Three CHOC Caretakers Shave Heads, Raise Awareness for Pediatric Cancer

Meet three members of the CHOC Children’s care team who recently shaved their heads to raise awareness and research funds for pediatric cancer.

Erika Crawford, RN, Oncology

pediatric cancer

“I used to work in Portland, Oregon as a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse and it was just part of the nursing culture there to at least participate once in this process. As the clippers were shaving my head in 2010, I found that it was a very emotional experience. I imagined the many patients I had taken care of that had experienced the same thing. At work, the patients and parents verbalized gratitude and some parents were inspired to shave their own heads for their children. I told myself then, that I would like to participate in another head shaving event once again in my lifetime.

Not only is it a great way to raise awareness and much-needed funds for pediatric cancer research, but it’s a way for nurses to participate in their patient’s journey. Our patients don’t get a choice in losing their hair (which is a very difficult thing to experience), but as a nurse we can choose to join them in a small way on their journey by choosing to experience being bald.

Even though I have been down this road before, I still struggle internally with my approaching baldness. However, those same insecurities, feelings and fears are experienced by our young patients. I think it’s important to walk with them on this journey in some way shape or form.”

Karen DeAnda, RN, CN Oncology

pediatric cancer
Inspired by the oncology patients they care for at CHOC Children’s, registered nurse Erika Crawford, charge nurse Karen DeAnda, and clinical associate Viri Harris recently shaved their heads to raise awareness and research funds for pediatric cancer.

“When I first met Erika, she had a cute bald noggin. She had just participated in another head shaving event to raise money for childhood cancer research. Over the years I have thought it would be something I’d like to do. When Erika told me she was participating again this year I decided it was now or never. As Erika has expressed, it is a very emotional process. When I tell people what I am doing they are absolutely amazed and shocked that I would do such a thing. This is a very small way that we can show our patients our respect for the difficult road they travel. I can honestly say that I am terrified, but also extremely proud and committed to this process. I love my job and this small gesture is one way I can give back to the wonderful children I have had the privilege of caring for here at CHOC.

I am fortunate to work with some amazing nurses who have been so generous with their donations and emotional support. My family has been fundraising on my behalf as well, and the response has just been phenomenal.”

Viri Harris, clinical associate, Outpatient Infusion Center

pediatric cancer

“I have been at CHOC for 18 months, and this is the second time shaving my head as a form of honoring the children we serve. I wanted to do something to show my love for them and to show gratitude for the way they and their families have inspired me on a daily basis. To be completely honest, I was nervous about how my head would look bald- I had an intense fear that my head would be oddly shaped. But, then I thought about how I wanted to come alongside these beautiful kids, and my nervousness went away. We witness these kids and their families struggle on a daily basis and this has inspired me to support them in any way I can. If that means shaving my head to bring awareness and raise funds, that is what I will do- it is the least I can do.”

Have you had a special nurse at CHOC? Nominate them for the Daisy Award

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Female Physicians, Hospital Leaders Observe International Women’s Day

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we are highlighting a few of our female physician and hospital leaders. They offer insight and words of encouragement to women seeking to pursue careers in medicine.

international women's day

Kerri Schiller, senior vice president and chief financial officer

Don’t ever be afraid to take a leap – work hard and do your best.  You can be and have whatever it is you strive for – you just have to be willing to work for it.

Find yourself a mentor – someone who you trust and admire.  Keep in touch and reach out when you need advice or just to say hello.

Striking a balance between career and family can be very difficult. Healthcare, in particular, is a profession where the dedication to the well-being of others is of great importance. Having good friends and/or a partner who accepts your role and who shares and supports responsibilities  allows for greater satisfaction both at home and at the job. And, of course, working with people you enjoy and like is critical to your ability to perform your job and love what you do.

Accept the fact that some days will be hard.  I keep a small folder of mementos, including expressions of thanks or acknowledgement I have received from others through the years.  Going through that folder reminds me of times of accomplishments and success, as well as recognition.  There are going to be days when you feel like there’s no one in your court; that’s the day to pull out your file and give yourself a boost.

international women's day

Dr. Maria Minon, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer

It is my hope that women professionals in healthcare and other career fields will use Women’s Day as a reminder to exceed expectations and aspire to excellence as the Professionals they are – measuring themselves against all their peers – not just a select group.

