A Center For Life-Changing Care | Global Down Syndrome Foundation

A Center For Life-Changing Care

The Sie Center

From Down Syndrome World Winter 2017

Since its inception in 2010, The Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado has championed healthy starts and bright futures by caring for the unique medical needs of young people with down syndrome.

WHEN HER DAUGHTER, Sophia, was born with Down syndrome 13 years ago, Michelle Sie Whitten, President and CEO of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, traveled more than 1,000 miles from her home in Denver to the Thomas Center for Down Syndrome Services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to find the specialized medical care Sophia needed. After talking with other local families making the same trek, Whitten began exploring what it would take to bring a similar center to Colorado.

“The initial thinking was, ‘Why should we have to travel?’” Whitten said. “Why shouldn’t Colorado have a fabulous, world-class pediatric medical center for kids with Down syndrome?”

From Whitten’s due diligence and efforts, and funding from Sophia’s grandparents, Anna and John J. Sie, came the Sie Center, a medical center that opened in 2010 at Children’s Hospital Colorado as part of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome.

PUTTING POTENTIAL WITHIN REACH

“There’s a lot of talk about people with Down syndrome reaching their full potential,” Whitten said. “At Global, we feel very strongly that without good health, you’ll never reach your full potential.”

Helping children and young adults up to age 21, the Sie Center’s team of medical professionals provides the expert care and resources needed to manage a wide range of physical and behavioral health issues associated with Down syndrome. These specialists work closely with primary care providers at Children’s Hospital Colorado to coordinate care and deliver services through seven clinics.

At the Medical Clinic, a developmental pediatrician, nurse, and physical therapist evaluate children’s medical issues and physical growth to develop a comprehensive care plan. During visits, kids may also see an occupational therapist as needed.


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The Sie Center’s Feeding Clinic offers families an opportunity to visit with a feeding and swallowing specialist, developmental pediatrician or nurse practitioner, physical therapist, and social worker. These providers help parents address muscle weakness and other issues with eating and drinking that can interfere with a child’s ability to breast-feed, chew, and/or swallow and therefore raise his or her risk of silent aspiration.

The ENT Clinic helps manage diseases of the ear, nose, and throat, including chronic ear infections, airway obstructions, and hearing loss. Approximately 70 to 75 percent of kids with Down syndrome deal with hearing loss, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The Sie Center is the first center of its kind to have a full-time School-Age Clinic. The clinic’s educational specialist and psychologist help families develop individualized education programs and identify medical problems that may contribute to difficulties with behavior and learning. For example, a child who is acting out in gym class may do so because his feet hurt — not because he doesn’t want to participate in the activity.

“These specialists are like medical detectives,” Whitten said. “They work very closely to understand what’s happening at school and what modifications, support, and resources may be helpful.”

Through the Infant Clinic, babies receive a complete evaluation of their physical health to identify medical needs at a very early age.

At the Sleep Clinic, physicians evaluate children for sleep disorders and help parents troubleshoot solutions for common challenges, such as using a continuous positive airway pressure machine.

Currently, the Telemedicine Clinic connects Sie Center specialists with providers in Durango, Colorado, who treat children with Down syndrome, but Whitten said the goal is to expand the service to benefit the maximum possible number of patients.

In addition to these clinics, the Sie Center recently instituted a mental wellness program. Often, young people experiencing regression or warning signs of depression and anxiety are told that these symptoms are complications related to Down syndrome. However, these issues may be treatable mental illnesses, just as they would be for typical young adults.

A GLOBAL IMPACT

The clinic’s specialists are actively involved in clinical research projects that will help doctors around the world improve care for children with Down syndrome.

Arwen Jackson, MA, CCC-SLP; Jennifer Maybee, OTR, MA, CCC-SLP; Maura K. Moran; Kristine Wolter-Warmerdam; and Francis Hickey, M.D., FAAP, all with the Sie Center or Children’s Hospital Colorado, published their latest study on aspir ation in the international journal Dysphagia.

“Doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado are also joint appointees at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, so we’re able to get a lot of medical students who are required to do a fellowship or some kind of rotation,” Whitten said. “Working with the Sie Center gives them an in-depth look at the best way to provide medical care to patients with Down syndrome, and that carries over to the care they give in the future.

“The services the Sie Center provides are nothing short of life-changing, if not lifesaving,” Whitten added. “I’ve spoken with parents who’ve told me, ‘I was always afraid, but now that I’m at the Sie Center, I understand what’s going on. I know what I’m supposed to be doing for my child’s health.’”

CARE COUNTS

The Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado is one of the largest centers of its kind in the world. Here’s a snapshot of the clinic’s impact:

• More than 1,500 visits take place at the Sie Center each year.
• The Sie Center serves approximately 1,300 patients annually.
• The pediatricians, specialists, and therapists at the Sie Center have more than 80 years collective experience caring for children with Down syndrome.
• Families representing 26 states, seven countries, and Puerto Rico seek care at the Sie Center.

Global provides continued financial support for the Sie Center. Visit The Sie Center web page to learn how you can help efforts to provide medical care for children and young adults with Down syndrome. 

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