Surgical Team Gives Back Through CHOC Walk

Known as CHOC’s most anticipated event, the CHOC Walk in the Park presented by Disneyland Resort is set for August 27 this year. Many of our employees — among the more than 15,000 people expected to attend — will be proudly walking for CHOC in support of our patients and their families.

We spoke to Christina Portugal, unit assistant, surgical unit, and team captain of CHOC Walk’s team 3E Suture Heroes, who shared what inspires her to participate in this beloved tradition.

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Team Suture Heroes at last year’s CHOC Walk in the Park

Q: What inspired you to become part of CHOC Walk? How long have you been participating?

A: I was inspired to participate in the CHOC Walk in the Park when I was a volunteer, before I joined the staff. I was inspired to be a volunteer after losing my dad to cancer eight years ago. I was moved by all the health care professionals who treated my dad with such kindness and compassion. Through my dad’s illness I gained a profound passion for the healthcare industry and wanted to find a way to give back so I chose to volunteer at CHOC. As my volunteer journey began, little did I know this would be the place where I would give to others and in turn heal from my loss. Volunteering I meet so many brave children fighting through the most difficult times and still standing strong heroically, our true super heroes of this world, teaching me that I could also be strong. I decided after a few years of volunteering that I would make a career move into the healthcare industry and joined the 3E surgical unit. I am grateful to be amongst a team of hardworking, warm kindhearted people who care about helping others. When I started walking in the CHOC Walk in the Park as a volunteer it was another way to say thank you and now I continue to say thank you to CHOC for giving me more than I can possibly put into words. Team Suture Heroes of 3E has grown and last year we were 38 members strong and raised over $4,000!

Q: There are many ways that associates can support CHOC. Why do you participate in CHOC Walk every year?

A: I participate every year because it affords me an opportunity to raise funds that make an immediate impact on families at CHOC Children’s. I walk for HOPE and get to do so alongside my coworkers and community. It is a privilege.

Q: What is your favorite memory from a previous CHOC Walk?

A: Being amongst the thousands of people in our community all affected by and or supporting our families of CHOC is surreal. Walking alongside patients, families and teams supporting one another is what makes this event so memorable. Seeing the hundreds of banners, cheering crowds and smiling faces all walking with grateful happy hearts is an experience like no other.

Q: As a veteran of past CHOC Walks and leader of an experienced CHOC Walk team, what “insider tips” would you offer to someone participating in their first CHOC Walk this year?

A: When you register, you will be given your own CHOC Walk personal page. I would encourage everyone to post this right away on all their social media sites. With a click of a button your friends and family can donate toward your fundraising efforts. Another helpful tool is the CHOC Walk FUNdraiser app which makes it easy and fun to track your progress in real time. For the morning of the CHOC Walk in the Park I would suggest you come extra early and give yourself enough time to walk to the entrance of the park since there are no trams running that morning. The parking can get quite congested and crowded and can delay your arrival to the CHOC Walk and you don’t want to miss out on the opening festivities.

Q: What would you say to a community member or fellow CHOC associate to encourage them to participate in their first CHOC Walk?

A: There is something very special about coming together to benefit others.  You gain a sense of hope in humanity. The quote that inspired me to not only participate in the CHOC Walk but to also begin my journey as an employee at CHOC was, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered at CHOC?

A: I am continually amazed by the medical teams at CHOC and the outstanding care they provide our families. When I walk across the bridge from the parking structure into the hospital, I have a grateful heart that I can be a part of a loving, giving and supportive community. I am thankful for what CHOC has taught me― how to be a better human and to appreciate what you have in this world.