A favorite quote of mine is from Eleanor Roosevelt, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”

I encourage women to take responsibility for themselves and their choices and to rise above to become the great individuals they desire to be.

international women's day

Dr. Mary Zupanc, chair of neurology and director of the pediatric comprehensive epilepsy program

Reach for the stars!  Go for it!  Whatever you want to do, follow your passion and your heart.  Don’t settle for less.  Money should not be the significant driver.  Money does not buy happiness or satisfaction.  In medicine and other careers, it is about making a difference, making the world a better place.

international women's day

Dr. Georgie Pechulis, hospitalist

Follow your instincts. Block out anyone trying to convince you otherwise. At times, you may feel like you have to prove yourself as a woman. Persistence, focus, and determination will allow you to reach your goal, no matter how unattainable it seems.  Failure and picking yourself up to overcome is part of the process. Be patient and respectful, but also respect yourself. Always make time to do something good for yourself. Surround yourself with other strong women to reach out to.

international women's day

Dr. Christine Bixby, neonatologist and medical director of lactation services

My advice for women pursuing a career in medicine is that practicing medicine is a great joy and privilege. The hard work is well worth it. Having a medical career and family can be challenging but finding the right balance can be done with good planning and a great partner.

Go for it! Find what is your passion. Put your head down, do the work and you will definitely succeed.

When I began my career, I wish I would have known that I would find a group of wonderful, smart and supportive women who are always there (even at 2 a.m.) to pick you up and raise you up on the tough days.

Learn more about exploring a career at CHOC Children’s.





Explore career opportunities at CHOC.




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CHOC Heart Surgery Patient Joins Security Team

As the only hospital in Orange County to perform open heart surgery on babies and children, CHOC Children’s and its Heart Institute team form special bonds with the patients entrusted to their care.

Many CHOC patients come back to visit and say thank you, some send holiday cards and share school photos so their care teams can see them grow up. A few even return to CHOC as employees, eager to be part of the organization that saved their lives.

Daniel Davis was just 13 years old when Dr. Richard Gates, surgeon-in-chief at CHOC and co-medical director of the Heart Institute, performed surgery on his heart. Eight years later Daniel returned to CHOC as a security officer, helping establish a calm and safe environment at the hospital that cared for him as a teen. He has biannual checkups with Dr. Anthony Chang, pediatric cardiologist at CHOC.

Daniel was born with a subaortic membrane, meaning that his heart had tissue growth below the aortic valve. This caused partial blood flow blockage from the left ventricle, which pumps blood to the rest of the body. This put stress on Daniel’s heart, and if left untreated, could have caused heart failure.  He had already gone through his first open- heart surgery at just three days old.

“I grew up in Orange County and wanted to return to CHOC for work because it’s so close to my heart,” he says. “Growing up I wanted to pursue a career in the military, so a security position was a first step, but now I’m pursuing my EMT certification and eventually a career in nursing.”

Daniel loves working in The Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department and observing the environment.

“I’m constantly impressed by the speed and efficiency of the emergency department staff, how they work at such a high level at such a great speed,” he says. “The emergency department is filled with the unexpected and it keeps you on your toes. Since the ED is so fast-paced, you have to be ready for anything.”

Part of Daniel’s job involves escorting patients and families on campus, as well as to and from the Orange County Ronald McDonald House. On more than one occasion, he’s been able to calm a flustered parent by sharing his story. Seeing an example of the great care CHOC provides is comforting to parents in what can be an otherwise stressful time, he has learned.

When not protecting the hallways of CHOC, he participates in Spartan races, an ultra-competitive obstacle course.

choc heart surgery
When not working at CHOC, Daniel competes in Spartan Races, an ultra-competitive obstacle course. He’s never let his heart condition or past surgeries keep him from completing his goals.

