An Opportunity to Touch Lives Through Knowledge, Compassion

Maureen Garrett, a charge nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital, believes she gains as much from her patients and families as they do from her.

“I have learned about courage, strength, resilience, love and joy by sharing in their hospital experience,” she says. “I love seeing a family grow from the overwhelming fear they first experience with an unexpected, premature birth to a confident, competent mother and father taking their newborn home.”

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Maureen, a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at CHOC Mission.

As CHOC Mission celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, Maureen is among a special group of employees who have been with the hospital since day one. She joined the CHOC Children’s health system in 1991, when she was hired to help open CHOC Mission.

Opened in 1993, the children’s hospital operates on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. The 54-bed hospital is the only dedicated facility for pediatrics in south Orange County, surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County.

Through the years, Maureen has served in several capacities at CHOC Mission and has witnessed much evolution inside the hospital – most notably, she says, the hospital’s family – centered-care philosophy.

“The most significant change has been the dramatic shift to family-centered care where families really are viewed as part of the team, and hospital operations are designed to empower parents and facilitate their involvement in their child’s hospitalization,” Maureen says.

Maureen initially pursued a career in health care because she wanted to help others, and create a work-family balance.

“I love the opportunity to touch people’s lives through both knowledge and compassion,” she says. “In nursing, there are so many opportunities and so much flexibility. I knew it would be the kind of career that would allow me to be a parent but still allow me to grow professionally and be challenged always.”

Maureen’s enthusiasm for CHOC Mission extends far beyond mere professional pride: Her own two daughters received care in the hospital’s NICU, her own unit.

Shortly after the hospital’s founding, Maureen’s eldest daughter was born in 1994 at 32 weeks gestation and spent about a month in the NICU.

Maureen’s second daughter, just like her older sister six years before her, also arrived early, at 32 weeks gestation. She stayed in the NICU for about three weeks.

“I had trust in everybody here,” Maureen said. “I knew it was a good staff. If your baby ended up the NICU, where would you want them? I’d want her here. I had an intimate relationship with the people caring for them because I worked there.”

The experience of being a parent in the NICU influenced Maureen’s work moving forward.

“You think when you work in any area that you have a decent perspective, but once you walk it yourself, it does make you more sensitive,” she says.

Maureen knows firsthand how important having a nearby high-quality children’s hospital is for the community. And while CHOC Mission and its staff are celebrating a quarter century of serving south Orange County and beyond, no one is resting on their laurels.

“I hope that CHOC Mission will continue to grow in size and services as the community around it continues to grow,” she says. “I hope we will have a more active role in health and wellness promotion in addition to providing services for those affected by illness.”

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A Career of Helping People: Nora’s Story

Years ago, when Nora Higa was settling on a career, her main interest was helping people. She found that and more as a critical care nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital.

“I work with an amazing group of professionals,” Nora says. “We are small but mighty. Everyone pulls together with such teamwork, especially when we have particularly challenging cases. It enables us to give the best care to our patients and their families.”

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Nora, a critical care nurse at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

Nora has served CHOC Mission’s patients and families since the hospital opened its doors on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital in 1993.

Celebrating 25 years of service this month, the 54-bed hospital is the only dedicated facility for pediatrics in south Orange County, surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County.

“I’m very proud to be a part of the organization,” Nora says. “Families really appreciate the personal care they get. I met a family recently who has been in hospitals all over the place, but said they really felt the caring of the nurses and the quality of the care at CHOC Mission.”

Throughout her time with the organization, Nora has appreciated the changing technology at CHOC Mission, as well as the collaboration with Mission Hospital.

“We are privileged to continue collaborating with Mission Hospital and be part of the verified pediatric trauma team,” she says. “This has given us the opportunity to care for some challenging and interesting trauma patients which has resulted in some amazing and rewarding outcomes.”

As CHOC Mission begins its next quarter century of service, Nora looks forward to her role in ongoing efforts to advance pediatric healthcare in south Orange County and beyond.

“I hope that we will be able to continue to serve the families of south County with the highest level of care, compassion and expertise,” she says.

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CHOC at Mission Nurse Reflects on Years of Service to the Community

One of the best parts of Susan Patcha’s job as a CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital nurse is watching parents leave the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with their healthy new baby.

