DCH News

Healthcare Professionals

Driscoll offers speakers for clubs, organizations

June 03, 2011
Nephrologist Samhar Al-Akash, M.D., gives a presentation on Driscoll's kidney transplant program to a recent meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Corpus Christi Bay.
Nephrologist Samhar Al-Akash, M.D., gives a presentation on Driscoll's kidney transplant program to a recent meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Corpus Christi Bay.
Do you belong to a club such as the Rotary, Optimist or Kiwanis club? Does your organization ever need guest speakers for meetings? Driscoll Children's Hospital has some of the most knowledgeable pediatric physicians and healthcare providers you'll find anywhere. We are anxious to share our wealth of information with the community by offering speakers to clubs and organizations. Our experts can speak on a variety of subjects in the pediatric field such as:

  • Diabetes

  • Kidney transplants

  • Infectious diseases

  • Plastic & reconstructive surgery

  • Child abuse

  • Cancer

  • Healthcare careers

  • Obesity

  • Nutrition

  • Heart disease

  • Genetics

  • Neurology

  • Psychiatry

  • Pediatric trends

Since 1953, Driscoll Children's Hospital has been a beacon of hope and healing for children throughout South Texas. We take pride in being a part of the community, and this is one of the ways we're reaching out. Whether your club or organization is large or small, please contact us the next time you need a speaker. You can reach us at (361) 694-5662 or michael.bratten@sbcglobal.net.

Fun, therapy combined in new park at Driscoll

May 20, 2011
CORPUS CHRISTI - The new Rehab Therapy Park at Driscoll Children's Hospital is a ton of fun for the children who use it. It's a colorful, outdoor playground with a wooden bridge, a merry-go-round, garden planters, an activity board and benches. There are even misting fans and shade canvases above. For Driscoll's physical, occupational and speech therapists, it's the perfect place to let their patients have fun while providing them individualized therapy.

"A team of therapists came together and thought about what we would need to complement what we already had in our Rehab Department," said Anna Cerda, P.T., outpatient rehabilitation manager. "The park was one idea. It simulates the community environment and gives the therapists additional tools to provide the best therapy possible."

The Rehab Therapy Park was constructed this year with $140,000 from community support. It's one of several new features that have greatly enhanced the rehabilitation therapy program at Driscoll, which currently serves about 2,500 children.

Almost everything in the park has a therapeutic purpose, Cerda said. The bridge is designed to be wobbly, which challenges children to use muscles in a way they may not be used to. The merry-go-round is used to help children who have movement disorders, decreased strength or difficulty with head control and range of motion.

Some of the features aren't obviously therapeutic. The surface is covered by playground-type rubber with cobblestone and flagstone paths. For children who use a wheelchair or special assistive device like a walker, the surfaces simulate what they may encounter in the community, Cerda said.

Herb garden planters built at three different heights allow children to kneel, stand or sit while gardening or watering the plants. What seem like easy activities can actually help them develop balance and coordination and improve body movement, Cerda said.

The speech activity board has rotating parts on which speech therapists place magnetic pictures, symbols and numbers. Therapists can help improve a child's vocabulary by playing match games, tic-tac-toe or simply creating a game with them.

"It's nice to do things with the speech activity board instead of sitting at a table with the child," said Leah Groves, speech language pathologist at Driscoll. "That's how children learn, by moving and doing things with their hands. It's just more interesting to them."

The park is often used as a reward for children when they need a little motivation to complete certain activities, Cerda said. It's available to any child in the community who is referred by their physician, she added.

Driscoll's rehab equipment and specialized, up-to-date technology allows its therapists to address any pediatric rehabilitation need.

"We're not an adult facility that sees children," said Susan Fields, director of the Rehabilitation Department. "We are specifically designed and equipped to work with children and adolescents of any age."

NOTE: This is the first in a series of press releases that will focus on Driscoll's new rehabilitation therapy equipment.

