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Looking back: The little girl who battled H1N1 and prevailed

February 15, 2013
Kayla Piñon (center) reflected on her life-threatening battle with the H1N1 flu recently with her parents, Luis and Melinda Piñon.
Kayla Piñon (center) reflected on her life-threatening battle with the H1N1 flu recently with her parents, Luis and Melinda Piñon.
Driscoll Children's Hospital celebrates its 60th anniversary with a series of stories about extraordinary patients

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."

Driscoll aims to increase awareness of congenital heart defects

February 13, 2013
Mayoral proclamation, celebration for cardiology patients and families scheduled

CORPUS CHRISTI - While many people associate February with romance and Valentine's Day, Driscoll Children's Hospital hopes to increase awareness of congenital heart defects in the community. In conjunction with Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, Feb. 7-14 (see www.tchin.org/aware/), Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez will declare Feb. 14 Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day when she reads a proclamation at Driscoll Children's Hospital that day. A celebration for staff will also be held Feb. 14 during which Driscoll Health System - Pediatric Cardiology and the department's services will be highlighted. In addition, Driscoll's cardiology patients and their families are being invited to a Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Celebration Feb. 16 at the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History that will include games, activities and refreshments.

"We want to recognize the thousands of people born with heart defects, remember loved ones who've lost their battle with congenital heart defects and honor the dedicated health professionals who work with them," said Laura Esparza, MS, LBW, social worker at Driscoll Children's Hospital.

Each year, cardiologists at Driscoll and its South Texas clinics see about 7,200 children for heart-related issues, Esparza said. Some of the patients need heart surgery and some are treated using delicate and less invasive procedures. Hundreds of cardiac catheterizations and heart surgeries are performed each year at Driscoll Children's Hospital.

Heart birth defects (congenital heart defects) occur in about 1 of every 100 infants born throughout the world, making it one of the most common birth defects, according to John Brownlee, MD, medical director at Driscoll Health System - Pediatric Cardiology. About 1 of every 1,000 infants and children will require surgery or some other intervention to correct or lessen the effects of a defect, Dr. Brownlee said. Fifty years ago, nearly every child with a major heart birth defect died very young, he said, but in the last 20 years, surgical and interventional techniques have been developed to help almost all of these children. Through early identification and planning by cardiovascular teams at Driscoll, children born with heart defects in South Texas have a good chance of living a comfortable, nearly normal life, Dr. Brownlee added.

What: Mayoral proclamation - Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day
When: 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14
Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital auditorium, 3533 S. Alameda St.

What: Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Celebration
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16
Where: Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, 1900 N. Chaparral St.

With expansion comes new Laredo office for Driscoll Health Plan

February 13, 2013
LAREDO - Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas and representatives from the Laredo Chamber of Commerce will join officials from Driscoll Health Plan (DHP) tomorrow as they celebrate the opening of their new Laredo office at 1705 Del Mar Blvd.

The 1,245-square-foot office will be used by DHP to conduct provider relations, community outreach and, later, social work. It is the result of DHP's 2012 expansion into the Hidalgo Service Delivery Area (SDA), which includes the counties of Cameron, Duval, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Maverick, McMullen, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata. DHP currently has more than 50,200 members in the Hidalgo SDA.

"We are pleased to have an office in Laredo for our staff as well as a place for healthcare providers to meet with us," said Mary Dale Peterson, MD, MSHCA, chief executive officer of DHP. "The physicians of Laredo have been wonderful to work with. These bricks and mortar are just another example of Driscoll Health Plan's commitment to this area."

DHP is one of four plans that were awarded a Medicaid managed-care contract in South Texas by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. It's available to the approximately 400,000 Medicaid-eligible people in the Hidalgo SDA. For more information about DHP, go to www.driscollhealthplan.com or call 855-425-3247.

What: Ribbon-cutting for Driscoll Health Plan's Laredo office
When: 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14
Where: 1705 Del Mar Blvd., Suite A119, Laredo

Ward is new vice president of Finance at Driscoll

February 11, 2013
Ward
Ward
CORPUS CHRISTI - Greg Ward has joined Driscoll Children's Hospital as vice president of Finance. Ward has more than 15 years of healthcare accounting and finance experience and most recently served as chief financial officer and vice president of Operations at Carlinville Area Hospital in Carlinville, Ill. A certified public accountant, he holds a master's degree in business administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and a bachelor's degree in accounting from Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal.

