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[SABLETEST}Bay Area Proud

Inspiring stories of people making a difference

Oakland Pediatrician Opens Her Home To Patients And Their Families

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    Dr. Caroline Hastings has turned the idea of work/life balance on its head and the results are beautiful. (Published Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014)

    The house call. 

    Dr. Caroline Hastings has taken that nostalgic concept of ultra-personalized doctor care to a new level.
    Caroline, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Children's Hospital Oakland, not only gives her patients excellent care in her office and operating room. She often invites them and their families to stay over at her house.


    This past week, the Hempel family from Reno, Nev., slept on mattresses right off of Caroline's dining room, which she shares with her husband and three daughters. In fact, Caroline and her family threw the Hempel twin sisters - Addi and Cassi - a 10th birthday party, inviting friends to meet the sick girls and eat some cake with them.

    Addi and Cassi were diagnosed with Niemann-Pick disease type C, a rare, genetic disorder that is slowly compromising the girls' bodies ability to function.
    Caroline has been working closely with Addi and Cassi's parents, Chris and Hugh Hempel, to pioneer experimental treatment aimed at delaying, or reversing, the disease's progress.
    Caroline understands why many physicians like to keep their professional and personal lives separate. But doing so wasn't working for her, or her family. So Caroline decided to invite her work in, literally.
    "You just can't turn it off when you go home," Caroline says. "You are still researching what to do, calling your patients. I let my family into my work and my work into my family. It was actually a lot easier for me and made a lot more sense and was a lot more comfortable."
    Caroline has been working closely with Addi and Cassi's parents, Chris and Hugh Hempel, to pioneer experimental treatment aimed at delaying, or reversing, the disease's progress.
    To say that Caroline and the Hempels have an unusual doctor-patient relationship is an understatement. And her patients know that they are experiencing something extremely rare.
    "I get the most amazing doctor in the world and a beautiful friend," Chris says. "If you wanted a physician you couldn't do any better than this."
    Caroline says having patients stay at her house is not only good for her patients, but the outside-the-office visits have had a great impact on her three daughters, too.
    "I think it's enriched the lives of my children," she says.
    If fact, Caroline says one reason she continues to invite patients to stay is because, "my kids want them to stay here."
    And she added that her daughters have grown particularly close to Addi and Cassi. Her girls spent time coloring a birthday poster for the twins and baking them cupcakes to celebrate.
    Asked if she is worried that being so close with her patients opens her, and her family, up to great pain should they die - a realistic possibility with Addi and Cassi - Caroline says in fact, it's just the opposite.

    "I think that when families invite you to be part of the end of their child's life, it's extremely meaningful," Caroline says. "It can be as beautiful of a process as birth." 

    Caroline admits that the type of relationship she enjoys with the Hempel family is not for all doctors, or even patients. She says patients' families in the past have turned down her offer of housing.
    Still, while Caroline's definition of work/life balance may not be for everyone, it certainly is working for her.
    "I think it has made me not only a better physician, but a better mother, a better wife, and a better friend."