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.


Driscoll residents read to children as part of Residents Advocacy Week

March 18, 2015
As part of Residents Advocacy Week, residents at Driscoll Children's Hospital read to children at the hospital's Children's Learning Center. The theme for the week is "Open a book, open a mind," with an emphasis on improving child literacy. In addition to reading to children, the residents also have started a book drive throughout the hospital.

"At Driscoll, we all are active in the community, and our residents are the same way," Driscoll Children's Hospital's Associate Residency Program Director Eric Baggerman, MD, said.

Being an advocate for the children of South Texas has long been a part of Driscoll Children's Hospital's residency program, and Residents Advocacy Week puts a focus on those activities.

"Residency Advocacy Week is something our residents wanted to be a part of to put an emphasis on helping out in the community," Dr. Baggerman said. "Driscoll Children's Hospital always strives to help improve the lives of South Texans, and our residents are part of that, also."

The Skinny on Fat

March 17, 2015
Fat is a necessary part of the diet. We need fat to absorb certain vitamins and minerals, and some fats have been linked to improved heart health. Make sure you know the difference between good fats and bad fats.

Good fats: Shown to improve heart health!

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acids)
Sources: olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, safflower and sesame oils.
Also, avocados, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, albacore tuna, sardines), nut butters, seeds (especially chia seeds and flaxseed) and legumes.

Bad fats: Linked to increased risk for heart disease

Saturated fat and trans fats.
Sources: Red meat, animal products (2% or whole-fat dairy), tropical oils, fried foods, baked goods, fast food, some breads/crackers, and some regular peanut butter.
Note: If a food says "hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil" it contains trans fats.

Be wary of fat-free and low-fat foods: Manufactures may increase the sugar and sodium in foods to improve the flavor if fat has been removed. Read the food label!

Easy changes to improve your health:
- Cook with olive or canola oils whenever possible. Avoid lard.
- Buy leaner meats and trim visible fat from meats - note: by cooking meats with less fat, you will actually end up with more meat in the end.
- Try low-fat and fat free dairy products. 2% and whole milk products are high in cholesterol-raising saturated fats.

Make your recipes healthier without changing the taste! Replace butter or oil with:
- Applesauce (1:1 ratio)
- Plain, nonfat Greek yogurt (1:1 ratio)
- Low fat ricotta cheese or cottage cheese (1:1 ratio)
- Ground flax seed (3 Tablespoons of ground flax seed + 1 Tablespoon of water to replace 1 Tablespoon of oil) - note: let mixture sit for approximately 5 minutes until flax and water take on a jelly-like consistency.

Poison Prevention Tips

March 16, 2015
Driscoll Children's Hospital Injury Prevention Program
Poison Prevention Tips
From: Texas Poison Center Network

- Keep all household products and medicines locked up, out of sight and reach.

- If the door or phone rings when you are using a potentially harmful product, take it with you or put it out of the child's reach first. Don't turn your back on a child when a poisonous product is nearby. Most poisonings occur when the product is in use.

- Be careful with distraction from your usual supervisory activities.

- Use child-resistant packaging properly by closing the container securely after each use. Child resistant does not mean child proof.

- Use child-resistant locks on cabinets and cupboards containing medicines, toiletries, household cleaners and garden products.

- Keep the poison in its original container. Do not use food containers such as milk jugs or soda bottles to store household and chemical products.

- Keep the poison stored in a different cupboard from food products. Many poisonous products look alike and come in containers very similar to drinks or food. An example of this is apple juice and pine cleaner.

- Keep handbags out of reach of children. Only store one day's supply of medication in your handbag.

- Discard old or outdated household and chemical products.

- Communicate with other household members when a medication is given to a child in order to avoid unnecessary repeat dosing.

- Always turn the light on when giving or taking medicine so you can see what you are giving your child.

- Always read the label and measure the dose of medication to be given carefully.

- Avoid taking medicine in front of children.

- Pesticides can get through the skin and can be extremely toxic. Keep children away from areas that have recently been sprayed.

- Know the name of the plants in your home and in your yard. Label all of your plants. If you are having difficulty identifying a plant, take a sample to a nursery for identification.

- Teach your children not to eat mushrooms growing in the yard. Some of these mushrooms can be poisonous.

- Teach your children not to eat leaves and berries that grow in the yard. Do not assume a plant is safe to eat if you see wild animals eating it.

- Have your regional poison control center send you a list of poisonous and non-poisonous plants.

