Teen events offer social interaction for adolescent transplant recipients 

By Matt Bittle, with Kirsten Getchell

For many young patients, living as a transplant recipient can add a layer of complexity to the emotional development and social growth of the teenage years. To address the unique needs of its adolescent patients, the Pediatric Transplant Center has recently developed a series of Teen Events, held throughout the year to provide a fun, relaxed atmosphere for its adolescent patients to interact and support each other.

Designed for transplant recipients between the ages of 13 and 21—a group that accounts for 225 of the center’s patients—the events are facilitated by Boston Children’s child life specialists, a psychologist, transplant coordinator and social worker. The most recent event was held on March 21 at Jillian’s in Boston. Attendees enjoyed food, games and activities (foosball, pool, Ping-Pong and bowling). They also offered each other support by sharing their post-transplant experiences. Facilitators were on hand to provide tips, such as how transplant recipients can become more independent, and to help guide discussions and answer questions about topics such as how to assume a more active role in managing your health. Parents who accompanied their teens were provided the opportunity to meet separately and support one another as well and to share questions and concerns with the facilitators.

Feedback from those who have attended has been positive, says Kirsten Getchell, transplant child life specialist at Boston Children’s. “When teens have the ability to interact in a fun and relaxed way with other patients their age, it helps to decrease feelings of isolation, while letting them practice new social skills. It also provides opportunities for knowledge, confidence and empowerment,” she says. “These events provide a more relaxed and outgoing environment than our clinic, which allowed some of the more quiet and introverted patients an opportunity to open up more than usual. Many of the participants talked about how great it feels to do ‘normal’ things and meet other patients who are similar to them.”

The Pediatric Transplant Center is excited about this new program and looks forward to watching it grow. We are currently planning future events and plan to implement some suggestions offered by past attendees. If you would like more information about our Teen Events, please contact us at transplant@childrens.harvard.edu.