For many kids and parents, staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge. But for Weston Mahady and his family, social distancing was just what the doctor ordered. The slowed-down pace, time spent together — and access to virtual appointments with Boston Children’s specialists — allowed Weston to make developmental strides that once hadn’t seemed possible.
“We’re incredibly sad that it took a pandemic to get us here, but we’re so happy that telehealth became an option for us,” says his mom, Ali.
‘No time to just be a kid’
Weston, now 5, is a medically complex child. Born with three rare conditions, he also has epilepsy and is legally blind. All told, he sees providers in more than 20 different departments at Boston Children’s, located at least an hour’s drive from his home. By the time he was a year old, he had visited various hospitals some 300 times — appointments that, including travel time, often took up most of the day. Because Weston has multiple sensory issues, waiting to be seen by his many care teams was an added source of stress.
“Weston was unhappy a lot and struggled to eat,” remembers Ali. “He didn’t have time to just be a kid.”
Making the switch to telehealth
Then came March 2020. As more families chose to isolate at home, Boston Children’s expanded its telehealth offerings, making many appointments available as virtual visits. It’s an approach that Ali and her husband, Patrick, were already familiar with: The hospital’s Complex Care Service — where Weston sees nurse practitioner Kimberly Banigan — had been piloting virtual appointments prior to the pandemic.
Soon, Weston and his parents were able to meet virtually with many of his other providers as well, including endocrinologist Dr. Bat-Sheva Levine and neurologist Dr. Heather Olson. Both physicians have transitioned most of Weston’s care to telehealth visits — a change that has resulted in more streamlined, focused appointments, supplemented by phone and email check-ins.
“They’re able to take a look at Weston and discuss his care with us while he plays,” says Ali.
Staying home, making strides
Virtual visits, says Ali, have given Weston something previously in short supply: time to grow and thrive. In the few years since switching most of his care to telehealth, he’s “blossomed,” says his mom. He’s learned to walk, run, climb, and ride his tricycle — achievements that once seemed out of reach. Without the stress of travel and multiple in-person hospital visits, his appetite has returned, allowing him to “graduate” out of several Boston Children’s departments, including gastroenterology, nutrition, and pulmonology. And he just finished his second year of preschool.
Virtual visits have been a great option for Weston, who is medically stable and doesn’t require hands-on treatment for most of his health care needs. “If you had seen him before the pandemic, you wouldn’t even recognize him now,” says Ali. “He’s like a totally different kid — and we’re huge advocates of telehealth.”
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