A young boy disinterested in interacting with his parents and peers. A little girl unable to put her communications into words. These types of children, and others who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, are the focus of Mercy Kids' Autism Center. “The parents who come in realize there are serious problems in their child’s developmental process. But when you can put them in touch with the specialists who can help them hour after hour, day after day, and then you see how the parents are thrilled and happy with each new skill of the child, the rewards are considerable,” explains Dr. John Mantovani, chair of the hospital’s pediatric department and medical director of Mercy Kids Therapy and Development Center.
Mercy’s 170-bed, full-service children’s hospital, with top neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, as well as a pediatric emergency department, and staffed by more than 160 pediatricians and family doctors in partnership with 80 pediatric subspecialists, also offers an Autism Center. The facility provides a comprehensive, child-centered approach to autism treatment, including diagnosis and assessment for each patient’s specific needs, medical consultation, physical, occupational and speech therapy, an intensive early intervention program for toddlers ages 18 to 36 months old and social communication groups.
Through the center’s staff and services, Mercy continues its decades-long tradition of treating kids with a variety of developmental needs. Autism specialists, as well as other specialists, help with a range of issues such as sleep and behavior disorders. And it is the first facility in the area to have an intensive preschool program using the evidence-based Early Start Denver Model, Mantovani notes. “We work with parents to help support the child’s activities and move them in a positive direction. You take a child who is isolated and unable to communicate their needs or feelings; and in the course of months of intervention, the child will begin using words, and you bridge the development between the child and the parent,” Mantovani explains.
The center will be the beneficiary of the Fund-A-Need at the foundation’s annual Benefit for Mercy Kids dinner auction. The week-long event, which raises much-needed funds for pediatric programs and services at Mercy, also includes a golf tournament and a carnival for current and former patients. Past events have raised $4.3 million to support the expansion of the facility’s Child Life Department and pediatric transport services, a more family-friendly outpatient surgery center, a palliative care program for chronically ill children, and even a state-of-the-art rooftop garden.
The 11th annual Benefit for Mercy Kids Golf Tournament will be held July 21 at Whitmoor Country Club, with the Dinner Auction to follow later that week on July 25 at The Ritz-Carlton. “This year, we are incorporating new incentives for top sponsors and individual golfers, like a Q&A [session] with Chris Carpenter, along with selling raffle tickets for the opportunity to golf with Carp at the tournament,” notes Cardinals GM and foundation board member John Mozeliak, who is serving as event co-chair, along with foundation board member Greg Twardowski of Whelan Security. “As a long-time supporter," Twardowski says, "I am proud to champion the Benefit for Mercy Kids and this year’s commitment to autism, as I have seen first-hand the direct, positive impact these programs have on kids in our community." For the Dinner Auction, attendees will be catered to during a VIP wine room cocktail hour and a meal, as well as have the opportunity to bid on unique items during live and silent auctions.
The hospital has an ambitious fundraising goal for this year’s events, and Mantovani says it’s all for the kids. “We are the only kids’ hospital that has invested in this type of comprehensive child development center. It’s a tremendous amount of work, and that’s what we’re trying to support with this fundraiser.”