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An Austin school and state-of-the-art clinic unite to meet the needs of medically fragile children

Kim and Chad Johnson sit with their 17-year-old son Blake during the grand opening of Dell Children's Comprehensive Care Clinic on Aug. 11.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Kimberly and Chad Johnson sit with their 17-year-old son Blake during the grand opening of Dell Children's Comprehensive Care Clinic on Aug. 11.

Seventeen-year-old Blake Johnson attends Rosedale School, an Austin ISD school built to care for children with complex medical needs. Johnson, who uses a wheelchair, has cerebral palsy and autism and is blind and nonverbal. He is one of more than 100 children at the school aged 3 to 22 whose days are filled with attending classes while managing their multiple health conditions.

Kimberly Johnson, Blake’s mother, is grateful that her son has been able to attend a school that understands his medical needs but says school is just one piece of the puzzle when caring for a child with medical complexities.

“I had to quit my job. I’m his primary caregiver,” Johnson said. “For every system of his body, we see a different specialist.”

Navigating between seven specialists, physical therapy and a host of other caretakers is not easy. Kimberly and her husband have been advocating for a way to make this better for themselves and other families. And as the new school year kicks off, their almost decade-long dream is being realized. Dell Children’s Medical Center has opened a comprehensive clinic on Rosedale’s campus.

This means most of the students who attend can see practitioners like neurologists, ophthalmologists, social workers and nurses in a much more seamless way without missing a lot of school.

Dr. Rahel Berhane, medical director of Dell Children’s Comprehensive Care Clinic, has been a longtime advocate of this union. Berhane has watched Dell Children’s Comprehensive Care Clinic evolve with the first location in 2012 that started with two makeshift exam rooms to what she says is finally a clinic that is designed for her patients’ and families’ physical and logistical needs.

“We get to witness the day-to-day reality of our families,” Berhane said. “We watch them struggle sometimes to move a single muscle group, to communicate a single thought, to even breathe.”

An exam room that allows for minor treatments is pictured at Dell Children's Hospital's new clinic for special needs children on Aug. 11, 2022, in Austin. Michael Minasi / KUT News
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
An exam room that allows for minor treatments at Dell Children's new clinic at Rosedale School in Austin.

The new clinic replaces the previous location off I-35, and in addition to serving many Rosedale students, it will continue to serve its nearly 850 other patients.

The new clinic takes into consideration that many patients find noise and certain lighting to be disturbing. To accommodate sensory triggers, the clinic has a padded wall that looks like a xylophone and plays soothing sounds adjacent to the waiting room. In the procedure room, there's a long tube that has bubbles that change color and disperses aromatherapy. The exam rooms are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and multiple caregivers.

“Rosedale is one of the first public schools in the nation with a full-service clinic like this,” Anthony Mays, interim superintendent for Austin ISD, said during a ribbon-cutting event celebrating the opening on Thursday.

Rosedale’s Principal Elizabeth Dickey said not only is this partnership groundbreaking, but it will dramatically reduce the amount of time her students spend traveling to doctors and give them more time to be at school and enjoy just being kids.

“This is a dream that we didn’t know if we could dream,” Dickey said. “There is a higher quality of life that’s going to happen for kids everywhere because of this partnership.”

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Seema Mathur is the health reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at smathur@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @SeemaGVP.
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