Families to share support, good times at Driscoll's annual Transplant Reunion

May 05, 2011
Brothers Dondi, 13 (left), and Mark Maldonado, 12, who have both had kidney transplants at Driscoll, plan to attend the annual Transplant Reunion with their family Saturday, May 7, at the Texas State Aquarium.
Brothers Dondi, 13 (left), and Mark Maldonado, 12, who have both had kidney transplants at Driscoll, plan to attend the annual Transplant Reunion with their family Saturday, May 7, at the Texas State Aquarium.
About 200 people expected at event Saturday at Texas State Aquarium

CORPUS CHRISTI - Coming in for blood tests at Driscoll Children's Hospital's Kidney Center is a routine affair for brothers Mark and Dondi Maldonado. The 12- and 13-year-old, who have both received kidney transplants at Driscoll, hang out in the waiting area, play with their younger siblings and joke around with their parents, Roger and Cindy Maldonado. It's a comfortable, happy scene compared to when the brothers were undergoing dialysis treatment before their transplants.

"It's hard when your children are going through something like that and they're in the hospital," Cindy Maldonado said. "It hurts you as a parent. Plus we have four other kids. Sometimes I felt like I was getting overwhelmed but I had to stay strong for my kids. The strength of my husband and the people at the hospital are what kept me going."

On Saturday, the Maldonado family will be joining other families of Driscoll kidney transplant patients at the Texas State Aquarium for the annual Transplant Reunion. The event is designed for patients and their families to enjoy some fun, food, games and fellowship.

Mark and Dondi Maldonado both have juvenile nephronophthisis, a childhood genetic kidney disease in which there is progressive destruction of the kidneys and eventual kidney failure. Mark had his transplant in 2008 and Dondi had his last November. They are among 41 children who have had kidney transplants at Driscoll Children's Hospital since 2007 and the second pair of siblings to have had the procedure at the hospital.

Cindy Maldonado said transplant families share a special bond and support each other through their experiences.

"I've met a lot of families here," she said of Driscoll's Kidney Center. "One family we became good friends with. We talk and make sure they're doing OK.

"The reunion is nice because everybody can come together," she added. "It also lets the kids know they're as normal as anyone else. They like to catch up with each other like the parents do."

Transplant Coordinator Anita Rosales expects about 200 people to attend this year's reunion. Large tents will be set up on the sprawling lawn in front of the Aquarium, a location that proved to be ideal for the event last year. Staging the reunion is rewarding for the staff at Driscoll's Kidney Center.

"Our transplant team enjoys putting this reunion together for our patients," Rosales said. "It is our way of celebrating them and their new gift. We look forward to seeing each and every one of them. Many of them live in the Rio Grande Valley and make the trip to the reunion because they enjoy the camaraderie and the activities so much."

Besides the other transplant families, Cindy Maldonado said the reunion will be a good chance for her family to visit with her sons' medical staff from Driscoll.

"I definitely feel like I have a bond with the staff - the nurses, Dr. (Samhar) Al-Akash and Anita (Rosales) especially. I feel like they care about people 100 percent."

  • What: Driscoll Children's Hospital annual Transplant Reunion

  • When: Noon Saturday, May 7

  • Where: Texas State Aquarium

Asthma 101: What Parents Should Know

May 03, 2011
Child life specialists and respiratory therapists at Driscoll Children's Hospital use
Child life specialists and respiratory therapists at Driscoll Children's Hospital use "Radical Randy" to teach children about asthma and respiratory problems.
May is Asthma Awareness Month

May is Asthma Awareness Month, and Driscoll Children's Hospital wants you to know as much as you can about the disease so you can recognize it and, if necessary, help your child better deal with it. With proper treatment and a team approach to managing asthma, most children with asthma can live a normal life. Asthma, however, can be a life-threatening disease. It is important for families to work together with healthcare professionals to develop an asthma action plan to properly care for the child.

Pediatrician Daniel Vijjeswarapu, M.D., has treated children with asthma for 19 years. He provided the following information for parents whose children have asthma.

