Hope floats

The Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Institute provides more than just medical care.

Story and photos by Kasey Jackson

OliviaRose is screaming. Her mom and grandmother are trying to hold her down, but the struggle is real. OliviaRose is having nothing to do with this. And anyone in their right mind wouldn’t blame her. There’s a stranger with a rotating handheld saw standing next to her—and he’s ready to use it. He turns it on, and she screams louder. Her mom hands her a small stuffed animal. OliviaRose, a strong and feisty 19-month-old, throws it to the ground.


The adults around OliviaRose are smiling and chatting—just so you know this is nowhere as bad as it seems. In fact, this is a completely normal scene inside the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Institute at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. OliviaRose is about to have her cast cut off, and it’s a whole lot louder and scarier than she’s willing to accept. But less than 10 minutes later, OliviaRose has calmed down and is standing with full weight on her legs again—without the bright pink cast that moments ago covered her hips and thighs.

OliviaRose came to Floating Hospital for Children after being hit by a car in her driveway. With a broken femur, she spent three days in the hospital, receiving special care the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Institute and Floating Hospital for Children could provide.

KPTI began in 1981 as a partnership between the New England District of Kiwanis and Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. At the hospital’s pediatric emergency department, children like OliviaRose receive top-of-the-line care—the facility is verified as a Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons. And the need for such a facility is great: Traumatic injuries are the leading cause of death and disability to children, more than all other diseases combined.

OliviaRose’s grandmother, Lisa Torigian, speaks highly of the care her granddaughter has received at the hospital.

“Everyone’s been so helpful,” Torigian says as OliviaRose steadies her wobbly toddler body against her grandmother’s legs. “We needed a special car seat after the accident, and the hospital social worker and KPTI provided a voucher for us to get one for free. The nurses provided us with a room so we could stay and some vouchers for lunches. On the day of the accident, I never left her side. I held her hand even in the emergency room. The doctors and ultrasound technician were so helpful and told me exactly what was going on. They were always there for us and answered all of our questions.”

Kiwanis care

Leslie Rideout is just one person responsible for the quality care OliviaRose received during her time at Floating Hospital for Children. Rideout, a pediatric trauma nurse coordinator for KPTI, is a busy woman. In her role, she finds herself doing many things: coordinating care for families, educating families about potential traumas, taking notes during patient/doctor consultations, visiting families, securing proper car seats for patients and distributing bicycle helmets and other safety information.

Anne Keliher and Leslie Rideout

Another big part of her job is to make sure everyone is doing everything necessary for the hospital to remain a Level 1 Pediatric Trauma center. That’s a big task—but one Rideout performs with a smile. She loves her job—she’s been here 15 years—and she takes great pride in sharing a little of the hospital’s early days as, literally, a floating hospital.

“They sailed only in the summer months,” she says as she points out details on the scale model of the turn-of-the-century boat that ferried healthcare around the harbor. “Patients and families were allowed on the boat. Many believed the sea air was particularly good at healing.”


The Floating Hospital was founded in 1894 as a hospital ship and was towed around Boston Harbor, serving more than 1,000 children in the first year.

The partnership with Kiwanis also began on water, as the story goes. Kiwanis member and former president of the Kiwanis Foundation of New England Harold “Hap” Gerrish, a dentist from Maine, was on a boat with other Kiwanis members when talk turned to what they could do for pediatric patients.

“Nothing was being done in pediatric trauma research, and they were specifically interested in research,” Rideout says. “They went to a few hospitals here in Boston— these men in Kiwanis—and they were turned down. They eventually came to Tufts and Tufts said yes. So they have been our partners for more than 35 years.”

Kiwanis has funded millions of dollars for the program, Rideout says, in addition to providing volunteers on the ground to distribute important safety information and talk about trauma education.

“We couldn’t be here without Kiwanis,” she says. “And the youth groups are unbelievable. Circle K and Key Club fundraise a lot. And when our reviewers come for our review (for trauma level 1 status), they always say that one of our greatest strengths is our collaboration with Kiwanis, because this type of work partnership really works and is wonderful.”

‘We are the Kiwanians’

When it comes to talking about the money that flows into the KPTI program, John Maihos is an expert. He’s the immediate past president of the Kiwanis Foundation of New England, a position he held for the past three years. He knows all about the New England District’s countless bicycle rodeos. He knows the facts about childhood trauma and has some safety tips and stats to back it all up. And of course, he knows the importance of what Kiwanis is doing.

John Maihos

“The KPTI program really is a community-outreach program, and it gets our name out in front of people,” he says. “If someone says, ‘Have you heard of Kiwanis?’ they have one more thing they can relate to Kiwanis. I think exposure is important. But even more important is we’re actually impacting kids’ lives.

