A Bright Future: Bill’s Story

After 50 years of care, CHOC Children’s has no shortage of inspiring people who attribute their bright futures to the hospital. I just met another: Bill Wells, who began treatment for leukemia in 1970 and is now a hospital chaplain.

Bill WellsEach and every day in his work as a hospital chaplain in Orange County, Bill Wells draws on his experience as a patient at CHOC Children’s decades ago.

“What is most important to me in this story is the memory that I have of CHOC, the people, physicians and staff,” he says. “It was always about compassion and caring and being available to children on a level that meets their needs. That has had a huge influence on me and my work as a hospital chaplain.”

Bill, now 50, began treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at CHOC in 1970 at the age of 7. A Tustin native, Bill recalls experiencing bad pain in his legs, as well as frequent fevers and colds.

Though his pain was initially dismissed by a physician as growing pains and the fevers as the flu, a second opinion led to fast admission and diagnosis at CHOC. There, Bill briefly went on the standard treatment, but then was selected for a new experimental protocol, he says.

At the time, children with ALL had a life expectancy of only two or three years, and the probability of living five or more years beyond diagnosis was zero, Bill recalled.

One of Bill’s strongest memories of his time at CHOC was listening to a nurse sing to him.

“I had the most awesome nurses,” he says. “One nurse used to sing all the time. What that said to me was that she cared a ton about me.”

After five years of chemotherapy and hospitalizations, Bill’s parents stopped therapy at his physician’s recommendation. He then began regular checkups, bone marrow aspirations, spinal taps and blood work that tapered off until he was about 19 years old.

The cancer never returned, but Bill’s experience at CHOC left a lasting impression. Possibly setting the stage for his career, Bill began serving as a mentor and friend to other young people undergoing cancer treatment at CHOC shortly after he ended therapy.

In 2002, Bill reflected on that volunteer experience when he found himself taking stock of his life’s accomplishments. Though he was enjoying a career as a successful musician, Bill wanted more meaning to his life and considered pursuing a career as a hospital chaplain.

“I kept asking myself, ‘If I died tomorrow, would I be satisfied with my life?’” he says. “My answer was no.”

Bill went on to earn two graduate degrees, complete chaplain training programs at three hospitals, and become ordained as an Episcopal priest.

When Bill began a hospital internship at UCLA, he requested to serve in pediatrics and pediatric oncology. His supervisor asked how his own experience with cancer and hospitalization would affect his work. Bill didn’t think it would do so much at all – but he quickly realized he was wrong.

“I have learned a great deal since that first, incredibly naïve day,” says Bill, who now serves as a chaplain for two Orange County hospitals. “My life, your life, our stories, have gifted us with experiences that have taught us compassion and have set us on a path of using our hands, our minds and our hearts to help others.”

Carter was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer but is now cancer free thanks to CHOC.

carterKara Kipp has been a member of the Glass Slipper Guild for the past nine years. She and her husband Matt are the proud parents of three amazing boys, Bennett, Carter and Davis.

On April 17, 2009 their son Carter, seemingly healthy 22-month old was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer called hepatoblastoma. Less than 48 hours after being diagnosed, Carter was checked into CHOC Children’s and the oncology floor became their reality. Carter’s road map of action entailed four rounds of chemotherapy, then resection surgery and liver transplant, followed by two more rounds of chemotherapy. Carter did remarkably well from his transplant and after four weeks of recovery, went into CHOC for his final two rounds of chemo. Carter is now having follow-up scans and blood work done, and everything looks great for Carter. Carter has been cancer-free for four years.

The nurses and doctors at CHOC became the Kipps extended family, and Carter still considers them his closest friends. Not having an opportunity to interact with other kids his age, he thinks it’s perfectly normal to have so many doctors and nurses as his buddies.

The Kipp Family is forever grateful for CHOC and their leadership in making their son cancer-free.

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A Bright Future: Amy’s and Emily’s story

I’m more than half way through my 50-week CHOC gratitude tour, and I just met two others who want to join me in thanking the hospital for our bright futures: Meet Amy and Emily.

Sisters Amy and Emily believe they IMAGE_2have two birthdays: the days they were born, and the days they were diagnosed with cancer before beginning treatment at CHOC Children’s.

Each day is met with equal celebration. Amy and Emily, ages 29 and 18, see the anniversary or their diagnosis – their cancerversary – as the day they began the long road toward health.

“We think that’s the day of them starting to get better,” says their mother, Denise Justiniano. “We made that day a good memory. We eat dinner together as a family and make a fun time out of it.”

Both women received treatment as children at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC. Amy spent six months in the hospital after being diagnosed with lymphoma in 2001. Diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, Emily still receives treatment at CHOC’s outpatient infusion clinic.

And today both women are moving forward: Emily graduated from high school last June and is now in her second semester at college. About seven months ago, Amy gave birth to her second daughter.

“The nurses and doctors at CHOC are amazing,” Amy says. “Not only do they offer the best medical care, but they are empathetic and caring, and offer emotional support in a way that you would expect only a friend to. If it weren’t for CHOC, I wouldn’t be here today. They made a huge difference in my life and helped me become the person that I am today.”

Watching two children battle cancer was heart-wrenching, but Denise credits CHOC staff and fellow families and patients with helping to ease the experience.

“When we first arrived at CHOC with Amy, everyone came out of their room as we were coming down the hall,” she says. “They’re were talking to us, patting us on the back. It was like a warm hug.”

And their time at CHOC made an impression on more than Amy’s and Emily’s health: Amy is a nurse at a local hospital, and Emily is pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner.

“For us, it was the nurses who made CHOC home for us and made it manageable and joked with us,” Denise says.

And CHOC’s impression has extended further into the Justiniano family: Inspired by the CHOC child life staff who helped her sisters cope with hospitalization, a third daughter, Sarah, volunteers at CHOC and is pursuing a career in the child life department.

 

A Bright Future: Pacer’s Story

There’s no shortage of cool patients in these parts, and I just met another who has CHOC to thank for a bright future.

Pacer’s first family meal didn’t happen until he was 4 years old. Until then, he ate through a feeding tube, never experiencing a Thanksgiving feast, Halloween candy or birthday cake. But thanks to his commitment and five weeks of treatment at CHOC’s Multidisciplinary Feeding Program, Pacer learned to eat, and now he can down more chicken fingers than this always hungry bear!

Meet Pacer in this video, and hear from his parents, Quinn and Mekell, about why they traveled all the way from Montana to Orange County to get Pacer the treatment he needed to ensure a bright future.

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Meet CHOC’s first patient, Ken Spicer

Of all the people I’ve met since I first visited CHOC Children’s almost 50 years ago, Ken Spicer is one of my favorites. After all, he is CHOC’s very first patient!

Ken and I go way back: He was first admitted to CHOC on Oct. 5, 1964 at age 12 because of a birth defect in his legs, and he remains a steadfast advocate CHOC almost 50 years later. Best of all, he and I are still friends.

In this video, Ken reflects on his experience at CHOC and how his time at Orange County’s only children’s hospital helped him build a bright future.

More stories about CHOC patients:

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  • CHOC Walk in the Park: Justin’s Helpers
    As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, CHOC “Walk in the Park” has raised more than $24 million to fund education, research and adoption and utilization of the latest technologies to ...
  • A Bright Future: Ian and Micah’s Story
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