Deb Hutsler, manager of nutrition services, has built her career at Akron Children’s around the philosophy that good nutrition heals the body. It’s informed the way Deb assesses and manages the nutritional care of thousands of pediatric and adult patients. By ensuring their nutritional needs are met, Deb has made it easier for patients and their families to focus on what matters most: getting well.
After 43 years at Children’s, Deb retires on Nov. 19. An avid boater, Deb looks forward to cruising Lake Erie with her husband, riding Cedar Point roller coasters with her family and traveling.
What brought you to Children’s?
I was a junior at University of Akron studying nutrition. I did a 2-week experience at Children’s and was offered a part-time job in nutrition services as a student supervisor, earning a whopping $1.70 an hour! After college graduation, I left to complete my dietetic internship and become a registered dietitian. I was hired by Children’s and was excited to start my career as a dietitian.
What was going on in your life then?
During my year-long internship, I worked with burn patients, something I’ve continued to do for over 4 decades. My husband, Mike, and I had just married and recently returned from our honeymoon when I started here.
Have you always worked in the same department and role?
I’ve always worked as a registered dietitian in a clinical capacity, primarily in Akron Children’s Hospital Burn Center. I also worked part-time at a dialysis center, which helped in my work with burn patients, who sometimes have acute renal failure. I took advantage of Children’s tuition reimbursement program, earning my master’s degree at Kent State University. In 1989, I became the nutrition services manager, while continuing as a clinician covering burns and the pediatric intensive care unit.
What have your biggest contributions been while here?
I was involved in starting Children’s room service for patients. Although it’s like room service at a hotel, we’re able to track for any allergies and make sure that foods are compliant for the patient’s special diet. Recently, our team redesigned the room service menu, eliminating hot dogs and sloppy joes and adding different types of meals in a bowl.
I’ve been a member of many Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics nutrition practice groups, including pediatrics (past chair), nutrition support and clinical nutrition management. These professional associations have contributed to the clinical work I do at Children’s and offered me awesome networking opportunities with colleagues around the country. For instance, I’ve presented at association meetings about using the metabolic cart, which measures energy expenditure, comparing a pediatric and adult large burn and understanding the intricacies of interpretation. The poster earned a “best in category” from the American Burn Association.
How has Akron Children’s changed since you started here?
When I started as a student supervisor, there was only 1 dietitian. Now, there are over 20. We collaborate and work with multi-disciplinary teams to address a wide variety of nutritional problems.
What’s your most memorable moment at Akron Children’s?
My daughter, Meghan, fell and cut her forehead. I took her to Children’s emergency room. Dr. Robert Klein, retired pediatric surgeon and burn center director, saw us in the waiting room. He sent his residents to dinner and stitched Meghan up himself. As we left, Mark Watson, former chief operating officer, walked us out. It felt like family was taking care of my daughter!
It must have made an impression on Meghan, whose last name is now Weese. She volunteered here as a candy striper, and she and her friends were meal tray testers for taste, temperature and quality. Now, she works as a nursing supervisor here and is coordinator for the Magnet program for nursing excellence.
With so many little children here, did someone or something especially touch your heart?
So many of the burn patients have inspired me. From time to time, I’ve heard from patients and their families. It’s always nice to know how they’re doing.
What do you look forward to the most in retirement?
Seeing my grandchildren often and crafting with my Cricut Maker cutting machine. I’m also ready to ride my favorite Cedar Point roller coaster, Valravn, and, hopefully soon, go on a cruise.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Listening to Jimmy Buffett’s “Hula Girl at Heart,” while sitting on the back of the boat and watching the sunset.
Do you have any advice for people just starting at Children’s?
Take advantage of all the amazing opportunities, get involved and always be friendly.
What couldn’t you live without?
My family and dog, Ella.
What’s the last book your read?
“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens