What we’re thankful for this year: 2020

Despite the countless challenges brought on by 2020, the physicians, nurses, staff, patients and donors that make CHOC a world-class pediatric healthcare system have retained a sense of gratitude. Several members of the CHOC community share what they are most thankful for this year.

Kim Cripe_CHOC president and CEOKim Cripe, CHOC president and CEO

“There are no words to fully express how thankful I am to the physicians, nurses, and staff who have worked so tirelessly and sacrificed so much these past nine months of the pandemic.  I have always been proud of our team and how well we support one another on a daily basis. Yet, our ability to rally in a crisis, particularly as long as this one has been (and will continue to be), has truly left me in awe. I am enormously grateful to everyone at CHOC across all departments, geographies and locations for the way we are not only tackling this challenge together, but also supporting the children and families we serve.” 

chris-furman

Chris Furman, chairman, CHOC board of directors

“I continue to be grateful for serving as chairman of CHOC’s board of directors.   Especially during these challenging times, I am incredibly honored to help CHOC’s physicians, staff, volunteers and donors protect the health and well-being of children in Orange County and beyond.” 

dr-jasjit-singh

Dr. Jasjit Singh, pediatric infectious disease specialist

“Despite all the challenges and changes this year has presented, I feel grateful to be part of the CHOC community. At the beginning of this experience, when there were still so many unknowns, I saw nurses, doctors and all the staff put aside their own fears and rise to the challenge in order to take care of their patients. And I have been watching them continue to do that every day since. It has been inspiring. I am grateful to my colleagues, and their commitment to implementing the latest guidelines and regulations to serve our patients and their families, and for their much-needed detective work on complicated cases. I’m grateful for CHOC parents and my patients – for sharing their strength, resilience, humor and hope with us every day. And last but not least, I owe gratitude for my wonderful family & the fact that we are in a place that allows us to serve our community.”

Dr. Terrence Sanger, chief scientist at CHOC Children's

Dr. Terence Sanger, vice president for research and chief scientific officer

“In a year that has been filled with unprecedented challenges, I am thankful for the opportunity to have joined CHOC’s mighty brigade in February 2020 to help the organization continue to go beyond. I am grateful to be working alongside such amazing colleagues who are committed to the mission of elevating the cutting-edge work being conducted at CHOC’s Research Institute.” 

CHOC Hospital_Outpatient evaluation center

Kelly Navarro, RN, BSN, CPN, CHOC outdoor evaluation center 

“After working at CHOC for 10 years, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve CHOC patients and families in a new way this year at our outdoor evaluation center. CHOC quickly established these outdoor, drive-through facilities at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to offer our patients a safe and convenient way to be evaluated by a pediatric medical provider, receive treatment when necessary, and undergo COVID-19 testing. The center gives us the ability to ensure continuity of care for patients having surgery, as well as those needing sleep studies and many other necessary procedures. I am grateful for the privilege of serving as a constant for our patients and their families: that they can always count on CHOC for safe, high-quality and convenient care.”

Allison, age 12, CHOC patient

Dr. Mike Weiss

Dr. Michael Weiss, vice president of population health

“At a time in our lives when we have never felt more distant from our friends, neighbors and loved ones, I’m grateful that CHOC was able to deepen our “connection” with our patients and families and provide high-quality medical care through telehealth technology. This service has proven to be a true lifesaver for many children and families. From primary care to sub-specialty care and mental health to speech therapy, CHOC has provided over 55,000 telehealth visits since mid-March. Our patient satisfaction scores have remained over 90% and the subjective feedback we receive is overwhelmingly positive. In addition, this technology has allowed us to support a broader community of patients and families as well as our Orange County schools by providing COVID-19 support and education when and where it is most needed. Connecting is always important, but it has never meant more to our community, and to us, than it does now!”

