University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 1/1995
Pediatrician lightens up children's lives

     Pediatrician Sandra Gibson Hassink of Wilmington, Del.,
spends most of her waking hours making life better for kids.
President of the Delaware chapter of the American Academy of
Pediatrics, Hassink, Delaware '74, is currently involved with two
special projects-an obesity clinic for children and a program to
provide support for foster families caring for children with AIDS
or who are HIV-positive.
     Weight Management, an obesity clinic at the A.I. duPont
Institute, a children's hospital in Wilmington, annually treats
1,200 children, from infants through adolescents, who come from
as far away as Virginia.
     "There are not a lot of programs like ours in the country,
and I'm not sure why. Childhood obesity is increasing, and that's
alarming because it can lead to medical problems such as heart
disease, high blood pressure and diabetes," Hassink says.
     In fact, the number of overweight children has more than
doubled in the past 30 years, particularly in the last decade,
according to national federal statistics.
     "Some kids come to our program feeling really  bad about
their size. They face a lot of teasing, and they have a hard time
in all areas of their lives. Obesity is a complicated problem
that needs attention," Hassink says.
     Experts believe that the popularity of television, with the
resulting drop in physical activity and the increased consumption
of convenience foods, might be contributing to the rise of
obesity in children, Hassink says.
     The isolation of the "ob" gene that makes mice obese and the
more recent finding that leptin (the protein that the "ob" gene
produces) makes mice thin, are "very important discoveries," she
     "For the first time, we have the ability to look at the
individual and the way that individual handles his or her weight.
Up until now, we've been looking at obese people as a group. It's
early yet, but this discovery has the capacity to give us
tremendous information about how the body controls and maintains
its weight," she says.
     Each person's obesity is unique, Hassink says, so the weight
management professionals at the A.I. duPont Institute evaluate
each child's medical condition, eating and exercise habits and
any psychological problems, such as low self-esteem. They also
treat the children and their families as a group and tailor
solutions to meet each family's needs.
     "Society is hard on overweight people, even on people who
are only mildly overweight. We need to address this problem
because of the pressures these people face," Hassink says.
      The pediatrician also works to help alleviate some of the
pressure felt by foster families caring for children with AIDS or
who have been tested positive for HIV, by helping coordinate Home
ImproVement Kids, which serves as a support network for these
foster parents.
     "It's asking a lot of a family to care for a baby who is
sick with full-blown AIDS or to take on a child with AIDS
antibodies who is perfectly well at the time. It's hard because
you don't know if the baby or child will be with you a long time
or not," Hassink says.
     "Our ultimate goal for Home ImproVement Kids is to begin
with foster families, then expand to provide support for all
families taking care of AIDS-infected children. Your heart goes
out to these children, and you want to make sure that-for
whatever span of life they are going to have-they have what they
need," Hassink says.
     Pediatric AIDS is on the rise, and foster families are
needed to care for sick children as well as healthy children
whose parents have AIDS, Hassink says.
     Currently, Home ImproVement Kids is trying to locate
statewide resources for foster families, while surveying the
pediatric AIDS population to match families in need with
opportunities or services available. The project will provide
families with such gifts as baby furniture and such services as
transportation to medical appointments, outings for children or
medical training for parents, Hassink says.
     The program began with a $10,000 grant from the American
Academy of Pediatrics' Community Access to Child Health program
and with support from Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories.
     Hassink, a 1978 graduate of Vanderbilt University Medical
School in Nashville, Tenn., also participates in several American
Academy of Pediatrics initiatives, including a state immunization
tracking system, a prenatal advisory board and a lead-poisoning
task force.
     Where do she and her husband, William, Delaware '73M, spend
most of their spare time? You guessed it! Caring for their three
children and driving them to their various and numerous
activities. "We have no social life," she laughs, "but the
children do!"
                              -Marylee Sauder, Delaware '83