“I never used my heart condition as an excuse to get out of things like physical education class growing up,” he says. “I love being active whenever possible, and encouraging my friends and colleagues in their physical fitness goals as well.”

His commitment to fitness goals does not go unnoticed by his security teammates.

“The obstacle courses Daniel competes in require your body to be pushed to a whole new level,” says Steven Barreda, security services supervisor at CHOC. “Daniel and I work evenings, and on more than one occasion, we’ve worked overtime until 2:00 a.m. and even after a 12 -hour shift, he goes to the gym to train for his next race.”

For Daniel’s surgeons, seeing a former patient grow up to live a normal, healthy life is a joy. Being able to call him a colleague is even better.

“Daniel is fortunate to have a surgically curable condition that when treated properly and timely should allow him a completely healthy and long life, and it’s great that he leads such an athletic lifestyle,” Dr. Gates says. “We have a few patients and parents of patients who work at CHOC. It’s always great and inspiring to hear stories of how they are doing and getting along.”

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Meet Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek

CHOC Children’s wants its patients and families to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist who has been on staff at CHOC for five years. Dr.  Piroutek graduated from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency at CHOC Children’s and a pediatric emergency medicine fellowship at Loma Linda University Medical Center. She’s also an assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine at Loma Linda University.

Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek
Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek

Q: What are your special clinical interests?

A:  I am especially interested in pediatric trauma, environmental injuries, and endocrine emergencies.

Q: What are some new programs or developments within your specialty?

A:  CHOC’s emergency department became a level II pediatric trauma center in 2015. We are the only trauma center in Orange County dedicated exclusively to kids. Or trauma team consists of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, radiology technicians, respiratory therapists, social workers, child life, and a hospital chaplain.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?

A:  Abdominal pain (from gastroenteritis to appendicitis), seizures, traumatic injuries (lacerations, closed head injuries, fractured arms and legs), and respiratory illnesses (bronchiolitis, asthma, and pneumonia).

Q: What would you most like patients and families to know about you or your division at CHOC?

A:  At CHOC, our emergency department is staffed with fellowship-trained pediatric emergency medicine specialists. Our dual training makes us especially knowledgeable and skilled in caring for your child during their visit. CHOC Children’s is the only emergency department in Orange County that exclusively treats children. Treating children in an environment created especially for them makes what could be a scary experience into something more enjoyable.

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

A:  CHOC delivers the highest level of pediatric care while embracing and caring for the entire family.

Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor? 

A:  In high school I volunteered in a community hospital in the labor and delivery unit. I really enjoyed being part of a family’s joyous occasion. In college I volunteered in the emergency department and marveled at the fast pace, acuity and unpredictably of what the next patient’s case would bring. My academic love for science and solving problems made becoming a physician a very natural fit.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?

A:  I honestly don’t know. Once I decided that I wanted to be a doctor, I never really considered anything else. I put all of my energy and focus into medicine.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?

A:  I like spending time with family and friends and traveling. I am also an avid Anaheim Ducks hockey fan.

Q: What have you learned from your patients? 

A:  Children are brave and have a remarkable capacity for resilience. This is evident in the child that sustains a broken leg playing soccer and is unafraid and eager to play again. Or the teenage cancer patient that is most concerned about how their family is being affected by and is dealing with their illness. My patients are humbling and help me to be a better person.

Q: What was the funniest thing a patient told you?

A:  Kids say funny things all the time. One of my favorites was a little 4 year old girl that had ingested coins and they were stuck in her esophagus. When I asked her what happened she shrugged her shoulder and with a mischievous look in her eyes said, “I ate the money, I’m not supposed to eat the money.”  Also recently a patient told me I looked like Snow White (which I don’t) and she called me Dr. Snow White the whole time I took care of her.

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Meet Dr. Kushal Bhakta

In recognition of prematurity awareness month, we’re highlighting Dr. Kushal Bhakta, medical director of CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit (SBU).