Grace Magedman

Grace Magedman, executive director of pharmacy

I am very proud of and extremely grateful for everyone involved in launching our prescription delivery service during the state’s spring lockdown. The flexibility, compassion and innovation demonstrated by staff across multiple departments and by our supporters, Hyundai Motor America and Russell Westbrook Hyundai of Anaheim, resulted in a valued resource that helped safeguard the community we serve, especially the most medically fragile members. 

christopher-min-pediatric-psychologist-choc-childrens

Dr. Christopher Min, pediatric psychologist

Despite the challenges that 2020 has brought, I find myself even more thankful than years past. I am so very thankful for my wife and two little girls, as well as the little furball we recently welcomed into our family. I am also grateful for each of my team members who have come together to offer mental health services in a primary care setting; for fighting the front lines against mental illness in children; and for the way they have grown in their hearts of service, all amidst a global pandemic. I am reminded of the strong bonds that I have with trusted partners at CHOC across mental health, primary care, clinical staff, and CHOC at Mission Hospital. And I am most grateful for the privilege of serving the most vulnerable among us, our children.”

Korbin, age 6, CHOC patient

CHOC clinical associate

Ashlynn Graham, clinical associate

After a year of uncertainties and a new normal, it can be hard to find the good in what 2020 has thrown our way. This year and every year, I am blessed with my family and our health. I am grateful that I have had the ability to work at both CHOC Hospital, and CHOC at Mission Hospital. I am also thankful for all the first responders that have continued to give to those in need during these unthinkable times.

Clavis Foundation

Clavis Foundation’s Tusdi Vopat and Stuart McClure. Tusdi is also a member of CHOC Foundation’s Board of Directors

“We are extremely blessed and grateful for many things, including the privilege to work with CHOC. Their tireless commitment and dedication to the health and well-being of our children is what inspires us all to strive and support such a great institution. Never before has CHOC, or anyone, been met with such extreme challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, CHOC and its staff continues to put patients first, keeping families and healthcare workers safe, and understanding the increased challenges of mental health during this time. We are honored to be part of this amazing team and look forward to a stronger and brighter future ahead for all of us.”

Colleen Smith CHOC nurse

Colleen Smith, manager of clinical programs, CHOC at Mission Hospital

“As I walked through the CHOC at Mission Hospital doors the morning of Sept. 11th, 2020 I took out my phone to text my hiring manager, still a longtime friend, to say, ’20 years ago today I walked through these doors for the very first time thanks to you.’ I had no idea all those years ago what my nursing career would look like so many years later. I am filled with gratitude every day, not only for the opportunities I have been given but, also for the joy I feel working at CHOC at Mission. Not everyone can continue to say they love what they do 20 years later. I consider that a true blessing! Thank you, CHOC at Mission and the entire CHOC healthcare system,  for always believing in me and growing me into the nurse I am today. I feel honored to be a pediatric nurse in my community”

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CHOC neurosurgeon reflects on 2020, community impact

Dr. Joffre Olaya, a CHOC pediatric neurosurgeon, was recently named one of Orange County’s 25 Most Influential by Modern Luxury magazine. In this Q&A, he shares more about what he’s learned from 2020, the privilege of caring for a vulnerable population, and his work with as medical advisory chair for Make-A-Wish Orange County and the Inland Empire.

dr-joffre-olaya-choc-pediatric-neurosurgeon
Dr. Joffre Olaya, a CHOC pediatric neurosurgeon

How would you describe your mission?

As a husband and father, my personal mission is to keep my family safe, healthy and happy. As a pediatric neurosurgeon and physician leader, I want those same essential things for everyone else in the community. I support CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children, as well as Make-A-Wish’s mission to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.

How does your work help the community?

I take pride in working alongside the incredible team of clinicians at CHOC’s Neuroscience Institute. Every day, we have the privilege of caring for the most vulnerable population. Shouldering this responsibility propels us to deliver the best possible care to our patients facing neurological disorders. I’m humbled that parents entrust us every day with their children’s medical care. I’m excited about the leading-edge technology at our fingertips making pediatric neurosurgical procedures safer and less invasive.

I also value my role as medical advisory chair for Make-A-Wish Orange County and the Inland Empire. From treatment to making a wish come true, I am involved in every step of a child’s journey inspiring hope. I’m a firm believer in the mind-body benefits of a wish — it truly brings a renewed energy to a child and is a critical part of their healing process.

