Looking back: The little girl who battled H1N1 and prevailed
February 15, 2013
Driscoll Children's Hospital celebrates its 60th anniversary with a series of stories about extraordinary patients
Kayla Piñon (center) reflected on her life-threatening battle with the H1N1 flu recently with her parents, Luis and Melinda Piñon.
CORPUS CHRISTI - The number of South Texas families whose lives have been touched by Driscoll Children's Hospital since it opened its doors in 1953 is incalculable. And of the countless children who've come to the hospital in the past 60 years, many stand out for their particularly memorable stories. Driscoll is sharing some of those stories of hope and healing throughout 2013 as part of its 60th anniversary celebration.
Kayla Piñon became a member of the Driscoll family in 2009 when, at 10 years old, she battled her way back from a life-threatening case of the H1N1 flu. More than 1,000 children died from H1N1 during the 2009 pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Popularly known as swine flu, H1N1 was particularly harmful to the young, who had little natural resistance to a virus that hadn't circulated in decades. Hundreds of people became ill with the virus in Nueces County and at least 11 people died from it between 2009 and 2010.
When she was admitted to Driscoll Children's Hospital, Kayla was dehydrated, underweight and gasping for air due to excessive fluid in her lungs.
"I just remember going into the hospital, then tubes being taken out of me seven days later," she said recently at her home.
Driscoll physicians said Kayla's was the severest case of the H1N1 flu they had ever seen. To make matters worse, she was also suffering from a staph infection called MRSA. It took a diverse team of experts and modern medical technology to save the girl's life. The tubes she recalled being taken out of her came from an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, a mechanized pump that circulates the patient's blood and provides oxygen to the body when the body can't do it alone. It works like an artificial lung for patients who can't be supported with a ventilator, as was the case with Kayla.
"This case exemplifies the great teamwork that exists here at Driscoll Children's Hospital," said Karl Serrao, MD, a pediatric intensivist who helped treat Kayla. "To make this miracle happen, everyone including nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and many others worked together. Our community and our children benefit daily from Driscoll's investment in the ECMO machine and other innovative technologies and therapies."
Watching their daughter struggle to breathe, unconscious, was a day-to-day, nail-biting experience for her parents. When Kayla regained her health, her father, Luis Piñon, said it was a miracle. He also credited Driscoll's staff for being a source of comfort throughout the ordeal.
"The people there go above and beyond," he said. "From the chaplains, doctors and nurses to the housekeepers - they all treat you with respect, like you're part of the family. They don't give up hope."
Kayla gained local notoriety after her recovery. She and her parents gracefully gave interviews to newspaper and TV reporters who were eager to tell the story of the little girl who beat the odds. To this day, people who read about Kayla or saw her on TV ask about her, said her mother, Melinda Piñon.
Now a cheerful 8th grader who participates in tumbling at school, Kayla has a slight cough due to a small amount of fluid in her lungs - remnants of the H1N1 flu, explained her mother. She sees a Driscoll pulmonologist every three months for a check-up and breathing tests. All indications are that "she's doing good," Melinda Piñon said.
Luis Piñon has a new appreciation for the emotional challenges parents face when their child is hospitalized with a serious illness.
"Nobody really knows what that situation will be like until you're in those four walls," he said. "At times I had doubts about Kayla's outcome. But she's a survivor."
For the Driscoll team who treated Kayla, her case stands out as a moment of pride.
"It was an inspiration not only to see the family persevere and Kayla win, but also to see the staff at Driscoll step up to the plate during that challenging time of the H1N1 influenza outbreak," Dr. Serrao said.
The Piñons, who live in Corpus Christi, said they're grateful to have Driscoll Children's Hospital in their hometown. They've also taken their kids to Driscoll Children's Urgent Care clinic when they were sick.
"When people ask me about their children's illnesses, I tell them to take them to Driscoll," Melinda Piñon said.
Luis Piñon remembers driving past Driscoll Children's Hospital as a child. He said he hopes the hospital is around for another 60 years.
"We're blessed to have a hospital like Driscoll in Corpus Christi. For me, it's second to none. That's from the heart."
Driscoll staff will probably see Kayla in the future as a volunteer in the Summer Volunteen Program, her mother said. She loves to take care of children, particularly the young cousins she babysits.
"Children kind of gravitate to her," Melinda Piñon said.
Always optimistic, Kayla said her experience at Driscoll Children's Hospital helped her choose a career field.
"It would be a dream come true to be a nurse. I would like to help kids when they're sick. I already know about respiratory therapy and the machines that are used."
