DCH News

Driscoll cancer patients prove they have the 'right stuff'

August 14, 2013
Rhianna Brizuela's
Rhianna Brizuela's "survivor" necklace is a source of pride for the 4-year-old.
Warrior-themed event planned Sept. 7 for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

CORPUS CHRISTI - Cancer patients at Driscoll Children's Hospital can easily be described as warriors. They've adapted to battling a life-threatening disease with resilience and bravery, all the while buoying their families' morale.

On Sept. 7, Driscoll will honor the fighting spirit of its cancer patients and commemorate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month with a warrior-themed celebration on the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay. About 150 patients throughout South Texas and their families have been invited. In keeping with the warrior theme, each patient will be given a souvenir dog tag. Corpus Christi City Councilwoman Lillian Riojas will read a proclamation declaring Sept. 7 Childhood Cancer Awareness Day, and the nearby Harbor Bridge will be illuminated in yellow specially for the occasion.

Here are profiles of three heroes who plan to attend the event:

Rhianna Brizuela
4 years old

Behind Rhianna's pretty smile and shy, sweet demeanor is a tough little girl who battled cancer since she was just a baby. Her mother, Itzamara Pedraza, took her to a pediatrician when she was four months old because she had dime-size bumps on her stomach and under her armpits. It was discovered that Rhianna has neuroblastoma, and even more worrisome for her mother was that the disease was at stage four on a four-stage scale of severity.

"I was in shock," Pedraza said. "The first week I would just cry. Then I stopped because I had to be strong for my daughter."

Pedraza decided to take Rhianna to Driscoll Children's Hospital for the specialized treatment she needed. At Driscoll, she underwent numerous tests, scans and X-rays before regular chemotherapy treatments began. That's when Rhianna showed her true mettle.

"She was just a baby but she was never cranky or anything," Pedraza said. "I don't know where she got the strength from. She's a strong-headed little girl."

In June 2009, Rhianna's right adrenal gland was removed by a Driscoll surgeon to prevent her cancer from coming back, her mother said. She also had a mediport inserted in her chest - a reservoir through which physicians can administer chemotherapy medication into a blood vessel or draw a blood sample.

Pedraza said her daughter is on the "safer side" now, but that she has to come to Driscoll once a year for follow-up visits.

Spreading the message that cancer can affect anyone no matter their age is important to Pedraza.

"I'll do anything to help raise awareness that kids get cancer," she said.

Sara Cavazos
7 years old

Sara Cavazos
Chemotherapy didn't keep Sara Cavazos, 7, from smiling earlier this year.

It was "a life changing moment" when Sara was diagnosed last year with cancer in her kidney and abdominal lymph nodes, said her mother, Anna Cavazos. The good news was that, due to Sara's age and lack of a genetic predisposition, her kidney cancer was "very treatable," Cavazos said.

Physicians at Driscoll Children's Hospital quickly developed a treatment plan for Sara that first included the removal of a cancerous tumor from her kidney, which was performed just before Christmas. Radiation and chemotherapy treatments followed at Driscoll Children's Medical Plaza in McAllen.

As is common with patients undergoing cancer treatment, Sara lost her hair. And because of her lowered immunity, she had to be home-schooled. Nevertheless, she handled the challenges like a trooper, inspiring her own family.

"She's a fighter, a true hero," Cavazos said. "You would hardly ever see her down or depressed. Her famous quote was, 'I got this mom, I'll beat it.' I think it was harder on her parents than it was for her."

Cavazos said a high point in Sara's journey with cancer occurred last June when she attended Camp Star Trails, a summer camp in Burton designed for children with chronic illnesses and disabilities. One of Sara's older sisters was able to attend with her.

"They had a blast," Cavazos said. "They got to meet other kids with illnesses, relate to them and realize they aren't the only ones dealing with this."

Sara's perseverance hasn't been in vain. Her hair recently started growing back, and in July, Driscoll physicians confirmed that she's cancer free, Cavazos said.

"She got the 'all clear' one week after her birthday. Now she's excited to go back to school and be with her friends again."

Matthew Garza
6 years old

Matthew Garza
Matthew Garza, 6, wears his navy flight suit on the deck of the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay.

Every other Thursday, Matthew can be found playing his favorite video games in between lab tests and chemotherapy treatments at Driscoll's Cancer & Blood Disorders Center. He's now in the maintenance phase of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a disease that took his parents by surprise when he was diagnosed by Driscoll physicians just over two years ago, at age 4.

"At first we were in total shock, almost denial," said Matthew's mother, Melinda Garza. "I think the denial ended when his sister asked me if her brother was going to die. That was like a wake-up call."