What causes asthma?

In children who have asthma, their airways are inflamed and "twitchy" because they overreact to irritants in the environment. These irritants are called triggers, and they include anything that sets off an asthma flare-up. Different children have different triggers. Some common asthma triggers are allergies, chest colds, pollution and exercise. To control your child's asthma, you have to find out what his or her triggers are and learn how to deal with them.

How does asthma work?

When your child has asthma, his or her airways are inflamed much of the time. This inflammation can make breathing difficult for three reasons:

  • The inside lining of the airways swells inward. This narrows the space inside their airways.

  • The muscles around the airways tighten. This tightening is called bronchospasm (or bronchoconstriction). Bronchospasm also narrows the airways.

  • The child's airways produce more mucous. Excess mucous clogs the airways, narrowing the space for air to pass through.

With their inflamed airways narrowed by swelling, bronchospasm and excess mucous, air doesn't move as easily into and out of their lungs. It can be like trying to breathe through a narrow straw - they have to work extra hard to get air in and out. Other asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing and chest tightness can also happen. This is an asthma flare-up (also called an asthma "attack").

Asthma symptoms: From bad to worse

Below are some common asthma symptoms that can happen as an asthma flare-up worsens:

  • Cough. The first thing you may notice is a persistent (ongoing) cough, especially at night.

  • Wheezing. You may hear a high-pitched whistling sound as the child breathes. This sound, called wheezing, means that the air is having trouble moving through his or her airways. Wheezing usually happens when they breathe out. But as the asthma worsens, you might also hear wheezing when they breathe in.

  • Difficulty breathing, chest tightness. As the child's breathing becomes more difficult, he or she can feel pain or tightness in their chest. Children are likely to say that their chest hurts.

  • Shallow breathing. The child may find it difficult to take a deep breath. Their breaths become smaller and shallower as their condition worsens.

  • Fast breathing. As breathing becomes shallower, it also becomes faster as the child's body tries to get more oxygen into their lungs. A child breathing faster than 50 breaths a minute while at rest is breathing fast.

  • Retractions. As the asthma flare-up worsens, you may notice that the child's skin and muscles between their ribs and at the base of their throat are "pulling in" or "retracting" with each breath in. These retractions show that they're really struggling to get air into their lungs.

  • Life-threatening symptoms. If an asthma flare-up becomes very severe, the child won't be able to work hard enough to breathe in. At this point, the retractions and wheezing may actually begin to go away. Their breathing will become very shallow. And, because their body isn't getting enough oxygen, their face and lips may turn slightly blue. Symptoms like these are very dangerous and require immediate emergency care.

To get the most out of your child's asthma treatment, you should:

  • Understand the different types of medication and when your child should take them.

  • Make sure the child uses the medication delivery device - an inhaler or nebulizer - correctly.

  • Establish good habits for staying on schedule with your child's medication.

There are two basic types of asthma medications: Quick-relief and controller medications. Quick-relief medications, also called rescue medications, can stop an asthma flare-up from getting worse. They work immediately, usually within 5 to 10 minutes, to help open airways during an asthma flare-up. Quick-relief medications do not prevent future symptoms.

Controller medications, also called maintenance medications, should be taken every day on a regular basis even if the child is symptom-free and feeling well. Controller medications help prevent asthma flare-ups.

Some precautions asthmatic children should take in their daily lives

If your child isn't taking his or her medication properly, you need to talk and find out why. Keep the tone positive and encouraging. Start by pointing out what is working, then go on to explore the following possible problems together:

  • "I don't want to take my medication!" If your child actively resists taking medication, find out why. Is he or she embarrassed? Does the medication taste bad? Are medication side effects bothering him or her? Work with your child and your child's healthcare provider and teachers to find ways to minimize these problems.

  • "It's too hard." Make sure your child understands when and how to take various medications. (An asthma action plan can help here.) Have your doctor or asthma educator reinforce your child's technique for taking inhaled medications.