Fiesta de los Niños, Driscoll's largest annual fundraiser, kicks off Friday night

February 07, 2013
WHAT: The American Bank Center exhibit hall will be packed tomorrow for the 21st annual Fiesta de los Niños, presented by title sponsor Flint Hills Resources. The ever-popular event will feature silent and live auctions, a barbecue dinner and dancing to live entertainment by country music star Johnny Lee, singer of the 1980 hit, "Lookin' For Love." Proceeds will go toward several key specialty areas at Driscoll Children's Hospital, including the Rehabilitation Services Department, Radiology Department and Driscoll Health System - Pediatric Cardiology.

WHEN: 6:30-11:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8

WHERE: American Bank Center exhibit hall, 1901 N. Shoreline Blvd., Corpus Christi

Renovated playroom is designed to reduce anxiety for Driscoll patients

February 06, 2013
CORPUS CHRISTI - In an ongoing effort to reduce anxiety for young patients and make their hospital stay more pleasant, Driscoll Children's Hospital recently completed the renovation of a playroom on the fourth floor. Driscoll officials will unveil the playroom tomorrow with representatives from Stripes convenience stores, whose $1 million donation in 2009 made the renovation possible.

An interior designer helped plan the renovation, and the playroom was stocked with children of all ages in mind. New amenities include:

Media center with flat-screen TV & game systems
Computer
Play kitchen
Custom-designed infant/toddler mat
Toys, games, puzzles
Arts & crafts

The playroom also features medical play equipment, including a stretcher, IV pole and hospital bedside table.

"The new playroom creates a non-threatening environment that will decrease patients' anxiety and aid them in coping with hospitalization," said Michelle Goodman, fourth floor director.

The playroom is available to patients and their siblings, she added.

What: Fourth floor playroom unveiling
When: 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 7
Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital, fourth floor playroom, 3533 S. Alameda St.

Kiewit to present a $100,000 gift to Driscoll Children's Hospital

February 05, 2013
WHAT: Representatives from Kiewit Offshore Services, Ltd. will present a check for $100,000 to Driscoll Children's Hospital as a donation for the 21st annual Fiesta de los Niños. The event, to be held Feb. 8 at the American Bank Center, is one of Driscoll's largest annual fundraisers, with proceeds going toward several key specialty areas, including the Rehabilitation Services Department, Radiology Department and Driscoll Health System - Pediatric Cardiology.

"Kiewit Offshore Services, Ltd. and its employees are proud to support Driscoll Children's Hospital," said Bob Shockney, Kiewit district business manager. "We are committed to work with an organization that has made such a meaningful difference in the lives of thousands of Texas families for 60 years."

WHEN: 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6

WHERE: Driscoll Children's Hospital, main lobby, 3533 S. Alameda St.

Harper co-authors article that can help in detection of child abuse

February 05, 2013
Harper
Harper
CORPUS CHRISTI - Nancy Harper, MD, medical director of the Child Abuse Resource and Evaluation (CARE) Team at Driscoll Children's Hospital, co-authored an article in the January 2013 issue of the journal Pediatric Emergency Care that could ultimately help save the lives of abused children. Through an analysis of data collected from examinations of more than 2,000 children, Dr. Harper and her co-authors established that certain X-rays of the hands, feet, spine and pelvis can reveal otherwise hidden abusive injuries and, in turn, lead to the prevention of future injuries. It had been suggested previously that some views of the hands, feet, spine and pelvis should be omitted from routine skeletal examinations, called skeletal surveys, because fractures are rarely found.

"We determined that if special views of these areas had been omitted, a significant number of occult, or hidden, abusive fractures would have been missed," Dr. Harper said. "Missing abusive injuries may place a child at risk for further abusive injury and death."

The article by Dr. Harper and her colleagues, titled "Prevalence of Abusive Fractures of the Hands, Feet, Spine, or Pelvis on Skeletal Survey: Perhaps 'Uncommon' Is More Common Than Suggested," can be found at www.pec-online.com. The group's conclusions came after they analyzed data collected from the Examining Siblings To Recognize Abuse (ExSTRA) research network. The data, based on skeletal surveys from 2,049 children, showed that 23 percent of them had at least one previously unknown fracture in the initial skeletal survey. When fractures are found, the survey is referred to as a positive skeletal survey. Of the children with positive skeletal surveys, 10.4 percent had a fracture to the hands, feet, spine or pelvis.

The surveyed children came from a group of nearly 3,000 who were part of a study by the ExSTRA network between January 2010 and April 2011, Dr. Harper said. They were evaluated by 20 child abuse teams in the United States, including the CARE Team at Driscoll Children's Hospital. Dr. Harper served as the principle center investigator at Driscoll and Sonja Eddleman, RN, CFN was the center coordinator.