What do you hope the world learns from these challenging times?

I hope we all realize how resilient we truly are as a community. Medical providers have quickly adapted to new guidelines amid a pandemic to continue providing safe, quality care for patients. Parents and caregivers have taken on additional responsibilities while trying to keep their families safe. Our community is learning to juggle even more than we already were.

What is your 2020 motto?

Appreciate the little things. Our lives have changed from having the freedom and safety of going anywhere, seeing anyone and doing anything. Now, for everyone’s safety, we go only where necessary, limit social interaction, — even from family, — and restrict our activities to keep our community healthy. I have learned to “stop and smell the roses.” I appreciate Sunday breakfast with my kids, a morning walk with my wife before work, the beauty of nature during those walks, and the refreshed feeling after getting a good night’s sleep.

What do you recommend to those that want to follow in your footsteps?

Set a goal, make a plan, find mentors and work hard to achieve your dream. Having grown up in poverty, I never would have imagined doing what I get to do today as a pediatric neurosurgeon. I love what I do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I have the opportunity to help others on a daily basis. I believe that devoting my life to helping others is the most rewarding thing I can do with my life.

What has been your silver lining this year?

The pandemic has forced us as a society to slow down. Personally, this has given me the opportunity to prioritize what is truly important. I have focused on spending more time with my family and taking care of my own health. Having limited travel options, I have truly enjoyed spending more time outdoors and hiking locally.

What does the world need more of now?

Hope. It is a scary time right now with people feeling threatened with their health and personal safety. After the realization of the pandemic, society has learned that our sense of reality can change in an instant and things are uncertain. Working at CHOC and with Make-A-Wish I have learned to appreciate how much hope can improve the outcome of a person’s life.

Learn more about CHOC's Neuroscience Institute

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A day in the life of a pediatrician

By Dr. Rei Tosu, a CHOC pediatrician

I’m a board-certified pediatrician at Los Alamitos Pediatrics, part of the CHOC Primary Care Network. I’ve been a pediatrician for 18 years and chose pediatrics because I love working with children. I feel that I can have the most positive impact on the health and development of my patients when I start taking care of them from day one.

Here is a typical workday for me.

6 a.m. — My alarm goes off. Most days, I’m able to forgo the snooze button and wake up the first time, mostly because I don’t want to be woken up by my alarm twice! I take a shower and make a hearty breakfast. I grew up with the idea ingrained in my head that breakfast was the most important meal of the day and I have continued to enjoy a hearty breakfast through my adult life. My husband usually leaves earlier than I do, but I wait for the kids to come down one by one and we eat breakfast together, going over the day’s schedule and making sure everyone is set for the day.

8:05 a.m. — I get into the office before my first patient is scheduled in order to give myself time to get ready for the day. I look through my email inbox, check my voicemail for messages that need to be returned and handle prescription refill requests that may need to be sent. This morning, I have a voicemail from the parents of a 13-month-old about his diet and transitioning from formula to milk. I notice in his chart that he has not had his 12-month well-check yet. I call the parents back and after addressing their questions, I ask them why they hadn’t brought him in for the 12-month checkup. They share with me their concerns about bringing their baby into the office during the pandemic, and I reassure them that it is safe to bring the baby in, that we have taken extensive safety precautions, and that it is in the baby’s best interest to keep up with their visits and their vaccines. The parents then ask that I transfer them to the front office staff so they can schedule their appointment, and I happily oblige.

8:25 a.m. — One of our nurses lets me know my first patient is ready to be seen. It’s a six-month well check. In the mornings, I tend to see a lot of well-checks, especially the younger ones who are not yet in school. Mom tells me that he has started eating solids and I can see during his exam that he is now sitting well on his own. He seems to be growing and developing well! I talk to the mom about child-proofing the home, since the chances are good that this little boy will be mobile before his next visit. During this visit, he receives his 6-month vaccines plus the flu vaccine. Flu season is upon us and it’s important for everyone to be vaccinated against influenza., Since babies and children who are receiving their first flu vaccine need two doses, they will come in another time for the second dose. I’m looking forward to seeing this baby again during his next well-check. He will have grown so much!

