From CHOC mom to CHOC employee

“You look like you could use a good cup of coffee,” Maria would say from time to time to a tired parent at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital. “Oh yes!” they’d reply as she’d make them a cup.

Maria understands that a warm cup of coffee doesn’t just help sustain a parent who’s running low on sleep, but also gives them back a small sense of normalcy while their child is hospitalized.

Maria, a former department assistant in the administrative offices of CHOC at Mission who recently transferred to the laboratory at CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange, knows this all too well. Her son Nehemiah, who is now a happy and healthy 11-year-old boy, was born with a heart condition and spent the first four months of his life at CHOC.

“If I see a mom struggling, I would try to do my best to be there for them because I understood what they were going through” she says. “They’re comforted knowing that someone understands.”

Delivering next door to CHOC

Thanks to a prenatal ultrasound, Maria and her husband Juan knew there was a problem with their son’s heart. But doctors told them they wouldn’t know the extent of the problem until he was born. Maria chose to deliver her son at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange so that they’d be next door to CHOC, and he would have close access to any specialized care he might need.

Shortly after Nehemiah was born, doctors performed an echocardiogram, a common and safe procedure that helps doctors look at how the heart is working. Dr. Anthony Chang, a pediatric cardiologist who is today CHOC’s chief intelligence and innovation officer, was present at Nehemiah’s birth.

“I was so scared for my son, but I felt like he was in good hands,” recalls Maria. “Dr. Chang explained Nehemiah’s condition and that he needed to be transported to CHOC for emergency surgery. He said it was a race against time.”

Nehemiah was born with interrupted aortic arch and ventricular septal defect, a condition with a large hole in the heart and blockage of the main artery feeding the body. Normally a hole in the heart would be considered bad news, but that hole helped him live because it allowed blood to circulate until corrective surgery could be done.

When Nehemiah was two days old, he underwent his first in what would become a series of heart surgeries, performed by Dr. Richard Gates, CHOC’s medical director of cardiothoracic surgery and co-medical director of CHOC’s Heart Institute.

After Nehemiah recovered from surgery in the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU), he was transferred to CHOC’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). He had a feeding tube to help him eat, but as a step towards going home, he needed to work on eating on his own.

Nehemiah spent his first Christmas in the hospital, and his parents weren’t sure when they would be able to bring their baby home.

The day after Christmas, Nehemiah’s condition worsened when he contracted a blood infection called septicemia. Babies under 3 months can contract this because their immune systems haven’t developed enough to fight off overwhelming infections that originate elsewhere in their body. Once he was stabilized, his care team opened his chest so they could administer a vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) to help soak up the infection. A suction pump device connected to a tube with a foam sponge on the end, which was placed into Nehemiah’s chest to soak up the infection. His dressings were changed regularly for several weeks until the infection was gone. Once he recovered, his care team closed his wound and he was transferred back to the CVICU.

It takes a village

It would be another few months before Nehemiah would be able to go home. During that time, CHOC became home for his family. Juan would shuffle back and forth between hospital and the family’s home, bringing Nehemiah’s siblings Ethan and Giovanni, who were 3 years old and 10 years old at the time, to visit their baby brother. Maria’s mom would help the family and visit as well. During Nehemiah’s months-long hospitalization, Maria stayed by his side and never went home.

“It took a village to get my little guy through this ordeal,” Maria said.

A four-month hospital stay

Before Nehemiah was discharged after more than four months in the hospital, his parents received education and training from his doctors and nurses, so they would be able to care for him at home. He was discharged with a feeding tube, oxygen tank and medication.

“We were so excited to finally bring him home. In a sense, it was like we all got to finally go home,” Maria recalls. “My other two kids had essentially been living with their grandma, I had been at the hospital, and my husband had been going back and forth. We were finally together under one roof.”

Nehemiah’s heart was fragile, so as he grew up he would sometimes get sick more easily, and more severely, than his brothers and friends.

“If he would get sick with just a little cold, he would go from zero to 10,” Maria says.

Sometimes that would include seizures, which lead to two hospitalizations.

A second heart surgery

Nehemiah has undergone one additional surgery to repair a blockage that developed between his heart and great aortic artery, called a subaortic membrane.

“After his last heart surgery, his seizures stopped, and he started becoming normal,” Maria said.

