Our new Information Kiosk (yes, it really is a big deal…)

Me, my hat (it was cold), Kim Lopez and two excellent volunteers showing the way.

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center just got a little easier to visit, and a little more welcoming!

We’re so proud of our new information kiosk, purchased through generous donations from VMC Foundation supporters. It’s sturdy, wired for electricity, and expertly constructed. It’s even kinda cute; you can’t see in the photo, but it has a tiny Spanish tiled roof.  I was so thrilled when it arrived last week, and was curious to learn how much of a difference it would make.

So, to find out, I spent time there today volunteering. Wow—what an education I got!

Most hospital campuses are huge and sprawling, and ours is bigger than most…and let’s face it: Most of our visitors and patients would rather be somewhere else. They arrived stressed, sick, confused, emotional—and then suddenly have to decide which building is their destination. Signage can be missed, but what cannot be is a friendly face eager to help. Our volunteers are amazing, speak many languages, and now have a station where they can provide a comforting word, a map, and the encouragement of “You’re in the right place; it’s just there, through those doors.”

In the time I spent with our volunteers today, I watched and helped them direct an elderly couple to the Sobrato Cancer Center. A frightened woman was shown our urology clinic. A man, obviously not feeling well, got to the Express Care center with no trouble. Absent our kiosk and the team inside, I’m convinced their experiences would have been less positive. I mean, it’s hard finding your way around any complex set of buildings (remember your first day of middle school)…and when you’re under the weather, it’s much harder.

That’s why, I’m convinced, that another frequent request is “Can you help me find my car?” When parking in a 5-story garage, and your mind is on a loved one who is hospitalized…well, you get the picture. We’ve all done it, and nothing takes the edge off like having someone there to help you.

This is just one more way that your public hospital is making the experience better for everyone…and we at the VMC Foundation are so pleased to have helped make this possible. If you are a donor, THANK YOU, because YOU helped make this tiny bit of new real estate a reality. And as small as it is, it’s already making a BIG difference every hour, every day.

My final interaction before I left the kiosk was a man who approached and said “This is where I get information?” I told him it was.

“Great. What’s the capital of South Dakota?”

VMC and Ekso: Helping patients walk again!


STACIE BYARS taking steps forward in the Ekso robot

VMC is one of just 60 rehabilitation programs nationwide utilizing Ekso, a revolutionary exoskeleton robot, to help patients with brain and spinal cord injuries. With its motorized legs and backpack computer, Ekso gives hope to patients who fear they will never walk again.

This technology recently made a difference for Stacie Byars, a 52 year-old Seattle-based marketing consultant. While in Redwood City on business, Stacie suffered a stroke which left her paralyzed on her left side. She was brought to VMC for acute rehabilitation.

Stacie’s rehab team used Ekso early in her therapy program. Her physical therapist, Amy Millan, DPT, explains, “Ekso can help patients like Stacie walk earlier, gain confidence and develop muscle memory.” Amy adds, “Many patients like Stacie are afraid to take those first steps. In Ekso, the robot supports them and they learn about the movements of walking with confidence.”

Stacie shared, “The first time I used Ekso, it was rough. After that, there was a big leap forward. I felt powerful! It was definitely the beginning of my walking.”

The VMC Foundation has provided nearly $75,000 for Ekso upgrades and staff training. Read more about how charitable donations are being put to good use at VMC in our Fall 2016 Impact Report.

Why is VMC so great? Teamwork!

Mature Students Sitting Together Working on Computers

It’s not every day that you get a ringing endorsement from one of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies, but today is the day.

Facebook (you’ve heard of them?) has a product manager whose son spent weeks at VMC’s renowned Burn Center earlier this year. That’s a hard place to be, obviously, but the care you can expect to get there if you ever need it is fantastic.

So much so, and so impressed was Ms. Budaraju, that she wrote a piece on what she learned about teamwork from the Burn Center. It’s a marvelous and well-written piece, and the information contained crosses nearly every job, every sector I can think of.

So, I invite you to read her excellent post and apply what she learned – what VMC’s Burn Center exhibits – to YOUR work. I know I will!

Our new Annual Report is here!

I’m proud and pleased to share our just-finished Annual Report with you! The report details the VMC Foundation’s work in calendar year 2015 and includes our audited financial statements.

More importantly, you can “meet” some of our generous donors, learn about our programmatic work, and see the real impact of philanthropy on the health of Silicon Valley. Just click here to see the report….it looks great in full-screen mode.

Odds are, if you’re reading this, you arannual report 2015e a donor, a member of the team at Valley Medical Center, or both. That means we couldn’t have done any of this without you. Thank you.

VMC Provides Specialized Care for Complex Issues

McNamara familySiobhan and Ryan McNamara became concerned when, on a Saturday in late February, their energetic eight year-old son Henry, was coughing, lethargic, and his lips were swelling. Doctors at a local emergency department tested for strep throat and flu and sent Henry home with antibiotics and steroids, but Henry didn’t respond to the drugs.

The McNamaras came to Valley Medical Center, where doctors determined that Henry had Stevens Johnson Syndrome – or SJS – a rare and serious disorder that affects the mucous membranes. Henry spent nearly a month at VMC, where staff in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit have the skills and equipment to manage the unique needs of SJS patients.

“I’ve never felt so helpless in my entire life,” shared Siobhan, “but I knew that Henry was going to be okay at VMC. They were equipped.”

Henry is now back in school and has regained the eleven pounds he lost during his illness. The McNamaras credit VMC for a speedy diagnosis of this rare disorder, and their ability to provide the special care he needed.

You can read more about this story, and see updates about our other programs, in our Fall 2015 Impact Report.

