A Pediatrician-Approved Checklist for Teens Heading Off to College

By Peter Schoettler, pediatric resident at CHOC Children’s

Going off to college, or back for another semester, is an exciting time for teenagers, and for many this is their first experience with true independence. For many adolescents, this will be the first time they are managing their health care on their own! Preparation can help ensure a smooth transition for those leaving home. Preparing your teen will help them access the best care when needed. Here are some tips to make the transition to college successful.

  • Review health insurance needs with your teen. They may need to sign up for their college’s health plan or still utilize your family’s health insurance. Be sure to provide them with a copy of their insurance card, as well as the contact information for their prior doctor.
  • Make sure they have a complete list of all medications that they take, including over-the-counter medications, as sometimes these can react with new prescriptions.
  • Having a list of chronic medical conditions is essential, as well as a list of any specialists that your teen sees. Your teen needs to be knowledgeable about any significant illnesses or surgeries they have had in the past.
  • This is a great time to review your entire family’s health history, and discuss how healthy lifestyle choices can prevent many chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, liver and heart disease.
  • Always have an extra copy of your immunization record! It will likely be required for college entry, but it’s also good for you and your teen to be familiar with the vaccines they have received in the past. Common vaccines needed before college include meningitis, tetanus and pertussis. Speak to your teen and their pediatrician about the HPV vaccine. Also remind them to get a flu shot every year. If you are planning on studying abroad, contact your physician or your school’s travel health center prior to traveling to other countries as many countries have illnesses not seen in the US and require extra vaccines.
  • Have an open and honest dialogue about complex issues they may face related to drugs, alcohol, and sex. Be aware of potential warning signs of alcohol and drug abuse in teens. These vices become more accessible away from home, and having clear expectations with your teen is important. Continue to have conversations about peer pressures, good decisions, and consequences. Identify on-campus resources for reproductive healthcare and mental health.

Once your teen is settled into college, keep in touch with them as they transition into their new routine and responsibilities. It is common for adolescents to experience feeling sad or homesick. However, if these feelings persist for more than two weeks, it is essential to seek out help. Learn how to start the conversation about mental health. Each college should have specially trained counselors who are there to provide help and support. By acknowledging these issues before they arise, your teen is more likely to come to you for help if it is needed.

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Keeping Little Ones Safe This Holiday Season

The holiday season can be one of the busiest times of year for families. Keeping these safety tips from CHOC’s community educators in mind can help ensure your family stays safe while partaking in all the fun and festive experiences the season has to offer.

holiday safety tips for kids

Related posts:

  • Dealing with Food Allergies Around the Holidays
    The holiday season is a festive time, but can present unique challenges for children with food allergies and their parents. We spoke to Vanessa Chrisman, a clinical pediatric dietitian at ...
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Combating Wintertime Dry Hands in Kids

When the temperatures drop, the wind swells and the house’s heater gets cranked up each winter, dry and cracked hands are an unfortunate and common side effect in children and adults alike.

“The cold air is more drying and wind is also more drying. And then add forced-air heating, and that will dry skin out even more,” CHOC Children’s pediatrician Dr. Angela Dangvu says.

While parents can’t do much to control the weather, they can take a few steps to help protect tiny hands against dryness.

Choose soap carefully

Start by using a moisturizing hand soap. Frequent hand washing, which is critical during winter viral season, compounds the problem by the further dehydrating the skin, Dr. Dangvu says.

Look for soaps that more resemble a lotion than a traditional soap and have words like “moisturizing” or “conditioning” on the label. Avoid antibacterial or deodorant soaps.

Also, hand sanitizer gel is an effective way to clean hands that is less drying than a soap-and-water method. However, children with the beginnings of dry skin should avoid gel as its alcohol content can sting, Dr. Dangvu cautions.

Creams, not lotions

As a preventative measure, parents can apply moisturizer to their child’s hands after hand-washing or bath time. Look for products described as creams rather than as lotions: These are richer and have more staying power than thinner products like baby lotions, Dr. Dangvu says.

