Sometimes, it takes a doctor to spot a problem with your child – maybe something a parent didn’t notice, or dismissed as an idiosyncrasy or even felt was normal.
A little girl came in for a checkup with Dr. Andrea Mead one day and the physician noticed the child had an awkward gait.
“It turns out, she had a brain tumor,” the pediatrician said. “I don’t want to scare anyone, but sometimes a doctor can notice something subtle a parent might dismiss.”
Dr. Mead has recently joined the pediatric team at UCHealth’s Pediatrics – Loveland.
Dr. Mead is no stranger to Colorado; she grew up here, did her undergraduate work at the University of Colorado, and returned home after she attained her medical degree. She has practiced in Colorado for 18 years and is raising her family here.
As a mom, and as a physician, she’s a firm believer in the importance of well-baby and well-child visits. Seeing her patients grow from infants to college students has been a rewarding experience, she said.
Even if a child seems healthy, there are signs a physician looks for to determine normal development.
“Basically, the main thing we’re looking for is growth – there can be some subtle things we can check if they’re not growing properly. For example, sometimes we can spot congenital heart disease just two weeks after birth,” she said. “A child might seem totally fine after birth, then it shows up later.”
Eye health also is an important factor in early childhood development, she said.
“With toddlers, I like to check their vision and eyes. If we don’t catch ‘lazy eye’ or ‘wandering eye’ early, the child can lose vision, because your vision develops as you grow,” Dr. Mead said.
Nutrition is another major concern.
“Also at two weeks, we are making sure your baby is eating well, and gaining weight,” she said.
As children get older, a pediatrician will check on development, such as fine and gross motor skills and speech delays. If spotted early, the doctor will look for underlying problems and often prescribe therapy to correct the situation early, she said.
How often should a child see a physician? Typically, she said, visits are scheduled at 2 weeks, 2 months, 6 months, 9 months and one year, then at 15 and 18 months and age 2. After that, yearly exams are the norm unless a child becomes ill, develops a problem, needs vaccines or if a parent has other concerns.
School sports physicals are important, too. “They can uncover heart murmurs, high blood pressure, and other issues,” such as unusual weight loss or gain, she said. Eating disorders or obesity can become “a significant medical problem that, if dealt with early, can prevent more serious adult issues.”
Vaccines are an important part of wellness, Dr. Mead said.
They begin at birth, and should be given at 2, 4, 6, 12, 15 and18 months to start. Then, children need their pre-kindergarten shots, then additional ones before going into 6th grade. Some kids also get boosters before college.
What if parents object to vaccines?
“I usually try to go through the risks and benefits of each vaccine. Parents need to know what they are. I’ve done a lot of medical missions internationally, so I have seen first-hand the effects of not getting vaccines.
“I’ve seen polio, I’ve seen tetanus, and it’s not pretty. I tell them, ‘You’re a plane flight away from many of these diseases.’ I tell them they really should not travel outside of the U.S. if they are not vaccinated.’’
Dr. Mead she does not want to see her patients ever get these disorders. After she gives her opinion and hands out information on each vaccine, it’s the parents’ right to make informed decisions.
“If they still decline, I warn them that I’ll bring it up at every visit. Usually they laugh and say OK,” Dr. Mead said.
Many times, parents decide to vaccinate, but not always.
“A lot of pediatrics is developing a relationship over time and developing a sense of trust with the physician,” she said. “It’s all about trust.”