Dr. Kushal Bhakta
Meet Dr. Kushal Bhakta, medical director of the small baby unit at CHOC Children’s

The Small Baby Unit – the first of its kind – opened in 2010. The special 12-bed unit within our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is designed for babies born at less than 28 weeks gestation or who weigh less than 1,000 grams. The space is designed to aid in babies’ development with dim lighting and low noise levels, mimicking the womb’s environment as closely as possible. The unit is also nurturing for patients’ families. Since they are going through many of the same experiences, families are able to bond and support one another.

“It’s an amazing blessing to be part of these families’ lives. So many parents write to us and send pictures long after they’ve left the hospital. There is a mutual respect, and they become part of our extended family,” Dr. Bhakta says.

Board certified in pediatrics and neonatal-perinatal medicine, Dr. Bhakta is part of a specialized, highly trained team at CHOC. He owes the success of the unit to his team, he says.

“It’s inspiring to see the team’s passion for the lives of these babies,” Dr. Bhakta says. “From nurses to respiratory therapists, and all other disciplines, everyone on the team takes care of our patients like they were their own children.”

The highly committed team is improving quality and outcomes in extremely low birth weight infants. Impressive outcomes from the two years before and four years after the SBU’s opening in March 2010 include:

  • Significant reduction in chronic lung disease of prematurity.
  • Significant reduction in the rate of hospital-acquired infections.
  • Significant reduction in infants being discharged with growth restriction . These factors are linked to cognitive and physical disabilities.
  • Reduction in the average number of laboratory tests and X-rays per patient.

Dr. Bhakta’s vision for the SBU is to be recognized nationally and beyond as the premier destination for the care of extremely preterm infants. Dr. Bhakta and his team have hosted many hospitals interested in modeling their units after CHOC’s SBU. As leaders in their field, the team hopes to continue to improve patient outcomes.

“We’ve come so far in how we treat this patient population, he says. “We don’t want to only adapt knowledge, but create the knowledge and help set standards of care for these patients.”

Dr. Bhakta received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine and completed his pediatric residency and neonatal-perinatal fellowship training at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston, Texas. He later joined the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital as assistant professor of pediatrics, where he also obtained an advanced certificate in teaching through the Educational Scholars Fellowship Program.

Dr. Bhakta has received several awards throughout his career, including “Super Doctors Southern California Rising Stars” in 2014 and 2015.

In his spare time, this dedicated physician enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.

Learn more about CHOC Children’s Small Baby Unit.

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CHOC Children’s Physicians, Staff Share What They’re Thankful For This Thanksgiving

In celebration of Thanksgiving, members of the CHOC Children’s family express what they’re most grateful for this year.

thanksgiving at chocMary Green 

Registered nurse in the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s

“I could list 100 reasons why I am thankful for CHOC. I’m thankful to work at a place with such visible growth: in the number of available treatments, in the percentage of children that are surviving cancer, in relationships between patients, family members and staff; and growth visible in children as they begin to believe how strong they truly are. Even more so, I am thankful that CHOC is passionate about celebrating growth and takes pride in celebrating all of the little things.”

thanksgiving at chocDr. Joanne Starr

Medical director, cardiothoracic surgery

“I’m grateful to be part of an innovative pediatric hospital and for CHOC’s commitment to providing patients and families with access to the best neonatal and open-heart surgery in Orange County.”

thanksgiving at chocDana Sperling

Social worker, NICU

“I am thankful for two amazing teams I am privileged to be a part of:  the social services team and the Neonatal Intensive  Care Unit (NICU) team.  The compassion and dedication of both teams makes me proud to work along side them day after day, delivering outstanding care to patients and families.”

 

thanksgiving at chocDr. Kenneth Grant

Chair of gastroenterology 

“I am thankful to be working for an organization that creates an environment where our patients become our family. I am also grateful that CHOC Children’s has the foresight to invest in the innovative ideas we have to improve the health care we provide. ”

thanksgiving at chocDr. David Gibbs

Medical director of trauma services

“I am thankful for the trust of our patients and families. With the strong support of the hospital and the community, our Level 2 Trauma Center is proud to care for children in Orange County.”

thanksgiving at chocJoani Stocker

Volunteer

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to bring smiles and laughter to our patients through Turtle Talk and the playrooms. Laughter is medicine to the bones, and I am humbled to be a part of the healing. My cup is overflowing with joy when I see a patient giggle and play.”

