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Mission Health program helps reduce surgery anxiety for patients with autism

Six-year-old Garrett Wolk is emotionally uncertain when undergoing anesthesia, which is required periodically for his gastrointestinal troubles. Now, Mission Health's Asheville Surgery Center has developed the Linked Program for autism spectrum patients like Garrett. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

A surgical procedure is traumatic enough for any child, but it's often worse for youngsters on the autism spectrum.

Mission Health is making accommodations to reduce anxiety for children with special needs.

Six-year-old Garrett Wolk is emotionally uncertain when undergoing anesthesia, which is required periodically for his gastrointestinal troubles.

"In the past, whenever he has had procedures -- especially in recovering waiting -- he would be so undone and anxious," recalled Garrett's mom, Kristin Wolk.

Now, Mission Health's Asheville Surgery Center has developed the Linked Program for autism spectrum patients like Garrett.

How to handle each patient is individually tailored, often based on answers to a questionnaire.

During Garrett's last visit : "I got to ride in a wagon," he said.

"Instead of a wheelchair," Kristin added.

"They let him wear his own clothes," she continued. "Changing clothes is a trigger for him."

Surgery Center Registered Nurse Lisa Clark, BSN, explained, "For the most part, if we can keep them settled and calm prior to going to surgery, when they wake up with their caregiver at their side, it's a night and day situation. We don't have the screamers."

That means a quicker exit from the surgery center, along with a faster recovery.

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