Happy 50th Anniversary, CHOC!

The moment I’ve been awaiting for nearly a year now is just days away: Oct. 5, CHOC Children’s 50th anniversary.choco anniversary sign

As I spent the last 50 weeks gearing up for this special day, I met so many wonderful people who help make CHOC special: its patients and families, staff, physicians, volunteers, community supporters and more.

I also realized that CHOC, after 50 years of care, is truly part of the fabric of Orange County.

I think you’d have a hard time finding someone in these parts who hasn’t somehow been affected by CHOC. Possibly they, a friend or family member received care here. Perhaps they or a loved one once worked or volunteered here. And maybe they have given to CHOC, either through participating in the CHOC Walk or by making a donation.

No matter the connection, they are are a welcomed and valued part of the CHOC family. And I hope you all will join with me in acknowledging this special milestone.

We have a lot to celebrate: Since 1964, CHOC has nurtured, advanced and protected the health and well-being of children through innovative care and state-of-the-art facilities. What started as a 62-bed children’s hospital – the first in Orange County – has grown into a pediatric health care system serving multiple counties. CHOC’s rapid growth in size and community impact should be of no surprise, given its leadership and steadfast commitment to defining the future of pediatric medicine.

CHOC has evolved a lot through the last half century. And while the hospital is proud of its rich past, CHOC’s focus is on the future. I can’t wait to see what it does in the next 50 years to continue giving children bright futures in Orange County and beyond.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following my gratitude tour. This may be my final post, but the celebration can continue. Share your special CHOC memory or anniversary congratulations on social media by using the hashtag #thxCHOC.

Thank you CHOC Walk Participants!

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An early CHOC Walk
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Me and a young CHOC Walk-er in 2010

One of the most fun CHOC Children’s events is the CHOC Walk in the Park – and I want to thank the thousands of folks who have participated in this annual event through the years.

It warms my heart to see about 15,000 people strolling through the Disneyland Resort while celebrating CHOC patients’ bravery; thank CHOC doctors, nurses and staff; and raise funds for the hospital.

I love seeing the walkers gather in the early morning, energized by a common mission to support CHOC. Walkers organize into teams and wear special shirts and carry signs. Babies ride in strollers, and people have a blast winding their way through Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

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Me with a CHOC Walk team in 2007

It’s truly a sight to behold, and I am grateful to all who have participated and will continue to do so.

Speaking of which, this year’s walk is Oct. 12. Have you formed a team yet? Learn more about the walk and how to sign up here.

And don’t forget to stretch!

Choco’s Gratitude Tour: The Greatest Hits

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This Choco Bear pillow was placed inside the 1964 time capsule. Read the blog post to see what else was included

When I began my gratitude tour last October to help celebrate CHOC’s 50th anniversary, I had no idea that I’d meet so many cool people and see so much fun stuff.

I’ve had a blast making my way around the hospital, meeting new people and blogging about my experiences! And even better, once my 50-week tour ends next month, I’ll always have these posts to read again and remember all these awesome times.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite posts from this past year:

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Here’s CHOC in its early days. Read this post to learn how the hospital campus has evolved in 50 years.

Sing-a-long: The Choco Bear Song: Did you know I have my very own song? Read this post to learn the lyrics and sing along with me.

CHOC Children’s Campus: Then and Now: This post was a blast from the past! Read to learn about how CHOC’s campus has changed in the last half century.

Choco Bear’s Evolving Style: I’ve had quite a few looks since 1964. This post shows photographs of yours truly throughout the years.

Inside CHOC’s 1964 Time Capsule: CHOC staff hid a time capsule to commemorate the hospital’s opening in 1964. Read this post to see what was buried inside.  

Inside CHOC’s 1993 Time Capsule: This post gave an inside look at what CHOC tucked inside its second time capsule.

During my tour, I’ve also met many really neat people. Let me introduce you to some of the new friends I made this year:

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Meet Parker, one of my new friends I met this year. Read this post to learn more about the graduate from CHOC’s Small Baby Unit.

Parker: Meet Parker, a graduate of CHOC’s Small Baby Unit, a special part of the neonatal intensive care unit dedicated to the care of micro-preemies. When we first met, she had just celebrated her first birthday.

Bill: Bill received treatment for leukemia at CHOC in the 1970s, and went on to become a hospital chaplain in Orange County.

Josh: This young man was treated at CHOC for childhood allergies and asthma. Josh was so inspired that he became a pediatrician and performed his residency here at CHOC.

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Meet Amy and Emily, two sisters who were treated at CHOC.

Amy and Emily: These ladies are sisters who both underwent treatment at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s. They are both very accomplished and so inspiring.

