Kids Helping Kids With Medical Research Studies

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The adolescent stage my oldest is going through has had its fair share of challenges but I wouldn’t change it for anything after our rough start. It was thirteen years ago this April when my daughter arrived, two months too soon. It wasn’t the introduction into motherhood I had anticipated but thanks to the care we received from our city’s excellent medical staff she is now that amazing thirteen year old, giving me grief over phone time, clothes and friends.

I know as Canadians our healthcare system is funded through our taxes but I also believe we can help build a stronger medical system beyond monetary means. It’s for this reason I choose a family doctor connected to a teaching hospital when I moved to this city, the same doctor who now sees every member of my family.

It sometimes means I’m the subject of student questions and examinations. My third caesarian section was performed in front of a small audience.

Recently my own two daughters volunteered their time to help a research team at SickKids, the Hospital for Sick Children. The research project: “Typical and atypical development of frontal lobe systems and the maturation of social cognitive function”.

Basically they were studying ways to better understand the human brain and how it works when performing certain tasks important for social behaviour, comparing preterm children to full term children.

“By examining the magnetic fields emitted from the brain, and active regions in the brain when people perform different tasks using pictures of objects and faces, we can find out how the brain processes these different types of stimuli. This information will help us understand how the brain and brain activity change with age, which in turn can help us understand the impact of preterm birth on the development of social and cognitive abilities throughout childhood.”

My oldest, born at 32 weeks, fit into the preterm category and my youngest opted to participate in the healthy control group.

Additional Reading: Premature Birth. A Mother’s Story

The study was scheduled to last about 4 hours and included tests in the Magnetoencephalography (MEG) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) suites, as well as some pencil to paper problem solving questions.

The research staff at SickKids was great, emailing me a little e-book to help explain the process involved with doing an MRI (as none of my children have had one before). On the day of our session one of the team members met us in the atrium of the Children’s Hospital for Sick Kids and walked us to the research room. I had prepared my two girls ahead of time what to expect but the team did a great job going over the details of the day’s activities and were open to answering any questions. They made sure to schedule the girls’ activities so they were both busy during our visit, using everyone’s time efficiently.

Sick Kids Medical Research Instructions

Both girls changed into hospital scrubs, a requirement for the MRI. While one daughter was set-up for her MEG test, the other went into an alcove for some pencil to paper problem solving questions. As a parent I never felt excluded (though some areas I wasn’t allowed to enter due to the technology). I was involved with the briefing sessions and was free to ask questions. The staff was very accommodating.

Fortunately the MEG and paper tests were held within the same room of the hospital but the MRI was down the hall. This did mean I had to leave one of my girls alone at a stage but they were fine. The hardest part for both the MEG and the MRI was the requirement to not move during the procedure. The MEG had the kids participate in what looked like a computer game, responding to questions as quickly as they could, remembering objects for short periods of time. Before being hooked up (there were a number of monitoring cables) a demo of the activity was explained to the girls so they knew what to expect.

Sick Kids Medical Research MEG1

Sick Kids Medical Research MEG4

The MRI process was taking scans of their brain so the girls each chose a DVD to watch through what looked like virtual reality goggles while laying still in the machine’s table. The staff went through the whole processes, explaining the machine, the sounds, and what was happening at each stage so my girls never felt overwhelmed or frightened. Being an onlooker I can see how the MRI machine could be intimidating.

Sick Kids Medical Research MRI1

Sick Kids Medical Research MRI2

Sick Kids Medical Research MRI5

It wasn’t just the girls who were tested. Okay, I wasn’t really part of the test but the number of questionnaires I had to answer, for each girl, filled most of my time during the session. They were all multiple choice and some questions were asked multiple times but worded differently. The questions were just to get a sense of my children’s behaviour during certain situations and circumstances. Of course I agonized over each answer, deliberating the best choice. I’m like that when it comes to these types of tests. It must be the Libra in me.

Sick Kids Medical Research Questionnaire

The day was long but my two girls were amazing. The staff gave us an hour break for lunch, covering our meal within the hospital food court. They even covered our transit costs (or parking if we drove). The girls participated for the experience and to help since they fit within the test requirements. They were surprised and thrilled when they were also given a small fee for their time as well as a Chapters-Indigo gift card (which of course they used as soon as we left the hospital). They also received a digital copy of their brain scan based on a colour choice. What a great takeaway from an interesting experience.

Additional Reading: 4 Lessons Parents Can Learn from We Day

Of course we won’t learn the results of our participation in the research but the girls felt great participating (the monetary gift and recorded volunteer hours were a bonus). It also helped to reinforce that hospitals and their medical staff aren’t scary but rather they are there to help. After their experience, my daughter’s even agreed to sign-up to participate in future research projects should there be something relevant.

Sick Kids Medical Research Brain Scan1

Sick Kids Medical Research Brain Scan2

If your children is looking to gain volunteer hours or just wants to help The Hospital for Sick Children with medical research there is a website available that lists all the clinical research studies https://research4kids.research.sickkids.ca/findaclinicalresearchstudy

Some studies are looking for children with specific conditions, like my daughter’s premature delivery, while others are looking for healthy control volunteers. You can also check your local children’s hospital under their volunteer section to see if they have a similar service.

Thankfully my children are healthy but hopefully their participation will help other children. It’s not just adults who can make a difference in the world.

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