Dialogue with a Dietician: Robyn Blackford

Stories in: Allied Health

Before Robyn Blackford even started working at Lurie Children’s, she fell in love with the team. Seeing how they treated not only patients but other employees assured Robyn that Lurie Children’s was the place she wanted to be before she even interviewed.

That was 13 years ago.

Now, as a registered dietitian in the clinical nutrition department, Robyn works with epileptic and seizure-prone patients on implementing the ketogenic diet to help lessen the likelihood of seizures. When she started, the ketogenic diet was pretty rare, but now it has grown in popularity inside and out of the hospital setting–and now Lurie Children’s is the largest ketogenic diet center in North America.

To find out more about the diet and being a dietitian at Lurie Children’s, we spoke with Robyn to get the answers to our questions.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet as we use it at Lurie Children’s is for patients with seizures/epilepsy, specifically intractable epilepsy, so they’ve tried medications for the seizure control first–good medicine that should be helpful–and when it fails to be helpful, we have the option to use the ketogenic diet as the next treatment instead of the next medication. Also, the patient that has side effects from medications and need to be weaned may also be good candidates for the keto diet.

The diet itself is a high fat diet that is low in carbs. For most cases, we admit the patient to the hospital to initiate the diet over the course of 4 days so that we can monitor them as they go into ketosis. We decrease the amount of carbs and increase the amount of fat over those 4 days and make sure that they receive all of the training they need to manage the diet at home, because everything is weighed on a gram scale and the recipes are really specific, so they receive all of that training from me during that time.

Why Lurie Children’s?

Lurie is the best at what they do, which is taking care of patients and their families. I feel like everyone involved in the patient care has the same goal, and being a keto dietitian is pretty special here at Lurie and even being a dietitian here at Lurie is special because of how the teams include the dietitian as part of their team. It’s not something you get everywhere.

I’ve been to other institutions and I’ve seen that it’s just you sitting there writing your notes and no one pays attention to it. At Lurie, dietitians are well respected as part of the multidisciplinary team. What I do feels important here and I feel like I’m heard, and my recommendations are being strongly considered for the overall care of the patients.

How do you provide high quality care?

I think high quality care comes from the research that we do as part of Lurie. There’s always something new to learn and do to get involved. I’ve always found that if there’s some kind of research project or something I want to get involved with or that I’m passionate about, I’m always encouraged to do it. Those ideas don’t get shutdown. If there’s something new I want to tackle, everyone’s cheering me on to go do it. The sky’s the limit when it comes to those things. With what I do, there’s not a better institution that does it.

We’re on the forefront of ketogenic and kind of pushing what we would use the diet for in the future and do that here, so we can put the research out there for others to see. I’m always involved with different conferences and speaking at different engagements as a representative for Lurie, and that’s always encouraged by my manager and work group to do those things. Just being open to learn new things is also important, along with accepting the changes in healthcare and new research helps me provide the best care for patients.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I love taking care of patients and their families, I feel like it’s an honor to care for them. It’s difficult, I’m sure, to trust the medical team with the most precious gift of your child, or to allow them to take care of your child. I feel honored when people invite me into their space to do that and that’s my most favorite part: having relationships with the families that come to Lurie, and that they allow me to take care of their child. That’s a really fascinating part about what we do, these people trust you and they let you do what you know best.

If you’re ready to join a hardworking team and the largest ketogenic diet center in North America, apply today and join the Lurie Children’s family!