Why One Mom Is Thankful for CHOC This Year

By Karen Stapleton, CHOC parent and mom of Noah

Happy Thanksgiving! My name is Karen Stapleton, and my son Noah is a patient at CHOC Children’s. As I prepare to celebrate the holidays with my family, I’m grateful we can be together since we have so much to celebrate. I’m also grateful for Noah’s many doctors and nurses at CHOC because without them, my son wouldn’t be alive.

Noah’s birth story

When I was 29 weeks pregnant with Noah, we learned that he had Down syndrome. Another prenatal ultrasound showed an abnormality in his heart, and we were referred to Dr. Pierangelo Renella, a pediatric cardiologist at CHOC, who diagnosed Noah with tetralogy of fallot, a serious heart defect that causes poor oxygenated blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body. I was scared, but having been a CHOC patient myself as a child, I knew my son would be in good hands.

Karen and Noah in the NICU, shortly after Noah was born
Karen and Noah in the NICU, shortly after Noah was born

On July 27 of last year our lives changed forever— Noah was born! I chose to deliver at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange so that my son could be as close to CHOC as possible. When he was born, there were so many doctors and nurses around. I saw Noah quickly enough to give him a kiss before he was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at CHOC.

Shortly after birth, Noah’s care team also diagnosed him with Apert syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes certain bones to fuse early. For Noah, that was his skull, fingers and toes.


A series of surgeries begins at 3 days old

Noah’s first surgery happened just three days after he was born. Due to the complexity of Noah’s conditions, the surgery was a team effort from multiple CHOC specialties. Noah’s gastroenterologist Dr. Jeffrey Ho; his team of cardiologists Dr. Renella, Dr. Michael Recto, Dr. Anthony McCanta, and Dr. Gira Morchi; his pulmonologist Dr. Amy Harrison; his otolaryngologist Dr. Felizardo Camilon; and the entire NICU team came together to prepare him and get him through that surgery.

It was a success, and 31 days after he was born, Noah finally came home! Weekly trips back to CHOC’s clinics included visits to gastroenterology, pulmonary, cardiology and craniofacial specialists. It was another team effort to prepare Noah for a second open heart surgery that he would eventually need.

Noah and his cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Richard Gates

But a few weeks later, Noah had respiratory complications, which lead to an emergency open heart surgery at just 2 ½ months old. Thanks to Noah’s cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Richard Gates, and Noah’s fighting spirit, he was able to come home shortly after surgery.

Celebrating Christmas at CHOC

Just days before Christmas last year, Noah had to be admitted to CHOC for respiratory failure. It was scary to see my baby sedated for 19 days. Dr. Juliette Hunt, a critical care specialist, recommended that Noah undergo a tracheostomy, where a small opening is made in his windpipe and a tube is inserted to help him breathe. Making a decision like that is hard and scary for a mom, but I had complete trust in Noah’s team, and if they knew it would help Noah breathe easier, then I knew it was the right thing to do.

Noah celebrated his first Christmas at CHOC

After that, Noah started to thrive. He gained weight and became strong enough for his next open heart surgery with Dr. Gates. After a mere six days in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit following this surgery, Noah got to come home again!

Even when Noah is doing well, sometimes it can be scary to care for him when he’s at home. During one of our hospital stays, I confided this fear in one of Noah’s favorite nurses, Karissa. She gave me specific tips on what to do during his tummy time and baths, and gave me the courage to care for my son. She encouraged me, and reminded me that CHOC wouldn’t advise me to do anything that wasn’t safe.

Noah and Karissa, a registered nurse at CHOC

Noah’s first birthday

All of this is a lot for a little baby to go through before his first birthday, but Noah has always surprised us and pulled through. Celebrating his first birthday meant more than celebrating his first year of life; it meant celebrating every fight Noah had won over the last year, and it meant appreciating a milestone that at times we thought we might never reach. We decided a super hero theme was perfect for his party because we think of Noah as our little super hero.

Noah celebrating his first birthday

After his birthday, Noah continued to flourish and grow! He started rolling over and actively playing, and he has not stopped smiling.

This progress allowed us to prepare for his next major surgery, a frontal orbital advancement, to reshape his skull and forehead that has fused too early due to Apert syndrome.

Before surgery could begin, the doctors needed to cut Noah’s hair to make a safe incision in his skull. We marked another one of Noah’s milestones at CHOC— his first haircut!

Noah received his very first haircut at CHOC from his neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Muhonen, prior to a skull surgery.
Noah’s very first haircut happened at CHOC. He received it from his neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Muhonen, prior to skull surgery.

With the expertise of his neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Muhonen and his plastic surgeon Dr. Raj Vyas, and a very short stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Noah came home again! After yet another successful surgery at CHOC, his brain can now continue to grow.

Noah has more hurdles and additional surgeries ahead of him, but even with how much he’s fought, he continues to smile. He’s not cranky and he doesn’t cry. He’s enjoying every single day he gets to be here – and that’s the life he has taught me to live too.

If Noah’s care team ever needs a reminder of why they do what you do, I tell them: My son would not be here today if it were not for each and every one of them here at CHOC. And for that, my family will be forever grateful.

Related posts:

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


“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.”

Related posts:

CHOC Children’s Gives Thanks

The community of physicians, staff, patients and special visitors at CHOC Children’s has much to be thankful for this year. In addition to launching our Trauma Center and our Mental Health Initiative, we’re thankful to be able to offer best-in-class care to kids in Orange County and the greater community. A few members of our CHOC family share what they are most thankful for this year.

Berkeley, Pet Therapy Dog 

Pet therapy dog“I am so grateful for the privilege of visiting patients and families at CHOC Children’s. No bone, dog park visit, or belly scratch brings me as much happiness as seeing a smile stretch across a patient’s face when I visit. Thanksgiving especially reminds me that the CHOC canine crew is one lucky pack!”

