Keeping it in the Family: Why a Disneyland Resort Cast Member Joined the CHOC Walk

For Andrew Geis, participating in the annual CHOC Walk in the Park is only natural.

After all, Andrew credits CHOC Children’s with saving his daughter’s life, and the annual fundraiser takes place throughout his office – the Disneyland Resort.

Cumulatively, the Disneyland Resort has been CHOC’s largest corporate donor over the past 25 years, and the annual CHOC Walk in the Park is the hospital’s largest fundraiser, raising more than $32 million to date.

“I feel a sense of pride that an organization I’ve been with for 17 years has such a strong relationship with CHOC, which has done so much for my family,” says Andrew, who is part of the Disneyland Resort’s catering and convention services team. “The CHOC Walk is a small way that we give back and recognize the incredible care that we had at CHOC.”

Many Disneyland Resort cast members who have been personally impacted by CHOC participate every year. Last year, the Disney VoluntEARS walk team raised more than $90,000 for the hospital.

The Geis family’s relationship with CHOC began even before baby Sawyer was born. Imaging conducted while she was in utero revealed two possible heart defects, the severity of which wouldn’t be known until she was born.

The family started planning, and immediately after her birth, Sawyer was transferred to CHOC’s neonatal intensive care unit. There, further testing revealed a constricted aorta; an atrial septal defect (ASD), or a hole between the top chambers of her heart; and a ventricular septal defect (VSD), or a hole between the heart’s lower chambers.

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Andrew and his wife Michelle with their daughter Sawyer shortly after she was born.

Sawyer would need surgery – and she’d need it quickly, specialists told Andrew.

“I don’t think you’re actually ever prepared to hear that when your child is less than 24 hours old,” he says. “It was like a kick to the heart.”

Within days, Sawyer underwent surgery to repair the defects. Dr. Richard Gates, co-medical director of the CHOC Children’s Heart Institute, and Dr. Joanne Starr, medical director of cardiothoracic surgery at CHOC, fixed the constriction in her aorta, partially closed the ASD, and placed a band around Sawyer’s pulmonary artery to equalize pressure in the two sides of her heart and force the blood to flow to the lower half of the body.

While the surgery was a success, recovery in the cardiovascular intensive care unit was tough. There, Sawyer had an irregular heartbeat, which required the activation of an external pacemaker. Then, she also developed a blood clot. That same day, Sawyer experienced a three-minute seizure.

The clot and seizures were successfully mitigated, and a CT scan following the seizure showed no signs of a stroke or blain bleed. But Sawyer remained in the CVICU healing, growing and learning to eat on her own for several weeks.

During her stay, Andrew and his wife, Michelle, took shifts, alternating who stayed with Sawyer and who went home to their 5-year-old daughter, Parker. When Parker came to the hospital to visit, CHOC staff made a point to connect with her and ensure her needs were also met, Andrew recalls.

“My wife and I felt very strongly that it wasn’t only about the care Sawyer received, but that the entire family was taken care of,” he says. “That level of compassion and total family care was evident in all interactions with team members of CHOC.”

And finally, after 32 days, a 1-month old Sawyer headed home to join her family.

Sawyer headed home from CHOC
After spending just over the first month of her life at CHOC Children’s, Sawyer was finally able to go home.

During their time at CHOC Children’s Hospital, the Geis family became increasingly aware of the long relationship between the heath system and Disney, from Walt Disney’s early fundraising efforts before the hospital was built to the Disneyland Resort’s $5 million gift toward construction of the new Bill Holmes Tower, which houses the interactive “Turtle Talk with Crush” show donated by Walt Disney Imagineering.

“I certainly enjoy working for Disney and all that it represents, and knowing that Disney is affiliated with CHOC Children’s, which did so much for my family when we were in a medical crisis – I think is a unique blend,” Andrew says.

Just after Sawyer’s first birthday, the family participated in its first CHOC Walk, now a family tradition that will continue at this year’s walk. “Team Sawyer” will strut proudly on Aug. 26, joined by its spunky and sassy, 3-year-old namesake, who knows exactly why they walk.

Geis family at CHOC Walk 2017
The Geis family, including Team Sawyer’s namesake, at CHOC Walk 2017.

“Sawyer will point to her scar and she’ll say, ‘Tell me about my scar,’” Andrew says. “We’ll talk about her heart and what was wrong with it and what had to be done with it. ‘Who was with me in the hospital?’ she’ll ask, and we’ll tell her, ‘We were all with you in the hospital.’”

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How One CHOC Walk Corporate Team Generates More than Good Will

It started with a personal connection to CHOC Children’s; one that sparked a grateful family to give back through their business. Their intent was to raise funds and awareness for the hospital that did so much for them. Their efforts yielded more than they anticipated.

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Larry and Angela Worsham, operators of Chick-fil-A North Orange, brought their son Nathan to CHOC Children’s Hospital when he was 2 years old. He was diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disorder that causes the body to produce too much protein in the kidneys and urine. It can lead to swelling, weight gain and increased risk of other health problems.

