By State Sen. David Pearce

I knew it wasn’t going to be a typical Thursday when I found myself in the back of an ambulance heading to Kansas City’s downtown airport.

Fortunately, I ended up in that ambulance by choice — and by invitation — as a guest of Children’s Mercy Hospital as part of a program that immerses regional community leaders in the culture of one of the finest children’s hospitals in the world.

“Discover Children’s Mercy” offers an up-close look into the exceptional care, state-of-the-art technologies and new discoveries happening right now at the hospital. I enjoyed meeting several of the families there and spending time with the pediatric subspecialists, nurses, therapists, chaplains and other professional staff.

My visit began with a tour of the downtown campus, and the centerpiece of the program focused on three in-depth rotations providing behind-the-scenes access to the hospital’s various service lines.

My first stop was Ophthalmology, where doctors treat eye problems such as blocked tear ducts, eyelid abnormalities, and crossed eyes, as well as rare and complex conditions such as pediatric cataracts, glaucoma, and tumors of the eye.

Next on my agenda was the Children’s Mercy Pediatric and Neonatal Critical Care Transport Program, which I learned has been awarded the “Transport Program of the Year” by the National Association of Air Medical Services many times. Riding in the back of the ambulance gave me a child’s-eye perspective of the level of care provided and the expertise required to deliver it. Once at the airport, we saw the only hospital-based helicopter in Kansas City dedicated to neonatal/pediatric patients and heard how it can provide transport for patients within approximately 170-mile radius of Kansas City. The tour wrapped up with a step inside the hospital’s Beechcraft King Air 200 fixed wing aircraft for transports greater than 120 miles from Kansas City. It’s comforting to know that our region has this world-class service so close to home.

My day wrapped up in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, which provides comprehensive, family-centered care to acutely ill patients who require specialized nursing care. During my visit, I enjoyed meeting a few of these families and hearing their stories firsthand.

Another highlight was hearing from Dr. Stephen Kingsmore, director of the Center for Pediatric Genomic Medicine at Children’s Mercy – the first genome center in the world inside a children’s hospital. It is also one of the first to focus on genome sequencing and analysis for inherited children’s diseases. A baby’s DNA can hold the answers to some of the most complicated medical mysteries, and some of the world’s most revered leaders in the field of genomics are in Kansas City. In fact, TIME magazine named the testing done at Children’s Mercy as one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2012.

Simply put, we have one of the best children’s hospitals in the nation – and some of the best technology in the world – in our backyard. I learned that in 2013, Children’s Mercy served 5,931 patients from the eight counties that make up the 21st Senatorial District.

“Discover Children’s Mercy” was a nice reminder to pause for a moment and discover the marvels around us.

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