DCH News

Patients & Families

Brownsville boy is 'a totally different person' since leukemia diagnosis

May 03, 2013
Driscoll Children's Hospital physicians treat Andrew Banda in his hometown, Brownsville

BROWNSVILLE - Claudia Maldonado knew her son, Andrew Banda, was sick in January 2012. At 8 years old, he was too thin and his yellowish eyes revealed he had jaundice, she said. Still, the news that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was a shock.

"I just couldn't believe it," Maldonado said, pausing to hold back tears. "It was very hard to hear. It's something that you never forget."

Andrew was diagnosed by physicians at Driscoll Children's Specialty Center in Brownsville, where he and his family live. In addition to jaundice, he was suffering from low blood cell counts and hepatomegaly, an enlargement of the liver. Hepatomegaly and low blood cell counts - anemia and leucopenia are the medical terms - are commonly associated with ALL, said Cris Johnson, MD, medical director of the Cancer & Blood Disorders Center at Driscoll Children's Hospital. Dr. Johnson, a hematologist/oncologist, has been involved in Andrew's treatment since he was diagnosed with ALL.

Soon after Andrew's diagnosis, he was admitted to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi, where he began receiving chemotherapy treatments. Maldonado's family has no history of leukemia, she said, so her son's diagnosis and treatment have been learning experiences. Thorough, honest communication from Andrew's physicians has helped alleviate her fears.

"They explain everything very well," Maldonado said. "Even if it's something I might not want to hear, I need to know what's going on and what to expect. That makes a big difference. They're very good doctors. I feel very confident with them."

Maldonado and her parents stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near Driscoll to be close to Andrew during his month-long hospital stay. Despite the hardship, he adjusted well to his surroundings.

"He liked it because everyone would spoil him," Maldonado said with a laugh. "They would bring him movies to watch, and if he didn't like a certain meal they would bring him something else. I guess he got used to that."

Nationally, 2,500 to 3,000 children are diagnosed with leukemia each year, Dr. Johnson said, and cases of ALL among children in the Rio Grande Valley are consistent with the national incidence rate. Driscoll Children's Hospital physicians currently see 35 to 40 cancer patients in the Rio Grande Valley who are undergoing treatment, being followed after treatment or being counseled and monitored for the late effects of chemotherapy, she said. She and other Driscoll hematologists/oncologists regularly travel to see patients at the hospital's clinics in Brownsville and McAllen. A nurse practitioner is also available at the clinics.

Symptoms that may indicate a child has ALL include paleness, unusual bleeding and bruising, fever, lymph node swelling and bone pain, Dr. Johnson said.

Now 9, Andrew receives chemotherapy treatments at Driscoll Children's Specialty Center - Brownsville, and he takes oral medication daily as his battle against ALL continues. A third grader, he enjoys school although he's unable to play contact sports due to a mediport in his chest, Maldonado said. A mediport is a disk placed under the skin that allows physicians to administer chemotherapy medication into his blood vessel or draw a blood sample. Andrew will continue chemotherapy treatments for two more years, his mother said.

Maldonado is upbeat about Andrew's future, saying that he's no longer "skinny" like he was in January 2012.

"He's a totally different person. Back then he was a size six. Now he's a size 14. I say, 'Instead of growing up you're growing from the sides.' As long as he's feeling good and healthy that's all that matters."

Driscoll transplant recipients to gather at annual reunion

May 03, 2013
Joe Esparza, 19, received a kidney transplant at Driscoll Children's Hospital in August 2012.
Joe Esparza, 19, received a kidney transplant at Driscoll Children's Hospital in August 2012.
'It's a family reunion,' 19-year-old said of May 4 event

CORPUS CHRISTI - In the months before he received a kidney transplant at Driscoll Children's Hospital last August, Joe Esparza had plenty of reasons to be depressed. His failing kidneys meant he couldn't eat french fries, cheese and fatty foods. He couldn't play contact sports, including football, his favorite. And missing classes for dialysis treatments would delay his high school graduation a full year. But Joe's positive attitude and supportive family pulled him through the challenges he faced.

