At 11 months old, Ashlyn Corbello was diagnosed with cancer. Her mom needed support, especially when she had to make tough decisions. Staff from the Footprints program at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital sat with her and helped her talk things through and understand medical procedures and doctors’ advice.
Footprints provided snacks when she was too scared to leave the room and later gift cards for gas stations, so she could go back and forth to appointments from her home three hours away in Lebanon, Missouri.
“I really needed them,” said Ashlyn’s mom, Jessica Corbello. Now that Ashlyn, age 6, is cancer free, she returns for check-ups and “they come in and check on her, play with her and make a sad place a little brighter,” Corbello said, calling nurse Kathy Keenoy “part of our family.”
The emotional support is unsurpassed, she said. “They make sure I’m taking care of myself too. Sometimes parents forget that because they’re so focused on their child.”
Footprints is dedicated to comfort, advocacy and support of children with complex medical issues and their families, helping with their physical, emotional, spiritual and psychosocial needs. It sees patients from the neonatal intensive care unit, babies with heart defects, patients with neurological deficits, genetic abnormalities, trauma cases, oncology patients and more.
Footprints has been a department at the hospital since 1999. Initially it focused solely on end-of-life care, providing emotional support for children and families.
Keenoy, Footprints care coordinator and a parishioner at Assumption in O’Fallon, has worked with Footprints for eight years after 27 years in the neonatal intensive care unit. Palliative care is different today in the pediatric world, Keenoy said, because the ability to predict a child’s outcome is variable because of their resiliency and so many options for treatment.
Footprints also is involved with pregnant women treated at the St. Louis Fetal Care Institute who have learned of health problems affecting their baby before birth. If their baby is not likely to survive, the program helps the parents with comfort and spiritual care.
During the pregnancy, the staff helps with an intentional bonding with the baby in the womb. Families have told staff that it has helped them in the midst of a difficult pregnancy when they’re nervous and worried about what to expect. They continue to focus on the love they have for the baby, talking and singing to the baby and are helped to treasure their time of pregnancy.
When a baby survives birth, “then we follow the baby until they maybe don’t need the extra support anymore,” Keenoy said. “Sometimes it’s for the child’s life if they have chronic and complex conditions and need that support.”
Nurse practitioners and doctors also minimize distressing symptoms and pain management, especially at end of life. “They make sure those last days, hours, minutes are as comfortable as possible,” she said.
Keenoy’s Catholic faith is critical. “I can’t imagine going through this with the families without my faith to fall back on,” she said.
When her oldest daughter had some health issues, her faith foundation was something she leaned on and that helped her pull through.
The Footprints team assesses for spiritual needs and provides emotional support to each family and sees those as important elements. The pastoral care department is available to those who want it. “We always inquire about how that fits into their life, if that’s important, how we can support them. It’s harder when families don’t rely on some faith as a support. I feel some emptiness in my heart for them knowing I believe. But we have full respect for all denominations and honor and respect every person who comes through our doors,” Keenoy said.
Corbello urges people to support the hospital and its Footprints program. “I wouldn’t have made it through our cancer treatment without them.”
The Footprints program at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital serves all children with life-limiting, chronic and/or terminal illnesses.
In partnership with Saint Louis University, the program provides resources and support so all the children and their families can live full lives along their journey. The staff of the Footprints program work with families on an ongoing basis to identify those issues that may become difficult while caring for their child, and they advocate for them to see those issues are resolved.
Footprints is staffed by a full-time nurse, a part-time nurse, two nurse practitioners, two part-time physicians, an administrative assistant and a licensed clinical social worker who provides supportive counseling for parents.
Constant fundraising is needed to support Footprints. Among the supporters are the soccer teams at St. Dominic and Ursuline Academy high schools.
For information on the program, call (314) 268-4110 or toll-free (877) 557-2847. Donations can be sent to Footprints, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation, 3800 Park Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63110.