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Dwarfism doesn't prevent 3-year-old boy from living life

May 02, 2013
Ethann Valdez, 3, was born with achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism. He's been a patient at Driscoll Children's Hospital since he was born.
Ethann Valdez, 3, was born with achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism. He's been a patient at Driscoll Children's Hospital since he was born.
Ethann Valdez's story is second in Driscoll Children's Hospital's 60th anniversary series

CORPUS CHRISTI - Darting around a waiting area at Driscoll Children's Hospital with a huge smile on his face, Ethann Valdez has the seemingly endless energy of any 3-year-old boy. He doesn't appear to be bothered much by the life-threatening disorders that have affected him throughout his young life - and that's fine with his parents.

"We treat him like a normal child," said his mother, Brittney Guerrero. "We take him outside so he can be a boy and not live in a bubble. He knows sign language and can do handstands. He does seem to wonder why people look at him sometimes."

Tired out after a burst of energy, Ethann slows down to catch his breath. He inhales and exhales through a tube that protrudes from his throat called a trach, making a wheezing sound. He received a tracheotomy because his airway is abnormally narrow, referred to as airway stenosis, his mother said.

Airway stenosis is just one of the medical conditions that make Ethann a special member of the Driscoll Children's Hospital family. He was born with achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism caused by a genetic defect that occurs in about one out of 26,000 to 40,000 babies, according to WebMD.com. That was accompanied by a variety of health issues that have brought Ethann and his family to Driscoll over the past three years. He regularly sees a pediatric cardiologist, pulmonologist, otolaryngologist and geneticist at Driscoll.

Just about anywhere Ethann goes at the hospital, someone recognizes him.

"Driscoll is like our second family," Guerrero said. "A lot of people know Ethann here. They're part of our support system."

Recently, a major concern for Ethann's family has been the narrowing of his heart valves, a condition related to his dwarfism. Heart surgery might fix the problem, but it's too risky to perform at this time because of his other medical issues, said Umang Gupta, MD, pediatric cardiologist at Driscoll Children's Hospital.

Ethann's parents employ nurses to help with his round-the-clock healthcare needs. Like most people who interact with him, licensed vocational nurse Janine Hobrecht adores her patient.

"He's a unique little boy," said Hobrecht, who cares for Ethann Monday through Friday. "He's very talkative and likes to have fun. He's enjoying his life and he's OK with his disabilities."

Paige Cooper, a registered nurse at Driscoll's Pediatric Cardiology clinic, is another of Ethann's "fans." She said he's thriving despite his many obstacles, thanks in large part to his parents.

"Ethann and his family are so positive and a joy to be around," Cooper said. "His family is eager to learn all they can about his disorders. They embrace his uniqueness, challenge him daily and celebrate his every accomplishment."

Guerrero said she appreciates receiving straightforward information from physicians regarding her son's health, even if it isn't pleasant. She and Ethann's father, John Matthew Valdez, have resolved themselves to stay positive regardless of what the future holds.

"Whatever happens, we'll be OK," Guerrero said. "What keeps me going is knowing nobody has an expiration date. We can go anytime. So we should enjoy each other's presence. Every moment is important."

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

Celebrating the past, looking to the future: Driscoll marks 60 years

April 02, 2013
On April 2, an historical marker was unveiled honoring Driscoll Children's Hospital's founder, Clara Driscoll. Pictured, left to right, are Steve Woerner, Driscoll president & CEO; Anita Eisenhauer, chairwoman of the Nueces County Historical Commission and member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas - Clara Driscoll Chapter; Karen Thompson, president general of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas; Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez; and Loyd Neal, chairman of Driscoll's governing board.
On April 2, an historical marker was unveiled honoring Driscoll Children's Hospital's founder, Clara Driscoll. Pictured, left to right, are Steve Woerner, Driscoll president & CEO; Anita Eisenhauer, chairwoman of the Nueces County Historical Commission and member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas - Clara Driscoll Chapter; Karen Thompson, president general of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas; Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez; and Loyd Neal, chairman of Driscoll's governing board.
Ceremony includes dedication of historical marker honoring hospital's founder
CORPUS CHRISTI - Notable guests and community leaders gathered today to commemorate Driscoll Children's Hospital's 60th anniversary and witness the dedication of an historical marker honoring the hospital's founder, Clara Driscoll. The ceremony, held in Driscoll's auditorium, offered both a reflection on the past and a glimpse of the future.

Speakers included Steve Woerner, Driscoll president and chief executive officer, Loyd Neal, chairman of Driscoll's governing board, Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez and representatives from the Texas Historical Marker Program and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT). The ceremony began with messages of welcome from Neal and Woerner, followed by a flag ceremony performed by Flour Bluff High School's state champion Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps drill team.

