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HEROES Provides Family Tools for a Lifetime of Health

Braydee Carlson's weight was spiraling out of control. At 15 years old, she was 4 foot, 11 inches and tipping the scale at 245 pounds. For quite some time, she had been on a dangerous path of gaining approximately 25 pounds a year. She was already flagged as pre-diabetic, suffered from sleep apnea and had congenital heart problems as well.

Her mother, Julie Carlson, was running out of ideas. It seemed that no matter what they did, Braydee's weight continued to climb. Many of Braydee's problems stemmed from the fact that she was a special needs child. At a young age, she was diagnosed with chromosome 1P36 deletion, a condition that carries many of the same characteristics of Down's syndrome and autism. Braydee's metabolism was slower than the average person's. She had physical restrictions that made it difficult for her to run, maintain her balance and do many of the things most teens take for granted. She also suffered from a speech impediment as well as behavioral problems.

"We were very concerned about her health," says Julie. "We were trying everything possible to try to get her to lose weight - diet changes, PE during school, after school activities, but nothing was helping."

For most of Braydee's life, the Carlson's had put her health in the hands of the staff at Children's Hospital & Medical Center. Braydee had grown to love the staff there. So when a staff member suggested that they try the Healthy Eating with Resources, Options and Everyday Strategies (HEROES) program, Julie listened. "I was concerned about whether it would work because of Braydee's special needs, but they assured me they would accommodate Braydee in every way possible," says Julie.

The HEROES program is a medical-directed, multi-disciplinary program designed to address childhood obesity in children ranging in ages from 5 to 18-years-old. It is the only obesity treatment program in the region designed specifically for the pediatric population. The six-month program combines medical management, nutrition, behavior modification, fitness and behavioral health therapy to provide immediate and long-term management of a child's obesity problem to help prevent a lifetime of health complications for these children. To qualify, patients must be referred by their physician and must meet certain medical requirements.

Mary Jane Hawkins, RN, BSN, CPN, a clinic nurse for HEROES, says that as many as 10 percent of their patients have special needs. "We don't discriminate against any children, " she says.

"When Braydee started the program, our primary goal was simply to see Braydee not gain another 25 pounds this year, " says Julie. "If we achieved that, we would consider the program a success."

The Carlson's started the program in November and by April Braydee had lost almost 12 pounds. "We couldn't believe it," says Julie. "We couldn't be happier." For the first 12 weeks, Julie also attended weekly nutrition and behavior classes taught by the HEROES staff. "I learned so much from these classes," says Julie. "They were really eye-opening. And what's really great is that I have been able to apply what I have learned from the classes to our whole family. We're all eating better and Braydee is more compliant about following through with the program."

Julie says they have cut out sugary drinks like pop and they are drinking more water. They have also decreased chips and other junk food in their diet and are eating more fruits and vegetables.

When Braydee started the program, the pre-clinic evaluation also revealed that Braydee was pre-diabetic and vitamin D deficient. Her April visit revealed that Braydee's hemoglobin A1C (a measurement used to gauge a person's blood sugar levels over a three-month period) dropped to a normal level, removing her from the high-risk range, and her vitamin D level rose from 17 ng/mL to 50 ng/mL. Additionally, her body mass index (BMI) also dropped.

Braydee has also experienced physical gains. She is stronger, her coordination and energy level has improved and she feels better. "We are really happy with the progress Braydee has made, " says Hawkins. "Braydee has always been an active participant. She is always smiling and really seems to enjoy coming."

And as a side benefit, both of Braydee's parents have also lost weight and are exercising more regularly. "HEROES has done a great job for all of us," says Julie. "It's been a very eye-opening experience for us. We are all so much more health-conscious."

The HEROES staff has agreed to allow the Carlsons to continue fitness class for another three months past the six-month program and will work on helping the family transition to their own exercise routine beyond HEROES and through other community resources.

"Our goal is to provide them the tools they need to practice the healthy lifestyle habits they have learned here throughout the rest of their lives," says Hawkins.