innovative pathways to care for the children, youth and families we serve.

Canada's first dedicated centre to care for fetuses requiring high-risk intervention

Pregnant women will now have greater access to world-renowned specialists when their baby in-utero has been diagnosed with a condition that may need medical intervention. In March, the Government of Ontario announced $4 million in funding towards the creation of the Ontario Fetal Centre, a collaboration between SickKids and Sinai Health System. Based at Mount Sinai Hospital, the centre will be a specialized provincial centre of excellence for fetal care, research and education, and the first of its kind in Canada.

The Ontario Fetal Centre will enhance the established and successful partnership between SickKids and Mount Sinai hospitals in the area of fetal intervention. Together, SickKids and Mount Sinai perform more than 100 in-utero fetal surgeries and procedures a year.

A potential therapeutic target for life-threatening heart condition

Sudden cardiac death can rob many years of life from children and young adults who have genetic heart conditions. One of the conditions that is a prime cause of sudden cardiac death is called arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy. It’s responsible for 25 per cent of sudden cardiac death cases in children, 22 per cent of cases in athletes, and 11 per cent of cases overall in adults. A research team led by SickKids has discovered potential new ways to diagnose and treat this life-threatening heart condition.

A network that keeps growing and growing and growing...

It was a year of growth for Kids Health Alliance (KHA), a network of partners committed to advancing excellence and expertise in paediatric care. Three community partners – Michael Garron Hospital, Humber River Hospital and Pembroke Regional Hospital – joined the network in 2018. Markham Stouffville Hospital and Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital joined in 2017.

KHA was founded in 2017 by SickKids, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario – Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre to work toward a common goal of better outcomes and a high-quality, consistent and coordinated approach to care that is centred on children, youth and their families.

Pioneering genome sequencing study links rare genetic changes to congenital cardiac condition

In a remarkable new genetic discovery, researchers at SickKids, the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, University Health Network and the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart have found strong evidence that rare DNA variations can lead to Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF), a cardiac abnormality with four heart defects that occur together. The study is the first to use whole genome sequencing for ToF.

The research team found that the “vascular endothelial growth factor” (VEGF) signaling pathway was strongly implicated in adult patients with ToF. VEGF is a well-known pathway in such areas as cancer or vascular biology, but the team discovered that it is likely to play an important role in the formation of our heart. By understanding the changes to cell signaling in this important pathway, diseases like ToF may be treated more effectively.

Testing our response to a hospital-wide emergency

Although they are challenging to execute, particularly with a busy hospital to run, drills simulating an emergency are critical to ensuring that we are able to react nimbly and effectively in the case of any real emergency.

In November, SickKids held a drill to test the hospital’s response to an armed person (Code Purple) in the hospital. Staff reacted swiftly when confronted with the armed individual – portrayed by an actor – activating the hospital’s Code Purple emergency response. Toronto Police Services (TPS) also participated in the drill, quickly arriving on scene. TPS worked with SickKids’ Protection Services security team to lock down the hospital and secure the area where the armed person was located.

Staff on units practiced locking doors, identifying hiding places and evacuation routes, and had discussions with patients and families to ensure they would know how to respond if the situation was real. In the Emergency Measures Command Centre, leaders representing departments from across the organization were busy coordinating the hospital-wide emergency response.

Celebrating a legacy of science, discovery, innovation and learning

It was five years ago that the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL) opened its doors to over 2,000 researchers, trainees and staff. Today, it lays the foundation for excellent patient care at SickKids, attracts the world’s best researchers, runs leading-edge facilities and conducts innovative interdisciplinary research. It is the largest child health research tower in the world.

All seven of the SickKids Research Institute’s programs have reported major breakthroughs over the last five years. Check out some of the highlights that have come out of the PGCRL. One of the main priorities moving forward is to substantially accelerate the pace at which our research discoveries are translated to improving child health.  

A great place to work

SickKids has been named once again as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers and one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers for 2019 by Mediacorp Canada Inc.! This is the fourth year in a row that SickKids has received these honours. SickKids was also recognized as being one of Canada's Best Employers for Recent Graduates 2019.

SickKids also made the Top 25 Best Places to Work in Canada list from employer review site Glassdoor. SickKids nailed down the 14th spot and is the top-rated hospital. Glassdoor ratings are based entirely on employee and former employee anonymous ratings and feedback.

We asked SickKids staff members, "What makes SickKids a great place to work?" Here's what they had to say.

The ultimate Christmas gift: 6-month-old hears mom and dad for the first time

Just in time for Christmas, Francesca Jones had her cochlear implants activated, allowing her to truly hear for the first time. Her mother, Julia Tirabasso, said “Ciao Francesca!” and Francesca looked right into her mom’s eyes and smiled. Francesca is the third youngest infant to receive cochlear implants — electronic devices surgically implanted to partially restore hearing — at SickKids. She had her cochlear implant surgery at just five months of age and the activation took place when she was six-and-a-half months old.

