Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
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Claire's Story

Claire Cheatham









The majority of medical students spend their time learning in classrooms, labs and hospital wards, carefully taught by doctors and professors. But two programs at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are putting a spin on the traditional ways these students are educated. This innovative project is turning families of patients into teachers and their living rooms into classrooms. 

Many of the families involved in the program participate in the FAM (Families As Mentors) aspect of the project. Since 2000, these unique families have been welcoming medical students and residents into their homes, eagerly sharing their stories with them. 

One of these particular families is the Cheathams. Their daughter, Claire, 7, has a chromosomal anomaly called Female 47 Triple X. This genetic disorder has brought on many complications over the years. Claire’s condition hasn’t kept her back -- she’s just as boisterous as her peers, although she may need to stop to rest from time to time.

This summer, two Children’s Hospital residents, Matthew Kutney, M.D., and Carrie Morgan, M.D., spent an evening in the Cheatham’s home. The first person to meet them at the door was Claire. She graciously greeted her visitors and, shortly after gave them a “tour” of the house, her short brown hair bouncing with every step.

Once Kutney and Morgan sat down with Claire and her parents at the dining room table, Melissa, Claire’s mother, began talking about what they have been through with their daughter. She explained the multiple diagnoses and treatments, shared openly about their experiences with the doctors and provided insight into what Claire deals with every day.

“Sometimes it bothers you to be a little different, huh?” Melissa asked Claire.

“Yeah,” Claire responded, “sometimes mean boys say things that aren’t nice.”

Claire eventually got the chance to fully share her own thoughts. She told the visitors that she was going into the second grade and that math and science are her favorite subjects. She explained to them part of what her weekly therapy routine is like, “In PT I do exercises, but in OT I do writing.”

Recently, Claire was diagnosed with benign hypermobility joint syndrome, and had to give up gymnastics because of this.

“The most biggest challenge is that I want to get better,” Claire explained to the residents, “but it may not get better until stop I growing. And then I can get back to gymnastics!”

In place of gymnastics, Claire has shown great promise as a swimmer. She began water-based physical therapy when diagnosed with benign hypermobility joint syndrome and after land-based physical therapy proved too hard on her joints. She attends two hour-sessions with pediatric water physical therapists at the Kim Dayani Center pool at Vanderbilt every other week, and her mother supplements the therapies at their local YMCA twice a week. Claire is thriving, and her mother hopes she’ll be able to join a swim team soon.










Throughout the course of the conversation, Kutney and Morgan asked many questions, learning all they could from this extraordinary family. The two of them walked away from the Cheatham home that night with a broadened perspective of how families with chronically-ill children deal with everything from physicians to schooling to medical bills. This is the goal of FAM.

Lisa Craft, assistant professor of Pediatrics in the Center for Child Development (CCD), has medical students and pediatric residents, as part of their one-month rotation at the CCD, visit the home of a family involved in FAM. 

“This is a valuable experience,” Craft said. “[It] provides residents and students with a unique opportunity to learn about the life experience and expertise of families, including their perspectives on interaction with health care providers. The goal is that they would incorporate this into their training and practice, adopting a family-centered approach to care and a heightened respect for families.”

The other program, FACT (Families As Classroom Teachers) has the same goal – to link families of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities with medical students and residents – but families participate in different ways. They actually go to local colleges and universities to speak to a class of students, participate in a question-and-answer session, have an interview with a student or take part in a video production which will be shown to students.

Monica Urness is a program coordinator for both FACT and FAM. She realizes that her participation with the program affects both the medical students and the children that they will eventually treat.

“When you have a child who’s chronically ill, you want to do something positive,” Urness said. “You talk to these students, and you see their eyes light up. They’ll tell us, ‘This has made my medical career so clear now.’” 

by Bethany Cosand

Last Edited: July 1, 2016
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