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A new SwimRVA program may provide some peace of mind to parents of children with autism.
Children with the disorder are prone to wander, and that can have disastrous results. In fact, the leading cause of death in this group is drowning, according to the National Autism Association.
About 49 percent of individuals with autism will engage in wandering behavior, according to the autism society, which looked at about 600 cases from 2011-2015. In those cases, death claimed about 44 percent of children age 9 and younger. Drowning accounted for about 75 percent of the deaths that occurred in such situations overall.
That’s why SwimRVA, the nonprofit which runs the Collegiate School Aquatics Center in Chesterfield, is offering a program that provides one-on-one swimming lessons for autistic children.
It was a natural extension of one of the nonprofit’s missions, to drown-proof metro area residents, according to Deb Kelo, director of programs for SwimRVA.
“We realized we had to do something,” she said.
The program began April 5 and took about a year to develop, according to Kelo. There are about 13 children participating, with lessons given at the aquatics center. SwimRVA worked with the Autism Society of Central Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center for Excellence to develop the autism program.
"Many individuals with autism love and are drawn to water; therefore, water safety and swimming instruction are extremely important for those with autism,” said Becky Boswell, executive director for Autism Society Central Virginia.
Lessons are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays, with seven instructors available to provide a half hour of individualized training. The cost is $92 a month for one weekly lesson, or $168 for two weekly sessions. Some help may be available in paying for the lessons through the ASCV Social & Recreational Scholarship Program. Membership is monthly.
Kelo said the program is open to children through age 12, but also will take some older children. Currently, the youngest swimmer is 3 and a half, she said. One goal is to work with the children so they can participate in regular programs such as group lessons or swim teams.
The program has additional benefits, even for children who already know how to swim.
For 13-year-old Kyle Aldridge, the classes offers a chance to work on improving his technique and to get a bit of exercise, according to his mother, Holly.
Parents are encouraged to stay and watch, and the Carytown resident has been impressed with the staff’s effectiveness in working with the children.
“They did their homework and I'm really impressed with that,” she says.
Kyle has been at the pool twice a week since the program began, and enjoys it. He wants to participate in a swim competition, and will stay active in the program “for as long as we can,” says his mom. It’s something to work towards, so we are.”
Ashland resident Jennifer Mistall-Kashinejad says her son, 11-year-old Aden, is a strong swimmer, but like Kyle, needs instruction in improving his swim strokes.
“He loves the water, so anything to do with swimming or access to that is a bonus for him,” she said.
Enhancing his technique and stroke would help him get to safety in case of a mishap. She also hopes that Aden may eventually be able to be part of their neighborhood’s summer swim team.
“He’s a good swimmer, but I wanted him to learn stronger skills, “ she said.
Mistall-Kashinejad said she’s been impressed with how the instructional staff has adapted on the job. She said they had a good clinical understanding of autism going into the program, and are “doing a good job of adapting to real-life autism.”
You’d do anything for your dog or cat, but what if your pet had a medical emergency and you were unable to pay for vet care?
That situation occurs all-too-often, but a Richmond veterinarian wants to provide some help through a nonprofit to help allay costs for emergency treatment when the pet owners can’t afford it.
The Veterinary Emergency Treatment Fund has been set up by its founder and president, veterinarian Chelsea Mason. She discussed the fund and her goals for the nonprofit in an email interview:
Richmond magazine: I’d like to know a bit more of the background behind the creation of VETfund. Who came up with the idea, and what was the impetus behind it?
Chelsea Mason: VETFund was my idea, and it was inspired by my clientele. I work at Fairfield Veterinary Hospital in the east end 2-3 days per week, and we have several clients in that hospital who have fallen on hard times.
It is a constant struggle for us to try to find a middle ground between the quality of care that we would like to provide and what the owners can afford. I have only been a veterinarian for two years, and I have already seen far too many cases where animals suffer and even die from perfectly treatable conditions because their owners can't afford the care that they need.