thanksgiving at chocDr. Daniel Mackey

CHOC Children’s pediatrician

“I am thankful for the opportunity to be partnered with an excellent children’s hospital. I am also thankful for the pleasure of working with other positive people who provide outstanding care to the children of Orange County. Together we work to improve the care and services we deliver to our most important resource…our children.”

thanksgiving at chocDr. Gary Goodman

Medical director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

I am most grateful to the people behind the scenes at the hospital that do all the invisible jobs that are so important to keep CHOC Children’s running: the housekeepers, lab and x-ray technologists, bio-medical engineers, pharmacy technicians, scrub technicians, security guards and maintenance staff that work tirelessly, 24-hours a day.”

thanksgiving at choc

Dr. Raymond Wang

Metabolic disorders specialist

“I am thankful that CHOC cares for families and children with rare disorders by supporting clinical trials and translational research, and the staff who care for these families, to find treatments and cures for their conditions.”

thanksgiving at chocEric Mammen

Lead music therapist

“I am grateful that I get to witness the transformative powers of music with amazing patients and families everyday here at CHOC. So very grateful for the generous donors that continue to support our growing music therapy program. Without them we would not be able to impact the families and help them face incredible challenges with courage, smiles, and a song. Super grateful to be apart of writing a powerful song with a patient in response to his medical diagnosis- “To Life Live To The Fullest!” Happy Thanksgiving and I hope you get to spend some extra time with your loved ones around you.”

Matt Gerlachwhat choc is thankful for

Executive vice president and chief operating officer

“At this time of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for CHOC Children’s and the wonderful service we are privileged to provide for the communities we serve. I am thankful for the dedication and commitment of our physicians, associates and volunteers, who give the very best they have to give— their knowledge, skills, abilities, care and compassion— to make CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children a reality for so many in need, every day. I am also thankful for those that stand behind our physicians, associates and volunteers— their loved ones, who support our CHOC Children’s team to be the best that they can be, both at work and at home. I wish all of our CHOC Children’s family a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.”

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15-Year CHOC Employee Donates Wedding Dress to Create Angel Gowns

Having worked as a community educator at CHOC Children’s for 15 years, Amy Frias knows that all CHOC employees pour their hearts into their work, and would do anything they could to help a child or comfort a family.

Last spring, she saw a post on social media about a group of women dedicated to transforming donated wedding dresses into bereavement gowns for babies who are born prematurely and pass away. Amy knew immediately that she’d found the perfect use for the beautiful wedding dress she’d worn a decade ago and had been sitting in storage ever since.

donate wedding dress, angel gowns
CHOC community educator Amy Frias donated her wedding dress, shown here on her wedding day, to create angel gowns.

“That dress was beautiful, and it was worn during very happy times,” Amy says. “It’s my hope that the angel gowns created from it will bring a little bit of comfort and perhaps even peace to families in need.”

The volunteer seamstresses at Angel Gown Project of California were able to create more than a dozen angel gowns from Amy’s wedding dress. Each angel gown takes approximately two hours to create.

The angel gowns were recently delivered to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at CHOC. As a community educator, Amy has worked with a variety of families across many units in the hospital, but she’s always had a special place in her heart for NICU patients and their families.

“I often have the privilege of working with NICU families when they’re getting ready to leave the hospital and finally take their baby home, and we teach them things like car seat safety and CPR,” Amy says. “But I know that sometimes despite having the very best care, not all babies make it home.”

Dana Sperling, a social worker in CHOC’s NICU, sees this heartbreak firsthand.

“Neonatologists and specially trained nurses in the NICU do everything in their power and use the most advanced technology available to care for premature infants, but unfortunately, the reality is that not all babies make it home,” Dana says. “Anything we can do to help our families make this heartbreaking experience more cherished, we will. We’ll do whatever we can to help them.”

donate wedding dress, angel gowns
More than a dozen angel gowns were created from Amy’s wedding dress. They will go to NICU families in need.