- New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics advise that parents should not use Syrup of Ipecac as a poison treatment intervention in the home.

- Take time to teach children about poisonous substances.

- Don't call medicine candy. Medicines and candy look alike and children cannot tell the difference.

Keep the telephone number for your regional poison control center near your telephone (1-800-222-1222).

The Dietary Guidelines

March 13, 2015
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a set of realistic, science-based recommendations that are easy to follow and practical for everyone. New guidelines are published every five years with the help of nutrition experts and professionals in the field. These guidelines focus on getting every American to adopt a diet that promotes a healthy weight and prevents against chronic disease. Why is this important?

  • Approximately 1/2 of all American adults - 17 million individuals - have one or more preventable, chronic diseases that are related to poor quality dietary patterns and physical inactivity

  • More than 2/3 of adults and nearly 1/3 of children and youth are overweight or obese

Together, we can fix this!

Some quick facts about the new guidelines:

  • Eat more fruits and non-starchy vegetables - they have been shown across the board to prevent and improve chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Not to mention, they promote healthy weight.

  • Replace processed grains with whole grains as much as possible. Whole grains provide a source of fiber, vitamins and minerals that you will NOT get in refined grains like white breads, rice, pastas and processed cereals.

  • Coffee - Get excited, coffee lovers, because there is now strong evidence showing that moderate coffee consumption (3-5 cups per day) does not pose a long-term health risk and can actually reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It may even be protective against Parkinson's disease. Note: This does not pertain to the cream and sugar!

  • Eat more seafood and eggs! We now know that cholesterol in food does not affect blood cholesterol - this means that eggs and shellfish are perfectly fine to eat! They are low in saturated fat.

  • Put a serious cap on added sugar. Sugar is a major contributor to weight gain and health issues today. The new Guidelines recommend making sugar less than 10% of total daily calorie intake(approximately 10-12 teaspoons per day). To put this in perspective, one can of regular soda has approximately 10 teaspoons). Instead of turning to sugar substitutes, just drink water.

  • Eat LESS red and processed meats - These are a major source of "bad" fats. Limit to once per week at most, and preferably, only eat these meats a few times per month. Tip: try to make beef grass-fed! Grass-fed beef has more good fats and less bad fats. In general, go for leaner meats like chicken or turkey instead.

  • Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (for healthy people).

  • Get moving! Try for at LEAST 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week. For weight maintenance or weight loss, one hour of physical activity may be needed. Kids should engage in at least one hour of physical activity per day. Limit screen time to less than two hours per day, especially among children.

  • Strong evidence shows that it is not necessary to eliminate food groups or conform to a single dietary pattern to achieve healthy dietary patterns.

Driscoll patients treated to Child Life Month celebration

March 10, 2015
The Stripes Child Life Program at Driscoll Children's Hospital celebrated Child Life Month with a rock and roll-themed party for in-house patients on March 3rd. The seventh annual event is designed to make hospitalization a little more pleasant for children by providing a distraction from their illness and an opportunity for socialization, self-expression and normalization.

"Child Life professionals strive to promote coping and reduce anxiety of children and their families. They embrace the power of play to teach children about their diagnosis, prepare for and support during painful procedures," said Michelle Goodman, director of the Stripes Child Life Program at Driscoll.

Driscoll Children's hospital began a Child Life program in 1985. Today, Driscoll has nine Child Life  Specialists who provide service to the Emergency Room, in-patient units 4T, 6T and 7T, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Renal Dialysis, Driscoll's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Day Surgery and Radiology.

Activities at the celebration will include walking down a red carpet, face painting, decorating cardboard guitars and a photo booth.  Employees from Stripes convenience stores will provide a carnival-style prize wheel and store coupons.

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

February 25, 2015

Donate and register online!

For more information about the Radiothon, click here.

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.

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.

Injury Prevention Program honored by Westside Business Association

November 11, 2014
Driscoll Children's Hospital's Injury Prevention Program was presented with the Advocate of the Year award at the Westside Business Association's Community Leader Awards Banquet.

For the past three years, the hospital's Injury Prevention Program has donated children's bicycle helmets to the annual Navidad de los Ninos celebration in Corpus Christi. Navidad de los Ninos, which benefits more than 1,200 disadvantaged children and families annually, gives out the helmets to local children as Christmas gifts, as well as other toys donated by the community.

"It's an honor to be recognized by the community, but an even bigger honor to help the children of South Texas, which is the mission of Driscoll Children's Hospital," Injury Prevention Specialist Tiffany Collie said.