  • "I don't need medication." There are lots of reasons why children might think they don't need medication. They might have become used to poor lung function and think that it's normal. They could be practicing "wishful thinking" - deciding that their asthma has gone away. (Just because they don't have symptoms now doesn't mean their asthma is gone!) Or perhaps they're not getting much benefit from their medication, in which case they need to have their treatment adjusted. Make an appointment with your child's doctor to review and agree upon an asthma action plan.

Other precautions to take

You and your family can help control a child's asthma by helping get rid of the indoor triggers that make symptoms worse. If possible, keep pets outdoors, or at least away from the child's bedroom.

No one should smoke in a house or around a child with asthma. Eliminating tobacco smoke from the home is the single most important thing a family can do to help a child with asthma. Smoking outside the house is not enough. Family members and visitors who smoke carry smoke residue in and on their clothes and hair, and this can trigger asthma symptoms.

Keeping humidity levels low and fixing leaks can reduce growth of organisms such as mold. Keep the house clean and keep food in containers and out of bedrooms - this helps reduce the possibility of cockroaches, which can trigger asthma attacks.

Bedding can be covered with "allergy-proof," polyurethane-coated casings to reduce exposure to dust mites. Detergents and cleaning agents in the home should be unscented. All of these efforts can make a significant difference to the child with asthma, even though it may not be obvious right away.

Myth and truth

Myth: "Children usually outgrow asthma."

Truth: How asthma affects children throughout their lifetimes varies. In some children, symptoms get worse over time. In other children, symptoms seem to go away as the lungs develop. Still, people who seem to have "outgrown" childhood asthma often have their symptoms reappear in adulthood.

The bottom line? Even if symptoms go away, the tendency toward asthma is still there. That's why children diagnosed with asthma should work with a doctor to match their treatment plan to their current condition.

Driscoll Children's Hospital offers asthma help

Driscoll offers resources for asthmatic children such as one-on-one classes with Candace, "The Asthma Lady." The classes are for families and can be scheduled at their convenience. If you are interested in attending an asthma class, contact Candace Martaus to schedule a time at (361) 694-4167 or candace.martaus@dchstx.org. The classes are free of charge.

Also, in June, there is a summer day-camp for children with persistent asthma. The 10th annual Camp Easy Breathers is designed to provide physical and social experiences that are fun while increasing a child's understanding of his or her asthma. Sponsored by Driscoll Children's Hospital and the Coastal Bend Asthma Initiative, the camp will be from June 12-15, 2011 at Camp Aranzazu in Rockport. The registration deadline is June 3, 2011. For more information, call (361) 694-4580 or click here.

Facts about Asthma

According to the latest available information from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, consider the following statistics:

  • About 22.2 million people in the US have been diagnosed with asthma, with at least 6.5 million of them children under the age of 18.

  • Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children in the US.

  • Asthma accounts for 14 million absences from school each year.

  • Asthma is 26 percent more common in African-American children than in Caucasian children.

  • African-American children with asthma, most often from inner-city populations, generally experience more severe disability from asthma and have more frequent hospitalizations than do Caucasian children.

  • Asthma is the third most common cause of childhood hospitalizations under the age of 15.

  • More than 200,000 children with asthma experience symptoms that are more severe due to exposure to secondhand smoke.

  • About 10 million doctor's office visits annually result in a diagnosis of asthma.

  • Asthma cases and asthma deaths have been on the rise, and hospitalizations for asthma have increased.

  • Asthma treatment costs an estimated $18 billion each year, including direct and indirect expenditures.

Registration is underway for Camp Easy Breathers!