These days, Nehemiah, who loves sports and music, visits CHOC every six months for check-ups with Dr. Chang to see how his heart and arteries are progressing as he gets older.

“His team always wants to know as he is growing, are the arteries growing with him? Eventually, he’ll need another procedure someday,” Maria said.

Despite semi-frequent trips to CHOC, Nehemiah is not afraid of doctors because for him, doctor appointments are second nature, according to Maria. Nehemiah has spent so much of his life in and out of CHOC that he refers to it as “My CHOC.”

A few years ago, when Maria was looking for a new job, her personal connection to CHOC was a big factor in her search, she says.

“I felt like CHOC was somewhere I’d want to work because I had so many positive experiences here as a mom. Everybody was very friendly. The nurses were good with all my kids, and with me too,” she said. “I remember that little things went a long way, and I try to bring that to my work here now.”

Learn more about the Heart Institute at CHOC Children's

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An Opportunity to Touch Lives Through Knowledge, Compassion

Maureen Garrett, a charge nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital, believes she gains as much from her patients and families as they do from her.

“I have learned about courage, strength, resilience, love and joy by sharing in their hospital experience,” she says. “I love seeing a family grow from the overwhelming fear they first experience with an unexpected, premature birth to a confident, competent mother and father taking their newborn home.”

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Maureen, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at CHOC Mission.

As CHOC Mission celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, Maureen is among a special group of employees who have been with the hospital since day one. She joined the CHOC Children’s health system in 1991, when she was hired to help open CHOC Mission.

Opened in 1993, the children’s hospital operates on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. The 54-bed hospital is the only dedicated facility for pediatrics in south Orange County, surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County.

Through the years, Maureen has served in several capacities at CHOC Mission and has witnessed much evolution inside the hospital – most notably, she says, the hospital’s family – centered-care philosophy.

“The most significant change has been the dramatic shift to family-centered care where families really are viewed as part of the team, and hospital operations are designed to empower parents and facilitate their involvement in their child’s hospitalization,” Maureen says.

Maureen initially pursued a career in health care because she wanted to help others, and create a work-family balance.

“I love the opportunity to touch people’s lives through both knowledge and compassion,” she says. “In nursing, there are so many opportunities and so much flexibility. I knew it would be the kind of career that would allow me to be a parent but still allow me to grow professionally and be challenged always.”

Maureen’s enthusiasm for CHOC Mission extends far beyond mere professional pride: Her own two daughters received care in the hospital’s NICU, her own unit.

Shortly after the hospital’s founding, Maureen’s eldest daughter was born in 1994 at 32 weeks gestation and spent about a month in the NICU.

Maureen’s second daughter, just like her older sister six years before her, also arrived early, at 32 weeks gestation. She stayed in the NICU for about three weeks.

“I had trust in everybody here,” Maureen said. “I knew it was a good staff. If your baby ended up the NICU, where would you want them? I’d want her here. I had an intimate relationship with the people caring for them because I worked there.”

The experience of being a parent in the NICU influenced Maureen’s work moving forward.

“You think when you work in any area that you have a decent perspective, but once you walk it yourself, it does make you more sensitive,” she says.

Maureen knows firsthand how important having a nearby high-quality children’s hospital is for the community. And while CHOC Mission and its staff are celebrating a quarter century of serving south Orange County and beyond, no one is resting on their laurels.

“I hope that CHOC Mission will continue to grow in size and services as the community around it continues to grow,” she says. “I hope we will have a more active role in health and wellness promotion in addition to providing services for those affected by illness.”

Learn more about CHOC Children's at Mission Hospital

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A Career of Helping People: Nora’s Story

Years ago, when Nora Higa was settling on a career, her main interest was helping people. She found that and more as a critical care nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital.

“I work with an amazing group of professionals,” Nora says. “We are small but mighty. Everyone pulls together with such teamwork, especially when we have particularly challenging cases. It enables us to give the best care to our patients and their families.”

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Nora, a critical care nurse at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

Nora has served CHOC Mission’s patients and families since the hospital opened its doors on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital in 1993.

Celebrating 25 years of service this month, the 54-bed hospital is the only dedicated facility for pediatrics in south Orange County, surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County.