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Insider Tips from CHOC Walk Team Captains

You’ve gathered your family and friends, fundraised for the betterment of CHOC Children’s patients, shared your personal reasons for wanting to give back to CHOC, and now the morning of CHOC Walk in the Park is approaching. Keep in mind these tried and true tips from some of our longstanding CHOC Walk teams:

Fundraising tips

  • Remember that in fundraising, every dollar counts in making a difference. Have fun while raising money for the children. – Team Hope
  • We recommend teaming up with a CHOC Guild. The Littlest Angel Guild in Yorba Linda/Anaheim Hills gave us a lot of help and guidance. It will also give you a chance to meet more people with a common goal to give back to CHOC. It’s also great to have a corporate sponsor. We are so lucky and grateful for Hill Brothers Chemical Company and their generosity. Hill Brothers Chemical Company has supported Miranda, our family, The Littlest Angel Guild, and CHOC since 2009. – Team Miranda
  • We’ve had success with bake sales and Dining for Dollars, where we partner with local restaurants who will donate a portion of proceeds on a certain night toward our CHOC Walk team’s fundraising goal. –Team IronJax
  • Get the word out and be creative! Make a list of everyone you know and send a personalized email inviting them to support your team. Hold garage sales, lemonade stands and bake sales. Save up money by recycling bottles and cans throughout the year. Hold an open house boutique where vendors come together to sell their items and donate a portion of their proceeds to your team. Most importantly, keep at it and don’t get discouraged! Every dollar raised is one dollar closer to your goal. It all adds up! –Team Robby Batman Gomez
  • Sending creative emails that include personal photos to your network go a long way. I send a save the date out about two months ahead of the walk, and remind people the reasons why we walk, thank all the past walkers from our team, and give an update on funds we’ve raised in the past. During the fundraising process, I send an email to my team with a video slideshow showing Mac’s year. I do this to share what a wonderful, fulfilled life he has because of CHOC. –Team MAC

Participant check-in/Packet pickup

  • One thing that helped tremendously when picking up other team members’ wristbands and shirts, was having their email, phone number and shirt size on hand. I picked up 14 walker packets and having the emails ready to go was a huge help. – Team Brave Boyle
  • If you’re picking up for other people, just make sure they have the $85 or more in their account in order to get their wristband for them. It’s also best to distribute wristbands to your friends or teammates BEFORE the walk day as it will be chaotic and people may be late. – Team Brave Boyle
  • Don’t forget if you signed up to have your shirt shipped you don’t need to go to check in. Your shirt and wristband will arrive the week before the Walk. If you don’t receive anything, call our office at 714-509-4000. –Team Kailualani
  • If you have cash or check donations, it helps to enter them online in your fundraising headquarters on chocwalk.org to speed up the check-in process! –Team Kailualani

Team spirit

  • Have fun with your team! Our team makes signs to show our team pride and support for CHOC, and we all dress in a theme. –Team CHOC Children’s HR Walking for Noah
  • Many teams make banners and signs for their CHOC patients to show their support and why they walk – no idea is too small! -Team Torres
  • It’s a great idea to get your kids involved in the Walk to teach them about philanthropy and volunteering at an early age. -Team Torres

Event day tips

  • Before our first CHOC Walk, we got good advice about meeting as a group somewhere outside the park, in Downtown Disney. As a newbie that was a GREAT help. – Team Brave Boyle
  • On the day of the walk, allow extra time to park and find your way to the front of Disneyland as the trams are not running. – Team Hope
  • If you arrive late, you won’t be able to walk the full CHOC Walk route and will be redirected to a certain entrance based on your timing, so don’t be late! The opening ceremony is at 6:15 a.m., the Walk begins at 6:30 a.m., and the entrance cutoff time is 7:30 a.m. – Team Kailualani
  • Consider getting a hotel within walking distance to skip out on the traffic and enjoy a fun night around town before the CHOC Walk. Some nearby hotels offer special rates for CHOC Walk participants. Afterward, don’t try and exit toward Harbor, you’ll feel like a salmon trying to swim upstream. –Team IronJax
  • Give your team a timeline for CHOC Walk, consisting of:
    • Recommended time to leave the house the morning of CHOC Walk, and explain why you’ll need extra time due to the size of the crowd.
    • What time to meet at your team’s chosen meeting area.
    • What time you plan on entering the park.
    • Contact information for other team members in case someone has a hard time locating your team the morning of CHOC Walk.
    • Places where you plan on taking a group picture during the route.
    • Location to meet and regroup at the end of the route. We usually do a giant group thank you, and I designate an area because we can get split up during the route. –Team Justin’s Helpers
  • Don’t forget you can purchase discounted Disney tickets AFTER the walk with your CHOC Walk wristband. There will be ticket carts available in Downtown Disney near ESPN Zone, as well as the ticket booths in the esplanade, and you will need to have your wristband on in order to purchase. -Team Torres
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CHOC Walk in the Park 2017: Why I Walk – Team IronJax

