One Family’s Story of How CHOC Doctors Became Family

Even after six miscarriages, Gladys Salazar and Paul Gomez kept hoping and believing that they would be blessed with a baby. At long last, the dream came true—twice—with the births of Bethany and then Tiffany. “Two miracle babies,” says Gladys.

Bethany has been battling several rare metabolic and mitochondrial disorders since birth, and Gladys and Paul are grateful for the care she receives at CHOC Children’s. Tiffany was cared for at CHOC as well. Unfortunately, her life was cut short by brain cancer. Still, her parents are grateful for the doctors who extended Tiffany’s life and all of the compassionate people at CHOC who supported them through a painful experience.

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Tiffany was affectionately known as “Tiffers.”

Tiffany was initially treated at another hospital, but her tumor didn’t respond to treatment. When it appeared that Tiffany was out of options, Gladys and Paul decided to “focus on making memories with her.” Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the family enjoyed outings to Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland.

On one of those outings, Tiffany’s color changed, she couldn’t hold anything down and had trouble breathing. An ambulance was called, and when it arrived Gladys went with her instincts and instructed the driver to take them to CHOC. “We made up our minds to let God do what needs to be done,” says Gladys.

At CHOC, Tiffany was examined by pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Joffre Olaya, who determined that the tumor was growing and causing pressure. He recommended surgery to debulk the tumor. “I was crying,” recalls Gladys, “because I didn’t think it was an option. He said there were risks but that it could be done. The other hospital told us it was out of the picture.”

The difficult operation took five and a half hours. “Dr. Olaya told me he really had to fight to keep my daughter alive,” says Gladys. “He did an amazing job.”

Tiffany spent about a month recuperating in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). She spent four days with heightened breathing. “One of the doctors watched her breathe and said she was a real fighter; strongest diaphragm he’d ever seen,” says Gladys.

Sadly, however, complications developed. “Tiffany was in pain, and couldn’t tell us,” Gladys says. “We met with the palliative care team and decided to take her home. We got to celebrate her third birthday with a fiesta. There were Mariachis and the whole thing. We told everyone, ‘Come celebrate the lives of our daughters.’ We also participated in the CHOC Walk in the Park to help CHOC Children’s. We are so thankful that we got to spend six more months with our little Tiffers. It was all thanks to Dr. Olaya, thanks to CHOC, and thanks to God who brought us here.”

Tiffany was admitted to CHOC one last time, where she passed away peacefully. “But it was hard. After six miscarriages, you think, now this, too?” says Gladys. “But Paul said, ‘God gave us our daughters; we can’t be disappointed.’”

“Tiffany was an angel; she brought joy to countless people. I’m so glad we got the opportunity to meet her. She changed me in many ways. Cancer makes you see things differently. Tiffany’s in good hands now; she’s not hurting anymore.”

Gladys thinks of the team at CHOC as family. “We’ve been to a few hospitals before and there’s no comparison to CHOC,” she says. “Just the love and compassion they show towards the

patients. The doctors, the nurses, the social workers, the chaplain…they all care for you so much. Even the people who do the cleaning, and security—everyone is so polite. There was one nurse who was a mom and grandma, and she was so comforting―she felt like a mother to me. For her, it isn’t just a job, she totally loves what she does. Another nurse, near the end, put a little beanie on Tiffany’s head to help keep her warm. I was so touched by her kindness. I am really grateful for coming here.”

The Gomez family continues to rely on CHOC—Bethany has been hospitalized twice since Tiffany passed away. “One doctor said to me, ‘I’m sorry to you have to go through this now,’” said Gladys. “It was so touching. They know us very well; not like a number, like family.”

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Gladys, Bethany and Paul

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CHOC Walk in the Park: Justin’s Helpers

As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, CHOC “Walk in the Park” has raised more than $24 million to fund education, research and adoption and utilization of the latest technologies to advance the health and well-being of children. This year, 15,000 people will participate in the largest pediatric children’s walk in the country. Walkers participate to support a variety of causes and patients and many teams have a deeply personal reason for participating.