When you are training to be a veterinarian they prepare you for the animals that you won't be able to save, but I was never prepared for the ones that I know I could have saved if I were only given the opportunity to try. These cases are the most heartbreaking things that happen in our hospitals, and one day I decided that I was going to try to put an end to them.
RM: How often does that occur in a vet practice, that you come across a pet in need of procedure that his pet parents can’t afford, so you have to put him down?
CM: I would say that it happens at least 1-2 times per month on average. I know that in the two short years that I have been in practice I have been asked three times to euthanize a puppy for a broken leg. In that situation I have referred clients to rescue organizations to relinquish the dog, contacted low cost surgery facilities on their behalf, and tried to connect them with any available resource, but I refused to euthanize.
The more common scenario lately has been puppies with parvovirus. Parvovirus is a viral infection of the small intestines that prevents the puppy from absorbing nutrients and makes them very ill. Most of these puppies would do fine if they were hospitalized with IV fluids and antibiotics as soon as they got sick, but that treatment usually runs a minimum of $300. So owners will elect at home care with oral antibiotics, and inevitably the dogs continue to get more ill until they either die at home or return to be euthanized.
RM: How will you select families that will benefit from the fund, and who’s eligible to apply?
CM: We have an application form on our website www.vet-fund.org, and owners from any veterinary hospital in the Richmond area are welcome to apply. We require that owners first apply for Care Credit, a veterinary credit card. Only owners who are denied full coverage by Care Credit will be eligible for assistance. We also limit funding specifically to animals who have a good long term prognosis with proper care. If the owner and animal meet those criteria, then Dr. White and I review the case and vote whether or not to provide funding, and how much funding to provide.
RM: Can a pet owner in need use any vet to treat their pet, or is this project tied to particular practices?
CM: One thing that I was adamant about when starting this organization was that it be available to all of the pet owners in the area, regardless of which veterinarian they use. Some individual hospitals have their own internal funds for cases like these, but I wanted to create something that was more readily available for the entire community to contribute to and to benefit from. I have reached out to most of the practices in the area to let them know that this fund is an option for their clients, and any hospitals who also choose to collect donations on our behalf will be listed as partnering hospitals on our website.
RM: Do you have any fundraising goals in mind?
CM: My goal is to reach $12,000 for our first year. That amount would give us the ability to help at least two families per month.
RM: Where can readers send donations?
CM: The easiest way to donate is to visit www.vet-fund.org and click the donate button at the top of the page. We will also be setting up donation jars at Fairfield Veterinary Hospital, Winterfield Veterinary Hospital, and The Vino Market.
RM: What fundraisers do you have lined up?
CM: From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. June 2, the Vino Market in Midlothian will be hosting a wine tasting on our behalf. The tasting will be free, but 10 percent of the purchase price of all bottles sold during the tasting will be donated to VETFund.
During the entire month of July, Wild Ginger in Midlothian will be offering a sushi roll on our behalf, and $2 will be donated to VETFund for each roll ordered.
July 16th-17th we will be collecting donations and raffling off a gift basket at the Richmond Pet Expo.
I have been in contact with several local businesses about different fundraising events, and I am toying with the idea of hosting a food/wine festival toward the end of the summer. The biggest hurdle right now is that I am pretty much planning and executing everything on my own at this point, and investing my own money into advertising, event fees, etc. So the more donations and sponsors that we get, the more events we will be able to do and the greater impact we will be able to have.
RM: What’s the takeaway here?
CM: Many of the readers will never know the agony of having to choose between feeding your family and saving your friend, and many probably don't even realize that it happens as frequently as it does. What I hope readers take away from this is that it does happen, and that there is no reason for these poor animals to suffer. They didn't do anything wrong. They do the same things that many of our own animals do: eat things that they aren't supposed to, chase cars, or play with dogs in the park that haven't had their vaccines. But for them, these innocent mistakes may be fatal if we don't come together to help them.
A Conversation Starter
About one in five children are coping with mental health issues, and yet we’re often unwilling to openly discuss the issue. The Beacon Tree Foundation wants to change that.