“They tend to stay on and be a better moisture barrier,” she says. “Parents should use them right after children wash their hands. If skin is still a little moist, the cream will trap that moisture. Apply it after bath time too.”

A three-step approach

If a child’s little hands still become dry, Dr. Dangvu recommends a three-step approach:

  1. Start by regularly applying cream to the hands.
  2. If dryness doesn’t improve after a few days, move on to a petroleum-based ointment. Parents can intensify the therapy by applying ointment to hands before bed, and asking children to wear cotton gloves or even socks over their hands to lock in moisture while they sleep.
  3. If the condition doesn’t change after a few more days, parents can try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

If these steps don’t yield improvement, it’s time to take children to the pediatrician to rule out a bacterial infection or other condition, Dr. Dangvu says.

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Meet the New Generation of CHOC Champions

CHOC Champions is a group of young industry professionals in Orange County who work to leverage their unique skillsets in order to create a profound impact on the lives of children in our community being treated at CHOC Children’s. This new generation of Southern California philanthropists is working to provide a brighter future for today’s children. Today, meet Karen, a CHOC Champion who got involved after her sister was treated at CHOC.

choc champion
Karen, a CHOC Champion, got involved after her sister was treated at CHOC.

What is your professional background?

I received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. I’m an Assistant Property Manager at LBA Realty. I sort of fell into property management in college, but I’ve been with LBA for about two and a half years now, and love that every day brings a new challenge, and I am always learning something new.

Why did you decide to become a CHOC Champion?

My personal ties to CHOC were minimal until last year when my sister was treated at the Hyundai Cancer Institute. As she was in and out of the hospital for nearly a year, CHOC became a second home for us, and I truly felt that CHOC’s care extended to our whole family – not just my sister. I will forever be grateful for the love and compassion we were shown, so becoming a CHOC Champion was an obvious choice for me to support the foundation and ensure that all families that come through CHOC’s doors in the future feel the same love and compassion I felt as a sibling through my sister’s treatment.

What are you most looking forward to doing as part of this unique program?
Throughout my sister’s treatment, our family was on the receiving end of all the incredible programs at CHOC, from Seacrest Studios and a child life specialist who became a friend and confidante, to the holiday parties and therapy dog visits. Now that she is healthy and off in college, I can dedicate time and energy to CHOC Champions and hopefully give back just a fraction of the support I experienced as a family member. I am excited to be a part of this group from the beginning, and to have the opportunity to volunteer my time and raise money to support the programs that helped my family so tremendously in our time of need.

What have you enjoyed most about being a CHOC Champion so far?

At our first event, seeing a room full of young professionals willing to take time out of their days to help children they may not even know was inspiring. I felt so privileged to speak with others that care so much about the children in our community that they too are willing to spend time and money championing for them.

What would you say to encourage others to become Champions?

We have the unique privilege as young professionals with this new organization to bring our talents together and raise money for CHOC. We get to directly impact the lives of the children being treated at the hospital, where even the smallest of gestures can mean the world. Simple things, like decorating a playroom – a place where these children can escape from their hospital beds and be normal even just for a few minutes – bring so much joy to these children. And in the midst of tough times, a quick smile from a child can make any day a little brighter.

Why do you think it’s important for our community to be home to a children’s hospital?

The care required for sick children looks drastically different than the care required for sick adults. Because of this, having a hospital that caters exclusively to the needs of our community’s children is imperative to their successful treatment, recovery and survivorship. Having witnessed the child life specialists at work bringing normal childhood activities to these children so that they can still hit developmental milestones, I can say without question that supporting our local children’s hospital is an important cause and one very close to my heart. After all, there’s no telling what these children will accomplish as they grow up and thrive.