Kimberly Chavalas CripeKim Cripe
President & CEO

“I am grateful for the privilege of working alongside the most compassionate, dedicated and brilliant team of clinicians and staff. I have the honor of witnessing our physicians, researchers and nurses advance innovative and life-saving care, securing bright futures for our community’s children. And I am humbled by the courage of our patients, who inspire me each and every day to push the limits of what is possible for them and their families.”

David DukesDavid Dukes
Chair, CHOC Children’s
Board of Directors

“I am thankful to reside in a county that is home to an excellent children’s healthcare system, and honored for the opportunity to help guide CHOC towards its vision to be a leading destination for children’s health by providing exceptional and innovative care.”


Melanie PattersonMelanie.PattersonIMG_0292_2
Vice President, Patient Care Services & Chief Nursing Officer

“I am thankful for the amazing patient care staff we have at CHOC.  All are committed to every patient and family that walks in the campus.”



Lindsey Clark
Child Life Specialist

“I am thankful for a wonderful team of child life specialists. I could not do my job without each one of them. Thank you for your support, encouragement, wisdom and laughter each and every day. Each of you are making CHOC a place where kids feel safe and would want to visit again.”

Choco Bear, Beloved Mascotchoco bear

“I am thankful for weak tree branches. Yes, really! If I hadn’t fallen out of that tree so many years ago and hurt my arm, I never would have met the wonderful people at CHOC Children’s. Not only did they fix me up, but they started my longtime friendships with CHOC doctors, staff, patients and families. These relationships continue to grow and deepen every day, and I am one grateful bear.”

Dr. Nick Anas
Pediatrician-in-Chief and Medical Director, PICU

Nick Anas

“As I reflect upon the last year, I am most thankful for the incredible support and confidence provided to me by both CHOC administration and the pediatric intensive care unit team of physicians, nurses, and specialty staff with whom I have worked for so many years. It’s awe-inspiring to witness and to be part of a collaboration that is committed to excellence in the care of our patients and their families. As we approach this holiday season, I am so proud that CHOC is here to protect the health of our children.”

mom of Jordin, age 8

“I am thankful for all the employees and volunteers at CHOC, and their commitment to keeping Jordin healthy, safe and happy. This year has been one of her most challenging years with sickle cell disease. CHOC Children’s Hospital and CHOC Children’s Foundation was there for Jordin and our family to help us see through some of our darkest moments. Without CHOC we would not be able to raise Jordin to be a strong healthy young lady.”

Bill Holmes, Donor

Bill Holmes

“I am thankful for my success in business because it has given me the opportunity to support wonderful organizations, like CHOC.”

Alan Ramirez
CHOC Patient, age 10

“I’m grateful for my nurses because they help me with my medicines.”




Marion Van Eeden - CCMH GP of the YearMarion Van Eeden
Clinical Nurse, Pediatrics,
CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

“I’m so thankful for the privilege to work at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital and for being a part of such a wonderful team that provides excellent family-centered care for our pediatric patients. “

Related articles:

What are you Thankful for this Thanksgiving?

ThanksgivingNot a day goes by that I am not grateful for CHOC Children’s, its doctors and nurses, and all my friends I’ve met there in the last 50 years.

But, as Thanksgiving approaches this week, I am feeling especially thankful that Orange County and neighboring areas have a premier children’s hospital right in their backyard. With two hospital campuses, the region’s only pediatric-dedicated emergency room, and a handful of specialty and primary clinics, CHOC Children’s is ready when you need them.

But, I am also thankful for other things. Like honey. Who’s with me? Tell me what else you’re thankful for this week. Post it in the comments section, or let me know on social media with the hashtag #thxCHOC.

And, of course, on behalf of all of my friends at CHOC, I wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving.

Traveling this Thanksgiving?

If so, you won’t be alone on the road — more than 43 million Americans are expected to travel for Thanksgiving, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) projections.  It’s also estimated that most people drive rather than fly to their holiday destinations. While traveling can be a fun experience for the whole family, it can also pose some challenges if you don’t plan in advance, especially if you are traveling with little ones. Before you hit the road, make sure you check out these easy tips recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), to help ensure a smooth ride for everyone:

• Always use a car safety seat for infants and young children. All infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat until 2 years of age or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by the car safety seat manufacturer. Once your child has outgrown the rear-facing height or weight limit, she should ride in a forward-facing car safety seat. Updated recommendations on safe travel can be found on the AAP parenting web site .

• Most rental car companies can arrange for a car safety seat if you are unable to bring yours along.
• A child who has outgrown her car safety seat with a harness (she has reached the top weight or height allowed for her seat, her shoulders are above the top harness slots, or her ears have reached the top of the seat) should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s seat belt fits properly (usually when the child reaches about 4′ 9″ in height and is between 8 to 12 years of age).
• All children under 13 years of age should ride in the rear seat of vehicles.
• Never place a rear-facing car safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has an airbag.
• Set a good example by always wearing a seat belt, even in a taxi.
• Children often become restless or irritable when on a long road trip. Keep them occupied by pointing out interesting sights along the way and by bringing soft, lightweight toys and favorite music for a sing-along.
• Plan to stop driving and give yourself and your child a break about every two hours.
• Never leave your child alone in a car, even for a minute. Temperatures inside the car can reach deadly levels in minutes, and the child can die of heat stroke.
• Remember to bring water and snacks, child-safe hand wipes, diaper rash ointment, and a water- and insect-proof ground sheet for safe play outside.

For more information, including airplane safety tips, visit the AAP website and AAA website

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