Welcome Michael Kuklinski, MD to Wausau’s Board of Managers!
Tell us a little about yourself (family, employment, how you spend your free time, etc.).
I was born and raised in the Fox Valley and am “annoyingly proud” of being a Wisconsinite (or so say all my friends who are not from Wisconsin). Growing up, my two loves where sports and helping to take care of my younger cousins. I knew at a young age I wanted to work with kids for my career in some way. It was in high school that I shadowed with a local pediatrician, and I became set on going to medical school to become a pediatrician. When I went to UW-Madison, I joined the Men’s Rowing team and was a member all four years of school, winning a varsity letter my senior year. I also volunteered at UW Children’s Hospital. I received a B.S. degree in Biology and went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. for a one-year master’s Program in Physiology. It was in D.C. that I was introduced to Keri, who is now my wife. After receiving my master’s degree, I attended medical school at St. George’s University. During my Pediatric Clerkship in my third year, I was introduced to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and was hooked. After rotating in the NICU, I knew that Neonatology was the field of Pediatrics that fit me the best. For Pediatric Residency, I was able to match at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore (which, coincidently, is the hospital where Keri and her sisters were born). Our next stop was for Neonatal Fellowship in Hershey, PA. Hershey is well known, but the city only has 14,000 people, which was a big change for Keri, a lifelong Baltimore resident. Our daughter Madeleine was born our first year in fellowship. At the completion of fellowship, I convinced Keri to move to Wisconsin, taking a job in the NICU at Mayo-Franciscan Hospital in La Crosse. Our son Thomas arrived a few months after starting work in La Crosse. Due to organizational changes, the NICU at Franciscan was closed two years after we arrived, which led to me finding a new job at Aspirus Wausau Hospital in their NICU, where I have been for over two and a half years now. We love Wausau for many reasons, not the least of which is that Wausau is where our youngest daughter, Genevieve, was born. Keri and I adore all the outdoor activities Wausau has to offer, from the running and biking trails, paddleboarding on the rivers, and our favorite, cross country skiing. I am also a big movie buff, a fan of wood working, and am endlessly listening to books on tape.
How and when did you first get involved with GiGi’s Playhouse?
Our son Thomas was diagnosed with Autism in 2020, about a month before his 3rd birthday. He began receiving ABA therapy at Skylight Autism Center in Schofield soon after his diagnosis. One of the ABA therapists who came to work with Thomas closely is named Jessica and she is also a volunteer at GiGi’s. For a therapy session, Jessica took Thomas to GiGi’s and Thomas had an incredible time. When we asked why GiGi’s, Jessica let us know of GiGi’s policy of “Acceptance for All” and how GiGi’s is welcoming of children of all diagnoses, including Autism. This intrigued Keri and I, which led to some e-mails and a meeting with Erica. Keri and I toured the Wausau Playhouse and talked with Erica for over an hour. We were so impressed by the facilities, the programs, and the overall mission of GiGi’s Playhouse. After that meeting, Keri and I knew we had to get involved with GiGi’s in any and every way we could.
Why did you decide to join the Board of Managers?
Following initial discussions, I felt that having a physician with a background in pediatrics could fill a role on the Board. I had ideas for outreach to local clinics and to make sure providers around the region know more about GiGi’s and the programs available for children with Trisomy 21. After being allowed to sit in on a recent Board meeting, I saw other areas I could try and help with also. I was very impressed with the energy and passion the other Board members showed during the meeting and I was hooked.
What does GiGi’s mean to you?
One of the core values of GiGi’s is Acceptance for All. This really struck a chord with me. I have worked with many children with Trisomy 21 in professional life. And I have seen the struggles that come with having a child who is on the Autism Spectrum. Every person wants to be accepted for who they are. We all deserve to receive the tools that can allow us to be the very best person we can be. GiGi’s is that place for many individuals in our community. GiGi’s is a safe and fun environment where children and adults can come to learn and grow.
What is your favorite thing about the GiGi’s community?
I was immediately struck with the energy and enthusiasm of the GiGi’s community! The volunteers and staff have so much passion for their work. GiGi’s Playhouse Wausau is such a wonderful environment. It received very high plaudits from my three children, who can be very tough critics. GiGi’s is a happy, fun place to be and that is visible throughout the entire system.
What does acceptance look like to you?
Acceptance is multi-faceted to me. It involves the individual person feeling like they have a place and a role in society. The person should be praised for a hard day’s work and for contributing to make their community a better place. Acceptance also involves the community itself. GiGi’s mission of raising expectations was something that stuck with me. Our community needs to learn more about people with Trisomy 21 so they can recognize how capable a person with Trisomy 21 can be.
What do you look forward to doing/creating at the Playhouse?
I have recently reached out the MCW-Central Wisconsin to start developing programs for the medical students to learn more about Trisomy 21. This will hopefully include lectures, but also communication sessions to teach medical students better ways to communicate with family members about Trisomy 21, Autism, and other diagnoses. The credit for this idea should go to Erica, who gave me the idea.
What do you want the GiGi’s Playhouse Wausau community to know?
I want them to know how happy I am to be involved! I have the simple desire to be helpful to GiGi’s in any way I can. I am committed to finding out where I can help and then diving in to provide the most good to the Playhouse.