Outdoor activities, games and camaraderie in store for asthmatic children at Camp Easy Breathers
June 14, 2013
CORPUS CHRISTI - Asthmatic children will partake in some swashbuckling next week as the 12th annual Camp Easy Breathers gets underway in Rockport. Sponsored by Driscoll Children's Hospital, the Coastal Bend Community Foundation and the Coastal Bend Asthma Initiative, it will be from June 17-21 at Camp Aranzazu.
"A pirate theme is being incorporated into some of the group activities this year like 'Sail Away!,' an activity in which the campers build their own boat and sail it," said Shelly Bigelow, camp director and respiratory therapist at Driscoll Children's Hospital. "It's about team building and helping the kids get to know each other better."
While there is no cure for asthma, Camp Easy Breathers emphasizes to children with the disease that they can live a healthy, active life. The physical and social activities they'll experience will be fun and also increase their understanding of asthma, Bigelow said.
The camp utilizes interactive teaching methods such as open dialogue, various media, activities and game-play. All will reinforce key lessons to the children such as:
- Understanding asthma and how it affects them;
- Recognizing and avoiding asthma attack triggers;
- Recognizing warning signs to improve asthma management;
- Knowing how and when to take medicine;
- Staying healthy and staying in school.
Activities at the camp will include swimming, archery, arts and crafts, outdoor games, sports and an awards show.
"Camp Easy Breathers is a great opportunity for children to make new friends, become more independent and take on real challenges in a safe environment," Bigelow said.
Asthma is a chronic disease in which the airways in the lungs become swollen, clogged and overly sensitive to changes in the environment. During an attack, the muscles that surround the airways tighten and the inner lining of the airways swells and pushes inward. Asthma kills about 5,000 Americans each year and costs the United States more than $10 billion a year in direct and indirect medical expenses. Timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment, partnership with a healthcare professional and reduction of exposure to environmental factors are some of the things that help children living with asthma.
- What: 12th annual Camp Easy Breathers for asthmatic children ages 7-14
- When: June 17-21
- Where: Camp Aranzazu, 5420 Loop 1781, Rockport
Leukemia survivor finds fun, friends, normality at summer camp
June 12, 2013
Driscoll Children's Hospital organizes annual trip to Camp Star Trails for cancer patients
Elizabeth Ochoa, a leukemia survivor, prepares for archery at Camp Star Trails in 2011.
CORPUS CHRISTI - To say that Elizabeth Ochoa is excited about going to summer camp next week is an understatement. On June 16, the 9-year-old will depart with other cancer patients from Driscoll Children's Hospital for her fifth trip to Camp Star Trails in Burton.
"I like swimming, meeting new friends and art," Elizabeth said with wide-eyed enthusiasm. "We get to go canoeing and fishing. The best part of it is the hot tub. I like the food too."
Camp Star Trails is hosted at Camp for All, a camp for children and adults with chronic illnesses or disabilities and their families. Driscoll Children's Hospital organizes the yearly trip for cancer patients ages 5-12 and their siblings, and funding comes from the annual Six Points Kiwanis Club Apple Sale.
Elizabeth was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 2, said her mother, Marilou Ochoa. She had become fatigued, her legs were bruised and she couldn't walk or play. After consulting with her pediatrician, Elizabeth's family took her to Driscoll Children's Hospital, where she began chemotherapy treatment.
"At first we had a feeling of panic because we didn't know what to expect," Ochoa said. "But the oncologists at Driscoll were great. They explained everything to us and lifted our spirits."
Elizabeth lost her hair completely three times due to chemotherapy treatment, her mother said. Now in her third year of being cancer-free, she has a full head of hair and a constant smile.
Cancer treatment and hospitalization can significantly curtail regular childhood activities, said hematologist/oncologist Cris Johnson, MD, medical director of Driscoll's Cancer & Blood Disorders Center. Summer camp allows kids to catch up on those experiences.
"At camp, you're a camper, not a patient," Dr. Johnson said. "It gives these children the opportunity to be kids and to focus on their abilities instead of their disabilities. They're supported by other children who understand what they're going through. They form lasting friendships and look forward to seeing each other every year."
Besides making new friends at Camp Star Trails next week, Elizabeth said she's looking forward to seeing a friend she made at Driscoll who was also being treated for cancer.
Elizabeth's older sisters have gone to camp with her twice, Ochoa said. Like Elizabeth, they enjoyed making new friends and interacting with young people who could relate to them. Sibling inclusion is important when a family is focusing on a child with cancer, Dr. Johnson said.
