Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s 24th Annual Fetal Surgery Family Reunion Connects Thousands Online

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On Sunday, June 7, 2020, the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment celebrated its 24th Annual Fetal Family Reunion. This year’s reunion was a virtual event held on Facebook due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Fetal Family Reunion has been an annual occurrence since 1997. The event, typically held on Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s campus, provides an opportunity for those treated in the center to reconnect with the clinical team that cared for them and other families who share an indescribable bond. For many, the yearly event is an opportunity to celebrate their child’s breakthroughs and reflect on how far they’ve come.

“Each year, the Fetal Family Reunion serves as a point of reflection and appreciation to the many families who have entrusted us with their care,” says N. Scott Adzick, MD, MMM, Surgeon-in-Chief and Director of the center. “The virtual presence gave our families and our care team a chance to come together for our favorite day of the year, even though we were physically apart.”

Record attendance

The reunion has grown from a handful of attendees that first year to nearly 500 families. Because participants were able to attend from the comfort and safety of their homes, the attendance rate was four times greater than last year’s in-person event. More than 2,000 families from all 50 states and Canada, the U.K., and other parts of the world participated. The event generated more than 6,000 engagements on social media and reached over 800,000 Facebook users.

The Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment’s Facebook page featured more than 20 heartfelt messages from the center’s team — including center co-founders Adzick and Lori J. Howell, DNP, MSN, RN. Patients and families also posted video messages expressing their gratitude for the care team and photos of milestones they have achieved. Obstetrical Director, Julie S. Moldenhauer, MD, also shared a video update on how COVID-19 has affected the center’s patients and staff over the past few months.

“For the staff, the fetal reunion is certainly one of our favorite days of the year,” adds Genetic Counselor Erica Schindewolf, MS, LCGC, who has attended the reunion for the past five years. “It’s just a really nice time to be able to connect with our families in a different way and catch up with them. It’s a really rewarding experience.”

“It really is always amazing to see how many patients remember the fetal therapy coordinators from the very first call to our center,” adds Susan Spinner, MSN, RN, Advanced Practice Nurse and Manager of the fetal therapy coordinators and genetic counselors. “There is something about that first intimate call, that helping them through this most vulnerable time, that makes a permanent connection. Each year, we feel that gratitude from our patients. It’s the reason we look so forward to the reunion every year.”

“It was so wonderful seeing so many messages and photos from patients and families,” says Social Worker Jessica Hertzog, MSW, LSW. “I just kept scrolling and scrolling!”

Schindewolf, Spinner, Hertzog and many other members of the care team spent reunion day contributing photos and messages, and watching the incredible posts stream in from families.

Given the many benefits of the virtual event — including an ability to connect with more families than ever — the fetal team plans to incorporate a digital component into the in-person reunion going forward. We are all looking forward to the time we can be together in person again.

Watch a video recapping the virtual reunion and some of the messages shared by the center’s team and families.

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