Tricia and Colby Helper’s son Justin was born with lissencephaly, a rare brain disorder that, for Justin, brings seizures, chronic lung disease, and gastrointestinal complications, and usually at least three stays per year at CHOC.

For the past eight years, Justin’s family has been by his side as he bravely fights this chronic illness. This will be the fourth year that their team, Justin’s Helpers, will participate in CHOC Walk to support Justin.

“We were just so thankful for the hard work CHOC has done to keep him stable and let him come home,” Tricia said about getting involved with CHOC Walk. “No one really wants to go to the hospital, but CHOC is a warm, positive and inviting environment. It’s our home away from home.”

Over the past three years, Justin’s Helpers, formerly Team Jussy Bear, has raised more than $16,000. The 2015 team is made up of more than 90 members. The team hosts a bunco game night fundraiser at Justin’s family’s home, in addition to partnering with local organizations that support Justin’s journey. Joining that support group this year are Justin’s sister’s Girl Scout Troop 11304, as well as St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora, Calif., where Tricia attended and later was a counselor for 10 years, before leaving to care for Justin full-time. Justin and Tricia recently paid a visit to St. Lucy’s, where they educated students and staff on Justin’s condition, and shared stories on their involvement with CHOC Walk.

CHOC Walk: Justin's Helpers

The day of the Walk can be an emotional one for Justin’s family and friends, but they always aim to make it a fun and memorable day for their team as well.

“It takes you back and you really feel that community,” said Tricia. “It’s a community that feels the support and love from everyone around them. They’re there to support the child they’re walking for, and for the hospital as well. It’s a wonderful feeling”

For more information on CHOC “Walk in the Park,” click here.

CHOC Walk in the Park: Insider Tips for Event Day

The 25th annual CHOC “Walk in the Park” is around the corner. With 15,000 Walkers expected at this year’s Walk, here are some tips to help teams and individual walkers have a fun morning.

Parking & Meeting Up

  • The Mickey and Friends Parking Structure will open the morning of the Walk at 5 a.m. Parking is free for registered CHOC Walk participants, even if you will be staying at the Disneyland Resort for the entire day.
  • The tram does not run to and from the parking structure the morning of the Walk, so allow time to walk from the structure to Disneyland’s main entrance.
  • Talk to your team about a designated place where you will meet at the structure, in Downtown Disney or in the esplanade between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.

Entering Disneyland

  • Because all participants will be arriving for the Walk at the same time, it is important to allow for extra time to get through the turnstiles and onto Main Street U.S.A. for the Walk’s opening ceremony at 6:15 a.m. You will want to budget even more time if you will be stopping in Downtown Disney for coffee or a snack.
  • Animals (except service dogs), roller skates, bicycles, scooters and skateboards are not allowed.

What to Bring

  • Because breakfast is limited in Downtown Disney before the Walk and food is not sold in the parks during the Walk, walkers should bring light snacks and drinks, especially for young children. Keep in mind that glass bottles and containers are not allowed, except for baby food jars and baby bottles.
  • Don’t forget your camera because there will be Disney magic, characters and surprises throughout the Walk. Selfie sticks are not allowed in Disneyland or Disney California Adventure.
  • Disneyland stroller and wheelchair rentals are not available the morning of the CHOC Walk, so be sure to bring what you will need with you.
  • Wagons are not allowed inside Disneyland or Disney California Adventure during regular park hours, but are allowed in the parks during the CHOC Walk. If you will be heading into the parks after the Walk, be sure to switch out your wagon for a stroller back at your car afterward.

CHOC Walk in the Park

Team Spirit

  • An exciting addition to this year’s CHOC Walk weekend is the Ambassador’s Luau on Saturday, Oct. 10 in the Grand Ballroom of the Disneyland Hotel. The Luau is a festive and exotic Polynesian-themed event perfect for team building the afternoon before the Walk. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
  • Have fun with your team! Don’t forget, you can dress in school colors, wear matching t-shirts to support your loved one, or make signs to thank your supporters and help your team stand out in the crowd.
  • After the Walk, head over to the team photo area at the Downtown Disney Stage and get a team picture with Choco and the 2015 Honda Miracle Odyssey.