10 a.m. — After seeing a few other patients for their well-checks, I notice a telehealth appointment has been added to my schedule. Our office, just like many other offices around the country, started doing more of these virtual appointments this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not all medical appointments can be conducted virtually, but for the ones that can, it is a helpful way to promote physical distancing. This particular appointment is a follow-up for a 6-year-old patient with eczema. My patient finds it intriguing to see me on her parent’s laptop screen, and she proceeds to show me her room and tell me about her stuffed animals. After a tour of her room, we eventually talk about her eczema. Her mom points the camera at all the girl’s lesions so I can take a better look and we ultimately decide on a regimen for her eczema.

12:30 p.m. — Time for lunch. Before the pandemic, sometimes I would go out to lunch with co-workers or we would have lunch brought in for meetings or trainings. Most of the time, however, I bring my own lunch and eat in the office. Although current physical distancing guidelines prohibit us from all gathering in the same room and eating lunch together the way we used to, I am eager to get back to those shared meals with my colleagues. It’s a nice time to catch up with everyone and relax a little bit in the middle of hectic workdays. Many of the doctors and staff members have been working in the office for a long time and have become a tight-knit work family.

1 p.m. — I have a little bit of time before my afternoon appointments begin, so I take the opportunity to prep the charts for the following day. I go through the list of patients scheduled for tomorrow and notice I have a 3-year-old new patient. I go into her chart and notice she has had multiple specialist visits. I spend some time reading to find out she was diagnosed with kidney cancer and has been under treatment but is now in remission. One of the advantages of being part of CHOC’s Primary Care Network is that the electronic medical record platform is the same for all CHOC providers and I am able to access notes from her CHOC specialists and studies that have been done. Even though I will be meeting this patient for the first time tomorrow, I already feel well-versed with her medical history and feel comfortable taking care of her.

1:30 p.m. — I get ready for another telehealth appointment on Zoom, this time with a pregnant mom for her prenatal consult. She is expecting a baby boy next month, and I answer some questions she has about newborn care and circumcision. It’s nice for both sides to put faces to names before we meet for the first time when the baby is delivered.

2 p.m. — My first in-person patient of the afternoon is a 15-year-old healthy girl here for a sports physical. I know many teens come just because they need their forms filled out, but these appointments are nice opportunities to make sure not only that they are healthy enough to participate in sports, but also to find out how they’re doing in school, how they’re coping emotionally during the well-known turbulent adolescent years, and to make sure they’re up-to-date on their vaccines. This particular teen I have seen since day one of her life in the hospital when she weighed just under 5 pounds. Today, she towers over me and is a competitive rower. This is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of what I do, getting to know the patients and their families, watching them grow from an infant to a young adult, and being able to take part in their journey.

4 p.m. — My last patient of the day is a 13-year-old boy with anxiety. Unfortunately, we’re seeing increasing numbers of patients, at younger and younger ages, with mental health issues. While we may refer some of these patients to our mental health colleagues, our job as the pediatricians is to be the first landing spot and a gateway for the specialists. We share a few tears, but I am glad that he has taken the first step to come see me and to talk about his issues.

5:30 p.m. — I finish updating my patients’ charts from today and head home.

6 p.m. — As I walk into my house, I can hear the familiar sound of a bouncing basketball. My 12-year-old daughter must be out in the backyard practicing again. I start cooking, my husband gets home, and we all sit to eat together. I believe it is important to eat together as a family and am grateful that we get to do that almost every night. After dinner, we are treated to a viewing of the latest production by my 14-year-old son who is a budding video editor.

7:30 p.m. — As my kids have gotten older, I have more of my own time in the evenings and have gotten better about self-care. Tonight will be a yoga night for me.

9:00 p.m. — Before bed, I get some reading in. More often than not these days, I’m reading books recommended to me by my 17-year-old son who is an avid reader.

