Becky sitting at Dell Childrens Medical center drinking a cup of coffee

Emotional health and care for the whole child at Dell Children's gives families hope

Families find support and emotional health care for conditions like anxiety in children at Dell Children’s Medical Center.

Dell Children's Medical Center at Ascension Seton in Austin, Texas, has become like a second home to the O'Dell family and their two children. It's been a reliable place for Becky O'Dell to bring her children, Cammi, 12, and Declan, 6, for care.

Nine years ago, Becky was introduced to the care teams at Dell Children's Medical Center when her daughter Cammi was 3 years old. Cammi spent four days in the hospital for pulmonary care and monitoring because she had trouble breathing. A year later, Cammi returned to Dell Children's by ambulance for a hospital stay in the PICU for more severe respiratory challenges. Becky explained that the family lives 45 minutes away from Dell Children's. "But everything that we needed as a family or for Cammi was available to us at Dell Children's Medical Center," she said.

The family lived near small clinics that weren't equipped to handle more advanced pediatric care. "We wanted to make sure that she was being cared for at a facility with specific pediatric specialists and an environment that made her feel more comfortable," Becky said. 

Compassionate, family-centered care

Cammi felt at ease in Dell Children's with the bright colors on the wall, playrooms and gardens. The family was also connected with a social worker to help ensure they had what they needed to care for Cammi at home. The family received training on how to give Cami her medicines and was offered financial assistance if they could not afford Cammi's medications. "They even made sure that we knew where we could shower if we were going to stay a few days," Becky said. "They made sure that we were comfortable staying overnight with her, and asked if we needed help getting a room at the Ronald McDonald House or a local hotel because they knew we didn't live close by."

Cammi would continue receiving respiratory care after being released from the hospital with Dell Children's doctors at clinics outside the main hospital campus. One visit with a doctor revealed that Cammi had anxiety. "She had a panic attack that just floored all of us. We were not expecting anything like that from her," said Becky. 

Specialty care for her child's mental and emotional health

A certified child life specialist from Dell Children's Medical Center walked over to the clinic and sat with Cammi throughout the appointment to help calm her down. Cammi was even comfortable getting her labs done without her mother with the child life specialist there. "My husband and I were just amazed that the level of care extended to the neighboring clinics, that they had the ability and the compassion to come help her through that situation at her follow-up appointments," she said.

The panic attack also concerned Cammi's doctor, who referred her to a pediatric psychologist. Cammi saw a therapist weekly at Dell Children's for a year and a half. 

"That therapist changed Cammi's perspective on everything, not just medically related issues that she had a hard time with, but has helped her through being an 8-year-old to a preteen," Becky said. "We've even joked with friends that we think every parent should have to see a child psychologist because the things we've learned as parents have been remarkable."

Cammi's therapist has become a member of the O’Dell family, according to Becky. The entire family learned how to help manage Cammi’s emotional needs. “We had a hard time identifying what Cammi was dealing with was anxiety,” she said. “We were not addressing it the way that she needed us to address everything that she was feeling and going through.” 

Since receiving this care, Cammi has been equipped with tools, mantras and resources that she carries to school and in her interactions with her brother.

Advanced pediatric care closer to home

In the last nine years, Becky says her daughter's care has been consistent, but she's happy to see more Dell Children's sites of care that are a shorter distance from their home. Dell Children's Medical Center North Campus is a part of the Ascension Seton expansion for pediatric care in Central Texas. 

"Now that there is a campus farther north, we don't have to worry about making a 45-minute trek to find specialists for our kids," Becky said. "In an emergency, rather than driving past several smaller community hospitals, it is a relief to have Dell Children's Medical Center North Campus available to us."

At the north location, the O’Dells and families like them will have access to a pediatric emergency room that delivers 24/7 emergency care for children with serious illness and injuries. Families can find care close to home for pediatric pulmonology, gastroenterology, neurosciences and epilepsy care at the new medical office building on the same campus.

Talk to a doctor who listens

Regularly seeing a doctor or mental health specialist for mental and emotional health concerns can benefit your child's emotional health and overall health and well-being. If your child is experiencing changes that include concerning behavior, difficulty at school, not sleeping well, emotional stress, start by talking with your child’s pediatrician, school counselor or a pediatric mental health specialist. Your child’s doctor can help connect your family to the right care and specialists. 

If you think your child may be in a mental health crisis and may harm themselves or others, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.