Grateful family honors ‘good doctor’ as ambassadors at Six Flags night

By Patrick McGee

Before arriving at Children’s Medical Center, Tarrah Zimmerman’s 18-month-old daughter, Serene, had been diagnosed with neurofibromatosis by a doctor who could not have been less empathetic.

“It was very cold,” the Colleyville mom said. “I was very scared when I left.”

Things changed dramatically when the family entered Children’s.

“It was a very positive experience. It was like, ‘This is OK. We’ve got this. This is nothing to be scared or afraid of,’ ” Mrs. Zimmerman said. “We walked away feeling positive and feeling, ‘She’s going to be OK. We’re in really good hands.’ ”

Six years later Mrs. Zimmerman still has that confidence born from experience as her daughter continues to see the same doctor, Dr. Laura Klesse, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist who is director of Children’s Neurofibromatosis Program.

As a thank you for her continued support, the Zimmermans will be on hand April 8 when Dr. Klesse is honored at Family Night at Six Flags, the annual fundraiser for the Women’s Auxiliary to Children’s Medical Center, taking place at the Arlington amusement park. Advance tickets are available for $35 at all Dallas-Fort Worth area Tom Thumb locations. Tickets will be $69.99 at the gate. The special event, featuring rides and family entertainment will be open exclusively for ticket holders from 6 p.m. to midnight.

“When we found out that they were honoring Dr. Klesse at this event, we were more than happy to play a role,” Mrs. Zimmerman said. “She has been such a good doctor to us.”

Mrs. Zimmerman said she first noticed about half a dozen spots on her daughter when she was about 18 months old. They looked like coffee stains. Doctors said they were a sign of neurofibromatosis, a condition that greatly increases the likelihood of developing tumors on nerve tissue. The diagnosis was frightening, but Mrs. Zimmerman said she began to feel better when she was scheduled for an appointment with Dr. Klesse.

“I contacted a couple of other parents whose children have neurofibromatosis and asked them, ‘Have you ever heard of this doctor?’ And they said, ‘That’s one of the best doctors in the country. How did you get in?’ ” she said.

Dr. Klesse earned her M.D. and Ph.D. from UT Southwestern Medical Center, and the neurofibromatosis clinic she runs is one of the three busiest in the nation, according to the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Dr. Klesse and two other doctors see about 450 patients at the clinic, but the huge caseload has done nothing to diminish the personal connection doctors make with each family.

“The first time we met her she gave us her e-mail address and said, ‘E-mail me anytime that you need me,’ ” Mrs. Zimmerman said. “For any type of question we have, she will e-mail us back within the hour. She’s always offered very personal care to our whole family.”

The spots on Serene’s skin have increased to more than 200. But they are faint and painless, and the third grader has been able to live a normal life. She enjoys playing outside and reading American Girl books.

Annual check-ups with Dr. Klesse are necessary because neurofibromatosis makes it much more likely that cancerous tumors or leukemia will develop. Mrs. Zimmerman said her daughter is starting to ask questions about the annual doctor appointments and will probably ask Dr. Klesse many questions in her upcoming visit later this year.

Dr. Klesse advice is it’s best to be honest.

“Kids are smart. You have to be honest with them,” Dr. Klesse said. “We tell people. ‘You’re at risk for lumps and bumps and other stuff that can come up. You have to watch for it.’ But they’re normal kids. I want the families to know they can treat them as normal kids.”


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