“You hate to hear about a kid getting hurt, but we’ve actually had stories hit close to home. A Kiwanian from Danvers, Massachusetts, had a child injured at one of the local fairs. All of a sudden, when they were responding to this child, and the father was with his child at the time, he realized he was getting into the helicopter for the med flight with the KPTI program. His son and he were going to end up at ‘our’ trauma center. All of a sudden he realized, ‘Oh my. I’m heading to this program that we have funded. We have a part in this.’

“We have such an important role. We don’t double as doctors. We’re the Kiwanians. We support the community program. We still have an affinity to it. We feel it’s ours in a way. It was a very emotional moment for him, and in fact when he tells the story, it becomes a very emotional moment for all Kiwanians in the room because they recognize that this program that we helped start is potentially going to help save this child’s life.

“This happens all the time to children we don’t know or have an emotional connection with, but we are making a difference in their lives. That’s the most important part of what we’re doing.”

Best advice

If Walter J. Chwals could give parents and caregivers one bit of advice, it would be this: Wear a helmet.

And he should know. As chief of pediatric surgery, professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Institute, Chwals knows a thing or two about childhood trauma and how to prevent it.

Dr. Walter J. Chwals

“Wear head protection when you are exposing yourself to potential head injury,” he says. “If you’re riding a bike, you should be wearing a helmet. If you’re skiing, wear a helmet. If you are rollerblading or skateboarding or on a hoverboard, wear a helmet. More than 50 percent of all the trauma we see with kids involves head injury. You can heal a bone, but sometimes brain injury consequences are more permanent. We know from research that head injury is the most frequent cause of mortality and morbidity in pediatric trauma.”

We asked Chwals to talk to us for 30 minutes about his jobs at the hospital and about childhood trauma in general. After almost an hour had passed, he showed no signs of running out of information to share. One of the most exciting projects he likes to talk about? A pediatric trauma database named after Kiwanian Hap Gerrish—a joint project between the Kiwanis Foundation of New England and KPTI.

“The use of databases in pediatric trauma is very important in establishing patterns of disease, patterns of trauma,” he says. “The Hap Gerrish database is our attempt to try to create an interactive database. If it’s used in the way it was intended, it can really revolutionize the way we gather and evaluate trauma data. We’d be better able to track and accumulate data about age-related trauma. We’d have a better chance of knowing if the number of trauma cases in a particular age group or accident group were increasing or decreasing across the country. The database allows for the incorporation of other databases with the touch of a finger, literally, and accumulates those data under one database roof.”

Chwals is passionate about spreading the word about trauma prevention. He goes through the list of childhood injuries by age group: falls from windows, improper (or no) restraint while riding in cars, failure to wear a helmet. All preventable scenarios when following the proper safety precautions.

“There are three arms to the KPTI program,” he points out. “One is the clinical care we provide for the patients who have been injured and come to our institution. Second is to promote research regarding trauma. And the third arm is injury prevention, which is an important feature of the overall institute because trauma is a preventable disease. Through various legislative initiatives and community education programs, we’ve been able to decrease the relative incidents of particular types of trauma in the pediatric population. The thrust of the organization is to provide overall improvement in trauma care and in understanding how trauma occurs and preventing that trauma.”

Kiwanis is right there

Chwals says educating the public about trauma is crucial.

“We give clubs the information, and they go out in the community with the brochures and share and educate,” he says. “We often do it through local EMTs and other social organizations and police, fire department, YMCA or YWCA, church groups. It has helped the Kiwanis members to participate in this worthwhile effort because it really does make a difference in terms of the overall safety of a community and making folks aware of the dangers and pitfalls in everyday life. We’re very grateful to Kiwanis for their support and the fact that they have the foresight to understand how important a disease entity trauma is in the pediatric populations and have provided us all of these years with the support we need to be able to deliver trauma care to injured children in the New England area—and all over the country.”

About trauma: Learn more about the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Institute at floatinghospital.org/trauma

This story originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

4 thoughts on “Hope floats

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  1. I have been a Kiwanis member for about nine years. When I read stories like this around the country and around the world I feel a deep since of humility and pride of belonging to something so very worthwhile. Thank you for the tremendous effort you have put into this project. The world is a better place because of it.

  2. Perhaps the Kiwanis of Boston could get a legislator to offer a bill in the Mass. legislature to require any and all bike riders to wear a helmet when on their bikes. I was director of a child advocacy agency in Atlanta before retiring to the mountains of North Carolina and we had a legislator offer a bill in the state legislature to require anyone riding a bike to wear a helmet, and it was passed. Another bill we sponsored was that if a child under 18 was riding in the back of a truck there must be an adult with the child, and it too was passed.

  3. Dr. Chwals’ comment about wearing a helmet when bike-riding, etc. is on the money, and I was delighted to see what Daniel Starnes and his team accomplished in N.C. However, I continue to be amazed at how many parents put a helmet on their kids, but don’t use one themselves when they do these activities. They are the caregivers and financial support persons for the child, but they can suffer brain injuries too. Sure, they’re adults, and they may have had a lot of experience, but that may not make much of a difference if they get hit by someone else.

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