"When their brother or sister is in clinic for treatment, they're often in school and don't have the chance to meet the siblings of other cancer patients. Camp allows them to form a peer group with this shared experience."
Although Ochoa misses Elizabeth when she's at camp, she said the annual week away from home has helped her daughter become more independent because she has to remember to brush her hair and teeth and take a bath every day.
Brushing and bathing aren't at the top of Elizabeth's mind as camp approaches, however.
"At the end of the week, we have a campfire and we make a list of what we wish for," she said. "We hold hands in a circle, they say our name and we throw our wishes into the fire. Then we pop fireworks.
"When we get home, I feel like I want to go back again because I miss everybody."
What: Driscoll cancer patients depart for Camp Star Trails
When: 9 a.m. arrival, 10 a.m. departure Sunday, June 16
Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital Day Surgery & Rehabilitation Building, 3533 S. Alameda St.
Driscoll Health Plan presents Kids' Day at Harlingen Field
June 07, 2013
HARLINGEN - Driscoll Health Plan (DHP) is sponsoring Kids' Day for member families during Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings games on June 10, June 25, July 21 and Aug. 13 at Harlingen Field. Perks for families include:
Free admission for children 17 and under
Private meet & greet with the team before the games
First pitch honors
"Our members are important to us and Kids' Day is our way of saying thanks for their continued support," said Mary Dale Peterson, MD, chief executive officer of DHP.
Members need only to show their DHP identification card at the ticket booth to receive up to six tickets for $10. The first 20 members who arrive 1 ½ hours before game-time will get to meet the team. Finally, one lucky member will be chosen to throw out the first pitch at each of the four games.
For more information about DHP, go to www.driscollhealthplan.com or call 855-425-3247.
What: Kids' Day for Driscoll Health Plan member families
When: 7:05 p.m. June 10, June 25, July 21 and Aug. 13
Where: Harlingen Field, 1216 Fair Park Blvd.
Driscoll Health Plan presents 'At the Ballpark' for members
June 07, 2013
LAREDO - Driscoll Health Plan (DHP) is sponsoring "At the Ballpark," a member appreciation event, during the Laredo Lemurs games June 9 and July 14 at Uni-Trade Stadium. Perks for members include:
First pitch honors
"Our members are important to us and a night 'At the Ballpark' is our way of saying thanks for their continued support," said Mary Dale Peterson, MD, chief executive officer of DHP.
Members need only to show their DHP identification card at the ticket booth to receive a $2 discount on tickets. The first 20 members in line by 6 p.m. on game days will receive team autographs. The first 50 members who arrive at the ballpark an hour before game-time will be presented on the field. Finally, one lucky member will be chosen to throw out the first pitch at each game.
For more information about DHP, go to www.driscollhealthplan.com or call 855-425-3247.
What: "At the Ballpark" for Driscoll Health Plan members
When: 7:30 p.m. June 9 and July 14
Where: Uni-Trade Stadium, 6320 Sinatra Pkwy., Laredo
Driscoll cancer patients to enjoy annual fishing tournament
June 06, 2013
WHAT: The Chemo Kids Fish Off is an annual excursion that allows cancer patients at Driscoll Children's Hospital to take their minds off chemotherapy and enjoy a morning of fishing. About 45 children will ride in boats driven by fishing guides who will be donating their time. After fishing, trophies will be awarded to the children in various categories.
WHEN: Boats depart at 8 a.m. & return at 11 a.m. Monday, June 10
WHERE: Hampton's Landing Marina, 430 E. Ransom Rd., Aransas Pass
Driscoll Health Plan members offered discount at Sunday's Laredo Lemurs game, concert
May 31, 2013
WHAT: Driscoll Health Plan is offering its members a $2 discount on tickets to this Sunday's Laredo Lemurs game and Christian music concert at Uni-Trade Stadium. Point of Grace, a Christian music band, is scheduled to perform immediately following the game against the Kansas City T-Bones.
WHEN: 3:16 p.m. Sunday, June 2
WHERE: Uni-Trade Stadium, 6320 Sinatra Pkwy.
Children's Miracle Network Telethon coming to Rio Grande Valley
May 31, 2013
Event benefitting Driscoll Children's Hospital will be broadcast Sunday on KGBT
RIO GRANDE VALLEY - After more than 24 years of sharing true-to-life stories of children meeting tremendous challenges with the help of South Texas' finest healthcare professionals, the Children's Miracle Network Telethon staged by Driscoll Children's Hospital is coming again to viewers on KGBT TV in the Rio Grande Valley.
