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Driscoll nurse cares for babies where she was once a tiny patient

October 07, 2013
Christianna
Christianna "Chris" Donald, 25, cares for an infant in Driscoll Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, where she was treated as a newborn.
Chris Donald's story is third in Driscoll Children's Hospital's 60th anniversary series

CORPUS CHRISTI - In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Driscoll Children's Hospital, tiny babies sleep tranquilly in incubators amid the occasional whispers of nurses and the faint beeps and hums of medical equipment. Infants from all over South Texas are brought here to be treated for disease, injury, complications due to premature birth and numerous other maladies.

With gloved hands, registered nurse Christianna "Chris" Donald gently adjusts a tube connected to a boy less than a month old from the Rio Grande Valley. He was born with congenital heart defects, and Donald has a special bond with him. As a newborn nearly 26 years ago, she was a patient in this same unit for the same reason.

"He's going to have the exact same surgeries I had," she said.

Donald was admitted to Driscoll's NICU within 24 hours of being born, she said. One of her lungs kept collapsing and tubes called catheters had to be inserted into her chest. Her heart was missing two heart valves and a one ventricle - conditions that required surgery. (Ventricles are chambers on each side of the heart that receive blood and force it into the arteries.) Donald underwent three open heart surgeries by age 4; two were performed at Driscoll and one in Minnesota.

Although she recovered successfully, Donald's condition meant she would need medical attention for the rest of her life. She was 12 years old the last time she was a patient at Driscoll, she said, and she remains under the care of a cardiologist.

Her surgeries at such a young age naturally worried Donald's parents. Her mother became close to her doctors and nurses at Driscoll and remembers their names to this day. So it didn't surprise Donald when her mother gave her a list of nurses to look for when she started working at Driscoll in August 2012.

"My family liked Driscoll's nurses the best," she said. "They were the most genuine."

One of the people who treated Donald at Driscoll 25 years ago, cardiologist Billy Rios, MD, continues to be a positive influence in her life. Dr. Rios, who still practices at Driscoll, was her cardiologist until just a few months ago.

"First I wanted to be a pediatric cardiologist because I wanted to be just like him," Donald said. "I send him Christmas cards every year."

Many letters, photos and cards from current and former patients are displayed along a wall in Dr. Rios' office. He pointed out several mementos from Donald that range from when she was a baby to when she graduated from college.

"I treat all my patients as if they were my own," Dr. Rios said. "I'm very proud of Chris and all she's accomplished. She never gave up. I've watched her grow up, through different stages, and she was always in good spirits, always asking questions and wanting to learn everything she could. Nothing was going to deter her from accomplishing her goals."

Donald ultimately decided to pursue nursing, graduating from Texas Tech University in 2010. She began working in a NICU in Lubbock shortly afterward. But it was when she returned to Driscoll's NICU as a nurse that she felt her life had come full circle.

"I understand the parents' fears now," she said. "I feel for them. I want to give their child the best care I can because nurses can make an impact, like they did in my life."

Giving children and families hope is important to Donald too. She has volunteered at Camp Hearty, a summer camp for children with congenital heart defects that Driscoll sponsors annually in Rockport,
and she often offers support to families in the NICU.

"Chris has an outstanding ability to connect with the babies and families in the NICU," said Ana Olivera-Hamm, a chaplain at Driscoll Children's Hospital and Donald's friend. "Not only is she a NICU survivor and graduate, but a conqueror. Only God could have ordained her healing and her calling to become a healer herself."

Donald is as healthy as she is happy. She hasn't had any major complications from her heart condition, and a daily dose of blood pressure medication is one of the few reminders of her ordeal. She has even backpacked across Alaska with her parents, where they now live, she said. And, with a husband who is in pharmacy school, she is focused on the future and having children.
Nevertheless, she doesn't take her good health for granted.

"All my life I've been given a finite number of years to live - maybe 12 years, maybe more," Donald said. "Now I'm told I'll probably have a normal lifespan. You either get devastated because your life may be short or you make the best of it. It's in God's hands."

This is the third in a series of stories about extraordinary patients that Driscoll Children's Hospital is sharing throughout 2013 as part of its 60th anniversary celebration.


Country music artists to entertain at Driscoll's Singer Songwriter Showcase

October 02, 2013
WHAT: Notable country music artists Tim Nichols, Marv Green and Jason Sellers will take the stage tomorrow night at Driscoll Children's Hospital's 8th annual Singer Songwriter Showcase at the Corpus Christi Country Club. The event precedes the 18th annual Golf Tournament on Friday. Proceeds from the events benefit Driscoll Children's Hospital.

WHEN: Singer Songwriter Showcase: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3
Golf Tournament: Registration at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 4
11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. buffet luncheon
1 p.m. shotgun start
5:30 p.m. awards party

WHERE: Corpus Christi Country Club, 6300 Everhart Rd.

Celebrity Celebration will showcase Driscoll patients' artwork

September 17, 2013
Annual holiday cards, Christmas storybook with their designs go on sale tomorrow

CORPUS CHRISTI - Driscoll's annual Hollywood-style Celebrity Celebration will be held tomorrow to mark the release of the hospital's 2013 holiday card collection and Christmas storybook. Celebrities at the event will be past and present Driscoll patients who created designs for the items.

"This is one of the largest, most exciting annual events we have and the Auxiliary to Driscoll Children's Hospital is proud to put it on," said Lizette Saenz, director of Volunteer Services. "We look forward to rolling out the red carpet and putting the spotlight on our little stars."

For this annual tradition, Driscoll patients from throughout South Texas drew pictures for nine holiday cards and a Christmas storybook. Community members selected the artwork to be used. Proceeds from sales of the items will go toward the Marcia K. Wilcox scholarship, which has benefited more than 90 Driscoll cancer patients since its inception.

This year's holiday card artists are:

Audrey Braugh, 9, of Corpus Christi
Mia Martinez, 12, of Corpus Christi
Melissa Gallardo, 11, of Port Isabel
Madeline Robinson, 11, of Corpus Christi
Keiana Vardon, 6, of Corpus Christi
Rachel Bundrick, 11, of Corpus Christi
Parker Mayfield, 3, of Taft
Teresa Esparza, 9, of Corpus Christi
Nyah Arismendez, 7, of Beeville

Storybook artists are:

Korin Cruz, 8, of Robstown
Aldrick Judd, 8, of Corpus Christi
Sabrina Cruz, 9, of Corpus Christi
Charleigh Wilson, 7, of Corpus Christi
Aidan Flores, 9, of Aransas Pass
Melissa Gallardo, 11, of Port Isabel
Rachel Bundrick, 11, of Corpus Christi
Jennifer Gonzales, 5, of Deer Park
Wendy Inocencio, 8, of McAllen
Emily Haefs, 16, of Corpus Christi

The children's artwork will be unveiled after they enter Driscoll's auditorium on a red carpet amid camera flashes and applause. Then they'll autograph their work for family, friends and fans. Following the celebration, they'll be treated to a limo ride to Gattitown for some food and fun.

The holiday cards and Christmas storybook can be purchased through Driscoll's web site, www.driscollchildrens.org, and at the hospital's Carousel Gift Shop. For more information, call (361) 694-5011 or 1-800-DCH-LOVE.

What: Driscoll Children's Hospital's annual Celebrity Celebration
When: 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18
Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital auditorium, 3533 S. Alameda St.

Driscoll Children's Hospital to offer free car seat inspections

September 13, 2013
WHAT: In conjunction with Child Passenger Safety Week, Sept. 15-21, 2013, and National Seat Check Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 (www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov/cps), the Injury Prevention Program at Driscoll Children's Hospital will offer free inspections of child car safety seats. Parents are invited to bring their car seats and receive instruction on proper use and safety.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21
WHERE: Injury Prevention Program building (portable building behind the Health Center), Driscoll Children's Hospital, 3533 S. Alameda St.
INFO: (361) 694-6700

Harper recognized for contributions to child abuse pediatrics

August 27, 2013
Harper
Harper
CORPUS CHRISTI - The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recognized Nancy Harper, MD, FAAP, medical director of the Child Abuse Resource and Evaluation (CARE) Team at Driscoll Children's Hospital, for her participation as a member of the planning group for PREP®: CAP An Update of Child Abuse Pediatrics, held in Norfolk, Va., July 11-14, 2013.

A continuing medical education activity, PREP®: CAP is a comprehensive update of child abuse pediatrics that emphasizes the process of evidence-based clinical decision-making and focuses on the scientific basis for the clinical practice of pediatric medicine. Member contributions to this educational effort are recognized as a gift to the improvement of care for infants, children and adolescents.

"The Academy is a top provider of quality Pediatric Continuing Medical Education," said Robert Perelman, MD, FAAP, director of the AAP Department of Education. "It is through the continued commitment of outstanding members, like Dr. Harper, that enables the Academy to accomplish the excellence in education that has become our goal of achievement."