Find a CHOC pediatrician near you

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An innovative internship approach during COVID-19

A year ago, Jenae Vancura joined an elite group of college and high school students for a unique and innovative summer internship program at CHOC. The interns shadowed physicians, joined doctors on their rounds and attended meetings with a wide range of professionals in the medical field.

The days were long. The work was challenging.

And Jenae, a 21-year-old biology major from UC Santa Barbara, is back again this year, now serving as a lead intern for the Sharon Disney Lund Medical Intelligence and Innovation Institute  (MI3) summer internship program. She now helps guide a new group of students through the rigorous program.

“But this year is a little different,” Jenae says.

Now in its eighth year, the internship has been effectively reimagined as a virtual program, a pivot quickly executed at the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic.

virtual MI3 internship meeting
Jenae participates in a virtual meeting as part of the MI3 internship.

The COVID-19 crisis emerged just as CHOC leaders and physicians were gearing up for this year’s internship program. That meant that the 63 participating students would not be able to work directly with hospital staff or go on rounds to interact with patients as in years past.

Cancelling not an option

While many internship programs have been halted worldwide due to COVID-19, canceling the MI3 internship was simply not an option, organizers say. The experience was much too valuable and too many young had worked too hard to get this far.

“Many of our interns look to our program to affirm and motivate their decision to apply to medical school,” says Debra Beauregard, director of MI3. “Nearly all of the interns aspire to become physicians.”

So, with just weeks to go, the decision was made to recalibrate the program and put the whole curriculum online.

“The easy thing would have been to postpone or cancel,” says Dr. Anthony Chang, CHOC’s chief intelligence and innovation officer who launched the program eight years ago. “We wanted to give the students the same level of opportunity. To their credit, the team stepped up and made the internship rotation on par with previous years.”

Dr. Chang started the internship because he wanted to give young people an in-depth experience of the medical field.

“I felt like no one was really doing something like this,” he says. “The students were staying with one mentor doing one assignment. That sounds like a research assignment, not an internship. I wanted to give them access to something that gave them access to a hundred mentors.”

A rigorous pace remains

Even though the pandemic has restricted access to the hospital, it hasn’t slowed the  interns’ pace. Their work schedule starts early and, with a few breaks between, doesn’t end until the evening.

“We set up a lot of Zoom meetings,” Debra says. “Our interns have a full schedule. They participated in rounds and shadowed our physicians virtually. They were even able to remotely view multiple surgeries. This was a challenge, but everyone pulled together to provide what turned out to be a great summer program.”

a virtual session as part of the MI3 internship program
MI3 interns participate in a Zoom meeting as part of their virtual internship.

Dr. Chang says that while the interns are receiving the same level of instruction, what’s missing are some of the personal interactions that come with face-to-face contact.

“Not having one-on-one time in person and not having more intimate moments in small groups is difficult for us,” he says. “For instance, in past years they’ve had one-day retreats where they come to my house for breakfast and lunch. I wasn’t able to do that this year.”

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a little fun.

“Our directors and lead interns made sure that all interns felt connected,” Debra says. “We included team-building exercises, interactive small group sessions, and even a virtual graduation ceremony. The leads even organized a virtual talent show and Zoomie Awards, in addition to a competitive team competition. Our leads have gone above and beyond to ensure that our interns had a meaningful and memorable experience.“

Dr. Sharief Taraman, internship co-director and pediatric neurologist at CHOC, has been part of the program almost since it started. He’s confident that this year’s group is better off than students anywhere else.

“They’re way ahead of their peers in terms of experience and what they can get out of the summer,” he says. “We have a lot of moving parts, so we had to pivot very quickly.”

And to ensure the interns get all the experience they can, they are being invited back next year when they are hopefully able to receive hands-on work.

“We have offered guaranteed spots for our interns next year, so they can have an in-person experience,” Debra says. “We are confident that most will be coming back.”

Student gratitude abounds

The interns themselves are grateful for the chance to continue their internships during these difficult times.

“When I thought it wouldn’t happen, I got very upset,” says 20-year-old Julia Keating from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University. “It’s such a competitive internship.”

For Jessica Octavio, a 20-year old San Diego State student majoring in microbiology, going online was positive experience.