Months of preparation go into the Children's Miracle Network Telethon every year. Interviews with patients, parents and physicians are recorded and neatly packaged, and the stories are no less than miraculous. KGBT graciously hosts the program at their Harlingen studio and dedicates their time and talent to make it run smoothly. They interview Driscoll physicians, young patients and parents in between recorded stories. Many of Driscoll's patients reside in the Rio Grande Valley and receive treatment and checkups at the hospital's clinics in Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen.
The telethon shows viewers how a non-profit children's hospital like Driscoll is bringing care and compassion to children in 31 South Texas counties. To meet those needs with new physicians, procedures, equipment and programs, fundraisers such as the Children's Miracle Network Telethon are crucial. And year after year, the community responds. Last year, $750,000 was raised through the telethon in the Rio Grande Valley.
"Driscoll Children's Hospital is thrilled with the generous and loyal support received from so many grateful people and corporations throughout the Rio Grande Valley," said Martha St. Romain, Driscoll vice president of Development. "It shows a commitment by all that the children of South Texas deserve the highest level of quality, specialized healthcare that only Driscoll can provide."
What: Children's Miracle Network Telethon benefiting Driscoll Children's Hospital on KGBT TV
When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, June 2; phone banks open to take pledges until 5 p.m.
Where: KGBT TV, 9201 W. Expressway 83, Harlingen
Information: (361) 694-6401 or go to www.driscollchildrens.org and click on CMN Telethon
La Palmera Mall to host Children's Miracle Network Telethon
May 31, 2013
Event benefiting Driscoll Children's Hospital will air this weekend on KIII
CORPUS CHRISTI - For 28 years, Driscoll Children's Hospital and KIII TV have staged the Children's Miracle Network Telethon, bringing Coastal Bend viewers true-to-life stories of children meeting tremendous challenges with the help of South Texas' finest healthcare professionals. This year, the 29th annual event will be held once again at La Palmera Mall.
Months of fundraising by national sponsors lead up to the telethon every year. Interviews with patients, parents and physicians are recorded and neatly packaged, and the stories are no less than miraculous. KIII will air the stories along with live interviews at the mall's center court.
The broadcast will show viewers how Driscoll Children's Hospital is providing highly specialized, pediatric healthcare services to children in 31 South Texas counties. To meet those needs with new physicians, procedures, equipment and programs, fundraisers such as the Children's Miracle Network Telethon are crucial. And year after year, the community responds. Last year, Children's Miracle Network fundraisers throughout South Texas resulted in donations of nearly $2.6 million.
"There are few ways to make a greater impact on a community's future health than by ensuring children receive the best start they can have in life, and the funds raised are going to help us do just that," said Steve Woerner, president and chief executive officer of Driscoll Children's Hospital.
What: 29th annual Children's Miracle Network Telethon benefiting Driscoll Children's Hospital on KIII TV
When: 7 p.m.-midnight Saturday, June 1; noon-5 p.m. Sunday, June 2
Where: La Palmera Mall center court, 5488 S. Padre Island Dr.
Information/donations: (361) 694-6401 or go to www.driscollchildrens.org and click on CMN Telethon
Credit union to present a $5,000 gift to Driscoll Children's Hospital
May 22, 2013
WHAT: Representatives from Security Service Federal Credit Union will present a check for $5,000 to Driscoll Children's Hospital. The funds are part of a $25,000 commitment from Credit Unions for Kids that will go toward the renovation and expansion of Driscoll's emergency room. The project, to begin this summer and last approximately 18 months, will result in an even more child friendly emergency room that is welcoming, calming and caring.
WHEN: 1:45 p.m. Thursday, May 23
WHERE: Driscoll Children's Hospital, main lobby, 3533 S. Alameda St.
Driscoll's Teddy Bear Hospital is a chance for patients to be the doctors
May 20, 2013
WHAT: Patients will be the doctors tomorrow during a Teddy Bear Hospital organized by the Stripes Child Life Program at Driscoll Children's Hospital. The event allows children to become more familiar with the medical equipment and procedures involved in their treatment. They'll choose their teddy bear, give it a name and, with the help of Child Life Specialists and other Driscoll staff, measure its height and weight, place an IV and draw labs, give it an X-ray, attach an anesthesia mask for surgery and put an arm or leg in a cast. The Teddy Bear Hospital and the Stripes Child Life Program at Driscoll Children's Hospital are made possible by a $1 million donation from Stripes convenience stores.
WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 21
WHERE: Driscoll Children's Hospital auditorium, 3533 S. Alameda St.