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Dealing with Food Allergies Around the Holidays

The holiday season is a festive time, but can present unique challenges for children with food allergies and their parents. We spoke to Vanessa Chrisman, a clinical pediatric dietitian at CHOC Children’s, who has advice for parents on navigating a season often filled with parties and treats while managing their child’s dietary restrictions.

What are some of the most common food allergies/dietary restrictions that children face?

The most common food allergies that children face include: wheat, dairy, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish. They are known as the top eight, as these foods account for 90 percent of all allergic reactions to food. The severity of an allergic reaction really varies from one child to the next. An example of a mild reaction would be a small rash on one hand that goes away in a couple hours. A more severe reaction could involve swelling of the face, vomiting and diarrhea, and/or coughing or wheezing. Severe reactions can be life-threatening.

How does suffering from food allergies complicate festive occasions such as holiday celebrations?

Children with food allergies often are restricted from eating the foods that are offered at holiday parties. As a result, these children may feel like they are missing out or being punished for having food allergies. To help ease this problem, parents need to be proactive and plan ahead when it comes to approaching holiday parties and meals. Bringing allergen-safe food along to parties or preparing special baked good for the child with food allergies are two examples of how to deal with this.

What can parents do in their own home to accommodate dietary restrictions that one child faces, when there are other children in the home without that allergy or restriction?

Depending on the food allergen, parents can decide whether or not they will keep food allergens out of the home or not. Labeling areas as safe zones (allergen-free) both in the pantry and the refrigerator is helpful. Keeping unsafe foods tucked away and stored in air-tight containers is also advised. Everyone in the family should learn how to read food labels and ingredient lists. To prevent the transfer of food allergens, all family members should wash their hands before and after eating. Practicing safe food preparation is important for avoiding cross-contamination. Counters and tables should be scrubbed down before and after meals. When eating or serving food use separate utensils that have not come into contact with allergens. Parents can educate their children on food allergies, as well as the importance of keeping food allergens away from the child who is allergic.

How can parents accommodate their child’s allergies when partaking in festive events outside the home?

Parents should talk to their child’s teacher and school nurse at the beginning of each school year so they can be prepared for any celebrations at school where food is involved. When their child is going to a birthday party or to a friend’s house, parents need to talk with the parents who will be watching over their child. Explain your child’s food allergy, what foods to avoid, what symptoms to look for, what specific foods are safe to give and how to practice safe food handling. Parents can also send their child with special “safe foods” to be consumed when outside the home. For those with a prescription for an epinephrine injection for anaphylaxis, ensure your child has it with them at all times and that other care providers know how to administer it.

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Meet Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek

CHOC Children’s wants its patients and families to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist who has been on staff at CHOC for five years. Dr.  Piroutek graduated from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency at CHOC Children’s and a pediatric emergency medicine fellowship at Loma Linda University Medical Center. She’s also an assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine at Loma Linda University.

Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek
Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek

Q: What are your special clinical interests?

A:  I am especially interested in pediatric trauma, environmental injuries, and endocrine emergencies.

Q: What are some new programs or developments within your specialty?

A:  CHOC’s emergency department became a level II pediatric trauma center in 2015. We are the only trauma center in Orange County dedicated exclusively to kids. Or trauma team consists of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, radiology technicians, respiratory therapists, social workers, child life, and a hospital chaplain.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?

A:  Abdominal pain (from gastroenteritis to appendicitis), seizures, traumatic injuries (lacerations, closed head injuries, fractured arms and legs), and respiratory illnesses (bronchiolitis, asthma, and pneumonia).

Q: What would you most like patients and families to know about you or your division at CHOC?

A:  At CHOC, our emergency department is staffed with fellowship-trained pediatric emergency medicine specialists. Our dual training makes us especially knowledgeable and skilled in caring for your child during their visit. CHOC Children’s is the only emergency department in Orange County that exclusively treats children. Treating children in an environment created especially for them makes what could be a scary experience into something more enjoyable.

Q:  What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC? 

A:  CHOC delivers the highest level of pediatric care while embracing and caring for the entire family.

Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor? 

A:  In high school I volunteered in a community hospital in the labor and delivery unit. I really enjoyed being part of a family’s joyous occasion. In college I volunteered in the emergency department and marveled at the fast pace, acuity and unpredictably of what the next patient’s case would bring. My academic love for science and solving problems made becoming a physician a very natural fit.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?

A:  I honestly don’t know. Once I decided that I wanted to be a doctor, I never really considered anything else. I put all of my energy and focus into medicine.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?

A:  I like spending time with family and friends and traveling. I am also an avid Anaheim Ducks hockey fan.

Q: What have you learned from your patients? 

A:  Children are brave and have a remarkable capacity for resilience. This is evident in the child that sustains a broken leg playing soccer and is unafraid and eager to play again. Or the teenage cancer patient that is most concerned about how their family is being affected by and is dealing with their illness. My patients are humbling and help me to be a better person.

Q: What was the funniest thing a patient told you?

A:  Kids say funny things all the time. One of my favorites was a little 4 year old girl that had ingested coins and they were stuck in her esophagus. When I asked her what happened she shrugged her shoulder and with a mischievous look in her eyes said, “I ate the money, I’m not supposed to eat the money.”  Also recently a patient told me I looked like Snow White (which I don’t) and she called me Dr. Snow White the whole time I took care of her.

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CHOC Toy Drive December 17

Community members wishing to spread holiday cheer to CHOC Children’s patients and families are invited to participate in CHOC’s annual toy drive. The event will be held Saturday, Dec. 17 from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. outside our employee parking structure, located at 557 S. Main St. in Orange.

Due to limited storage space, gift cards are encouraged, to places such as: Target, Toys “R” Us, Wal-Mart, Michael’s and Amazon.  Visa gift cards are also appreciated, as are grocery store or gas station gift cards that can be distributed to families in need. Gift cards allow trained child life specialists to hand-select toys, games and activities that best meet the needs of our patients.

Those wishing to donate toys are encouraged to view our wish list prior to the toy drive and choose from items our child life specialists find most appropriate and popular among our diverse family and patient population. Donors are encouraged to sort and box their gifts before delivery.

“We do everything we can to make this time of year very special and festive for our patients who have to spend the holidays in the hospital,” says Stephanie Chami, manager of CHOC’s child life department. “Every day of the year, child life specialists strive to normalize the hospital experience for kids and teens, and these gifts are just one way we keep patients encouraged and engaged.”

Community members unable to participate in the toy drive can view the hospital’s wish list via our Amazon registry by searching Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Donations will be shipped directly to CHOC. During the month of December we are unable to accept donations in the main hospital lobby.

Due to infection control guidelines, all donated items must be new. We are unfortunately not able to accept used toys, handmade items or stuffed animals.

Related posts:

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  • Dealing with Food Allergies Around the Holidays
    The holiday season is a festive time, but can present unique challenges for children with food allergies and their parents. We spoke to Vanessa Chrisman, a clinical pediatric dietitian at ...
  • Tis the Season for Healthy Holiday Eating
    By Lindsay Rypkema, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s The holidays are a time filled with family, friends and food. It is important for parents to model good eating habits as well ...

Tis the Season for Healthy Holiday Eating

By Lindsay Rypkema, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

The holidays are a time filled with family, friends and food. It is important for parents to model good eating habits as well as provide healthful meals and snacks in a season often filled with overindulgence. Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to forgo all the holiday goodies your family loves, but small modifications can make a big impact. Below are some tips for healthy holiday eating.

