“It’s a happy moment to eat a meal now."
As an infant, Austin began experiencing feeding issues. He would vomit and throw a tantrum. He would refuse to stay in his highchair for longer than 5-10 minutes. At 6 months old, when his mom, Erin, introduced solid foods, Austin refused to eat them.
“As a parent, watching your kid struggle to eat, I felt helpless,” Erin says. “I was scared. I didn’t know what was wrong with Austin. We didn’t know what to do or where to go. We needed help.”
Austin’s pediatrician referred them to a specialist. There, Erin learned that Austin had severe food allergies, sensory and texture issues with food, and a severely inflamed esophagus from eating foods he was allergic to for so long.
Austin’s pediatrician recommended Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital (MWPH)’s Feeding Day Program, an intensive six-week program where Austin would learn to chew, swallow, and keep food down during weekly sessions with a collaborative team of pediatricians, therapists and psychologists.
“The first time we entered MWPH, I knew it was the perfect fit for Austin,” says Erin. “The people here were welcoming, friendly, and supportive. We knew it was going to be a hard transition, because it’s a difficult thing to do, but very rewarding.”
Ellen Wingert, Feeding Day Program Manager, was Austin and Erin’s immediate contact throughout the entire program. “Every child is an individual, so the treatment plan needs to be individualized,” says Ellen. For Austin, that meant working with a dietitian to determine the best diet for his food allergies.
Austin’s care team worked one-on-one with him to improve his feeding skills. They explained every step of the program and every meal to mom and dad. Erin watched Austin’s feeding sessions with his team via a monitor in a nearby room.
The first two weeks, Austin struggled. It was the first time he’d ever been dropped off and left without his parents. But that soon changed. “It was unbelievable to watch the progress he made each week and continue to get better and accept foods from each therapist,” says Erin, “and by the end laughing and eating at each meal.”
“We were so lucky to work with such an amazing team,” she adds. “Dr. Katz (a pediatric gastroenterologist and director of the Feeding Day Program) was unbelievable. He was the first person we met when we came in for an evaluation. He was so special how he interacted with Austin. And Ellen was exceptional with him throughout the entire process.”
When Austin was first admitted, he was eating 3 foods: bananas, avocados, and sweet potatoes. As the program progressed, Austin learned how to chew and swallow and added more than 20 new foods to his diet.
Now, Austin can eat every single texture and a wide variety of foods. “With that, he’s become more confident, more active and independent,” says Erin. “We have an entirely different child at home now.”
Erin was phased into feeding sessions as weeks went on, so when Austin left the program and came home he would be familiar with mom feeding him again. “MWPH continued to meet with him once a week after we were discharged from the program to reinforce the techniques and his progress,” she adds. “Whenever I had a question, I was able to call MWPH at any time of the day to give me advice.”
Erin believes Austin succeeded in the program because every therapist came from a different perspective. A psychologist helped Austin trust the feeding process again and gain confidence. An occupational therapist taught Austin how to chew and swallow, and his pediatrician looked at the bigger picture of his progress.
“In order for Austin to have had the success he had he needed different types of therapists,” Erin says. “And I think the program providing that is tremendous and invaluable.”
When Austin entered the Feeding Day Program, Erin was expecting him to add one, two, maybe three new foods to his daily regimen. But the program far exceeded her expectations.
“To walk away having Austin eating every single thing we put in front of him has been remarkable,” Erin says. “Without MWPH’s Feeding Day Program, my child would probably be exclusively on a bottle and drinking formula, or eating only three foods. It’s been an absolute miracle.”
Ellen agrees. “It’s been so great to see Austin succeed in the program, especially when his mom tells me how well he’s doing at home, and how well he transitioned to school,” she says.
“It’s a happy moment to eat a meal now as a family,” Erin says.
To schedule outpatient appointments or learn more about MWPH’s Feeding Day Program, call us at 410-578-5250.