April 21, 2011
Archery is one of the many activities campers will enjoy at Camp Easy Breathers. This year's camp will also feature a carnival.
Archery is one of the many activities campers will enjoy at Camp Easy Breathers. This year's camp will also feature a carnival.
Applications are being accepted for the 10th annual Camp Easy Breathers, a summer day-camp for children ages 7-14 with persistent asthma. Sponsored by Driscoll Children's Hospital, the Coastal Bend Community Foundation and the Coastal Bend Asthma Initiative, it will be from June 12-15, 2011 at Camp Aranzazu in Rockport. There will be a carnival this year with games, obstacle courses and other activities, as well as swimming, arts and crafts, outdoor games, sports and an awards show. The cost for the camp is $250 per child and scholarships are available. Deadline for registration is June 3, 2011. For information, call Shelly Bigelow at (361) 694-4580 or CLICK HERE.

Ribbon-cutting, open house to be held for new Cancer & Blood Disorders Center

April 07, 2011
  • WHAT: A ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house will be held for Driscoll Children's Hospital's new, $2.7 million Cancer & Blood Disorders Center. Officials and physicians from Driscoll, as well as Councilman John Marez, will participate in the ceremony. The Center is 40 percent larger than the previous space and will allow Driscoll to serve the growing population of South Texas children who need specialized hematology and oncology services. More than 160 children are served at the Center annually, and more than 40 new cancer patients are diagnosed there each year.

  • WHEN: 2 p.m. Friday, April 8

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

New Cancer & Blood Disorders Center is making life easier for patients and staff at Driscoll Children's Hospital

April 05, 2011
Driscoll President & CEO Steve Woerner visits with cancer patients Brooke Hester, 3, and Andrew Laury, 14, in the new, $2.7 million Cancer & Blood Disorders Center.
Driscoll President & CEO Steve Woerner visits with cancer patients Brooke Hester, 3, and Andrew Laury, 14, in the new, $2.7 million Cancer & Blood Disorders Center.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house to be held April 8

CORPUS CHRISTI - A cancerous brain tumor sidelined Andrew Laury from the football games he loved playing so much at Calallen High School last year. Now, six months after his tumor was removed at Driscoll Children's Hospital, the 14-year-old is anxious to finish his chemotherapy treatments and get back on the field. He still has remnants of cancer on the right side of his brain.

"The cancer really slowed me down," Andrew said, lying in his hospital bed at Driscoll. "It took me out of school, and I don't see my family in Amarillo as much because I can't go far from the hospital. It makes you appreciate the smaller things in life, like birthdays. I missed my little cousin's birthday party. You don't realize how great they are until you miss them."

On April 8, Andrew plans to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for the newly renovated and expanded Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Driscoll, which was designed for patients just like him. The Center is 40 percent larger than the previous space and will allow Driscoll to serve the growing population of South Texas children who need specialized hematology and oncology services. More than 160 children are served at the Center annually, and more than 40 new cancer patients are diagnosed there each year.

Enhancements to the Center include a more child-friendly theme, additional exam and treatment rooms, TVs, interactive games and computer connectivity for patients who often spend hours there for treatment. The $2.7 million Center was funded in large part by community support. Almost 70 percent, or $1.8 million, of the total cost of the project was raised through fundraisers such as the annual Fiesta de los Niños.

The lobby is especially striking with track lighting, wood laminate flooring and multi-colored fish and bubbles on the wall. One wall contains a mesmerizing bubble tank in which the water seemingly changes colors with a lighting effect.

Cris Johnson, M.D., medical director of the Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, believes the Center is defined by all the professionals who are dedicated to the treatment of children with cancer.

"We are very lucky in a town of 300,000 to have a children's hospital," Dr. Johnson said.

"We are also blessed with people who are dedicated to children and have the knowledge necessary to care for and treat children with cancer. It is our team approach to care and the availability of multiple specialties and a dedicated ancillary staff that make it possible to treat Andrew and patients like him."

Andrew, whose treatment at Driscoll began before the new Center was completed, said he appreciates the comfortable recliners in the teen area and the Xbox video games. He also likes that the children's area is separated from the teen area.

"It's just real nice all around, from the bathrooms to the lobby," he said. "It's bright, up-to-date and peaceful. It shows how much Driscoll cares about their patients."

