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Roundup of Cheer: Stories that Inspired Us in 2023

By Jean Yaeger

Looking back on 2023 gives us the chance to pause and appreciate a truly remarkable year for Cook Children’s. So many moments of magic unfolded, and we’re grateful – which is why we want to revisit our happiest headlines from 2023. These top stories reflect creativity, achievement and dedication to the health of every child in our community. So grab a cup of eggnog and enjoy this holiday season recap of 12 merry highlights from Cook Children’s.

1. Medical Center-Prosper Welcomes First Patients days of cheer1

Cook Children’s Medical Center-Prosper opened Jan. 9 to better serve the rapid population growth in the Metroplex’ northern region.  From the in-room technology to playful cows on the ceiling, the design sparks innovation and imagination. The medical center anchors the 23-acre Cook Children’s Prosper campus, which also includes primary care offices, urgent care and an outpatient surgery center. It’s only the second hospital in the 105-year history of Cook Children’s outside of the flagship location in Fort Worth. Why expand to our north? To reduce travel for families while still offering the care they trust from Cook Children’s. “It makes me feel 10 times better about everything, especially considering it's right down the street," said Tionne Harris, mother of the medical center’s first patient.  

2. Separation of Twins Makes History days of cheer2

Twin sisters AmieLynn and JamieLynn Finley were born conjoined at the chest and sharing a liver.  On Jan. 23, a team of 25 surgeons and other medical experts separated the infant girls during an 11-hour operation, the first of its kind at Cook Children’s. JamieLynn went home in March, and AmieLynn was discharged a month later after some additional recovery in the NICU. Their heartwarming story made national headlines and even earned a proclamation from the Tarrant County Commissioners Court. “With so many steps in their journey, it reminds us how big and how great our Cook Children’s family is to help them achieve milestone after milestone,” said lead surgeon José Iglesias, M.D.


3. Researchers Release Groundbreaking Findings on Seizures 

Neurology journal Brain in February published work by the Neurosciences Research Center at Cook Children’s that helps pinpoint what parts of the brain cause seizures in children with epilepsy. The center, led by Christos Papadelis, Ph.D., demonstrated that noninvasive techniques and advanced computer modeling could be used to measure the electric and magnetic signals generated by neural cells in the brain. “This novel method has the potential to improve the outcome of children with epilepsy, particularly those who were previously ineligible for neurosurgery,” Dr. Papadelis said. It’s a major scientific discovery that offers hope for a future free from seizures.


4. Save a Smile Improves Access to Oral Health days of cheer4

The Save a Smile program at the Center for Community Health, led by Cook Children’s, provides free dental care to children with untreated cavities, abscess or other tooth pain. Save a Smile Director Tonya Fuqua, D.D.S. coordinates a team of dentists who volunteer to serve students in need from 21 elementary schools in the Fort Worth area. Through events in the community, the program also provides preventive cleanings and checkups. Supporters of the program are motivated by the impact that dental health has on a child’s physical and mental wellbeing. For National Children’s Dental Health month in February, we spotlighted three young sisters whose advanced tooth decay was corrected thanks to Save a Smile.


5. Dodson Clinics Puts Specialties Under One Roof days of cheer5

The Dodson Specialty Clinics expansion opened March 20, adding 240,000 square feet to bring more services to one common location. Our patient families shared their perspectives in the design phase, and their input was incorporated into elements such as companion restrooms and wide elevators. Dodson Clinics includes a state-of-the-art parking garage, Peaks Tech Zone, a sibling support center, and the home for the Jane and John Justin Institute for Mind Health. “How the kids and families feel permeates everything we do,” said Spencer Seals, vice president of Construction, Real Estate and Facility Planning at Cook Children’s. “World-class care starts with world-class spaces.”


6. Cook Children’s Celebrates 105th Year 

How do you mark a milestone birthday? With games, entertainment, food and friends! Patient families and guests gathered on the lawn at Cook Children’s Medical Center – days of cheer6 Fort Worth on March 21 to help celebrate the hospital’s 105th anniversary. At sunset, the partygoers waved flashlights to say goodnight to the patients looking out their hospital windows. This year also brought a 25th birthday party for our beloved Prayer Bear program, which provides spiritual and emotional support through cuddly stuffed animals. Cook Children’s has cared for families in North Texas and beyond since 1918. Looking ahead we remain committed to excellence and our Promise: Everything for the Child.