Bereavement gowns are often the last thing on a parent’s mind when they’re faced with immense grief over the loss of a child and they are unable to focus on all the details that must be tended to.

“Some of these parents have never had the chance to dress their babies themselves due to their level of illness. Parents are so appreciative of these gowns and are quick to notice the love and energy that went into making them,” Dana says. “We are helping parents make memories at a very sacred time and it is important to remember that what we do at CHOC to save a life is just as important as what we do when a life cannot be saved.”

Learn more about the Angel Gown Project of California.

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CHOC Physical Therapy Improves Quality of Life

The American Physical Therapy Association declares the vision of the physical therapy profession as “transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.” The movement system is complex and includes various conditions of the musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and integumentary systems and their complex interaction that allows kids and teens to experience their environment and actively participate in the activities they enjoy.

How do physical therapists play into this at CHOC? You may see them addressing a wound care plan, educating a family on developmental play activities after an open- heart surgery, teaching a patient how to use crutches after surgery, helping a child balance and coordinate a multi-step task after brain surgery, or progressing the endurance and strength of a child on chemotherapy. Most of all, you will see them educating CHOC families on self-empowerment and independence.

From working with neonates who are learning to self-regulate, to high school athletes hoping to return to their sports after injuries, CHOC’s physical therapists are involved in improving quality of life for our patients and families.

Meet Amanda Traylor, a pediatric physical therapist at CHOC.

Q: What aspect of pediatric physical therapy are you most passionate about?

A: I love working with kids, and we get to work with a diverse age range. I also enjoy the multi-disciplinary collaboration of the rehabilitation department, which includes not only physical therapy, but also occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, and developmental therapy.

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

A: I am inspired by the constant striving of the care team to provide the best evidenced-based practice for our patients and families. Our staff is so involved in our community with different events, education opportunities, and training of future professionals; we really make an impact on Orange County.

Q: What have you learned from your patients?

A: My patients have taught me to focus on what is important and meaningful. Being a part of the medical field, we often establish a plan of care and goals based off the impairments we see, but ultimately it always comes down to what is meaningful for the patient and their family.

Q: What, if anything, surprised you when you became a pediatric physical therapist?

A: We don’t just treat the child; we treat the whole family. The families are truly our backbones for patient care.

Learn more about pediatric physical therapy being delivered at CHOC.

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    Stretching can often take a back seat to your general exercise routine and sport-related activities, but these are an essential part of any conditioning or physical therapy program.
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Volunteer Role Awakens Professional Calling

Every year, more than 800 CHOC Children’s volunteers provide nearly 100,000 hours of service. They pursue volunteerism for different reasons, but they all donate their time to help CHOC provide the very best pediatric services in Orange County. Some are retired community members looking to give back, and others, like Brianna, come in as high school students seeking new experiences.

Brianna started volunteering at CHOC when she was just 16 years old. She needed to complete volunteer hours as part of a school project and having grown up in Orange, she thought CHOC would be a worthy place to donate her time. Back then, she didn’t know what her eventual career path would look like. Due to her customer service experience as well as her bubbly and warm personality, she was placed as a customer service ambassador. That placement would eventually inspire her to become a registered nurse at CHOC.

Members of CHOC's customer service team celebrating Brianna's graduation from nursing school.
Members of CHOC’s customer service team celebrating Brianna’s graduation from nursing school.

“We could tell she loved working with kids and families,” says Sandra Schultz, customer service manager at CHOC. “She was a comforting presence in what can be a scary and stressful time. Her good energy was contagious, and she loved our mission statement- to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children.”

She was tasked with enhancing the CHOC patient experience by visiting patients and families to welcome them upon admittance and ensure that their non-medical needs were being met. If a need were identified, she helped facilitate a solution by providing time-sensitive and compassionate communications with the appropriate CHOC department.

Sometimes the opportunity to help a family was as small as getting a parent a glass of water.

“As a nurse now, I know that it’s the little things that matter,” Brianna says.

Her ambassador role allowed to her see a variety of environments in the hospital, which sparked her interest in nursing, particularly the pediatric intensive care unit.