Dr. Johnson said light and spaciousness were priorities in the Center's design.

"We strove to get as much natural light as possible to as much of the clinic as possible. The (electric) lighting is also fantastic, and makes it easier to work. There is enough room for the staff to work without tripping over each other."

For Andrew's current phase of treatment, he receives chemotherapy drugs intravenously in the Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. He'll have to return to Driscoll regularly through June for the treatment. One of the side effects he's experiencing from past radiation treatment is neuropathy in his legs and feet. The nerves tingle and burn, he said, causing his legs to give out. He uses a walker to get around and takes medication to ease the pain.

With a grin of resilience, the former offensive and defensive tackle for the Calallen Wildcats is confident he'll tackle cancer.

"I'll be happy when the cancer's gone," Andrew said. "I can't wait to get back into life and school and sports."

  • What: Ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house for the Cancer & Blood Disorders Center

  • When: 2 p.m. Friday, April 8

  • Where: Driscoll Children's Hospital, 3533 S. Alameda St.

Driscoll's Laredo clinic relocating

March 11, 2011
LAREDO - In order to expand their space and serve a growing number of patients, Driscoll Children's Specialty Center - Laredo, 10710 McPherson Ave., Suite 100, is relocating to offices above their current location, to Suite 202. The relocation will be complete and patients will continue to be seen on Monday, March 14. For more information, call the clinic at 1-800-525-8687.

With healthcare reimbursement at risk in state budget, Driscoll team will go to Austin, seek support from legislators

March 01, 2011
CORPUS CHRISTI - For Driscoll Children's Hospital, certain proposed cuts and changes in the state's budget mean reduced services for the children of South Texas. In response, a contingent of physicians and volunteers from Driscoll will travel to Austin to voice their concerns to legislators about healthcare issues. The group will leave the hospital by bus the morning of March 2 for a one-day trip.

There are two main issues that Driscoll wishes to address. The first is a proposed $20 million cut in Medicaid provider payments. Driscoll Children's Hospital is the second-highest-ranking hospital in the state for percentage of Medicaid patient days. The proposed budget would cut the hospital's inpatient and outpatient reimbursement by 10 percent, or approximately $10 million, and cut Driscoll's Upper Payment Limits reimbursement by approximately $10 million. If this is approved, Driscoll's ability to provide specialty services such as cancer treatment, kidney transplants and heart surgery will be diminished.

The other issue concerns a Medicaid managed care expansion, for which Driscoll is requesting support from legislators. This not-for-profit health plan, proposed by the state's Health and Human Services Commission, will enable the hospital to continue its wide range of services without fear of non-Medicaid payment.

The Driscoll team plans to make their case with simple, straightforward facts. This includes:

Driscoll has saved the lives of thousands of South Texas children. In many cases, Driscoll is their only source for medical help.

  • Medicaid is the lifeblood of medical care for many South Texas children.

  • Driscoll serves one of the poorest populations in the United States.

  • Medicaid presently pays approximately 85 percent of Driscoll's costs to treat Medicaid patients.

  • Driscoll is one of only five free-standing children's hospitals in the State of Texas, providing care from Victoria to Laredo and throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

Since 1953, Driscoll Children's Hospital's not-for-profit mission has been to care for the children of South Texas, regardless of their ability to pay.

Young heart patients to celebrate at the Heart Center at Driscoll Children's Medical Plaza - McAllen

February 09, 2011
WHAT: In observance of Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, the Heart Center at Driscoll Children's Medical Plaza - McAllen is hosting a celebration for its heart patients. Physicians will be on hand to visit with the patients, and the event will feature cake, punch, a painting activity and photographs for keepsake magnets. All patients of the Heart Center are being invited. Spanish speaking staff will be available for interviews.

WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 10, 3:30 p.m.

WHERE: The Heart Center at Driscoll Children's Medical Plaza - McAllen, 2nd floor, 1120 E. Ridge Rd.

INFO: (361) 549-8724