To that end, it’s sponsoring Trees of Hope, which begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 6, at the Round House at Byrd Park. The event is presented with the Advisory Council of the Virginia Treatment Center for Children and donations benefit the Children’s Mental Health Resource Center.
“Our main priority is to get the community together and create awareness and challenge the stigma on mental illness and get the conversation started,” said the foundation’s media liaison, Jo-Elsa Jordan.
It will begin with a reception in the Round House, and will be followed with a program in the Trees of Hope meditation garden east of the facility.
The keynote speaker is Margaret Nimmo Crowe, executive director of Voices for Virginia’s Children. Community mental health advocate Martha Estes Grover will be presented with the Virginia Treatment Center for Children’s SOAR award.
The evening will include music by RAMifications a cappella group, Sophia Nadder, Hunter Zupo, Mia Stringer, Mary Munford Elementary School students and Nels Yehnert. Greg McQuade of WVTR-TV (Channel 6) is emcee for the evening.
The Children’s Mental Health Resources Center offers information and other resources regarding mental health care for children.
The event is free and open to the public. It’s Kentucky Derby weekend, so Derby attire (capris, sun dresses, khakis and polos, etc.) is recommended.
New CEO for Bon Secours Virginia
Toni R. Ardabell has been tabbed as chief executive officer for Bon Secours Health System’s Virginia region.
Ardabell also will continue to serve as CEO of Bon Secours Richmond, a post she’s held since January 2015. She will assume duties overseeing the Virginia region on May 1. She will be responsible for eight acute-care hospitals in Richmond and Hampton Roads in a $2.1 billion health system, according to a release.
The facilities include St. Mary’s Hospital, Memorial Regional Medical Center, Richmond Community Hospital, St. Francis Medical Center and Rappahannock General in the Richmond market, and DePaul Medical Center, Maryview Medical Center and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Hampton Roads.
Ardabell is chair of the American Heart Association’s regional board of directors and serves with the Heart Association’s Mid-Atlantic affiliate board. She also serves on the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association board, Venture Richmond and the Bon Secours Healthcare Foundation board, according to the release. She was honored this year as the YWCA’s 2016 Outstanding Woman of the Year for Health and Science.
A Pennsylvania native, she has worked with Bon Secours since 2008, with six years as CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital. She earned a bachelor’s in nursing from Penn State University, a masters in nursing from Catholic University of America, and a master’s in business administration from Marymount University.
Storm Drain Art
The city of Richmond wants to raise awareness of stormwater runoff and its impact on the health of the James River through artwork.
The city’s public utilities department is seeking five artists to create works on five storm drain covers that illustrate the importance of keeping the river, and our drinking water, clean. The drains are on Tredegar Street from the Civil War Center on Tredegar to Browns Island.
The competition is open to artists 18 and older. Designs may be submitted online by 11:59 p.m. on May 30 and will be reviewed by judges from the Richmond Public Art Commission, according to a release. Rules are available here. Richmond residents will vote on their favorite designs through social media and selected artists will receive a $300 stipend.
“The Storm Drain Art Project will bring an artistic, creative element to a key facet of our watershed management plan, as a means to make citizens aware of the importance of clean water,” said Robert Steidel the city’s utilities department director.
Administrative change at Virginia Care Partners
Amy Smith has been tabbed as vice president for clinical integration for Virginia Care Partners.
“Amy has extensive experience working collaboratively with physician practices to help them re-
engineer their operations where needed giving providers more time to focus on accessible, coordinated, high-quality care for their patients,” said Dr. Glenn Giessel, chair of the board of managers for Virginia Care. “Under her leadership, our network can be successful in improving the health status and satisfaction of our patients,” he said in a release.
Smith worked with Anthem since 2012 as a provider clinical liaison and senior patient-centered care consultant. Past duties include senior case manager with Anthem, and as a nurse for Southside Regional Medical Center in Petersburg.
Virginia Care Partners is a clinical integration network.