“It was the most complex I’d ever seen medicine before,” she says. “But I felt like those kids were the ones I was supposed to be with, the kids who were having some of the hardest days of their entire lives.”

As a volunteer, Brianna was an avid learner and wanted to learn about every department inside the hospital. That passion for learning helped propel her through challenging coursework in nursing school, and eased her transition from volunteer to nurse when she came back to CHOC.

During stressful moments in a crucial unit of the hospital, Brianna relies on lessons she learned during her customer service volunteer days at CHOC.

“It’s important to be able to take a step back mentally when things get stressful. I’ve learned to remember where we are, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” she says.

Even after she transitioned into a nursing role, Brianna remains a part of the customer service family at CHOC. Her former colleagues-turned lifelong friends surprised her in the PICU on her birthday with a card and gift, and they celebrated her nursing school graduation right alongside her family. Every year the group reunites to participate in CHOC Walk in the Park.

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Meet Dr. Michael Recto

As an internationally-recognized expert in interventional pediatric cardiology Dr. Michael Recto’s goal is to provide world-class cardiac care. He treats children with serious congenital heart defects, and performs both diagnostic and interventional cardiac catheterization procedures.

Dr. Recto takes great pride in having worked throughout his career with some of the top cardiologists in the field. When he joined the CHOC Children’s Heart Institute in 2013, he witnessed the same level of talent and knew instantly he was in the right place, he says.

Today, Dr. Recto’s approach to delivering care is to treat his patients and their families the same way he would like his family to be treated. He has learned a lot from his patients and their families along the way, and is still surprised at the touching moments he experiences on a daily basis.

“I had a patient just the other day with an atrial septal defect and I explained to this child’s family that this particular hole between the two atria was going to be hard to close. The patient would possibly require open-heart surgery,” Dr. Recto says. “The patient’s father looked at me and said, ‘We have a lot of faith in you.’ I was indeed able to close the defect in the cath lab. When I came out of the procedure and told the entire family the good news, they stood up and applauded and the father gave me a big hug. I was not expecting that. A moment like that is one of the best things you can experience. It was truly gratifying and humbling.”

 

Dr. Michael Recto
Dr. Michael Recto

“Everyone on the CHOC team is an expert in their field. We have experts in echocardiography (fetal, transthoracic and transesophageal echo), cardiac MRI, electrophysiology and cardiac intensive care. I am proud to be part of such a talented team,” he says.

Dr. Recto enjoys spending time in CHOC’s state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization laboratorities, where he is able to diagnose problems and if needed, perform an intervention and help a patient right on the spot, he explains.

Dr. Recto is board certified in pediatrics and pediatric cardiology. He attended medical school at University of the Philippines College of Medicine, followed by a pediatric internship and residency at New York University Medical Center. He completed a pediatric cardiology fellowship at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, and a pediatric interventional cardiology senior fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, under the tutelage of Dr. Charles E. Mullins, known as the Father of Modern Interventional Pediatric Cardiology.

In addition, he Dr. Recto is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and a fellow of the Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions, among other professional organizations. He has co-authored numerous articles in publications such as Pediatrics, Pediatric Cardiology, and Journal of the American College of Cardiology, to name a few.

Long before Dr. Recto was treating serious heart conditions, however, he thought of becoming an engineer or architect. His mother asked if he had ever considered a career in medicine. Although unsure about this career path, he decided to give it a try. After his first semester as a pre-med student, Dr. Recto felt that he had never studied as much in his life, he says jokingly, and decided he better continue the hard work he had started. He was eventually accepted to the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, where only a small number of students are accepted every year. The young doctor was first exposed to pediatric patients during his rotating internship at the Philippine General Hospital, where patients with some of the most complex clinical problems are sent for care. That experience solidified his passion for pediatrics.

When Dr. Recto is not caring for patients at CHOC, he enjoys spending time with his wife, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at CHOC, and their three grown children.

Prior to coming to CHOC, Dr. Recto served as both chief of pediatric cardiology and director of cardiac catheterization at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans. Previously, he was chief of pediatric cardiology and director of inpatient transplant services at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville.

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