“I’m very proud to be a part of the organization,” Nora says. “Families really appreciate the personal care they get. I met a family recently who has been in hospitals all over the place, but said they really felt the caring of the nurses and the quality of the care at CHOC Mission.”

Throughout her time with the organization, Nora has appreciated the changing technology at CHOC Mission, as well as the collaboration with Mission Hospital.

“We are privileged to continue collaborating with Mission Hospital and be part of the verified pediatric trauma team,” she says. “This has given us the opportunity to care for some challenging and interesting trauma patients which has resulted in some amazing and rewarding outcomes.”

As CHOC Mission begins its next quarter century of service, Nora looks forward to her role in ongoing efforts to advance pediatric healthcare in south Orange County and beyond.

“I hope that we will be able to continue to serve the families of south County with the highest level of care, compassion and expertise,” she says.

Learn more about CHOC Children's at Mission Hospital

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CHOC at Mission Nurse Reflects on Years of Service to the Community

One of the best parts of Susan Patcha’s job as a CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital nurse is watching parents leave the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with their healthy new baby.

“What keeps me here is the smile on a parent’s face as they hold their baby for the first time,” she says. “This overwhelming joy is magnified when they unite as a family on discharge day and enter the world grinning ear-to-ear.”

CHOC Children’s is grinning this month too as CHOC Mission celebrates its 25th anniversary. Opened in 1993, the children’s hospital operates on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. The 54-bed facility is the only dedicated facility for pediatrics in south Orange County, surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County.

CHOC Mission’s stellar reputation made joining the CHOC Children’s health system an easy decision for Susan in 1999.

“I felt right at home in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and felt warmly welcomed as a part of the team,” she says. “Working with babies is the best job in the world. Working with their parents and families makes it the most rewarding job.”

Susan’s connection to CHOC Mission deepened 13 years ago. After a high-risk pregnancy requiring months of bed rest, her twins were born about five weeks early and spent eight days receiving care in the NICU at CHOC Mission.

“I felt relieved that they would be taken care of by my friends in my hospital,” she says.

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Susan today with her twins, who were cared for in the NICU at CHOC at Mission.

When she returned to work after maternity leave, Susan had a keener understanding of what her patients’ mothers were feeling and she incorporated that knowledge into her care of the entire family.

“I realized before I had no idea what these women go through and how sad it is to be separated from your child,” she says. “I tried to share a little bit of my story, so they would know that I understood and was going to help them through it, and that their baby would be OK. I think it helped me be a better nurse to go through the whole experience.”

Today, Susan wears several hats at CHOC Mission. Not only is she the discharge coordinator in the NICU, but she also provides direct patient care there and she’s the lead lactation consultant.

A desire to help is among the forces that pushed Susan toward a career in nursing. Already from a family of nurses, Susan was greatly impressed by the team that cared for her father when he suffered a heart attack decades ago.

“I was inspired and amazed by the collaborative team effort that went into caring for my dad,” she says. “The actions and words of this group of nurses, doctors, and others not only changed my dad’s life, but every member of my family and our circle of friends. It was then that I decided I wanted to be a part of the health care team.”

And Susan found her home at CHOC Mission.

“We are the experts of children in our neighborhood,” she says. “We have provided a level of care to our patients and families that I believe they don’t receive elsewhere. We strive to be better and to continue to learn new practices and improve our care.”

And now with CHOC Mission celebrating a quarter century of service to the community, Susan feels great pride.

“It’s really exciting for me,” she says. “I’m proud to have been here for 18 of those years, and I’m proud that we’ve been here for the community, and that CHOC Mission was here for my family when we needed them.”

Learn more about CHOC Children's at Mission Hospital

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CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital Celebrates 25 Years Serving South Orange County

Today, we salute our outstanding physicians, nurses, associates and volunteers at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital for providing 25 years of compassionate, world-class care to South Orange County families.

Since its opening on July 15, 1993, CHOC Mission has nurtured, advanced and protected the health and well-being of children through its state-of-the-art facility and top-rated programs and services. As the only dedicated pediatric health care facility for families in south Orange County, the surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County, CHOC Mission is a separately licensed 54-bed “hospital within a hospital” on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital.

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Learn more about CHOC Children's at Mission Hospital

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