 7. Cook Children’s Ranks Among the Nation’s Best

U.S. News and World Report recognized five specialties at Cook Children’s Health Care System as high-ranking for children’s hospitals nationwide in 2023-2024. The report, released in June, gave distinctions to Cook Children’s in:

  • Pediatric Cancer - #30 in the nation
  • Pediatric Diabetes and Endocrinology - #31 in the nation
  • Pediatric Neurology and Neurosurgery - #36 in the nation
  • Pediatric Orthopedics - #40 in the nation
  • Pediatric Pulmonology and Lung Surgery - #48 in the nation  

Cook Children’s also came in at #3 in Texas and #4 in the Southwest on the U.S. News and World Report “Best Regional Hospitals” list. 


8. Shared Location Fosters Collaboration in Neuro Specialties days of cheer8

The Jane and John Justin Institute for Mind Health opened Oct. 19 to help families navigate psychology, neurology, behavioral health and more. Located inside the expanded Dodson Specialty Clinics building, the institute brings together nine specialties that treat disorders of the nervous system. The convenience of a shared location translates to more comprehensive and connected care. As the Institute’s head Scott Perry, M.D. put it: “You shouldn’t have to pack up your child and go to four different places when you need a neurologist, neurosurgeon, psychologist and autism services.” And to help put patients at ease, the one-of-a-kind art display features works by artists who have disorders of the nervous system or are neuroscientists.


9. Athletes Hit their Stride at Expanded Facilities

Young athletes have a top-notch site to develop their skills and recover from injuries thanks to the John and Tracy Sellers Sports Complex, which opened in October. The days of cheer9 complex features a 30-yard football field, a quarter-mile track, a pitching mound and an agility training area. Located at Cook Children’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Walsh Ranch, the complex also offers programs for optimal nutrition and injury prevention, as well as sports camps and adaptive training for differently-abled kids and teens. Rehabilitation after injuries is a major part of the mission. But the facility and its programs are open to all young athletes, teams and homeschool physical education students looking to get in top shape under the direction of certified athletic trainers.


10. Mobile Grocery Store Targets Food Insecurity days of cheer10

A grocery store on wheels began traveling through three North Texas counties in October due to the combined efforts of Cook Children’s, the Tarrant Area Food Bank and H-E-B Hunger Relief. Shelves in the refrigerated trailer are stocked with fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products and other items. Data from the Cook Children’s Center for Community Health identifies specific neighborhoods in need within the mobile grocery store’s territory (Denton, Wise and Cooke counties). Along with providing food, the R.E.D. Market also helps connect families to SNAP benefits and additional resources to address housing, education and employment.


11. Partners Break Ground for Neighborhood Center days of cheer11

Cook Children’s Health Care System is teaming up with the City of Fort Worth and other health and social services providers to transform the outlook for residents of the Las Vegas Trail Neighborhood. At groundbreaking in November, the leaders described their vision for a new facility opening in 2025 on 3.7 acres in west Fort Worth. Plans call for the 40,000-square-foot Las Vegas Trail Neighborhood Health Center to offer pediatric health care through Cook Children’s. Other services in the building will include adult health care, mental health therapy, job training, a food pantry, nutrition education and a police storefront. It’s an innovative partnership that aims to transform lives by providing vital resources close to home for an underserved community.


12. Endocrine Expert Earns Global Impact Award days of cheer12

As medical director of Diabetes and Endocrinology at Cook Children’s, Paul Thornton, M.D. stands out for his research and skills treating children with hyperinsulinism. Patients with this rare genetic disease travel from around the United States and other countries to receive care from Dr. Thornton and his team. In November he received a 2023 Global impact Award from the City of Fort Worth and Fort Worth Sister Cities International. Clinicians around the world benefit from the research and presentations of Dr. Thornton, who strives to help identify symptoms of hyperinsulinism and manage the disease.


Bonus: Raising Joy Podcast Hits 50 episodes 

days of cheer- bonusCook Children’s podcast Raising Joy reached its 50-episode landmark in June. Parents tune in to hear honest conversations about the wellbeing of children and teens coping with anxiety, depression, risk for suicide and other mental health challenges. Kristen Pyrc, M.D., taps into her expertise as co-medical director of Psychiatry, along with fellow co-host Wini King, Chief of Communication, Inclusion, Equity and Diversity. “This is bold. It’s not something you might expect from a children’s hospital,” King said. “We’ve heard incredibly impactful stories of personal struggle and resilience. I hope listeners walk away from our podcast knowing there is hope and help.” New episodes of Raising Joy are available each Tuesday on major streaming platforms including Apple, Spotify and Google Podcasts.