Although Matthew has about 15 more months of cancer treatments to go, he appears as healthy and playful as any 6-year-old boy. Last year, he participated in the Pilot for a Day program, in which Driscoll patients and their families are the guests of honor at local naval air stations. He treasures the custom-made flight suit given to him by pilots at Naval Air Station Kingsville, his mother said.

Matthew's fighting spirit has been a blessing to his family, especially during the challenging first two years of his treatment.

"He's been amazing," Garza said. "He's never complained at all. He's given us the strength to move forward."

Matthew's father, Gabriel Garza, recalled a recent trip he and his son took to the family's ranch outside Alice right after a chemotherapy session.

"He likes to ride our tractor and put out corn for the animals, so he went with me," he said. "He wasn't even fazed by the chemo. It was like nothing had happened."

What: Driscoll Children's Hospital's annual Childhood Cancer Awareness Month event
When: 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7
Where: USS Lexington Museum on the Bay, 2914 N. Shoreline Blvd.


13th annual Radiothon will broadcast live from Driscoll Children's Hospital

February 25, 2015
CORPUS CHRISTI - K-99 (KRYS 99.1 FM) will combine with Driscoll Children's Hospital for the 13th annual Radiothon on Friday, March 6. The one-day event will be broadcast live from the guest quarters in the Sloan Building at Driscoll Children's Hospital beginning at 6 a.m.

Listeners can tune in to hear patients, parents, physicians and staff share inspirational stories of hope and healing. Last year's Radiothon raised more than $70,000 to benefit the patients and services provided at Driscoll Children's Hospital.

For information or to donate, contact Driscoll's Development Department at (361) 694-6401.

  • What: 13th annual K-99 Radiothon benefiting Driscoll Children's Hospital

  • When: 6 a.m. - 6 p.m. Friday, March 6

  • Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital Sloan Building guest quarters, 3533 S. Alameda St.

For more information about the Radiothon, click here.

Driscoll Children's Hospital neurologist Carol DeLine, MD, answers questions on K-99 during the hospital's annual Radiothon. This year's Radiothon is March 6.

Driscoll Children's Hospital adds eight AEDs to non-clinical areas

February 12, 2015
Driscoll Children's Hospital purchased eight Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs), which will be placed in non-clinical areas of the hospital courtesy of a generous donation from the Auxiliary to Driscoll Children's Hospital.

The $15,800 donation will help make every hospital visitor - including friends and families of patients - safer. An AED is a portable electronic device designed to be used in cases of life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias which lead to cardiac arrest and can be treated with an AED through defibrillation, allowing the heart to reestablish an effective rhythm. With simple audio and visual commands, AEDs are designed for use by the layperson and can save the life of someone experiencing cardiac arrest.

"The minutes after the onset of a cardiac emergency are called the 'Golden Minutes,' and every minute is crucial in those situations," Pediatric Intensivist Kevin Schooler, MD, said. "Having easily accessible AEDs throughout the hospital will ensure the quickest possible care is available for our visitors."

The AEDs will be placed in non-clinical areas of the hospital, including the hospital cafeteria. There also will be an AED on a security cart, which could quickly be deployed to the parking lot, if necessary. The locations were strategically chosen to be the most beneficial to the hospital's visitors.

"We focus on taking care of the children of South Texas, and we also want to make sure we're there for the families," Dr. Schooler said. "Having AEDs readily available throughout the hospital ensures that we also can be there for our adult visitors should a cardiac emergency arise. This is another example of us truly being a friend of the family."

Annual Fiesta de los Niños is a celebration for those who help make miracles happen

January 13, 2015
Fiesta de los Niños, which began as a small, grassroots effort 23 years ago, has evolved into a high-profile event that many South Texans return to every year. On Feb. 6, Driscoll Children's Hospital's 23rd annual Fiesta de los Niños will bring its signature combination of fun, food and music to the American Bank Center. The event's mission remains the same since its origin - to help Driscoll offer more and enhanced services to children in the community. "Thanks to the generosity of our title sponsor, Flint Hills Resources, and the many other community partners, Driscoll Children's Hospital is able to continue to enhance and broaden its services for the children of South Texas," Driscoll Children's Hospital's Vice President of Development Martha Avery said. Fiesta de los Niños is Driscoll's largest annual fundraiser with 100 percent of the funds raised from the event directly benefitting the hospital. Through the community's annual support of Fiesta, Driscoll has been able to develop and enhance its services and programs in order to better serve the children of South Texas. In 2014, with more than 1,500 people in attendance, Fiesta raised $700,000, which helped purchase the latest, state-of-the-art 3D technology for Driscoll's Catheterization Laboratory to perform the most delicate procedures on infants and children. Proceeds from this year's event will go toward several key specialty areas throughout the hospital, including upgrades to the surgical suites, additional ambient lighting for a new MRI suite and a new pediatric transport ambulance. Guests at Fiesta de los Niños will enjoy silent, live and bid-board auctions, a barbecue dinner and entertainment by country music group Restless Heart, which has had six No. 1 singles on the Billboard country charts. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. with cocktails, silent and bid-board auctions. For information or table sponsorship, call Driscoll's Development Department at (361) 694-6405 or visit www.driscollchildrens.org/giving.