You can check out more posts like these from my gratitude tour at choc.org/thxchoc and look for more in coming weeks. We still have some more time until CHOC’s big day on Oct. 4, so you can bet I’ll be making the most of it.

Thank you for reading!

 

Choco Bear’s First Portrait

Disney illustrator Bob Moore with a CHOC patient.
Disney illustrator Bob Moore with a CHOC patient.

One of the coolest things to happen to me since I started hanging around CHOC Children’s is getting my portrait professionally drawn.

Through the decades, a couple different versions of my likeness have been featured at CHOC, but the most special is the original drawing created by Disney artist Bob Moore.

More than 50 years ago, Bob first drew my portrait, expertly capturing my happy smile and arm bandage.

“I didn’t want to make him a scary bear for the kids, and I thought the bandage would be cute, something the children would remember,” he said. “The bandage was placed on the left arm, to be closest to the heart.”

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Choco’s original look

The Disney connection should come as no surprise given that Walt Disney served on CHOC’s original board of directors. And the influence is pretty visible in my original portrait: Do those ears remind you of anyone else you might know?

According to Bob’s biography on the official Disney fan club website, he first joined Disney in 1940 as an illustrator apprentice. Later, Bob created promotional images for Disney movies and theme parks.

And fittingly for his work with CHOC, Bob was also an M.D. – well, sort of.

He was the only Disney artist to have these initials added after his last name. They stand for “mouse drawer.”

A Bright Future: Ian and Micah’s Story

Even though I’ve been hanging around CHOC Children’s for a long time now, I am continually surprised by the courage, tenacity and strength of the patients I meet. It’s especially gratifying to meet people who have reached special milestones and enjoy bright futures thanks to their treatment at CHOC.

Today, I want to introduce you to two such patients, Ian and Micah Rogers, who recently overcame some big obstacles to earn a huge accomplishment.

In front of a standing-room only crowd, Ian and Micah Rogers recently kicked, punched and sparred their way toward a black belt in karate.

Attaining a black belt would be a proud achievement for anybody. But for the two brothers, the accomplishment is even more significant given their rare form of muscular dystrophy, diagnosed by CHOC Children’s metabolic disorders specialists about eight years ago.

“People might think that because I have muscular dystrophy, I cannot do anything,” Micah, 10, wrote in an essay. “But I proved them wrong. … Earning my black belt gives me hope that I can be tougher and could accomplish lots of stuff even though it’s harder for my body.”

Micah was first diagnosed after a series of blood tests and muscle biopsies. By his 12-month doctor’s appointment, his doctor suspected something was wrong and he was ultimately diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

Micah’s mother, Akemi, knew his older brother, Ian, had the same condition. As a baby, Ian had difficulty holding his head up while on his stomach. He was quickly passed by his friends while going up stairs, and he got tired after passing just a few houses on his tricycle. Following Micah’s diagnosis, Ian also tested positive.

Further genetic testing by Dr. Jose Abdenur, division chief of metabolic disorders at CHOC, refined the boys’ diagnosis to a type of Fukuyama congenital muscular dystrophy. Fukuyama CMD is a progressive degenerative disease that affects the brain, eyes and muscles. Because the Rogers boys were the first to be discovered with this specific condition, they have an unknown prognosis.

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The Rogers brothers with their sensei.

“In the beginning, I was very afraid,” Akemi says. “I wasn’t sure if they were going to walk next month, or talk next year. I felt like life was so fragile.”

Faith, time and the care of CHOC specialists gave the family resilience and hope. And participating in karate has helped greatly: In 2010, Micah and Ian began training at Karate for All, an occupational therapy karate program designed for children and adults with special needs.

“It keeps them limber because they do stretching,” Akemi says. “It gives them confidence and agility.”

Writes Micah, “(Karate) gave me strong legs. It made me more focused. It gave me better balance. It taught me how to relax.”

While physically challenging for the boys, the black belt test was equally challenging emotionally for Akemi and husband, Randy, and the many friends and family who attended the milestone event.

“Everyone knew this was not a normal black belt test,” Akemi says. “They’re walking miracles. They have normal vision and intelligence, and are breaking boards – though that could all change.”

“Today, there may be no cure for muscular dystrophy, but muscular dystrophy is curing us of wasted worry and wasted pursuits, and teaching us to savor our time with our kids. We’re so proud of them.”

But for now, the boys continue to persevere, seeing a variety of CHOC specialists throughout the year and are great big brothers. And they plan to take their responsibilities as black belts very seriously.

“Your duty as a black belt is to love everyone around you,” Ian, 12, wrote in his essay. “Then and only then, will you be a black belt.”