Donna Quinn, Driscoll vice president of Operations and Quality, shared news about the renovation and expansion of Driscoll's Emergency Department (ED). In 1987, Driscoll became the first hospital in South Texas to offer emergency services specifically for pediatrics, and the ED currently serves about 35,000 children each year. The $12 million renovation and expansion project will significantly enhance overall patient care and result in a state-of-the-art ED. When it is completed in late 2014, it will include:

Two trauma rooms
Twenty private exam rooms
Two triage areas with ideal visibility to the waiting area
An expanded central nursing station
An expanded waiting area
A new ambulance vestibule and weather protection canopy
An outward extension of the building, allowing for an expanded lobby

Mayor Martinez spoke to the audience about Driscoll's importance to the community. Driscoll Children's Hospital is the seventh largest employer in Corpus Christi, and Driscoll Health System employs approximately 1,800 people throughout South Texas. She also paid tribute to the Clowns Who Care, a group of more than 30 women who volunteer their time to entertain patients, parents and staff at Driscoll Children's Hospital. Mayor Martinez has long been a member of the group, using the moniker, "Madame Flutterby."

Anita Eisenhauer, a member of the Nueces County Historical Commission and the DRT's Clara Driscoll Chapter, and Karen Thompson, president general of the DRT, provided information on the
Texas Historical Marker Program and Clara Driscoll's legacy. The historical marker dedicated today honors Driscoll as an important and educational person in local history.

A true product of South Texas, Driscoll was born in 1881 in St. Mary's of Aransas, Texas on Copano
Bay. Growing up on her family's ranch, called Palo Alto, she was equally skilled with a revolver, rifle and lariat. By the time she was 16, she could speak four languages: English, Spanish, French and German. In 1904, she was proclaimed "The Savior of the Alamo" after purchasing the structure for $75,000 and saving it from destruction for commercial interests.

Driscoll's philanthropy led her to political pursuits. A generous giver to the Democratic Party, she was elected National Democratic Committeewoman in 1928, a post she held until 1944. Following the death of her brother in 1929, Driscoll was called upon to take over the Driscoll empire, which consisted of cattle, oil and vast tracts of land. Prior to her death on July 17, 1945, she chose to honor her family's memory by leaving the bulk of her enormous estate to provide for the medical treatment of the children of South Texas. Driscoll Children's Hospital would become the first free-standing pediatric hospital in South Texas. It was dedicated on February 22, 1953 and had 25 beds. It's now a 189-bed facility that serves patients from 31 counties and 33,000 square miles of South Texas.

Today's ceremony culminated with Woerner and Neal unveiling the historical marker that will be permanently displayed outside Driscoll Children's Hospital facing Alameda Street. This year, the hospital has hosted 60th anniversary parties for patients and employees, and its website features special patient stories, an anniversary video and an historical timeline (www.driscollchildrens.org).

Driscoll's 60th anniversary ceremony will include dedication of historical marker

April 01, 2013
WHAT: A ceremony commemorating Driscoll Children's Hospital's 60th anniversary and the dedication of an historical marker honoring its founder will be held tomorrow. Speakers will include Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal, Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez and representatives from the Texas Historical Marker Program and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
WHEN: 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 2
WHERE: Driscoll Children's Hospital auditorium, 3533 S. Alameda St.

Stripes Child Life Carnival is a fun interlude for Driscoll patients

March 11, 2013
CORPUS CHRISTI - A Stripes Child Life Carnival for patients will be held tomorrow by staff with the Stripes Child Life Program at Driscoll Children's Hospital. The fifth 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.

"The Stripes Child Life Carnival provides an excellent opportunity for our organization to express appreciation to our Child Life staff while providing fun activities for our patients to help ease their mind from stress and illness," said Michelle Goodman, fourth floor and Stripes Child Life Program director at Driscoll.

Activities at the carnival will include a ring toss game, cake walk, fishing game, treasure hunt, magic show, treasure box decorating, Xbox Kinect game and photo booth. Patients will also be able to make their own ice cream sundaes. Employees from Stripes convenience stores will provide a carnival-style prize wheel and store coupons.

The Stripes Child Life Carnival is made possible by a $1 million commitment from Stripes convenience stores in 2009.

What: Stripes Child Life Carnival for Driscoll patients
When: 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 12
Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital auditorium, 3533 S. Alameda St.

