Spreading Holiday Joy to Pediatric Patients Just in the [St.] Nick of Time for Christmas

Spreading Holiday Joy to Pediatric Patients Just in the St Nick of Time for Christmas

Pediatric patients at Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health at Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital were treated to a holiday visit from Joseph M. Sanzari, our dear friend and Children’s Hospital’s namesake. Along with heroes from the Paterson Fire Department and the Totowa Fire Department, Mr. Sanzari surprised patients and team members with a special friend – Mrs. Clause! Mrs. Clause and our hometown heroes delivered a truck full of toys that spread holiday cheer and joy. Decorated fire trucks also filled the outside of the Children’s Hospital with snow, making for a magical morning! Thank you, Mr. Sanzari, Mrs. Claus and first responders from the Paterson and Totowa Fire Departments for bringing smiles to all! 

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Granting Access to Pediatric Rheumatology Care

Granting Access to Pediatric Rheumatology Care 

Philanthropic funding has enabled Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health to support New Jersey’s first pediatric rheumatology fellow, Dr. Tresa Ambooken.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is a critical shortage of pediatric rheumatologists in the United States, with only 420 board-certified and practicing physicians to treat children with rheumatic diseases. Thanks to generous funding from the Arthritis Foundation and the Rheumatology Research Foundation, the Division of Pediatric Rheumatology at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital has been able to address the shortage through its ability to recruit and fund New Jersey’s first pediatric rheumatology fellow, Tresa Ambooken, M.D., MBA. 

Dr. Ambooken, a graduate of St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada and a former chief resident of pediatrics at BronxCare Health System, was compelled to apply for the pediatric rheumatology fellowship at the Children’s Hospital after witnessing the lack of pediatric rheumatologists available for patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in the metropolitan area. 

As a resident, Dr. Ambooken saw an increase in pediatric patients diagnosed with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), a post COVID-19 illness that manifests as severe inflammation of multiple organ systems often resulting in cardiac and respiratory compromise. Given the similarities between the hyper-inflammatory state of MIS-C and various rheumatological diseases, in many institutions pediatric rheumatologists have been called upon to provide critical care for these patients. Unfortunately, there was no dedicated pediatric rheumatology department in her residency-training institution to refer patients to, and patients had to be transferred to another local hospital system in New York to get the care they desperately needed. For Dr. Ambooken, this highlighted an evident gap in both adequate pediatric rheumatology resources for patient care and exposure of pediatric rheumatology cases for the training of pediatric residents. 

Like many other pediatric subspecialists, pediatric rheumatologists are often located in or surrounding large cities. To date, nine states have no pediatric rheumatologists and six states only have one. As a result, the estimated 300,000 patients with juvenile rheumatic diseases have limited access to needed care.  

Currently, Dr. Ambooken works under Yukiko Kimura, M.D., division chief and pediatric rheumatologist in the Department of Rheumatology at the Children’s Hospital. She also works closely with a powerhouse of five other women pediatric rheumatologists, including Ginger Janow, M.D, MPH, an attending pediatric rheumatologist and fellowship program director at the Children’s Hospital. 

“The autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases our pediatric patients suffer from - including juvenile idiopathic arthritis, scleroderma and lupus - are usually life-long, chronic diseases that are not curable,” said Ginger Janow, M.D., M.P.H, pediatric rheumatologist, Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital. “While we have phenomenal medications to treat our patients, it is still taking too long for patients to get the care they need because of the workforce shortage. We simply need more pediatric rheumatologists, and the fantastic funding we received from the Arthritis Foundation and Rheumatology Research Foundation is helping us ameliorate this vital need by making it possible for us to bring Dr. Ambooken on board.” 

We welcome Dr. Ambooken to our Hackensack Meridian Health family and thank the Arthritis Foundation and Rheumatology Research Foundation for their extraordinary support in helping us make history in New Jersey by offering such an impactful fellowship to a deserving physician. Learn more about supporting pediatric rheumatology by emailing amy.glazer@hmhn.org.

Granting a Scholarship a “No Brainer” for a Neurosurgeon Scientist

Granting a Scholarship a No Brainer for a Neurosurgeon Scientist 

Scholarship recipient and medical student Francesca M. Gualano, shown growing cells in 3D, is using her third year to do translational brain tumor research in Hackensack Meridian Health’s Pediatric Neuro-oncology Lab, the only one of its kind in the state, at the Center for Discovery and Innovation.

Since her senior year of high school, third-year medical student Francesca Gualano of Totowa has known that her destiny was to become a neurosurgeon scientist, but how would she get there? When she received a scholarship to attend Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine's accelerated program, she knew that her plans were coming together. 