Because of his condition, Nathan was hospitalized once, when he was in kindergarten. The now 14-year-old sees a CHOC nephrologist about every four months.

“The care Nathan received from the physicians, nurses, child life specialists and other staff when he was admitted to CHOC, and the care he continues to receive, is first class,” says Angela. “We are grateful to CHOC and are honored to support such an amazing place.”

Angela and her husband reached out to the CHOC Children’s Foundation after learning operators of another Chick-fil-A were CHOC supporters. They wanted to see how they could get involved.

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“Ever since that initial call from Angela, she and Larry have remained steadfast in their dedication to supporting our greatest needs,” explains Zachariah Abrams, assistant vice president, community engagement and special events, CHOC Foundation. “They’ve been amazing partners who are always open to new ideas. We are grateful for everything they’ve done.”

The Worsham’s support began with donating prizes for the CHOC Walk in the Park, presented by the Disneyland® Resort. They were also quick to meet requests for donating food for patient and staff events, which they continue to do. One of their favorite things, admits Angela, is providing a monthly dinner in the family room, serving the pediatric and cardiovascular intensive care units.

“It’s such an honor and pleasure to provide a little dinner break for parents and family members who spend their days and nights at bedside. And when we are at CHOC, we are always inspired to do more,” shares Angela. “I believe anytime any of us have an opportunity to serve others and act on it, we make our community stronger.”

That desire to serve prompted the Worshams to form, 11 years ago, their own CHOC Walk team “Chick-Fil-A 4 CHOC.”   Angela and Larry encourage their employees’ involvement with incentives, helping grow the team to nearly 200 walkers. Their team has raised more than $100,000. A contributing factor is Cookie Day, on which participating Chick-fil-A locations in Orange County donate proceeds from the sale of their chocolate chuck cookies to CHOC.

They are proud of that successful promotion and for their Walk total, but even more grateful for the friends they have met through their participation in the Walk.

“For us, personally, the best thing that has come out of the CHOC Walk is the relationship with the Hicks family, who founded Team Timmaree Rocks. We’ve walked with them for the past nine years and have become close friends. We’ve taken trips together, making amazing memories,” says Angela.

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In addition to forming valuable friendships, the Worshams have also developed business relationships and have attracted event and catering opportunities because of their involvement with CHOC. Their brand awareness in the market has increased, according to Angela.

“No matter the size of your company or your budget, everyone has the ability to fundraise and support causes we believe in. I do believe when you care more about the cause than what you will get out of it, you will benefit more in the long run,” advises Angela.

If your company or business is interested in supporting CHOC, call 714-509-7676.

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CHOC Children’s and Thompson Foundation Announce New Autism Center

CHOC Children’s and the William and Nancy Thompson Family Foundation (Thompson Family Foundation) recently unveiled a new collaboration that expands our region’s capacity to serve children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families. The Thompson Autism Center at CHOC Children’s, named in honor of a $10 million founding gift, will be devoted to evaluating children as early as possible to promote better outcomes; engaging children whose behaviors diminish quality of life for them and their families; and establishing a long-term support system for children with complex care needs.

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Bill and Nancy Thompson

The Thompson Autism Center will also, through a partnership with Chapman University, assist families in navigating the education system from preschool to college. In support of the Thompson Family Foundation’s vision to bring hope to children with ASD and their families, the Thompson Autism Center will participate in national research networks.

“A national leader, the Thompson Family Foundation has earned a stellar reputation for expanding services, research, education and advocacy for children with ASD and their families. We are grateful for their generous support and their commitment to enrich so many lives here in Orange County,” said CHOC Children’s President and CEO Kimberly Chavalas Cripe.

The Thompson Autism Center will focus on three high-need populations

  1. Early intervention has been shown to significantly improve the development of basic cognitive, relational and communications skills; however, most children are not diagnosed with ASD until their fourth birthdays. The Thompson Autism Center will assess, treat, develop care plans and provide follow-up services for undiagnosed children, ages 1 – 6.

 

  1. Some children with ASD communicate with negative behaviors such as aggression and self-injury, resulting in physical, emotional and social impacts on them, their parents and siblings. The Thompson Autism Center will partner with families to provide a multi-tiered intervention program.

 

  1. Epilepsy, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal issues and other medical problems commonly occur in children with ASD. The Thompson Autism Center will provide comprehensive, interdisciplinary care and family support services to address ASD and its common co-occurring conditions.

“We take pride in collaborating with institutions and health care professionals who share our vision to dramatically improve the lives of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders and their families, “said Bill Thompson, co-founder, Thompson Foundation. “Our collaboration with CHOC Children’s will complement and expand on the work already being done in Orange County, making a lasting impact on the community and bringing hope to children and families affected by ASD”

The Thompson Autism Center is set to open in early 2019 and will be located at 170 S. Main Street in Orange, only a few blocks from CHOC’s main hospital campus. The two-story, approximately 20,000-square-foot facility will be designed by FKP/CannonDesign, an architectural and design firm with national experience in neuroscience, brain and autism projects at children’s hospitals.