"I enjoyed coming to dialysis and seeing the nurses," he said after a recent checkup at Driscoll's Kidney Center. "They made the time go by so fast. I was disappointed to stop seeing them. But I feel a lot better now. I've had a lot more freedom since my transplant. I have more of a social life and I can eat anything I want."

Joe, 19, plans to see staff from the Kidney Center at Driscoll's sixth annual Transplant Reunion, to be held Saturday at West Guth Park. The event, a celebration for Driscoll's 65 kidney transplant patients and their families, is a chance for them to visit, share their experiences and have fun. It will have a Fiesta theme this year, with piñatas, Mexican bingo, a Mexican food dinner, inflatables and an obstacle course. About 200 people are expected to attend.

"The Transplant Reunion is our way of celebrating our patients' and families' journeys to overcome their disease process through transplant," said Anita Rosales, Driscoll transplant coordinator. "It's a chance for them to celebrate a new life."

Joe's grandparents, Herminia and Julian David Castañeda, accompany him to all his appointments at Driscoll. Like Joe, they've become fond of the staff at the Kidney Center.

"It's like a big family," Herminia Castañeda said. "They welcome everyone and they go all out for the patients."

A kinship develops among patients and families when they're facing a serious medical procedure like a kidney transplant, she added. Joe agreed and began naming friends he made while they were undergoing dialysis treatment together and waiting for their transplants. He hopes to see them Saturday at the Transplant Reunion.

"It's a chance to bond," he said. "After you get a transplant, you don't see a lot of people anymore. So this isn't like a transplant reunion. It's a family reunion."

What: Driscoll Children's Hospital's sixth annual Transplant Reunion
When: Noon Saturday, May 4
Where: West Guth Park, 9725 Up River Rd.

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.

Marathon bringing Driscoll weight management patients together

May 01, 2013
Jamie Bluntzer, 20, is preparing for the 2013 Beach to Bay Relay Marathon.
Jamie Bluntzer, 20, is preparing for the 2013 Beach to Bay Relay Marathon.
Lap band recipients will run Beach to Bay Relay Marathon as the 'Bandsters'

CORPUS CHRISTI - Crossing the finish line at last year's Beach to Bay Relay Marathon was a proud accomplishment for Jamie Bluntzer. At this year's event, she's taking her goal to the next level.

"I'm more nervous about it this year," she said of the May 18 race. "Last year the goal was to finish. This year I'm putting pressure on myself to run a better time. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to try my best."

Bluntzer will have a special connection to three of her teammates: They've undergone lap band surgery at Driscoll Children's Hospital to control their weight. Two more teammates will be staff from Driscoll's Adolescent Weight Management Program. The lap band procedure helps patients lose and control their weight by the attachment of an adjustable band around the stomach that decreases sensations of hunger. Thirty patients have received lap band surgery at Driscoll since the program began in 2009.

Mohammad Emran, MD, pediatric surgeon at Driscoll Children's Hospital, is providing the team with t-shirts emblazoned with their name, the "Bandsters," for race day. He said joining a Beach to Bay team is something his weight management patients may not have considered previously.

"It gives them an added goal on which to focus their efforts and an accomplishment that breaks through their previous limitations."

Patients who joined the team were excited at the opportunity, said Rachel Glover, coordinator for the Adolescent Weight Management Program and a member of the team.

"I think for some of them, they weren't capable of participating in an event like this in the past. This can help increase their accountability for sticking with a workout routine."

Bluntzer, 20, underwent lap band surgery in March 2010. She said she weighed about 270 lbs. before the operation and weighs about 175 lbs. now. Driven by a competitive spirit, she has been training for Beach to Bay by working out at the gym and running along Ocean Drive with her best friend. She hopes to run her leg of the race - the sixth and last - in under an hour.

"I was never in shape enough in high school to do this," said Bluntzer, a political science and pre-law major at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. "It's proof that I've changed."


Twelve Driscoll patients will be treated to Disney on Ice show

April 24, 2013
WHAT: Twelve Driscoll Children's Hospital patients and their parents or guardians will gather at the hospital's lobby tomorrow and depart for the Disney on Ice show at the American Bank Center, courtesy of H&V Equipment Services, Inc., who purchased the trip for $40,000 at this year's Fiesta de los Niños live auction. Transportation will be provided by TLC The Limo Company, and box seats and refreshments are courtesy of American Bank.
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25
WHERE: Driscoll Children's Hospital main lobby, 3533 S. Alameda St.

