SIMPeds Partnership Supports Parents of Children with Ventricular Assist Devices


Brianna O’Connell and Beth Hawkins
Posted on March 16, 2017
A primary mission at SIMPeds is to provide rehearsal opportunities to increase confidence and decrease fear and anxiety – not only in clinical teams, but also among patients and families. The new Simulation Center on the 18th floor of the Center for Life Sciences building, complete with a simulated child’s bedroom, allows family members to practice caring for children who are going home with life-saving medical equipment.


SIMPeds partnered with the Boston Children’s Hospital Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) Program, led by medical director Christina VanderPluym, MD and nurse practitioner Beth Hawkins RN, MSN, FNP-C, to better educate and prepare parents who are now responsible for the maintenance and safety of their child’s VAD at home. Patients on VAD support are implanted with a device inside their heart that helps pump their blood through their body. The pump is attached to a controller that must be attached to two power sources at all times.


In developing the simulation scenarios, Hawkins drew on her experiences with patients’ learning gaps and actual emergencies families have experienced at home. The courses were then edited with feedback from a prior VAD patient and his mother about what would have been helpful for them to practice before being discharged home with the device.

To date, two families have received this side-by-side, scenario-based learning from the VAD team. After receiving initial VAD training at their child’s hospital bedside, through PowerPoint lecture and videos, parents come to the Simulation Center with nurse practitioners Hawkins and Courtney Ventresco, CPNP, to practice both basic care tasks and responses to potential emergency situations.


In one emergency situation, parents enter the simulated bedroom as a loud high-priority alarm is ringing (the result of the simulated patient double-disconnecting the VAD’s batteries, triggering a “no power” alarm). In the simulation scenario, the parents had to stay calm, read the VAD controller, follow its instructions and react appropriately by plugging the device back in a power source. During the debriefing after the simulation, parents commented that they “could feel the real-life urgency of the situation knowing the VAD had stopped.”


Parents are able to practice these potential emergency situations in a safe, but realistic environment supported by the VAD team prior to taking their child home, which we ultimately hope will make them feel more confident in assuming responsibility for caring for their child on VAD support at home.


SIMPeds’ “Preparing You” service line provides simulation curricula for family caregivers and patients. To date, the program has run simulations for 65 children and 12 Boston Children’s staff members in the VAD program, the Autism Spectrum Center and the CAPE program (supporting children on ventilator assistance). Preparing You has even run simulations for therapy dogs in training, ensuring they are ready for real hospital environments.



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