Anyaegbu joins Driscoll as pediatric nephrologist

August 19, 2013
Anyaegbu
Anyaegbu
CORPUS CHRISTI - Elizabeth Anyaegbu, MD, has joined Driscoll Children's Hospital as a pediatric nephrologist. Dr. Anyaegbu completed a nephrology fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis, where she also received a master's degree in clinical investigation. She performed her residency at Driscoll from 2007 to 2010. She is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society of Pediatric Nephrology, American Society of Nephrology and the National Kidney Foundation.

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
Laredo

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
McAllen

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
Bishop

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.

Families with babies in intensive care at Driscoll find comfort from March of Dimes program

August 14, 2013
CORPUS CHRISTI - March of Dimes announced today that Driscoll Children's Hospital will launch a NICU Family Support Program®. The program, which provides information and comfort to families of premature babies and other critically ill newborns being cared for in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), is being funded by The Vishal Raju Bhagat Foundation.

"Preparing for a new baby is a time of great excitement," said Laurie Beck, RN, MSN, IBCLC, chair of the March of Dimes Program Services Committee in the Corpus Christi Division and director of Mom's Place, a breastfeeding resource center at Driscoll Children's Hospital. "Families don't expect anything to go wrong, but when something does go wrong, it can be very overwhelming. The Vishal Raju Bhagat Foundation's funding of the NICU Family Support Program will help make the journey through neonatal intensive care smoother and less traumatic for families."

The NICU Family Support Program is an important component of the March of Dimes' efforts to help all babies - those born healthy and those who need help to survive and thrive. As part of their commitment to help give every baby a healthy start, the March of Dimes has made medical and technological advances that have saved millions of babies' lives and health.

The NICU Family Support Program is now established in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. More than 86,000 families will have access to the information and support activities offered through the March of Dimes NICU Family Support annually.

"The March of Dimes is looking forward to partnering with Driscoll Children's Hospital through NICU Family Support because of its reputation for excellence and the quality care it provides to babies," Rosaura De Los Santos, Executive Director of the March of Dimes said. "Driscoll Children's Hospital does incredible work every day to care for sick babies and their families. We want to support their efforts."

Christopher Joyal, Driscoll's NICU director states "We are excited to be a March of Dimes NICU Family Support site and are looking forward to this collaborative effort to support parents throughout their stay with us. This is a wonderful opportunity to work with NICU parents and staff to develop programs specific to the needs of our families."

Incorporating NICU families into every level of the program, March of Dimes NICU Family Support addresses the needs of families throughout the hospitalization, during the transition home, and in the event of a newborn death. NICU Family Support also includes a professional development component to provide hospital NICU staff with support and educational opportunities. The program is led by hospital staff with professional NICU experience. Each NICU family receives a March of Dimes Parent Care Kit including informational books and materials to chart their baby's milestones.

What: Unveiling of NICU Family Support Unit
When: 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15
Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital, third floor, 3533 S. Alameda St.

Páez brings pediatric endocrinology expertise to Driscoll

August 09, 2013
Pez
Pez
CORPUS CHRISTI - Ana María Páez, MD, has joined Driscoll Children's Hospital as a pediatric endocrinologist. Dr. Páez recently completed a pediatric endocrinology fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where she performed her pediatric residency from 2007 to 2010. She received her medical degree in 2007 at the Ponce School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Dr. Páez is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.

Driscoll Children's Hospital announces new directors

August 02, 2013
Clockwise from top left: Martinez, Thomas, Jones, Perez
Clockwise from top left: Martinez, Thomas, Jones, Perez
CORPUS CHRISTI - Margaret Jones, RN, MA, NEA, BC, has been hired as director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Driscoll Children's Hospital. Jones has 35 years of nursing experience in pediatric, neonatal and adult hospital settings and has held positions in both management and education. She previously held leadership positions at hospitals in Houston.

Joe Martinez has been promoted to director of the Engineering Department at Driscoll Children's Hospital. Martinez began working at Driscoll in 1993 as a plant operator and has served as maintenance supervisor and facilities manager for the past three years.

Also, Miguel Perez, III, has been promoted to Driscoll Health System's director of Information Systems and chief information officer. Perez, who has 15 years of information systems experience, has been a member of the Driscoll team for the past 10 years, having served as director of Information Systems and chief information officer for Driscoll Health Plan. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in environmental science from Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi, as well as a master's degree in healthcare administration from Trinity University in San Antonio.

In addition, Driscoll has promoted Jessy Thomas to director of Pharmacy. Thomas joined Driscoll in 2005 as a staff pharmacist, later becoming the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit clinical pharmacist and the assistant director of Pharmacy. She holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and she completed a residency in pharmacy practice.