Prescribing Fun and Games

Hometown pride can be central to a person’s identity. For someone from Kansas City, that often includes the World Series champion Royals or some really fantastic barbecue. For UMKC alumnus Matthew McLaughlin (M.D. '09), who declares, “I am Kansas City,” it’s more than great baseball and food.

“There’s a certain thing that I mean when I say that. It means to me that you’re a hard-working person who wants to advance others in the best ways that you can while maintaining your own sense of family and person,” he says.

McLaughlin grew up in Kansas City and aspired to attend the UMKC six-year medical program after high school. He was inspired by his own pediatrician, a man by the name of Dr. Cockerell, to pursue a career in pediatrics.

McLaughlin completed the six-year medical program and then took a fellowship in pediatric rehabilitation medicine at Children’s Mercy. While a full-time pediatric fellow at Children’s Mercy, he graduated from UMKC again in 2015 with a master’s degree in bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics is a method of using technology to evaluate health care situations, systems, models, diseases and processes within the field of medicine to help medical professionals evaluate patients. This is helpful in the pediatric rehab field, McLaughlin says, because he already collects a large amount of data on his patients. Bioinformatics allows him to evaluate that information and find connections that can make a difference in the care of his patients.

McLaughlin now works in pediatric rehabilitation at Children’s Mercy and interacts daily with patients living with cerebral palsy, spina bifida or who have suffered a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury.

“It’s all about taking kids who have some level of disability and improving function to enhance quality of life,” he says.

Working with patients with disabilities is his calling, he says.

“For me, it’s going back to how you are judged as a society; how a society views and treats its disabled shows how valuable society views its members.”

When he isn’t working to improve the lives of his patients, McLaughlin spends his volunteer time with disabled children, bringing them new experiences that would normally have been unattainable. In the winter, McLaughlin drives weekly to Weston, Mo., to volunteer with Midwest Adaptive Sports, a therapeutic, recreational and competitive ski program for individuals with disabilities. He gives adaptive snow skiing lessons to and assists the children who benefit from this organization.

“You have to take into account each child’s disability to tailor a ski lesson to help them learn how to ski. For children with low vision, we have to use certain setups or devices to help them feel the ground in a better way. Or for patients with no lower limb functions, we have to find adaptive equipment such as sleds.”

McLaughlin also teaches adaptive water skiing and ice hockey. Because of these programs, children who would never have been able to experience these activities are able to find the joy in them. Skiing and other sports are McLaughlin’s hobbies and teaching these skills to disabled children brings together many things he loves.

Interested in finding a volunteer project to give back? McLaughlin has a few tips for finding the best project and how to stick with it.

“Volunteering should be fun and should not be viewed as a chore or as something you feel like you have to do. Choosing something you are interested in and sharing your interests with others is an easy way to get involved with volunteerism.”

In December 2015, McLaughlin was chosen as a UMKC Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Honor Award recipient, which honors a graduating student who exhibits outstanding leadership and service.