Chris Wilder injures self again, goes to VMC ED: part 2 in an (apparently) ongoing series

The dedicated reader of this blog will remember the bizarre finger accident that last led me to Valley Medical Center’s Emergency Department a few years back.

Really? Again with the finger?

Yes. But in my defense, let’s consider fingers for a moment: they are busy little appendages out at the extreme ends of human bodies, and are constantly employed to do some of the most perilous and fiddly tasks. Like cutting veggies, which we strict vegetarians do with great frequency…

If you are prone to queasiness, you’ve already stopped reading, right?

The moment the knife went from the tomato into my ring finger I knew it was not good. I grabbed a towel as half a centimeter of myself slipped down the drain, gone forever. Dinner would be late.

My lovely wife Kate trained at UC Davis in large-animal veterinary medicine, and did a job dressing the wound that impressed Matt Slater who is an expert. Dr. Slater saw me the next morning, because although Kate did her best, the bleeding persisted all night long. So that became Job #1 when I arrived at VMC at 8:45am Sunday. Here are some highlights and observations:

  • Sunday morning was surprisingly quiet, so my wait time was zero minutes.
  • The woman at the desk asked me if I’d recently traveled to West Africa – in case you had forgotten about ebola. At VMC, we have certainly not.
  • Backing up: if you want to really feel a knife wound while cutting veggies, a tomato does the trick. A lemon would have been worse, but it did get worse…
  • …because direct pressure didn’t work to stop the bleeding, so Dr. Slater used something called Surgicel. It helps clot, and stings like a scorpion.
  • While I was sucking air through my teeth in pain, Matt put his hand on my shoulder. He didn’t have to do that, but it helped a great deal and I won’t forget it. The human element of medicine is something VMC gets right, because doctors work here for the right reasons.
  • Matt didn’t prescribe antibiotics, because in all likelihood (he explained) I wouldn’t need them, and we need to control the over-prescription of antibiotics as a society. So he’s thinking not just about me, but about better health for all.
  • VMC’s electronic health record, MyHealth Online, is wonderful! However, I take umbrage with it calling my incident an “amputation”…makes it sound like I did it on purpose.

Having received top-notch care, the healing process now continues. It may be a long path, but I’ve been pointed firmly in the right direction by the great team at VMC. I won’t take time for self-pity, because I know there is a hospital full of good people with bad problems around me, making mine look pretty insignificant. And I have once again reaffirmed, based on my experience, that those people are in great hands.

Do you have a VMC Emergency Department story that makes mine sound like a trip to the Farmers Market? Do tell!


I took a photo of my injured finger as Dr. Slater was working on it. Because you may be enjoying lunch, I thought instead to post this picture of my puppy, Houla, with her favorite toy, Hornet Coleman.


Happy 30th Birthday Valley Health Plan!

Chris Wilder Flu Shot 2013

Long story short: When I first started here at the VMC Foundation, the job afforded no health coverage. Which was ironic, don’t you think?

My wife’s company did, and I was already on her plan. I don’t remember what it was, or any of my doctors’ names. That’s because the few times I ever went to see one I felt like a number (at best) or an imposition (at worst). Nobody ever got to know me, or talked to me about my overall health. Many of us have experienced the “five minute doctor visit”…and until 2006 I thought that was normal.

That was the year the VMC Foundation became a true “employer” and had to decide what kind of company we were going to be. If we were going to hire staff, we needed to offer benefits—and they’d better be good, since that’s a core value that the VMC Foundation and Valley Medical Center holds dear. We were finally ready to talk to Valley Health Plan about doing something they’d never done before: Offering coverage to a private non-profit. We were the first, and suddenly, my health care was with VHP and Valley Medical Center!

What. A. Difference.

My doctor, Chris Snow, asked me questions, and not just about me, but my whole family. Some of them went like this: “Why are you taking cholesterol medicine when you’re vegan, and when everyone on both sides of your family live into their 90’s or longer?” Other questions, like “How much time to you spend sitting at your desk?” or “What would it take to schedule some more cardio?” demanded that I truly think seriously about the answers – because by then, I had come to like and trust Dr. Snow and I wanted him to be proud of me.

Not long after, Chris Snow moved on…but not his caring manner. He left that for Dr. Bob Horowitz who inherited me next. Just like Snow, Dr. Horowitz took the time to learn about me and me about him. Rarely, he would refer me to others throughout the VHP system and always, I met world-class providers and Nurse Practitioners and X-Ray Techs and – well, everyone really. Even when I showed up at 3am with the weirdest emergency I’d ever had, I was met with compassion and technical brilliance. I still have ten fingers as proof.

Over the years, as the VMC Foundation grew from a tiny nonprofit to one more robust, Valley Health Plan has also grown. What a thrill it was when they were selected to be part of the Covered California health exchange! Suddenly, our “little” VHP was one of just a handful of choices that anyone could choose through our state’s exchange. For me, it was no choice at all; when was the last time you got to interact personally with the CEO of your health plan? For me, and “super-local” VHP, it happens frequently.

Here’s a bonus: Whenever I get medication or visit my doctor, I’m not asked for a co-pay. This isn’t always the case, but at Valley Health Plan, it certainly is the norm. Other perks include acupuncture, the widest array of specialists for whatever might ail me, MyHealth Online, and because I work here, running into my doctor in the hallway all the time. Okay, that last part has its downsides, but the occasional “getting those 10,000 steps in, Chris?” do have an effect.

And the result? I’m a healthier person for my VHP membership. I know it, and I appreciate it. Happy birthday, VHP. I’m writing this on my 48th, and I expect you and I will both have a lot more birthdays to share.