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CHOC Sibling Gives Back Through Dance Marathon

Growing up, Jessica heard countless stories of the “miracle workers” at CHOC who saved her twin brothers’ lives after they were born. Today, she’s giving back to the hospital that helped keep her family whole.

Justin and Ryan were born ten weeks early due to twin to twin transfusion syndrome, a rare but serious condition that can occur when identical twins share a placenta, and blood and other fluids do not flow evenly between the two babies, resulting in poor fetal growth.

Among other complications at birth, neither of the boys had fully developed lungs. The boys were rushed from the delivery hospital to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at CHOC Children’s Hospital, and their parents were told the odds of survival were very low. Justin’s blood was too thick to pass through his body, and Ryan needed several blood transfusions.

After six weeks of testing and growing stronger in the NICU, the boys were strong enough to go home. That was 18 years ago, and today they’re both healthy, straight-A seniors in high school who are looking forward to attending college next year.

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Jessica with her brothers, shortly after they graduated from the NICU at CHOC Children’s.

Ever since, CHOC has had a special place in the family’s hearts― including the time one of the boys fell and broke his arm at age five.

“We were about twenty miles away from CHOC when it happened, but I remember my mom saying, ‘We are not going anywhere besides CHOC,’” Jessica recalls. “It didn’t matter that we had to drive past other hospitals to get there. My parents have always trusted CHOC in everything they do.”

When Jessica, a lifelong dancer, entered her freshman year at California State University- Fullerton, she heard about Dance Marathon, and realized it was the perfect opportunity to combine her passion for dance and desire to give back to CHOC.

Miracle Network Dance Marathon is a movement uniting college, university and high school students across North America. Students involved in a campus’ Dance Marathon organization spend a year gaining leadership, teamwork, and nonprofit business experience while raising funds and awareness for their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

The year culminates with an eight-40-hour event (the dance marathon) on each campus where students get to meet patient families treated at their local hospital, participate in games and dancing, enjoy entertainment, and reveal their annual fundraising total.

As an active member of the CSUF Dance Marathon organization, known as TitanTHON, community outreach team, Jessica is responsible for reaching out to on- and off-campus groups to spread awareness of the event and assist with fundraising efforts.

Since 2014, TitanTHON has raised over $113,000 for CHOC Children’s, CSUF’s local Children’s Miracle Network hospital.

“Dance Marathon is one of my favorite nights of the year. It always falls around mid-terms, so it’s nice to take a night off from studying and spend time dancing with friends and taking advantage of different crafts and activities,” Jessica says. “It’s an honor to meet some of the families who are benefitting from the funds we raise each year. Last year I got to dance with one CHOC patient, and everything came full-circle. I realized that my fundraising is actually doing good work in my community.”

Jessica, who is studying kinesiology and wants to pursue a career as an adaptive physical education teacher for children with special needs, feels a special connection to the siblings of patients she meets at TitanTHON every year.

“TitanTHON is special to me because there are families and older siblings who have younger siblings being treated at CHOC, just like I did,” she says. “I want them to be able to have the same resources and be as blessed as I was, to have my brothers end up safe and healthy. It’s nice to know I am helping give CHOC the resources it needs to care for other children in my community.”

Learn more about TitanTHON

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CHOC’s VP of Human Resources Joins Cast of Footloose Follies

One of Orange County’s most popular fundraisers, CHOC Follies, is back March 29-31 with their newest musical production, “Footloose Follies,” benefiting CHOC Children’s. Set against an 80s backdrop, the humorous toe-tapping show, featuring a cast of local social and business leaders, is sure to be fun for the whole family.

We talked to Tom Capizzi, CHOC’s vice president of human resources, about his role in the upcoming show.

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Tom Capizzi, CHOC’s vice president of human resources

Q: How long have you been at CHOC?

A: I have been with CHOC two and a half fantastic years.

Q: How did you get involved with the show? Why is this important to you?

A: I have been a fan of the Follies for many years. I always felt it would be great to be a part of the production and give back as a senior leader at CHOC. In my role, I am always in front of many associates and love the opportunity to speak to as many people as I can. This year I decided, “Why not; let’s do it!”

Q: Did you have any experience with theater prior to the CHOC Follies?

A: I did some theater while in college, and later when my daughter was in a children’s regional theater group I was asked to participate in several adult parts.

Q: What is your favorite part of the show?

A: The cast brings such energy and passion to the show, which in my opinion is very infectious and speaks to our mission and why we all are aligned – associates, physicians, donors and volunteers – with our mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well being of children.

Q: Why should the community support the show?

A: Join us, it’s a wonderful time, very entertaining. And the dedication, passion and time commitment that the cast makes every year, which is all voluntary, speaks volumes to how important CHOC is to them and how critical philanthropy is to the success of our mission to care for our community’s children and their families.

Celebrate decades of singing and dancing for OC's kids. Buy your tickets now.

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