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 Children's Hospital, Whataburger join to help Rio Grande Valley children

April 01, 2013
At the Driscoll Children's Gala kick-off press conference March 29, title sponsor Whataburger presented a check for $45,700 to Driscoll Children's Hospital. Pictured, left to right, are: Jesse Flores, Whataburger area manager; David Cantu, Whataburger director of operations; Hugh Dobson, member of the Whataburger founding family; and Reagan Florence, Driscoll director of development, Rio Grande Valley.
At the Driscoll Children's Gala kick-off press conference March 29, title sponsor Whataburger presented a check for $45,700 to Driscoll Children's Hospital. Pictured, left to right, are: Jesse Flores, Whataburger area manager; David Cantu, Whataburger director of operations; Hugh Dobson, member of the Whataburger founding family; and Reagan Florence, Driscoll director of development, Rio Grande Valley.
McALLEN - On a daily basis, physicians and staff from Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi travel to Driscoll's specialty clinics in McAllen, Brownsville and Harlingen to treat patients who may have cancer, need a kidney transplant or are suffering from any number of diseases. A significant number of Driscoll's patients live in the Rio Grande Valley.

To benefit the Rio Grande Valley clinics, Driscoll has joined with Whataburger for the Driscoll Children's Gala, a fundraiser to be held April 26 at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Event Center in Mercedes. The event promises a good time for all, including cocktails, a barbecue dinner, silent and live auctions and dancing to the music of Scott Randolph & The White Lightning Band.

"We are excited to bring this event to the mid-Valley area," said Reagan Florence, Driscoll director of Development in the Rio Grande Valley. "Driscoll Children's Hospital has been helping children in South Texas for 60 years. We hope the community comes out to support the Valley's youth who need the special medical care that Driscoll provides."

On March 29, Whataburger presented Driscoll Children's Hospital with a check for $45,700 as the title sponsor of this year's Gala. Whataburger has been the title sponsor of the Valley fundraiser since its inception in 2004.

"Whataburger is honored for the opportunity to help celebrate Driscoll Children's Hospital's 60th anniversary," said David Cantu, Whataburger director of operations. "The work they do to support the community is life-changing and they have done so many great things for children and their families. We are especially proud of the friendship Whataburger has forged with such an important member of the South Texas family."

Laura Cortez, executive director of Driscoll's Rio Grande Valley clinics, said Driscoll is extremely grateful for Whataburger's sponsorship.

"Whataburger's support, along with the donations of others, will stay in the Valley and enable our children to receive the quality care they deserve right here."

What: Driscoll Children's Gala
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 26
Where: Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Event Center, 1000 N. Texas Ave., Mercedes
Information/donations: Reagan Florence, (956) 688-1239 or reagan.florence@dchstx.org


Driscoll Children's Hospital, Whataburger to announce details of upcoming Gala

March 28, 2013
WHAT: Young patients at Driscoll Children's Medical Plaza - McAllen will be among those gathered for a press conference at which Whataburger will present a check to Driscoll Children's Hospital and details will be announced about the upcoming Driscoll Children's Gala in Mercedes. Whataburger has been the title sponsor of the Rio Grande Valley fundraiser since its inception in 2004. Proceeds from the event will benefit Driscoll's specialty clinics in the Valley and the children who are treated there.
WHEN: 10 a.m. Friday, March 29
WHERE: Driscoll Children's Quick Care - McAllen, 1120 E. Ridge Rd.

Driscoll patients going to Spurs game courtesy of generous donors

March 15, 2013
WHAT: Five Driscoll Children's Hospital patients and their parents or guardians will gather at the hospital's lobby and depart for San Antonio to see a Spurs game as part of a live auction package purchased at this year's Fiesta de los Niños. Steve and Jessica Johnson, owners of JSJ Services, Inc., purchased the package for $41,000 and will be attending the game with the patients. This is the fourth consecutive year the Johnsons have purchased the package.
WHEN: 4:15 p.m. Saturday, March 16
WHERE: Driscoll Children's Hospital main lobby, 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.