By Seth Keichline, Team IronJax

We participate in CHOC Walk in the Park in honor of our son, Jaxson, who died in 2012 at 4-years-old following a drowning accident at a neighbor’s pool party. Jax was transferred to CHOC Children’s Hospital from another hospital, and the CHOC staff spent the next three hours doing everything they could to save our boy. The grace, compassion and solace that the CHOC staff showed us left an overwhelming mark on my wife and I. We lost our boy, but it was if they lost him with us.

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Jaxson passed away at age 4 after a drowning accident at a neighbor’s pool party. His family participates in CHOC Walk to honor his life and thank the pediatric intensive care unit staff members who showed compassion and grace to their family.

We walk in Jax’s memory. It’s a way to honor his life and the way he touched so many people in his short time with us, all the while helping to raise money for the hospital. We first started walking in 2012, just a few months after Jax passed away. A friend of mine worked at Disneyland and had worked on the event before, and mentioned it to me. I don’t think we signed up until about six weeks before the event, and we just figured our family and maybe a handful of friends would join us. We ended up with over 75 team members and raised more than $10,000.

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Jaxson’s family (father Seth, mother Kristina, older siblings Grayson and Ellie, and younger brother Phoenix) pictured at the 2016 CHOC Walk in the Park. The Keichline family participates in CHOC Walk in the Park to honor the memory of their son Jaxson who passed away in a drowning accident.

I’ll always remember that first year. There were so many emotions – we were in the thick of grieving, the rush of scrambling to get a team together in such a short time – but we felt a sense of pride on how we honored our sweet boy.

We are most inspired by the compassion and grace that the CHOC staff showed to our family. That is what we will always remember.

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Every year, Jaxson’s family and friends participate in CHOC Walk in the Park to raise much-needed funds for CHOC Children’s as a way to honor his memory.
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CHOC Walk in the Park 2017: Why I Walk – Team Miranda

Seven years ago, Miranda woke up screaming in the middle of the night from unbearable head pain. She couldn’t move or recognize her parents, and then she collapsed.

Miranda’s parents rushed her, a 10-year-old at the time, to a local hospital. Physicians there initially told them to wait three days for observation.

Dr. Jason Knight, a CHOC Children’s pediatric critical care specialist and medical director of CHOC’s emergency transport services, was on call at that hospital that day, and met with Miranda’s parents, Regina and John.

An Emergency Transport to CHOC

“Dr. Knight explained what was happening better than anyone else at the hospital,” Regina remembers. “He suggested we transport her to CHOC so she could be seen by pediatric specialists. We were scared to move her, so we asked Dr. Knight if he would transport Miranda if she were his own daughter. He said yes, and we trusted him.”

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Dr. Jason Knight, critical care specialist, chair of the department of medicine, and medical director of emergency transport services at CHOC Children’s

Dr. Knight recalls, “As the physician covering the local hospital that day, it was my responsibility to assure that Miranda received the appropriate care in a timely manner. As soon as I assessed her condition and reviewed the CT scan of her brain, it was clear to me that Miranda needed to be transferred to CHOC immediately. I contacted Dr. Michael Muhonen, a pediatric neurosurgeon at CHOC, and coordinated Miranda’s transfer to CHOC.”

