Developmental and Psychosocial Aspects of Caring for Infants with Cancer


Vanessa Burgess Presentation Description:
Research has shown that infants and toddlers who were treated for cancer will achieve their developmental milestones later than their healthy peers will. According to the NIH (Bornstein et al., 2012), vocabulary, cognitive functions and motor skills progressed slower in children who were treated for cancer before age four. This prospective study showed that children with cancer were below average for both mental and motor development. With increasing survival rates for children with cancer, the developmental implications for our smallest patients are an important concern. Timely rehabilitation to optimize all areas of development is essential. This workshop will provide a clinical overview of the role of the occupational therapist on a multidisciplinary oncology team, the patient issues resulting from surgeries and treatment protocols, the difficulties to promoting typical development, and the referral process along with its challenges. Case studies of infants with brain tumours, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and neuroblastoma will highlight their clinical rehabilitation to maximize their development throughout their cancer journey.

Melissa A. Alderfer, PhD
Senior Research Scientist, The Center for Healthcare Delivery Sciences
Nemours Children’s Health System/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, DE
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA

Dr. Alderfer completed a doctorate degree in clinical psychology at the University of Utah and a post doctoral fellowship in pediatric psychology in the Division of Oncology at The Children’s Hospital ofPhiladelphia (CHOP). After fellowship, she stayed on in the Division of Oncology at CHOP and joined the standing faculty in the Department Pediatrics at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She rose to the level of associate professor before transitioning in 2013 to her current position as a senior research scientist in the Center for Healthcare Delivery Sciences within Nemours Children’s Health System. Under the broad umbrella of healthcare delivery science, her program of research focuses on how childhood chronic illness impacts families, how families adapt and learn to manage illness and the healthcare system, and how we can intervene to improve the experience. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, American Cancer Society, and various other cancer foundations. She currently has 92 peer‐reviewed manuscripts and chapters.

Vanessa Burgess, MSc OT, OT Reg. (Ont.)
Occupational Therapist, Pediatric Oncology
McMaster Children’s Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, Hamilton, ON
Preceptor/Lecturer, Occupational Therapy Program
McMaster University, Hamilton, ON

Vanessa Burgess completed a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto following the completion of her undergraduate degree. She practiced at ErinoakKids Children’s Treatment Centre, conducting community rehabilitation with pediatric clients with developmental disabilities, neurological impairments, multiple disabilities, complex disabilities and sensory processing difficulties. Here she focused on oral motor and feeding skills, activities of daily living, fine motor skills and written productivity, and sensory processing. She continued her community practice experience at a private practice, focusing on oral motor and feeding skills and sensory processing with clients with a wide variety of diagnoses and undiagnosed issues. Vanessa has been practicing in oncology at McMaster Children’s Hospital for the past eight years. She is part of the multi‐disciplinary team on the inpatient ward, outpatient active therapy clinic and neuro‐oncology clinic. Her focus includes oral feeding and dysphagia including videofluoroscopic swallow studies, infant development, activities of daily living, functional mobility and equipment, fine motor skills and school participation. She enjoys working directly with patients and their families to empower them to overcome barriers in their everyday lives throughout their cancer journey.

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