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.”

CHOC Now Serving Corona

I was so lucky 50 years ago to have CHOC Children’s nearby when I fell DSC_0386out of that tree and hurt myself. Ever since, I’ve been a big fan and a grateful neighbor.

And now, my friends to the east are in luck: CHOC has expanded its medical services to Riverside County.

With the recent opening of the CHOC Children’s Health Center in Corona, children in Corona and surrounding areas will have access to quality pediatric specialty care much closer to home.

In this new, state-of-the-art facility, CHOC offers the following pediatric specialty care services in a convenient, family centered-care environment:

  • CardiologyDSC_0356
  • Pediatric Surgery
  • Pulmonology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine
  • Diabetes
  • Gastroenterology
  • Rheumatology
  • Orthopaedics

Lucky for my fellow tree climbers, patients will also have access to X-ray services on select days, as well as diagnostic services.

CHOC Children’s Health Center in Corona is located at 854 Magnolia Ave. in Corona, CA 92879.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For scheduling and authorizations, call 888-770-2462.

 

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.

 

Thank You, CHOC Volunteers!

This week, National Volunteer Week, provides us withBetty Keith-cropped_1 a formal occasion to recognize volunteers at CHOC Children’s. But not a day goes by that CHOC staff, physicians, patients, families and I don’t recognize the important work that volunteers do here.

CHOC is so lucky to have more than 1,100 awesome volunteers who spend more than 9,000 hours a month providing services ranging from office work to cuddling tiny babies.

I want to introduce you to one volunteer in particular: Betty Keith. She and I became friends in 1983, when she first started volunteering at CHOC. Thirty years later, Betty still volunteers once a week and has logged more than 19,400 hours at CHOC.

Q: When did you start volunteering at CHOC and why?
A: I started in June 1983. I love children and I wanted to help them as much as I could.

Q: Tell me about the various work and roles you’ve performed in your time at CHOC.
A: I’ve been all over. I worked in the volunteer office, filed papers in the associate health department, and helped in the gift shop. I’ve worked on the floors, answered phones in the administrative office, and worked with cancer research. I’ve done a lot. All the employees and other volunteers I’ve met through the years are wonderful.

Q: CHOC sure has changed since you first started, right?
A: Oh, my goodness. It has changed so much. It’s a beautiful hospital.

Q: Have you volunteered at other places too?
A: The most important to me is CHOC, but I also volunteered at the city clerk’s office, the library, the Sergerstrom Center for the Arts and South Coast Repertory. I first helped in my kids’ schools. Helping children was important to me, and my husband didn’t want me going out into the working field. I had to do something.

Q: How much longer can CHOC count on your service?
A: I have told everyone that I was going to quit at 20,000 hours. Volunteering keeps you going. You’re getting paid indirectly by the help you give and the satisfaction you get.

Q: When you’re not at CHOC, what else do you like to do in your free time?
A: I go to Bible study, and go to the movies once a week with friends and out to lunch. I have two children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Thank you for your tens of thousands of hours of service, Betty! Learn more about volunteer services at CHOC.

Choco Bear’s Evolving Style

CHOC Children’s and pediatric health care have changed so much since 1964. And I suppose that I have as well.

I was looking at old photographs recently and realized that I’ve had quite a few looks in the last 50 years. Can you blame a bear for trying? When you’re friends with all the folks at CHOC, it makes perfect sense that I’d want to look my best.

Check out a gallery of my various looks in the last 50 years. What’s your favorite?