Scans revealed she had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of weakened blood vessels that had ruptured and started to bleed in her brain. Upon arrival at CHOC, Miranda immediately underwent neurosurgery with Dr. Muhonen, medical director of the neuroscience institute at CHOC.

“Miranda was critically ill upon arrival to CHOC. She reminded me of my own three daughters― innocent, beautiful and vulnerable. It was with this in mind that I approached her operation― do what it takes to keep her brain alive and functional,” recalled Dr. Muhonen.

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Dr. Michael Muhonen, medical director of the neuroscience institute and director of neurosurgery at CHOC Children’s

After a successful four-hour surgery, Miranda was placed in a medically-induced coma for several days. Her parents didn’t know if she would survive.

“When Miranda was in a coma, I told Dr. Knight that I wanted to take a photo of her so that I could show her when she woke up, but that I didn’t want to take it if she wasn’t going to make it,” recalls Regina. “For a few days, he wouldn’t let me take the photo because he wasn’t sure if Miranda was going to survive. Then one day, Dr. Knight told me it was ok to take a photo of her, and I knew that meant she was going to make it.”

John adds, “My family is intact today because of wonderful doctors like Dr. Knight, Dr. Muhonen and their teams. It’s just amazing what CHOC does. We are so blessed.”

The Long Road to Recovery

Miranda’s recovery process included child life specialists, physical therapy and rehabilitation. She spent one month at an inpatient rehabilitation facility followed by an additional three months of outpatient care learning how to walk and talk again.

The first year after surgery was critical. Miranda saw Dr. Muhonen every few months for checkups to monitor her brain, as well as a CHOC ophthalmologist to make sure her sight was progressing.

“The AVM and the clot were removed successfully, and Miranda has recovered with minimal long-term deficit,” says Dr. Muhonen. “My reward is not only seeing a disease-free brain on the post-operative MRI, it is the omnipresent smile and effervescent personality that Miranda still has, despite her near-death experience.”

Everything came back except her sight. She lost 25 percent of her vision in both eyes, but that hasn’t stopped her from dancing, her favorite activity since age 8. Miranda’s parents had to supervise her at all times for the first year after surgery to make sure she didn’t have a seizure (a possible side effect of brain surgery), which meant that her mom went to every dance practice and every pool party to ensure her daughter’s continued safe healing.

Giving Back to CHOC

A few months after Miranda’s surgery, her family was invited to participate in CHOC Walk in the Park by friends.

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Miranda and her family at their first CHOC Walk in the Park, just a few months after her emergency neurosurgery

“After what we went through, we felt closely tied to CHOC. We walked that year and fell in love with the event. We realized this was an affordable way to give back to CHOC,” recalls John. “My favorite memory was our very first CHOC Walk. Miranda walked alongside us, which was a huge accomplishment. A couple months before that, we weren’t sure if she was ever going to walk again. To see her walk on her own was the most memorable moment for me.”

The family’s first CHOC Walk was especially impactful for Miranda herself.

“I will never forget attending my first CHOC Walk one year after my surgery. I remember seeing other patients participating in the walk with their own team just like me, only they needed walkers or wheelchairs to have the capability of walking the entire distance. Seeing other patients that were struggling to do the simple task of walking, something that people take for granted, made me reflect back to being a patient at CHOC, where I once struggled with relearning how to walk during physical therapy,” recalls Miranda. “From that moment on, I promised myself I would always participate in the CHOC Walk and give back as much as I could, not only to represent the patients who couldn’t recover as fast as I did, but also for the patients that don’t make it. I am reminded every day by the scar on the back of my head of how blessed I am to have been a patient at CHOC.”

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Every year since her emergency surgery, Miranda’s family rallies dozens of friends to participate in CHOC Walk in the Park.