What: Driscoll Children's Hospital's 23rd annual Fiesta de los Niños

When: 6:30 - 11:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 6

Where: American Bank Center Exhibit Hall, 1901 N. Shoreline Blvd.

Information: (361) 694-6405

Event schedule:

6:30 p.m. - Doors open, reception, silent and bid-board auctions open

7 p.m. - Western barbecue dinner served

8:30 p.m. - Live auction begins, silent auction closes (bid-board remains open until 10 p.m.)

9:30 p.m. - Featured entertainer, Restless Heart

Driscoll Health Plan earns national award

November 24, 2014
The Driscoll Health Plan was given an award at the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) Quality Meeting on Nov. 12 in Chicago. The Driscoll Health Plan was honored for its Medicaid Healthplan earning the best Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) scores in ACAP, which is an organization with about 40 Medicaid plans distributed across the country. CAHPS scores are based on consumers' answers to a survey evaluating their experiences with healthcare.

Radiology Department earns ACR Accreditation

November 05, 2014

Driscoll Children's Hospital's Radiology Department has been awarded a three-year term of accreditation in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as the result of a recent review by the American College of Radiology (ACR). MRI is a noninvasive medical test that utilizes magnetic fields to produce anatomical images of internal body parts to help physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions.

The ACR gold seal of accreditation represents the highest level of image quality and patient safety. It is awarded only to facilities meeting ACR Practice Guidelines and Technical Standards after a peer-review evaluation by board-certified physicians and medical physicists who are experts in the field. Image quality, personnel qualifications, adequacy of facility equipment, quality control procedures, and quality assurance programs are assessed. The findings are reported to the ACR Committee on Accreditation, which subsequently provides the practice with a comprehensive report they can use for continuous practice improvement.

The ACR is a national professional organization serving more than 36,000 diagnostic/interventional radiologists, radiation oncologists, nuclear medicine physicians, and medical physicists with programs focusing on the practice of medical imaging and radiation oncology and the delivery of comprehensive health care services.

Once-fragile preemies and their families reconnect with Driscoll staff at NICU Reunion

October 13, 2014

Infants in Driscoll Children's Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) usually are there during the most fragile time in their lives. Patients and their families can spend months in the hospital, so it's no surprise that strong bonds often form with NICU physicians, nurses and other caregivers. Because of those relationships, Driscoll Children's Hospital has the NICU Reunion each fall to give everyone a chance to reconnect and celebrate the lives of the babies who have grown into children and adults.

"The NICU Reunion is a great opportunity for our patients, families and staff to keep in touch with each other," said Patricia Carr, Driscoll's assistant vice president of Patient Care Services. "It is a real joy to watch the growth and development of our children as they progress each year. Some of our patients who are now adults bring their own children to share in the event."

At the fall festival-themed celebration, Driscoll staff members who have cared for NICU patients over the years caught up with more than 150 families, who were eager to share stories of their children's progress since their stay at Driscoll. NICU "graduates" enjoyed food, games, prizes and other goodies at the event.

Driscoll Children's Hospital's level III NICU cares for newborns and infants for a variety of reasons, including prematurity (carried less than 37 weeks), respiratory distress, infections, birth defects and other illnesses. Staffed by neonatologists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the 52-bed NICU cares for premature and critically ill infants from 31 South Texas counties.

Hospital's patients to have signing for Christmas book they created

October 13, 2014
Allison Shaffer is a burgeoning young writer, but she already knows the key to being a great author - create stories that come from personal experience. That's what the 17-year-old former Driscoll Children's Hospital patient did when she wrote "Tiny, The Small Christmas Tree," a Christmas book written by Shaffer and illustrated by 10 different Driscoll patients.

Shaffer and the young illustrators will have a book signing at 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13 at Driscoll Children's Hospital. The book is on sale for $5 at the hospital's Carousel Gift Shop and through Driscoll's web site (www.driscollchildrens.org) with proceeds going to the Auxiliary to Driscoll Children's Hospital.

Allison is a second-born twin, who weighed just two pounds at birth and spent the first 63 days of her life in the Driscoll Children's Hospital Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit. At four years old, Allison was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy, which mainly affects her left leg. She had surgeries at ages 4 and 13 to help her walk more normally.

"After the surgeries, she had to learn to walk again, basically," said Wendy Shaffer, Allison's mother. "She's been a trooper through it all."