In July, just weeks after birth, Francesca was diagnosed with congenital cytomegalovirus infection — the most common cause of non-hereditary hearing loss in children. She is the first infant to have the virus detected from a new targeted newborn screening test introduced earlier this year by Newborn Screening Ontario and Ontario’s world-leading Infant Hearing Program.

Doctors typically aim to have cochlear implants activated by the time a child is one year old, to limit the effects on development. By determining the cause of Francesca’s hearing loss right away, doctors were able to accelerate this process.

Paediatric Intensive Care Unit celebrates 50 years

Established in 1968, SickKids’ Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) was one of the first ICU’s for children in North America to have full-time intensive care specialists. From its modest beginnings as a part-time ICU housed in the recovery room of the operating theatre, the unit has grown to become an internationally recognized leader in clinical care, teaching, innovation and research in paediatric critical care.

As the largest PICU in Canada, the unit’s patients come from within Ontario, across Canada and from around the world. They are among the sickest and most complex patients in the hospital. The care these complex patients receive at SickKids is emulated throughout the world. And that’s no surprise, considering the clinical fellowship program has trained over 400 physicians from five continents, many of whom are now intensivist-leaders in other parts of the world.

First Canadian paediatric study of mixed cannabis oil shows promise for children with epilepsy

Dravet syndrome is a rare form of epilepsy that begins in the first year of life. Seizures are prolonged, frequent and typically difficult to treat and children have many other comorbidities, such as developmental delay and significant learning disabilities. In August, researchers at SickKids announced that they have established safe dosing and tolerability of a pharmaceutical formulation of tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) to reduce seizures and improve quality of life for children with drug-resistant epilepsy due to Dravet syndrome. These results set the foundation for further work to advance successful treatment and outcomes for this population of children who until now had little hope for better health outcomes.

A dazzling space for siblings and clinic patients

The Women’s Auxiliary Volunteers (WAV) opened a brand new WAV PlayPark on the main floor of SickKids in April. The free service is a safe, secure and fun place where siblings of patients, children with clinic appointments, and siblings of kids being treated in the Emergency Department can play. The PlayPark service at SickKids started way back in 1974.

Recruiting world-class talent from within SickKids

Dr. James Drake, an extraordinary talent whose many clinical, research, academic and leadership contributions are widely recognized locally, nationally and internationally, was named Surgeon-in-Chief and Chief of Perioperative Services in September. Dr. Drake has been an outstanding member of the SickKids community for more than 30 years, most recently as Head of the Division of Neurosurgery and Director of the Centre for Image-Guided Innovation and Therapeutic Intervention.

“There is no place I’d rather be. SickKids is a world-class organization, where talent runs deep. It's where you learn from the best and become your best,” said Dr. Drake, as he prepared to take on his new role.

Whole genome sequencing could transform how Canadians manage their own health care

Researchers from SickKids and the University of Toronto behind the Personal Genome Project Canada (PGP-C) created a buzz in February when the project’s first-ever study found 25 per cent of participants had genomic information indicating they could be at risk for future disease and even more were found to have genetic variants that would be relevant for family planning or newborn screening. All participants had genomic information associated with risks for adverse drug reactions or altered drug effectiveness, with 23 per cent of participants identified as being at risk for severe, potentially life-threatening adverse drug reactions.

PGP-C is a comprehensive public data resource that integrates participants’ whole genome sequencing data with their health information to advance scientific understanding of genetic and environmental contributions to human health and disease.

A dream come true: SickKids scientist addresses UN

Dr. Eric Bouffet, Senior Associate Scientist and Oncologist at SickKids and President of the International Society of Paediatric Oncology (SIOP), represented SIOP at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly's side-meeting on childhood cancer in September.

The UN meeting, Ensuring a Right to Cure: Global Initiative in Childhood Cancer, brought together key stakeholders to engage on a global childhood cancer initiative to inform, discuss and generate commitments towards reaching goals in childhood cancer.

Watch Dr. Bouffet's speech

Canada's most research-intensive hospital

SickKids is proud to have once again been named one of Canada’s Top 40 Research Hospitals by Research Infosource Inc. This is the eighth consecutive list ranking for SickKids. For the third year in a row, SickKids holds the Number 1 rank for “hospital intensity” (research spending as a percentage of total hospital spending).

The annual Top 40 Research Hospitals list examines research hospitals across the country and ranks them based on both research spending and research intensity. With a four per cent increase in research spending in the last fiscal year, SickKids remains in the Number 2 position for overall “research spending” among Canada’s leading research hospitals, second only to University Health Network, which comprises four hospitals. SickKids also maintained its Number 2 rank for “researcher intensity” (research spending per researcher) among medium-sized hospitals.

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