Every year since then, Miranda’s parents gather dozens of friends, family and co-workers to join Team Miranda, the CHOC Walk team they formed in honor of their daughter. They formed their team with the help of the Littlest Angel Guild, a philanthropic group that raises funds to support the mission of CHOC.

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Miranda and her family at the 2012 CHOC Walk in the Park

“We encourage people we meet to participate in CHOC Walk to help provide the best medical care for the children in our community. You never know if or when CHOC’s services will be needed for your children, for your friend’s children, for your neighbor’s children, or even a stranger,” says John, whose employer, Hill Brothers Chemical Company also sponsors CHOC Walk, in addition to the other philanthropic events benefiting CHOC. “We learned firsthand how much everyone at CHOC cares – the doctors, the nurses, the administrators, and staff throughout CHOC all genuinely care about the children and their families.”

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Team Miranda at the 2013 CHOC Walk in the Park

Experience at CHOC Inspires Future Career

Now a senior in high school, Miranda is preparing for graduation and heading off to college. Inspired by her experiences at CHOC, she is planning to major in psychiatry and dreams of becoming a pediatric optometrist.

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CHOC Walk in the Park 2017: Why I Walk – Team Brave Boyle

Lizzie Boyle is mom to CHOC Children’s patient and cancer warrior Ella, age 6 and serves as team caption for CHOC Walk’s Team Brave Boyle

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There are many ways that grateful families can support CHOC. Why do you participate in CHOC Walk every year?

Walking was the most crucial part in Ella’s recovery. As she braved her 14 rounds of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and many scans and procedures under anesthesia, I knew as a mom that it was important to get her moving. CHOC encouraged us as parents to be active participants in Ella’s recovery, and how crucial it was that she must get out of bed and walk the halls of the hematology/oncology unit to survive. The CHOC Walk is a direct reflection of what happens inside that unit at CHOC. Get up, survive, and walk alongside people who you may never know by name. We learned that the power of being together, all for the purpose of knowing someone in their lives was affected by this hospital, is a tremendous feeling.

What inspired you to become part of CHOC Walk? How long have you been participating?

The CHOC Walk was always been something we knew about within our community, however not until my daughter was a patient herself did we walk. Last year, my sister Caitlin and brother-in-law Rhett took it upon themselves to create Team Brave Boyle, and by the grace of God and many other hands we were able to walk that day. Some members of our team have participated for years in support of the care their own children received years ago, but much of our team was experiencing it for the first time. The phrase I heard the most from our team that day was, “We will do this every year. This is amazing.”

What is your favorite memory from a previous CHOC Walk?

Well that is a tough one to answer! I will say it was when we were in a holding pattern waiting to walk down Main Street. The Brave Boyle team was stretched out five people wide and at least 40 feet back. I looked ahead of us and saw a group of our oncology nurses; I looked behind me and saw my sisters; I looked around me and saw Ella’s classmates sprinkled around with their parents. To see the sacrifices that so many of our supporters made to be there that day was humbling,  and I felt so sad that Ella wasn’t able to walk with us that day. Then I looked to my right and there was a large group holding a sign for their daughter who is now an angel. I quickly became overwhelmed with emotion. Just then, over the Disneyland speaker, “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift started playing. The entire group began to sing, and it brought me back to day one of Ella’s treatment when we started the tradition of singing that song for her. It was exactly what we needed at that very moment.

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What would you say to a community member to encourage them to participate in their first CHOC Walk?

It is an experience that allows you to celebrate all life, and your support system—the child, the sibling, the grandma…the people who hold us up. The day is beyond a fundraiser, it changes your entire outlook on what a hospital represents.

What inspires you most about the care being delivered at CHOC?

In our 12 months living off and on at CHOC, my daughter walked onto that 5th floor each time to be greeted as if, ‘Welcome Home.’ In the same respect, days later as we were discharged, they celebrated, praised her, and said, ‘Say hi to your sister!’ They knew Ella Grace Boyle, and every 5-year-old should feel that love no matter what they are facing.

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