  • Snack before you go: Never attend a holiday party hungry! To avoid overeating, consume a light snack at home such as vegetables and hummus or Greek yogurt and fruit. Protein and fiber will keep you full longer.
  • Prepare balanced meals: Choose one item from every food group. Limit the dessert options and always have fresh fruit and vegetables available.
  • Limit sugary drinks: Instead of cider, juice and soda, try infusing water with seasonal fresh fruit such as pomegranate, cranberries or blood orange. Wash fruit, slice and add to water pitcher. You can also use cookie cutters to make holiday shapes.
  • Limit sugar in baking: Baking is a fun holiday tradition but can result in excess calorie and sugar intake. Decrease sugar by 50 percent and add other spices such as vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg for added flavor. Try replacing the recommended oil with unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana in a 1:1 ratio to decrease calories. This works well in cakes, muffins and breads.
  • Try making a visual and healthy treat: Healthy snacks and desserts don’t have to be boring. For example, you can make a candy cane out of banana and strawberries. Pinterest has some great ideas to make a Santa out of strawberries or a Grinch out of grapes.
  • Get a jump start on your family’s resolutions: Don’t wait until the New Year to increase physical activity. Take a walk or play flag football after your holiday meal. Exercise is an important part of healthy living.
  • Consider simple swaps: Side dishes such as mashed potatoes and stuffing are often a family favorite but can be very high in calories and tempting to overeat. Try offering quinoa in place of stuffing for a healthy, high protein option. Consider using plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream for added protein. You can also make mashed potatoes out of cauliflower. Try this easy recipe this season:

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

2 head cauliflower, cut into florets

2 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

2  tablespoons reduced – fat cream cheese

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

*Salt and pepper to taste


Steam or boil cauliflower until tender. Mix olive oil, Parmesan, cream cheese, & garlic powder in bowl. Use food processor to blend cauliflower on high. Slowly add your oil/cheese mixture until completely blended. Salt and pepper to taste.

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How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently lifted their rule on no screen time for kids under the age of two. Given advances in technology, media is everywhere these days- it’s hard for kids to not get enthralled by a TV, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

“The new guidelines reflect a shift in focus to include not only what is on the screen but also the involvement of the live person in the room to interact in the media experience,” Dr. Katherine Williamson, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, says. Though the AAP says it’s still best for babies less than 18 months to avoid screen time, live video chat is an exception. While babies under 18 months are too young to understand what they are seeing on media screens, some research has shown that babies as young as six months can emotionally engage and interact with a loved one on FaceTime or Skype, for example.

But how you know how much screen time is healthy for your child?

how much screen time
The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines on how much screen time is appropriate for children.

The AAP recommends creating a family media use plan to help your family establish a purpose to consuming media, create healthy habits for screen time, and stay on track with goals.

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CHOC Named One of the Safest Hospitals in the Nation

CHOC Children’s Hospital has once again been named a “Top Hospital” by The Leapfrog Group for providing the safest and highest quality health care services to patients.  CHOC is one of only nine children’s hospitals in the nation—and the only one on the West Coast— to earn the prestigious distinction.

leapfrog award

“CHOC is committed to becoming the world’s safest children’s hospital. While this is a never-ending journey, being named as a Top Children’s Hospital for the eighth time by the Leapfrog Group suggests we are on the right track. Leapfrog has always emphasized patient safety as the top priority, one with which our patients, families and partners would no doubt agree. It’s a humbling honor, and serves as both encouragement and motivation to continue our efforts to provide the safest, highest quality care possible,” said Dr. James Cappon, chief quality officer, CHOC.

The selection of Top Hospitals is based on the results of the 2016 Leapfrog Hospital Survey. Performance across many areas of hospital care is considered in establishing the qualifications for the award, including infection rates and a hospital’s ability to prevent medication errors. The rigorous standards are defined in each year’s Top Hospital Methodology.

“Being acknowledged as a Top Hospital is an incredible feat achieved by less than three percent of hospitals nationwide,” said Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group. “With this honor, CHOC has established its commitment to safer and higher quality care. Providing this level of care to patients requires motivation and drive from every team member. I congratulate CHOC’s board, staff and clinicians, whose efforts made this honor possible.”

To see the full list of institutions honored as 2016 Top Hospitals, please visit www.leapfroggroup.org/tophospitals.

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