By Brenda Owen
BOONEVILLE For Bradley Rinehart, hospitals are practically his home away from home.
The 15-year-old Booneville youth has been a regular patient at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis since he was diagnosed with severe epilepsy as a one-year-old infant.
Annette Rinehart said her son made more than 30 trips to Le Bonheur last year where he was hospitalized at least four times for periods of one or two weeks each time. During his hospitalization, the youth must endure days of tests and examinations hooked up to machines which monitor his severe seizures.
“This is the story of Brad’s life,” said Mrs. Rinehart, who operates a beauty shop in her home when she is not at Le Bonheur with her son. “We have to have his medication changed about every three months. We are trying to find a drug which he can tolerate which will control his seizures.
She and her husband, Barry Rinehart, a teacher at Falkner High School, support their son in every way they can, but ultimately it is Brad who must deal with his disease. Usually, it is not the disease itself but the resulting limitations affecting his young life that are the hardest to cope with, she said.
“Since he turned 15, he seems more upset that he could not get a driver’s license like other boys his age than the fact that he has epilepsy,” she said.
Dr. Maite deLamerens, a developmental/behavioral pediatrician at Le Bonheur, calls this type of reaction both understandable and typical.
“The biggest issues going on in an adolescent’s life are emancipation from the family, changing body image, cognitive changes and their expansion to relationships outside the family,” she said in an article for the hospital’s “Parent” newsletter.
When chronic disease requires constant or repeated hospitalization during these formative years, she said, children may change their attitudes toward treatment.
“When children are small they follow a medical regimen because Mommy and Daddy tell them to,” she said. “But when a child reaches the age of 12, it may not make sense to take a regular insulin shot (or other treatment), because he or she doesn’t see the end result if it is not taken.”
The most important thing a parent can do to make an adolescent feel comfortable during an inpatient hospital stay, she said, is to let them keep their individuality. Parents can do this by allowing them to have their friends visit, allow them privacy and space, and keeping them involved in their treatment plan, she said.
Mrs. Rinehart said counselors at Le Bonheur help her son in deal with fears concerning his seizures.
“They try to make sure he’s not scared,” she said. “They are so supportive, Brad does not dread going to the hospital.”
Although his disease requires weeks of hospitalization each year, dozens of trips for evaluation and examination, and missing out on a “normal” teen-age life because of being schooled at home, Mrs. Rinehart said her son has not only learned to cope, but he does it well.
“He handles it much better than I would,” she said.