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SSM Health program streamlines communication between patients, paramedics, and physicians

ST. LOUIS – A program available throughout the greater St. Louis area aims to help bridge the gap between children with special needs and the paramedics and physicians who serve them.

The Special Needs Tracking and Awareness Response System (STARS) program through SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital aims to take the hesitation out of treatment by helping everyone involved feel more comfortable and confident.

"You may be there with a child who has a syndrome that you've never heard of and equipment you've never laid eyes on and you're expected to fix the situation," said Tricia Casey, STARS program coordinator.

Casey developed the program about four years ago after her own experience as a parent of a child with special needs and as a paramedic. Casey said she knew how challenging it could be to arrive on a scene, where anxiety is often heightened, and try to collect medical information.

Keith Adams's daughter Bryn, 11, is one of the program's STARS. Bryn's family registered her with West County EMS & Fire when they learned about the program.

Adams said Bryn has a condition called Schizencephaly where her brain did not fully develop during the first trimester of development. The condition has slowed Bryn's development physically and cognitively, she is confined to a wheelchair and is susceptible to seizures.

"It kind of gave me a lot of peace of mind that knowing if we did have a seizure or if something happened to Bryn on the school bus or just at school, that when they did have to call 9-1-1 that when the paramedics showed up they would have all of her data right there," said Adams.

There are more than 600 children across the region who are registered STARS. Bryn is one of 15 kids registered with West County EMS & Fire.

"On the way to the call, we can see (the patient's information) on our computer," said Capt. Brandon White. "So it’s all database specific now. We log into a system, and we can pull up their STARS form, and we know anything that we should treatment-wise we should give them, not give them."

According to Casey, as medical advances make it possible for children with complex conditions to live at home, EMS teams are responding to more calls for patients with greater needs.

Casey said most of the fire departments and districts, ambulance services and hospitals throughout the greater St. Louis area are participating in the STARS program. Her team provides the training for the first responders to help introduce and acclimate them with the patient, their condition and the equipment the patient depends on.

"It's difficult to determine what is abnormal if you're not familiar with what is normal," she said.