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America's Best Children's Hospitals

When a trio of reporters went out to find examples of the best that pediatric medicine has to offer, they returned bearing tales of wondrous feats. Top children's centers take on daunting challenges--babies that fit in the palm of the hand, tangled viscera, stiffened lungs, hearts that are quite literally broken. A team of specialists somewhere just might have a workable fix.

But the parents of the children on the next pages also talked about a different kind of caring: the busy doctor who was never impatient with their worries. The nurses who played with two little girls so their mom could be with their older sister during a procedure. The palliative-care staff member who took a dispirited mother to get her hair done.

How can caregivers be other than sensitive and sympathetic? These centers get the toughest cases, children often rejected elsewhere as hopeless. Their parents have gone through hell. But consider the unceasing professional and emotional demands of caring for these vulnerable young patients. Erecting a shell to keep from burning out would be understandable. This does happen.

Not, however, to the caregivers in these six accounts. The stories represent the highest level of skill in the half-dozen specialties added to this year's "America's Best Children's Hospitals" rankings: cancer, digestive disorders, heart and heart surgery, neonatal care, neurology and neurosurgery, and respiratory disorders. How the rankings were determined is explained on Page 52.