‘’We’re lucky,” she says. “They’ve been more than flexible. The biggest thing was learning this online interface, but as far as programming goes, it’s almost advantageous for us.”

While working on site would have been ideal, Luke Arnold says he appreciates all the work the health system staff have put into making this year’s program a success.

“It’s not ideal and obviously we’d like to have this in person,” says the 21-year-old biology major from Chapman University. “But being in quarantine has given us opportunities to work in group settings. We’re all in this together.”

For intern Nicole Fraga, working from home has had some surprising benefits.

“It can be a very rigorous process,” says the 22-year-old recent graduate from Brown University. “But ironically, I think they’re getting closer to the interns online because we are meeting in small groups. We are able to communicate on Slack and share memes. We have a smaller community.”

Dr. Chang calls the internship a “circular experience.” The health system staff, he says, learn as much from the students as the students do from the physicians.

“We’re grateful that the interns are even more inspired to go into medicine despite the pandemic,” he says. “It’s very heartwarming to hear. The future of medicine is in good hands. I see the interns push back against the temptation to give up. They have the idealism and no fear of failure.”

Learn more about CHOC's MI3 internship

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How being an athlete prepared me to be a nurse

elyse-shelger-rn-choc-childrens

By Elyse Shelger, registered nurse at CHOC

In my life before nursing, I was a soccer player. I started playing the game when I was 4 years old. It shaped my childhood and taught me more than I realized at the time. In high school, I learned from incredible coaches and teammates, and then had the honor of playing for one of the top college programs in the country, Santa Clara University. When you practice something day after day, those movements, patterns, principles and lessons eventually become ingrained in your mind, body and soul. You don’t always notice they are there since they become part of you gradually, until you are forever changed.

As an adult, I often am reminded of certain guidance my coaches imparted and recognize why I do certain things the way I do. A large part of my mentality, behavior and beliefs have been shaped by the game of soccer, my life-long teammates and my undeniably great coaches. These are a few lessons that have shaped me as a person and as a nurse, and how I apply them in my world today.

In my new life, I am a nurse. I am not just a nurse when I am working a shift at the hospital. I am a nurse every day, always, at all times. I grew up learning that success comes when you commit yourself fully, on and off the field. I was also taught a great deal about accountability and personal responsibility. Why blame teammates or others when things get tough? We all must do what we can to make a difference. We each have to do our part. When I began working at CHOC Hospital, I took an oath to defend childhood. As an athlete, the word defense runs deep. Every team needs goal scorers— we need people to take action and move things forward, innovate, be creative, solve problems and think outside the box. This is what medical professionals do every shift, and some say a good offense is the best defense.

“Off the field,” I am still a nurse.

In team sports, you learn about selflessness. It becomes second nature to do what’s best for the team as a whole, to give 100% for each other, to have each other’s backs, and to fight selflessly until the last whistle. As a nurse, when I clock out after a long shift and I’m driving home, I relive each play in my mind, whether I won or lost that game, knowing I gave it my all. Sometimes no matter how well the team prepares, and how well you perform together, you can be defeated by a really strong opponent.

Currently we are in the middle of a big game. Our opponent is COVID-19. In our communities, some people are so terrified of losing that they are paralyzed with fear. Others have heard the opponent isn’t as formidable as people claim, so they grossly underestimate it as a threat. This is where risk lies. We must prepare properly. We must come to the game ready to play hard. We must give 100%. We must not lose focus.

What we do off the field matters. I will wear my mask to do my part to contribute to our team’s defense. I will speak responsibly and not spread misconceptions. I will encourage those around me to be safe as well because we are all in this together. If some team members decide they don’t really need to train for this game because it will be an easy one that can hurt all of us.

We don’t yet know what the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic will bring. Maybe this is half-time, or maybe we’re at another point in the game. But we know the game is not over yet. Do not let up now — not if you feel tired, and not if you feel like we are already winning. The game isn’t over.

Please don’t confuse my care for fear. I believe and have confidence we can win the game if we all come out to play our best, with and for each other.

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