Sleep lab expanded at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital

Wide awake and full of energy, 4-year-old Kyle Polk munched a cupcake during a grand reopening reception for a newly expanded sleep lab at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital.

Kyle had his tonsils and adenoids removed July 3 — just as his older brother, Tristan, did two years earlier — to treat obstructive sleep apnea.

They and their parents, Brian and Tamara Polk, both 35, of Havre de Grace, were a poster family at the ribbon-cutting reception on July 10 for the lab, called the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Sleep Center and located at the nonprofit hospital on West Rogers Avenue.

The reception was aimed at referring physicians, health care leaders, related clinicians and the media, hospital officials said in a news release.

Tamara Polk had more than a parental interest in the lab. She's the lab manager, a job she took because she was so impressed with the sleep lab

“It speaks volumes that I work here,” she said.

he hospital, in partnership with Sleep Services of America, offers comprehensive evaluation and care for children with sleep-related breathing problems. Those problems range from apnea to respiratory failure, sometimes related to obesity; Down syndrome; and neuromuscular diseases like muscular dystrophy.

The arrangement with Hopkins allows the pediatric hospital to share resources and deliver higher quality service, hospital President and CEO Sheldon Stein said in a written statement.

The expanded lab, located in the same space as the old one, incorporates the latest noninvasive diagnostic sleep technology, sound-proofing techniques and the latest design standards, officials said in the news release.

According to Sleep Service of America's website,, obstructive sleep apnea occurs when muscles of the soft palate and throat relax during sleep, obstructing the airway and making breathing difficult and noisy, usually in the form of snoring.

Eventually, the airway walls collapse, blocking airflow entirely, which results in a breathing pause or apnea, the website states.

Sleep Services of America — which according to its website is owned by HSI, a subsidiary of the Johns Hopkins Health System, and based in Glen Burnie — provides highly trained technicians and equipment for the sleep center.

The round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week lab, which is part of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric and Pulmonary Sleep Clinic at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital, has five family-friendly rooms with separate beds for children and their parents.

Each room is equipped with cameras so that technicians can monitor the children in an overnight sleep study to help diagnose their problems and decide on the best course of treatment for the children.

“We all know there's nothing better than a good night's sleep,” said Dr. Laura Sterni, of Towson, medical director of the sleep lab.

Most children are treated by removing their tonsils and adenoids, and will never know the difference, “except that they won't be snoring,” Sterni said.

However, that treatment doesn't always work, said Tammany Buckwalter, of Elkridge, director of provider relations and events for the pediatric hospital and the mother of Christopher, 11.

Buckwalter said her son was falling asleep in chairs when he was treated in 2006.

“For some kids, it fails,” his mother said. She said Christopher had to wear a special mask over his nose, a treatment that is usually reserved for adults with sleep apnea.

Christopher was none the worse for wear as he walked around at the reception, wearing a Washington Redskins jersey.

“I don't remember it,” he said.

“We see children that others can't, because their problems are severe,” Tammany Buckwalter said.

Children under 1 year old or with complex medical issues must be seen at the clinic before a sleep study can be scheduled. Those issues include behavioral problems that might make a sleep study difficult, or if the children are on oxygen or ventilators or if they have a tracheotomy.

To schedule an evaluation by specialists at Sleep Services of America, call 410-955-2035.

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