A Plan for Success
At The Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health, Dr. Boosara Ratanawongsa provides her young patients and their parents with the tools they need to thrive
by Sharon A. Shaw

Being director of the neuroscience program at Moravian College helped Cecilia Fox, Ph.D., better understand the biology involved in a brain disorder. Even so, such an understanding did not make it any less frightening when her son, Samuel, experienced his first seizure on Easter Sunday more than three years ago. “My background did not matter,” she says. “It was still a scary experience.”

Fortunately for Fox, when she asked staff at the hospital where her son was being treated to recommend a pediatric neurologist, they gave her the name of “Dr. Boo.” “Everywhere my husband and I went we kept hearing her name. Her reputation preceded her,” says Fox. Boosara Ratanawongsa, M.D., known to her patients and colleagues as Dr. Boo, is a neurologist with The Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health (CNNH), with locations in Gibbsboro, Rochelle Park and Wall, N.J., and its newly opened office in King of Prussia.

CNNH diagnoses and treats behavioral, learning, neurological, developmental or neuropsychiatric problems including autism, Asperger disorder, ADHD, academic underachievement, Tourette’s and tic syndromes, epilepsy/seizures, acquired brain injuries, sports concussions, headaches and migraines, developmental delay, cerebral palsy, speech and language disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, obsessive/compulsive and bipolar disorder. It also treats patients who have neurobehavioral disorders complicated by challenging behaviors such as self-injurious, aggressive and noncompliant behaviors, as well as other disorders affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles.

A graduate of Georgetown University who earned her medical degree from Columbia University, Dr. Ratanawongsa is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, with special qualification in child neurology. She previously worked at Children’s Hospital in Boston, Children’s Specialists of San Diego and most recently at the Pediatric Specialty Center of the Lehigh Valley Physician Group (part of the Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network). In addition, she has been on the faculties of Harvard Medical School, University of San Diego Medical School and the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa. She has gained accolades from patients for her expertise working with individuals with Epilepsy.

“I was always drawn to working with children,” says Dr. Ratanawongsa. “It occurred to me that I not only liked treating one aspect of a child but the whole picture—emotional, behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial. … I highly respect my colleagues in different fields and different perspectives who only add to understanding the whole picture.”

Dr. Ratanawongsa has two sons of her own, ages 7 and 12, both of whom fall in the realm of high-functioning autism and ADHD. As a parent and physician she understands the difficulties faced by the parents of her young patients—namely, the behavioral difficulties, medications, school meetings and doctor’s visits. “I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the table,” she says.

“I was so apprehensive at our first meeting,” Fox says. “I had so many questions and simply wanted to find good care when requiring such a specialist for our child. I was immediately struck by how warm and welcoming Dr. Boo is. She gave as comprehensive an answer as I could have hoped for. After weeks on edge, I felt like my son was in amazing hands for the first time. I now had an advocate for my son. She was phenomenal; she made our whole family feel better.”

“I enjoy the personal interaction with my patients and their parents, earning their trust and friendship over time,” Dr. Ratanawongsa adds. “I also enjoy the interdisciplinary approach and communication among various providers: neurology colleagues, neuropsychology, board-certified behavioral analysts and creative art therapists.”

CNNH takes a comprehensive approach to exploring the biological causes and contributors to a patient’s condition. This is particularly important with ADHD, autism, learning differences, anxiety and bipolar disorder. For each individual, CNNH develops a clinical profile of their problems and issues. Once the doctors understand the causes behind the symptoms, a treatment regimen is devised that is suited specifically for the patient. CNNH also works with families, teachers and other important people in an individual’s life to build a supportive framework for continued success.

“I was drawn to them because their approach is so comprehensive,” says Fox. “They assess how Sam’s epilepsy impacts his behavior and skills.” With this information the experts at CNNH are developing an individual education plan to ensure Samuel succeeds academically. By identifying where he excels, they also help him develop his self-esteem. Fox describes her son as a “LEGO fiend,” with his room serving as a shrine to that passion. “Our biggest concern is his attention span, but he can sit for hours while building with LEGOs,” she says.

Dr. Ratanawongsa has also recommended Samuel take up karate to help focus his attention, improve balance and coordination; he is currently a red belt who, like many kids other his age, also enjoys swimming and recently began studying guitar. “I tell them that having a name for a diagnosis doesn’t change who their child is,” Dr. Ratanawongsa says. “His strengths and weaknesses are there, and we have the potential to support those weaknesses, let those strengths shine. … I tell them I’m a three-quarters-glass-full person, and I truly feel the more positive and proactive one is, the better the chance a child will shine with the support provided to them.”

Her rapport with patients and their parents is evident in Samuel’s case. According to his mother, he will do anything that he knows Dr. Boo has recommended. “He’s not scared of his neurologist,” Fox says. “She is a big part of his life.

“That she contacts me directly with test results means so much to me,” she continues. “To know she is giving me the information and I am not being shuffled on to a receptionist or nurse is a tremendous comfort. … I have recommended her to a lot of people. She is generous with her time personally, too. She has spoken with my students and allowed them to shadow her in her practice. ... She is a wonderful mentor and role model.”

Indeed, Dr. Ratanawongsa has been recognized for this dedication. In 2012 she was the recipient of the Allen D. Deibler Advocacy Award, a designation presented by the Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties to those who demonstrate exceptional efforts in improving the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Lehigh Valley by advocating for the rights, welfare and quality of life, with particular emphasis on efforts to effect system changes. “I was honored and touched to know that others felt I had affected a positive influence in helping reach out for support,” she says.

As Dr. Ratanawongsa continues to change the lives of others, she feels hopeful about what the future holds for of all her young patients. She says, “I feel that with all of these advances, there will be new treatment approaches, lesser side effects and better prognoses for even those diagnoses which seem daunting at this time.”

The Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health
For more information on any of its three locations, visit www.cnnh.org.

651 Park Ave.
King of Prussia, PA 19406
Office: 855-852-8150
250 Haddonfield-Berlin Road, Suite 105
Gibbsboro, NJ 08026
Office: 856-346-0005

218 Route 17 North, Suite 150
Rochelle Park, NJ 07662
Office: 855-852-8150

3350 State Route 138, #117
Wall Township, NJ 07719
Office: 856-852-8150

Photography by Jody Robinson