“What keeps me here is the smile on a parent’s face as they hold their baby for the first time,” she says. “This overwhelming joy is magnified when they unite as a family on discharge day and enter the world grinning ear-to-ear.”

CHOC Children’s is grinning this month too as CHOC Mission celebrates its 25th anniversary. Opened in 1993, the children’s hospital operates on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. The 54-bed facility is the only dedicated facility for pediatrics in south Orange County, surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County.

CHOC Mission’s stellar reputation made joining the CHOC Children’s health system an easy decision for Susan in 1999.

“I felt right at home in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and felt warmly welcomed as a part of the team,” she says. “Working with babies is the best job in the world. Working with their parents and families makes it the most rewarding job.”

Susan’s connection to CHOC Mission deepened 13 years ago. After a high-risk pregnancy requiring months of bed rest, her twins were born about five weeks early and spent eight days receiving care in the NICU at CHOC Mission.

“I felt relieved that they would be taken care of by my friends in my hospital,” she says.

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Susan today with her twins, who were cared for in the NICU at CHOC at Mission.

When she returned to work after maternity leave, Susan had a keener understanding of what her patients’ mothers were feeling and she incorporated that knowledge into her care of the entire family.

“I realized before I had no idea what these women go through and how sad it is to be separated from your child,” she says. “I tried to share a little bit of my story, so they would know that I understood and was going to help them through it, and that their baby would be OK. I think it helped me be a better nurse to go through the whole experience.”

Today, Susan wears several hats at CHOC Mission. Not only is she the discharge coordinator in the NICU, but she also provides direct patient care there and she’s the lead lactation consultant.

A desire to help is among the forces that pushed Susan toward a career in nursing. Already from a family of nurses, Susan was greatly impressed by the team that cared for her father when he suffered a heart attack decades ago.

“I was inspired and amazed by the collaborative team effort that went into caring for my dad,” she says. “The actions and words of this group of nurses, doctors, and others not only changed my dad’s life, but every member of my family and our circle of friends. It was then that I decided I wanted to be a part of the health care team.”

And Susan found her home at CHOC Mission.

“We are the experts of children in our neighborhood,” she says. “We have provided a level of care to our patients and families that I believe they don’t receive elsewhere. We strive to be better and to continue to learn new practices and improve our care.”

And now with CHOC Mission celebrating a quarter century of service to the community, Susan feels great pride.

“It’s really exciting for me,” she says. “I’m proud to have been here for 18 of those years, and I’m proud that we’ve been here for the community, and that CHOC Mission was here for my family when we needed them.”

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CHOC Physician Gains New Perspective After Daughter’s Injury

When 5-year-old Taylor Ho landed face down rollerblading, she and her mom Jennifer found themselves at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital. Several of Taylor’s front teeth were pushed under her gums, which were split open, as was her lip. The little daredevil was facing her first surgery. Jennifer, on the other hand, had plenty of experience in the hospital. In fact, she is a pediatric hospitalist at CHOC Children’s, working at the healthcare system’s two hospitals.

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Dr. Jennifer Ho, a CHOC Children’s hospitalist, found herself at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital playing the role of mom, when her daughter was injured in a rollerblading accident. Here, her daughter Taylor cuddles a beloved stuffed animal in the emergency department.

That day, as her daughter was in pre-op awaiting oral surgery with Dr. Stephen Vaughan, Jennifer was experiencing the hospital from a different perspective: that of a mother.

“It was an odd, out-of-body experience for me. I was not the one in control. It was unnerving having to place my faith in others, even though I knew Taylor was in the best hands,” recalls Jennifer.

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Dr. Jennifer Ho’s brave daughter Taylor, before heading into surgery.

Jennifer’s anxiety began to diminish after witnessing her daughter’s interaction with Felice Olguin, the child life specialist.

“Felice explained everything that was going to happen in a way Taylor could understand. She kept her calm and distracted; Taylor didn’t even feel the IV going in,” she explains.

In addition to tending to their young patient’s medical needs, the pre-op staff worked to normalize the experience by bringing in elements of play; in Taylor’s case, stuffed animals and a fun blanket. The team also let her bring her beloved “pink bunny,” a favorite of hers since she was a baby, into the operating room.

Taylor was in surgery for an hour. Several of her baby teeth were removed. Her gums and lip were repaired. She’s healing great, says Jennifer.

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Dr. Ho’s daughter Taylor was all smiles almost immediately after surgery.