Francesca's interest in neurosurgery and neuroscience goes back many years. As a senior in high school, Francesca wasn't particularly fond of the traditional classroom environment. "Learning from lectures and PowerPoint slides was not exhilarating for me," she said. "As a senior, I engaged in an independent curriculum centered in targeted cancer therapies, and I interned at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center every week, learning from principal investigators. It was fascinating." Francesca’s research focus was in RNA interference therapeutics, and she delved deep into the science behind silencing certain genes that are linked to cancer. "One day during my internship, I was in a pathology lab and was asked to accompany a colleague to the morgue. On one of the countertops, there was a row of glass containers, each holding a human brain. It was such a captivating sight, and at that moment, I wanted to dedicate my life to learning about this fascinating organ."

Since then, Francesca's interest and passion for neuroscience, and its oncological aspect, has grown tremendously. Before she even matriculated at the School of Medicine, she reached out to Stanley R. Terlecky, Ph.D., associate dean of Research and Graduate Studies at the School of Medicine, to see how she could become involved. He put Francesca in touch with Florian Thomas, M.D., MA, Ph.D., MS, chair of the Neuroscience Institute and Department of Neuroscience at Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center. After learning more about Francesca's interests and desire to pursue research, he connected her with neurosurgeon-scientist Timothy Vogel, M.D. Her eagerness to learn eventually landed her a research position in the Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Lab at the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery and Innovation, funded by the philanthropic work of Tackle Kids Cancer. 

Francesca is currently using her third year to solely focus upon translational brain tumor research in the lab, led by pediatric neuro-oncologist Derek Hanson, M.D., Claire Carter, Ph.D., a research scientist, and Dr. Vogel. The lab seeks to meet the clinical and research needs of children with central nervous system tumors.

The scholarship recipient is thrilled to be so involved in research, and she attributes the opportunities that she has received thus far to the School of Medicine’s programming and learning structure. "If not for this accelerated program or the school’s commitment to individualized education, it would have been infeasible to do what I am doing as a third-year medical student,” says Francesca. "I don't roll out of bed in the morning, I jump out of bed, because I sincerely love what I do, and I can’t wait to do it another day. To share the same purpose and vision as those who you are learning from is exceptionally impactful, insomuch as it becomes feasible to actualize that vision and translate it into helping those suffering."

We wish Francesca the best of luck in the remainder of her studies, and we look forward to seeing all of the amazing places that she will go! Learn more about supporting scholarships by emailing joseph.burt@hmhn.org.

How Generosity is Lifting an Entire Community


Leadership from JFK University Medical Center Foundation, Hackensack Meridian Health, Plainfield Health Connections and Sterling National Bank came together to mark the bank’s generous giving to support Plainfield Health Connections.

The spread of COVID-19 and its variants continues to impact many communities in Union County, especially the city of Plainfield. Many residents rely on Plainfield Health Connections, a philanthropically funded, evidence-based case management and educational program at Hackensack Meridian JFK Satellite Emergency Department in Plainfield, to receive the care management they need. A generous gift from Sterling National Bank, secured by Thomas X. Geisel, trustee at Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation and president of Corporate Banking at Sterling National Bank, is helping make significant strides to ensure the residents of Plainfield and surrounding communities continue to have access to the comprehensive services offered by Plainfield Health Connections and to receive the necessary care they deserve.

Each year, Plainfield Health Connections enrolls an average of 100 patients through screening of hospital emergency department visits and word of mouth in the community. Often, participants tend to be uninsured or underinsured and rely on the JFK University Medical Center’s Emergency Department in Edison, or the Satellite JFK Emergency Department in Plainfield, for non-urgent problems relating to chronic conditions.

Since the start of the pandemic, Plainfield Health Connections has been on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, coordinating primary medical care for chronically ill, low-income minorities while helping patients solve many of the social problems that hinder their ability to achieve healthier lifestyles, including disease-specific education and instruction on the importance of good nutrition and physical exercise. The team also actively helps participants with low health literacy understand how to interpret their medication dosage and other health-related directives.

Sterling National Bank’s generous support will allow the Plainfield Health Connections team to continue assisting patients and their families by helping them enroll in health insurance and charity care, obtain rent and utilities assistance, aid the unemployed with job searches and resumes, deliver healthy food to their homes and arrange transportation to medical and social service appointments. Additionally, support will help provide individual instruction on how to access nutrition, fitness and diabetes classes via Zoom, prepare participants for telehealth appointments with primary care providers (including translation and interpretation services as needed) and assist team members by providing patients with the information they need regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.

We thank Thomas and Sterling National Bank for their incredible generosity in support of this special program. Learn more about supporting Plainfield Health Connections by emailing sheri.marino@hmhn.org.

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