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Packard Children's poster girl grows up

Caitlin Burns and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital go way back. Now 16, Caitlin has been treated at Packard since infancy for an immune deficiency and for pseudo-obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, a life-threatening condition that prevents the normal movement of food through her intestines. That means she has been a part of life at Packard Children's for three-quarters of its history.

It's not just her frequent visits to the hospital that make her a familiar face at Packard, though. “Caitlin’s poster is plastered everywhere at the Hospital,” says Packard pediatrician Carol Conrad, MD. “I often point to Caitlin’s poster and tell people, ‘See her? I know her!’”

But Caitlin is more than a smiling poster child. She's also a perfect example of Packard’s commitment to family-centered care.

“Caitlin has had amazing doctors and nurses,” says her mom, Kelly. “Their whole approach is, how can we make the hospital experience more normal for the child and family?”

During her 15 years as a patient, Caitlin has been treated by specialists in surgery, immunology, gastroenterology, pulmonary medicine, endocrinology, genetics and nutrition. She continues to visit Packard every three weeks for six-hour infusion therapies to treat her immune deficiency - an essential treatment that she will need well into adulthood.

In the face of Caitlin's ongoing medical needs, making life feel more normal was sometimes difficult. But Packard Children's succeeded – for instance, by enrolling Caitlin as one of the first kids in the hospital's animal-assisted therapy program when it launched in 2003. Caitlin's regular visits from an American bulldog named B.J. helped her relax and feel less anxiety during her time at the hospital. She enjoyed B.J.'s visits so much, in fact, that her family soon got their own dog, a Shih-Tzu they named Lulu in honor of the hospital.

Now finishing her sophomore year in high school, Caitlin gets good grades and enjoys jazz dancing and ballet. Her condition is manageable and her prognosis is good. She’s looking forward to college and, eventually, culinary school.

Photo of Caitlin by Ana Homonnay Photography, provided courtesy of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which opened its doors on June 10, 1991. Each Friday in June, we’ll take a look at the hospital’s first two decades.

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