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Environmental planner turned pediatrician to discuss children’s health in warming world :

August 15, 2019

Editor's note:The 2019 AAP National Conference & Exhibition will take place from Oct. 25-29 in New Orleans.

Debra J. Hendrickson, M.D., FAAP, has an unusual background for a pediatrician — one that makes her particularly qualified to talk about how climate change affects children’s health.

Before going into medicine, Dr. Hendrickson spent more than a decade as an environmental analyst and planner, and went to graduate school to study forestry.

Now, she practices in Reno, Nev. — the fastest-warming city in the United States and downwind of many California wildfires.

“In summer and fall, our air is sometimes so bad that kids cannot go outside safely for days or weeks at a time,” said Dr. Hendrickson, an associate clinical professor at the University of Nevada Medical School and a member of the AAP Council on Environmental Health.

“During one of these ‘smoke crises,’ I was looking at the face of a wheezing, coughing patient and realized I might be in a unique position to tie the threads of this story together,” she said. “So I started writing about how this one baby in my practice was connected to the global environmental crisis.”

Her writings turned into a book, which will be published next year.

Dr. Hendrickson will give a plenary talk titled “A Burning House: Children's Health in the Warming World” (P4104) from 11:50 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28 in the Great Hall of the convention center. She plans to use the stories of pediatric patients in several cities to show that the climate crisis is a health crisis, first and foremost, for children.

“I will also argue that it is the greatest moral crisis humanity has ever faced because the most powerful people on Earth have aligned against the least powerful — the children — who will bear the burden of a degraded world. And each of us has to decide how we are going to respond to that,” she said.

While pediatricians may doubt that they can make a dent in such a monumental problem, Dr. Hendrickson believes they can — and should.

“The greatest health threat to today’s children, in coming decades, is the climate crisis,” she said. “Pediatricians must stand with the children now, marching and protesting around the world, demanding that adults do something.”

For more coverage of the 2019 AAP National Conference & Exhibition, visit http://bit.ly/AAPNationalConference19.

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