"Tiny, The Small Christmas Tree," is a story with which Allison can relate. In the book, Allison writes of an abnormally small Christmas tree that none of the children want to play around. Eventually the tree adapts and uses its strengths to become just as popular as the other Christmas trees.

"I came up with the story when I was a kid," Allison said. "I really was kind of a loner in a way, so I drew back on personal experience as a child. I thought back to when I was a kindergartner and I went from there. Once I got into writing mode, it really just took me one night to write it. The story just came easily to me."

Like the story's Tiny, Allison has conquered the mental aspect of her disease.

"I'm very blessed to have mild cerebral palsy," said Allison, whose family moved away from Corpus Christi when she was four and is currently a junior at College Station's A&M Consolidated High School. "I have to work a little harder than other kids. I have to do stretches and things like that to keep my legs relaxed and flexible so I'm able to walk more normally, but it all has strengthened my pride and made me tougher. I don't look at this as being a curse at all. I wouldn't change anything. It's all been a blessing."

Allison is a confident young lady, who already is working on writing a novel. However, she admits to being nervous about being the center of attention at her first book signing.

"I'm very nervous, but very excited that I get to do that," Allison said. "It means a lot to be able to do something like this for Driscoll Children's Hospital, which has helped me so much since I was a baby.

Brooke Hester, 7, Corpus Christi
Jonah Vargas, 5, Corpus Christi
Claribel Garcia, 6, Corpus Christi
Maden Rivera, 3, Corpus Christi
Kendra Amy, 3, Corpus Christi
Vivian Wrinkle, 6, Corpus Christi
Joshua Miller, 4, Robstown
Gianna Veliz, 6, Odem
Enrique Garcia, 12, Corpus Christi
Sean Hoover, 12, Austin

Driscoll Health Plan educates expectant mothers through baby showers

August 22, 2014
The Driscoll Health Plan hosts baby showers for more than 6,000 South Texas women each year, but these baby showers are more educational than your traditional family gathering. The Cadena de Madres Program - also known as Network of Mothers - provides monthly prenatal educational baby showers for expectant mothers in the Nueces and Hidalgo service areas.

The Coastal Bend March of Dimes Program Services Committee recently awarded Driscoll Health Plan a Community Awards program grant for $2,584.74 to purchase materials for the Cadena de Madres program's baby showers. The materials purchased with these funds will introduce and explain maternal child health topics such as infant brain development, staying healthy before and during pregnancy and what to expect after having a baby.

The baby showers are presented in three sessions and cover the following topics:
Learning how to make healthy choices during their pregnancy and recognizing the negative impact of smoking, alcohol and drugs on their health and their developing baby.
Understanding the advantages of prenatal care and understanding the complications that may occur during their pregnancy.
Learning to recognize signs of preterm labor, early labor signs and understand when medical intervention is needed.

"This is a wonderful community program that empowers pregnant women and their families to have healthier babies," Driscoll Health Plan CEO and President Mary Dale Peterson, MD said. "Since the inception, this program has reduced preterm birth rates by 34 percent. This is our goal - creating healthy communities."

The program was created to decrease the percentage of premature births. It aims to change behaviors through education provided during prenatal baby showers.

The program, which started in 2006, is for all pregnant women who reside in the following counties: Aransas, Bee, Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Kleberg, Nueces, San Patricio, Starr, Victoria, Webb, Willacy and Zapata.

Pair of Driscoll physicians makes prestigious Texas Monthly list

August 22, 2014
Driscoll Children's Hospital physicians Amy Becker, MD, and Jon Roberts, MD, FCCP, were featured in the July issue of Texas Monthly in its list of Texas Super Doctors: Rising Stars Edition 2014. The publishers of Texas Monthly and MSP Communications released the list of Texas Rising Stars, calling them "the physicians who are trusted and sought out by colleagues for medical care." The doctors were selected by their peers and verified by the Key Professional Media research staff.

Dr. Becker and Dr. Roberts both joined Driscoll Children's Hospital three years ago. Dr. Becker is a pediatric nephrologist and is certified in general pediatrics and pediatric nephrology by the American Board of Pediatrics. Dr. Roberts, who also is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, is a pediatric pulmonologist.

MSP Communications asked more than 40,000 medical professionals in the state to nominate doctors they would choose when seeking medical care for themselves. The research team identified newer doctors who have been fully licensed for 10 years or less. Only 2.5 percent of all active Texas physicians are selected to the Texas Rising Stars list.

Craniofacial surgeon Vanessa Dimas joins hospital

August 22, 2014
Vanessa Dimas-7448-Edit
Vanessa Dimas, MD, has joined Driscoll Children's Hospital as a craniofacial surgeon. Dr. Dimas completed a fellowship at The Craniofacial Center in Dallas. She graduated from Texas State University and received her medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch where she also completed a residency in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Dr. Dimas is fluent in both English and Spanish.