American Family Children’s Hospital – Real Kids. Real Stories. Real Transformations.

 By E. Nolan

As one of the primary charity beneficiaries of the PGA Champions Tour’s American Family Championship at University Ridge, the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison is flourishing and expanding, providing more and more critical opportunities to families and (more specifically) to children in need. Tee Times Magazine spoke with Jeff Poltawsky, the President of the American Family Children’s Hospital and the Senior Vice President of UW Health, about the difference the generous tournament contributions make, as well as the difference the incredible facilities at the Children’s Hospital are able to make for so many that really need the assistance.

Tee Times: We often wonder how direct and broad of an impact our donations have on the people we’re trying to give to. Can money raised from a golf tournament really make much of a difference?
Jeff Poltawsky: Absolutely it can. It has and it does, every day. Last year’s tournament gave us nearly $600,000 to apply to our greatest needs, including programs and services to support patients and families and to advance breakthroughs in pediatric cancer research.

TT: Paint a picture of the facilities for readers, and of the relationship between the hospital and the University of Wisconsin.
JP: The American Family Children’s Hospital is an 8-Story building on the University of Wisconsin campus with 87 beds, 8 operating rooms, a Level I pediatric trauma center and emergency department, a state of the art imaging suite, and a large pediatric specialty clinic. We will be expanding to a 111-bed capacity to meet patient demand, doubling the size of our Level 4 NICU, and open a new Epilepsy Monitoring Unit ALL by the end of this year. As a Nationally Ranked children’s hospital (by US News & World Report) we are closely tied to the incredible Carbone Cancer Center, but manage all children’s services under our roof. We have over 230 medical specialists on staff and are tightly integrated with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine & Public Health (all on same campus).

TT: That sounds like an incredible opportunity for many, particularly for those interested in the medical field (as a degree and career, with the on-site education), or in directly helping kids who need and deserve it.
JP: One of the many inspirations of working here is seeing how involved University of Wisconsin students are in our children’s hospital, we have hundreds of student volunteers, Wisconsin athletes visit the hospital on “Badger Fridays”, and UW students hold an annual dance marathon to raise money for our programs and services There’s too much to be said about all the good our staff, physicians and volunteers are doing here, and the Tournament… well, tournament proceeds are applied directly to what we call our Greatest Need Fund. The Greatest Need Fund provides for 1. Cancer Research, 2. Patient & Family Support Services and 3. Certified Child Life Specialists.

TT: Children’s Hospitals do so much across the country for kids with Cancer, and your hospital is highly acclaimed for your program in that capacity. But can you explain the Patient & Family Services and these Certified Child Life Specialists?
JP: Our Patient & Family Support Services provide professionally-prepared meals three nights a week for the families we care for, as well as gas cards for helping with transportation costs, and even lodging assistance. Ultimately, the more stress we can take off of families when they visit us, the more positive we can make the experience, and that is where our Certified Child Life Specialists come in. Our specialists have a 4-Year Degree in Child Development, and they excel at helping children not only acclimate to the daily chaos they have no choice but to face, but help the children understand and cope with what they are going through and/or facing. These specialists are prepared to make the best of the worst days of a child’s life.

TT: Fantastically said, and obviously very important. Having had twin daughters born prematurely, who spent a full month in intensive care, I know how valuable it is (as a parent) to have well-informed and well-trained people around me and my kids. There are some dark days, and we need all the brightness we can get on those days.
JP: That’s another way the tournament and hosts have been so impressive. Steve Stricker and his foundation are heroes to this community, but the other professionals and celebrities who attend the event drop in to visit the children as well. These role models, who take time to visit every child and play with them in our specially designed play rooms, become real to these kids and often deflect the heroism to the kids. Last year Steve Stricker and his family, Andy North and AMFAM ambassador, Kathy Ireland visited our hospitalized children before the tournament. This year, we are looking forward to the surprise celebrities and PGA pros who stop by… they really make these kids lives better. I don’t think that can be overstated. When a child sees that a “poster hero” cares about them, I mean… it’s impactful.

TT: Derek Jeter has always been a hero of mine, so I can certainly imagine the awe of having him there to see ME, but the kids are the true heroes in all of this. What they go through daily, most of us couldn’t even imagine.
JP: No question. The kids are definitely heroes… as are the people who give. I mean, we all can be heroes if we lead with our hearts. What’s great about this community is no one sits around and waits to give. Community members are out seeking opportunities to give, from the students on campus, to area businesses and all these great charity events. We all want to make a child’s every day the best day it can be here… and, we don’t just WANT to… it is our goal to.

TT: The money doesn’t just come in on its own though.
JP: (Laughs) It doesn’t fall from the sky… no. Philanthropy is critical to operations like ours. We take nothing for granted and make sure the community and state contributors know how diligent we are with the funds we receive. You can see the results of donations overnight (as a patient) and in short time frames from a general public perspective. We’re so honored by the trust and commitment we receive and we don’t hesitate to pay that forward to people who really need it. We have goals yet to achieve, but look at the superb outcomes of our Pediatric and Adult Congenital Heart Surgery Program and the tremendous advances in children’s cancer treatment where we lead the nation in Immunotherapy research. I’ve been at the Children’s Hospital for 10 Years and the progress has been almost unimaginable. Our physicians get out there too, into the community and offer outreach clinics throughout Wisconsin and Northern Illinois to bring care close to home. We are looking to the future to make even more advancements in telemedicine. (With Viral Visits and Telemedicine around the corner.)

TT: Technology has revolutionized Medicine (in general) the past decade, something I know you’ve witnessed firsthand. How would you say those advancements have affected you personally from what you’ve seen at the American Family Children’s Hospital.
JP: Wow. I’m probably most affected every day by the expert care and compassion our team provides to children and families who receive a difficult diagnosis. I am inspired by the courage and resilience of children. The good news is that children’s cancer is 85% curable and we are making advances everyday. Technology is giving us so much more hope. I LOVE celebrating with families when a child has won that fight, or holding hands through complicated cardiac surgeries on newborns and then reuniting with those families years later when their child (once with a slim chance at making it) is now fully healthy and tearing around like they were never at risk. You see both sides when you’re here every day, and it really makes you appreciate what you have (and what others give) that much more.

The 2017 American Family Championship is being held at the University of Wisconsin’s Home Course, University Ridge, from June 19-25th.