Downtown Disney CHOC Walk Festival

  • The fun doesn’t end when you cross the finish line. The CHOC Walk Festival will feature tons of great giveaways from CHOC sponsors, a DJ spinning great music, and the chance to purchase the 25th anniversary CHOC Walk in the Park hoodie, shopping bag, CHOC Kids Cards, CHOC Walk commemorative lapel pins and lanyards.
  • Don’t miss the CHOC Walk Selfie Squad who will be out throughout the festival and team photo area with CHOC Walk selfie signs and a helping hand for those big group pictures
  • Special discounts are available at many Downtown Disney stores and restaurants after the Walk. For a full list of businesses opening early for breakfast and discounts available the day of the Walk, click here.

More Fun In the Parks

  • Present your CHOC “Walk In the Park” wristband at a Disneyland Resort ticket booth to purchase special CHOCtober Disneyland Resort tickets. Purchase a 1-Day 1-Park ticket for $51 or a 1-Day Park Hopper ticket for $81 to use for admission back into the park on the day of the CHOC Walk or for your next trip to the Disneyland® Park and Disney California Adventure Park. Tickets are valid from Oct. 11, 2015 through Nov. 6, 2015 and do not have block out dates. A maximum of 5 tickets may be purchased per wristband.

You can learn more about CHOC “Walk in the Park or register to participate by clicking here. For real-time event information follow CHOC Walk on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can also follow along with the fun by tagging your CHOC Walk photos online with #CHOCWalk.

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Support CHOC, Form Your Own CHOC Walk Team!

Guest blogger, Lisa Robertson, author of the Babes in Disneyland blog and book, and mommy of three, shares her tried and true tips on how to start a CHOC Walk team.

Last year, I laced up my sneakers and walked in the twentieth annual CHOC Walk in the Park held at the Disneyland Resort. It was my first walk and I decided to go for it by not just participating in the walk but by forming and leading a team of walkers.

Whether you are a first-time walker or a long-time CHOC Children’s supporter, forming a team is a great way to become involved in the walk. In order to form my team and raise money for CHOC, I reached out to friends, family members and the readers of my blog and very quickly formed a team of almost 20 walkers who raised more than $2,200.

This year, my team currently has nine registered walkers and we are on track to raise $1,000 and maybe more. If you or someone you know are thinking about forming a team for the CHOC Walk in the Park, here are my top tips for managing your team:

1. Recruit and raise money using social media. I use Twitter and Facebook to reach out to those I know and those I don’t to let them know about my efforts.
2. Get creative! Last year, my youngest son and I created the video below to help raise money for our CHOC Walk efforts:

3. Keep your team members up to date with frequent emails or create a special Facebook event or group page with the latest on your group’s meet-up the morning of the walk, check-in information and lodging information for those who are not local. A page is also a great place for your team to discuss whether or not you want to create signs, shirts or hats for the walk or designate a place to meet up and have breakfast after the walk is over.
4. Encourage members who are local to the check-in for the event in person. If all of your members cannot check-in ahead of time, be sure to set a deadline for each of your team member’s $50 pledges so that they are all paid before you or a member of your team checks in for everyone.
5. Set a meeting spot for your team for the morning of the race and bring something to identify your group. Last year, I brought a huge bundle of red balloons. In theory, this was a great idea…except for the fact that a lot of other groups brought red balloons as well. This year, I’ll be bringing a sign and balloons.

Walking for CHOC is very important to me because I believe in the amazing work done at CHOC and take great comfort in knowing that should my children ever need the expertise of CHOC’s talented doctors, nurses, surgeons or other specialists, that they will be there at the ready. CHOC provides families hope and comfort and patients the opportunity to still feel like kids while dealing with the very adult issues of being sick.

If you are looking for a fun team to walk with at the CHOC Walk in the Park, I happily invite you to join my team, Babes In Disneyland. If you still aren’t sure if the CHOC Walk is right for you, check out my team’s video from last year!

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