Joyal promoted to NICU director at Driscoll

March 04, 2013
Joyal
Joyal
CORPUS CHRISTI - Christopher Joyal, RN, BSN, CPN, has been promoted to director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Driscoll Children's Hospital. He previously served as manager of Driscoll's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Joyal has also worked in Driscoll's Transport Services Dept. and, as the PICU educator, he was instrumental in bringing best practice initiatives to the unit. He is a graduate of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Mokhashi joins Driscoll as pediatric endocrinologist

March 04, 2013
Mokhashi
Mokhashi
CORPUS CHRISTI - Moinuddin H. Mokhashi, MD, FAAP, has joined Children's Physician Services of South Texas at Driscoll Children's Hospital as a pediatric endocrinologist. Dr. Mokhashi was previously with Specialty Pediatrics Ltd. in Yuma, Ariz. and the State of Arizona's Children's Rehabilitative Services. He completed his residency in pediatrics at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center - New Orleans in 2005 and a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology/diabetes at Children's Hospital in New Orleans in 2003. Dr. Mokhashi earned his medical degree in 1999 at Bangalore University in India. He is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.

Sutton joins Driscoll as pediatric pathologist

February 25, 2013
Sutton
Sutton
CORPUS CHRISTI - Lisa M. Sutton, MD has joined Driscoll Children's Hospital as a pediatric pathologist. Dr. Sutton completed a fellowship in pediatric pathology at Children's Medical Center in Dallas and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. She performed her residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where she also earned her medical degree. Dr. Sutton is certified in anatomic and clinical pathology by the American Board of Pathology.

Three Driscoll physicians included on Top Doctors list

February 21, 2013
Samhar Al-Akash, MD, Stephen Almond, MD and Jaime Fergie, MD
Samhar Al-Akash, MD, Stephen Almond, MD and Jaime Fergie, MD
CORPUS CHRISTI - Three Driscoll Children's Hospital physicians have been included on U.S. News & World Report's list of Top Doctors. Samhar Al-Akash, MD, Stephen Almond, MD and Jaime Fergie, MD were nominated by fellow physicians to be on the list (http://health.usnews.com/top-doctors), which is designed to be a reliable resource for patients and referring physicians.

"First, we want to help consumers find the doctors who can best address their needs," the U.S. News website states. "Second, we want to enlist doctors across the country in sharing their awareness of who among their peers are the most worthy of referral."

Physicians on the Top Doctors list are identified by name, location, hospital affiliation and specialty. Specialties span more than 2,000 diseases, medical issues and procedures.

"I think inclusion on the list is a big positive for Driscoll Children's Hospital as well as myself," said Dr. Almond, a pediatric surgeon who, with Dr. Al-Akash and others, helped launch Driscoll's Kidney Transplant Program in 2007. More than 60 kidney transplants have since been performed at Driscoll.

"It's a reflection of the hospital's administration and governing board because they had the foresight to start the transplant program."

U.S. News determines which physicians qualify as Top Doctors in collaboration with New York City-based Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. Physicians are chosen based on nominations from other doctors and reviews by Castle Connolly's physician-led research team. Any physician may nominate one or more peers, but doctors can't nominate themselves. Physicians can't pay U.S. News or Castle Connolly to be selected as Top Doctors. Hospitals or group practices also can't pay to have their doctors selected.

"It's an honor to be included on this list," said Dr. Fergie, Driscoll's director of Infectious Diseases. "I'm grateful to my colleagues who nominated me and to all those who have supported the research program in Infectious Diseases at Driscoll Children's Hospital. This encourages me to continue serving the children of South Texas."

Driscoll celebrates its 60th anniversary with a party for patients

February 20, 2013
CORPUS CHRISTI - The first of several events planned to commemorate Driscoll Children's Hospital's 60th anniversary will be held tomorrow, and the invitees are the most important people in the Driscoll family: our patients.

"We thought, what better way to celebrate Driscoll's anniversary than to throw a party for our patients?," said Karen Long, Driscoll vice president of Patient Care Services and Chief Patient Care Officer. "The children of South Texas are the reason Driscoll Children's Hospital was created 60 years ago and they're the reason we're here today. They deserve to have some fun."

Tomorrow's event will have the feel of a giant birthday party, with children enjoying music, games, a magic show and face painting. A photo booth will be available for keepsake photos and patients will be able to make their own party hats. Birthday-themed treats will be offered to party-goers, including a cake.

Driscoll Children's Hospital was dedicated on February 22, 1953 and had 25 beds. It's now a 189-bed facility that serves patients from 31 counties and 33,000 square miles of South Texas. Throughout 2013, Driscoll's website will feature special patient stories, videos of anniversary wishes and the hospital's historical timeline. The web address is www.driscollchildrens.org.

What: Driscoll Children's Hospital's 60th anniversary party for patients
When: 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21
Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital auditorium, 3533 S. Alameda St.

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."