Dr. Harper hopes her research provides guidance to physicians and radiologists in evaluating children for suspected child abuse.

"The detection of occult, or hidden, abusive fractures will likely prevent additional serious or fatal inflicted injury in children," she said.

Dr. Harper co-authored another article on the subject that will be published Feb. 11 on the web site of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/).

Grocery shopping is therapeutic at Driscoll's new H-E-B Kids' Market

January 29, 2013
'Shoppers' will demonstrate at ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 23
CORPUS CHRISTI - Just over a year after planning began, the H-E-B Kids' Market at Driscoll Children's Hospital will be opened Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the Rehabilitation Services Department. Officials from Driscoll and H-E-B will be on hand, and children will be cued up to begin shopping in the kid-sized grocery store. The market, with its mini grocery carts, shelves of food, plastic produce and check-out stand, offers many therapeutic possibilities for Driscoll's rehabilitation patients.

"The market helps us create a series of activities that children will encounter in the real world," said Susan Fields, director of Driscoll's Rehabilitation Services Department. "It will allow them to have fun and learn at the same time. Children learn best when they don't know they're working."

In addition to a grocery store, the H-E-B Kids' Market at Driscoll features a play kitchen with a refrigerator, working sink and washer and dryer.

Several rehabilitative therapies can be employed in the market, Fields said. With Driscoll's physical therapists, children can improve their standing and balancing ability by reaching and picking items from shelves. Pushing a grocery cart can help those who need to work on walking. In the play kitchen, they can choose where to store food. Speech therapists can help children improve language skills by having them name, match, categorize or describe products. And with Driscoll's occupational therapists, children can work on problem-solving by planning a meal, purchasing items, making change and generally improving their fine motor skills. The area is also available to Driscoll's dietitians, who will teach children about nutrition and meal planning.

The idea for the H-E-B Kids' Market materialized in 2011 after a Driscoll employee saw an H-E-Buddy Market in the Children's Museum of Houston. The market, also in children's museums in San Antonio and Brownsville, is designed to engage children in activities that will help them learn and grow. Driscoll's Rehabilitation Services Department designated an area for pretend play and a donation from H-E-B followed.

The H-E-B Kids' Market at Driscoll is the first time the H-E-Buddy Market concept has been incorporated into a children's hospital for rehabilitative purposes, according to H-E-B.

The H-E-B Kids' Market is available to any child who needs rehabilitation therapy. For more information, call the Rehabilitation Services Department at (361) 694-5678.

What: H-E-B Kids' Market ribbon-cutting
When: 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23
Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital, Rehabilitation Services Department, 3533 S. Alameda St.

Driscoll Health Plan: Improving healthcare with cell phone assistance for members

January 18, 2013
RIO GRANDE VALLEY - For most people, finding a medical care provider and making doctor's appointments is as easy as picking up a cell phone. But for some Medicaid-eligible individuals and families, access to cell phones - and quick communication with healthcare providers - may be difficult or impossible. Driscoll Health Plan (DHP) strives to bridge the communication gap by providing all members assistance in applying for a free cell phone.*

"Communication is essential when it comes to access to good healthcare for the vulnerable population we serve," said Mary Dale Peterson, MD, MSHCA, chief executive officer of DHP.

As part of the free cell phone* program, qualifying members will also receive the following services at not cost:

250 free voice minutes each month
250 free text messages each month;
A voicemail account;
Call waiting and caller ID;
9-1-1 access.

In addition to these services, DHP provides 250 extra minutes** each month and, for certain members, text messages with general health tips, notices about free events and other helpful information.

"This is a win-win situation for our members who qualify to receive free cell phones," Dr. Peterson said. "DHP continues to develop ways to provide more value to our members."

Cell phones obtained through DHP are made available by Assurance Wireless, a federal Lifeline program that is part of the Universal Service Fund.*

DHP has more than 50,000 members in the Hidalgo Service Delivery Area (SDA), which includes the counties of Cameron, Duval, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Maverick, McMullen, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata. It is the only non-profit, provider-sponsored plan in the Hidalgo SDA. For more information about DHP, families can go to www.driscollhealthplan.com or call 855-425-3247. This is the third in a series of four press releases about DHP's value-added services.

* Members must qualify to receive a free cell phone. The cell phone is not a value-added service.
** Restrictions and/or limitations apply on this value-added service.