Jennifer is grateful for the care her daughter received, and appreciative of how the experience enhanced her ability to empathize with her own patients’ parents.

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Just days after her accident landed her in the emergency department, Taylor was back on her beloved roller blades with a smile on her face.

“At CHOC, we pride ourselves on patient-and-family-centered care. Now, however, I bring a different perspective to discussions I have with parents, especially when it comes to what to expect. And, no matter how minor an injury or illness may be, medically speaking, it’s a big deal to a parent,” shares Jennifer.

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Dr. Jennifer Ho, a CHOC Children’s hospitalist, with her daughter Taylor.
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CHOC Nurse Follows in His Mom’s Footsteps

Growing up, Tony often heard his mom Sam talk about her job at CHOC Children’s Hospital. As a respiratory therapist, he knew that she played an important part in helping to make critically ill patients better.

When he was in fourth grade, Tony was tasked with writing a paper about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He told his mom he wanted to either join the military and be a sniper, or become a registered nurse (RN).

“I told him he was too tall to be a sniper and that he should definitely become a pediatric RN. He never wavered after that,” Sam recalls.

Fast forward to his high school biology class, when he connected with his mom over his coursework on different body systems, and some of the diseases she had seen in her 30-year career at CHOC.

“When I was younger, I would see my mom come home after work exhausted, but always with a smile on her face. She was doing what she loved and was proud that she was a CHOC employee,” Tony says. “As I got older, I saw friends’ parents stop enjoying their jobs, while my mom was still coming home happy.”

While pursuing his nursing degree, Tony was hired at CHOC as a unit assistant in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). On the 3:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m. shift, he interacted with day shift and night shift nurses and physicians, and occasionally floated to other units. He felt a strong pull towards the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) for the complex and diverse patients they care for on a regular basis.

“Initially I did feel bad for Tony because the majority of his coworkers knew him as my son, and had heard stories about him when he was growing up,” Sam recalls. “I work the day shift, and I remember the day a nurse who had just switched from the night shift asked me, ‘Are you Tony’s mom?’ I said, ‘No, Tony is my son!’ I had worked here for over 25 years at the time and he had only worked here for six months! Since then, everyone on night shift has called me Tony’s mom.”

Clinical rotations in nursing school reaffirmed Tony’s commitment to pursuing a career at CHOC.

“When I was at other hospitals, I noticed a difference in both the care team and the way they interacted with patients,” Tony says. “Later, when I was halfway through the nursing residency program at CHOC, I had a sense of pride as I bragged to my old classmates from nursing school about how amazing CHOC was and how great PICU was. I knew I had found my home.”

Sam, a respiratory therapist at CHOC Children’s and her son Tony, a registered nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit

The RN Residency Program at CHOC Children’s is an intensive 17-week program designed for new nursing graduates to help them successfully transition to becoming a professional pediatric nurse.

Since graduating from the residency program last year, Tony has already made a lasting impression on patients in the PICU and their families.

Patient and family-centered care means a lot to me. I chose pediatrics to work closely with the patient as well as the family during their scary time,” Tony says. “I tell every parent as I take care of their child, that if they feel something is wrong to tell me and we’ll explore every avenue together. I always encourage them to participate as physicians are making rounds so they feel a part of the team. Working night shift, it’s important to me that my patients’ parents trust me enough to rest and take care of themselves, as I watch over their child.”

Even though Sam knew that Tony would be a great registered nurse from the time he was young, seeing him in action has filled her with an even greater sense of pride.

“Tony has always demonstrated a strong sense of compassion and a willingness to take care of others. He has a strong work ethic and an outstanding moral compass,” she says. “When I am approached by people who have just learned he is my son and they tell me how much they love working with him, it makes my heart sing.”

In their family, the admiration goes both ways.

“Knowing that my mom is a hard worker and well-respected at CHOC makes me want to live up to her standard,” Tony says. “There have been a couple of instances where we’ve worked together and it’s exciting because I’ve long heard how amazing she is as a respiratory therapist, but I’ve gotten to see it firsthand.”

Although Sam works days and Tony is just arriving for his shift as she is heading home for the night, she takes loves whenever she has a chance to see her son in action.

“I see him at change of shift receiving reports and my smile is instantaneous. He is a delightful young man and I am proud to be his mom, thrilled to work with him and honored that he chose a profession that helps others.”

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