A new year, and new hope for one family…

I received a very difficult phone call three months ago. I’ll never forget it.

Now, before I tell you how this story ends, I invite you to read the following letter I received just a week ago…

Dear Chris:

Back in September of this year you received a call from a mutual friend, Dave Henderson. I think Dave explained that our 16 year old son, Christian Bauerle, sustained a serious injury in a football game and was in intensive care up at Stanford.

Christian sustained an injury to his brain stem artery which caused a blood clot and stroke. The doctors at Stanford performed emergency surgery on him to clear the clot.

We were told that if he survives they did not know to what extent he would regain his functions. At the time I spoke with Dave the doctors at Stanford thought that Christian’s best chance at recovery would be immediate aggressive physical therapy. I spoke with Dave on Wednesday night September 10th and by Thursday afternoon a VMC representative met with Christian and us. By Friday September 12th around noon Christian was admitted into VMC.

Christian was at VMC for eight weeks. When he arrived all he could do was move his eyes and his left leg some. By the end of the eight weeks he was lifting weights, walking, climbing stairs, eating and talking. My wife Karen and I, along with Christian and his brothers and sister, are very grateful for everything you did to get Christian into VMC. We also want to give our thanks to Dr. Duong, Dr. Lin, Amy, Hubert, Kei, Carlo and the rest of the staff in the head injury section of the hospital.

Enclosed is a check in the amount of $1,000 for the VMC Foundation to be used for whatever the hospital committee deems necessary to continue VMC’s fine health programs.

Christian continues to recover now at home, is attending school, and plans to make the high school basketball team next year. We thank you and the VMC staff again for all that you have done for Christian and our family.

Sincerely,

Randy Bauerle

So there’s the letter. Now you see why I’ll never forget it. Though he has a long road ahead, VMC’s Rehab Team (with the support of a great family and determined young man) have once again defied the odds.

I promised to tell you how the story ends. Well, in fact, it hasn’t yet. You see, I spoke to Randy (Christian’s Dad) at length yesterday and they want very much to be involved. If you come to VMC Foundation’s events this year, chances are you’ll meet them. If you visit VMC’s Rehab Center this year, Christian may be there providing peer support or volunteering.

And if you attend the right High School basketball game this fall, watch for him. He’ll be the guy with the most positve attitude on the court…and probably the most points on the board.

2,000 bikes = ho ho ho!

Allow me to demolish any remaining cynicism you have about the holidays:
Saturday was an incredible day, as hundreds of Silicon Valley volunteers came together to build thousands of bikes for children who might otherwise have nothing – and that’s just the beginning…
Turning Wheels for Kids is a grass-roots group of caring people that became a program of the VMC Foundation a couple years ago. Today’s annual Bike Build began early in the morning at the San Jose Convention Center, when FOUR 18-WHEELERS full of unassembled bikes were unloaded by teams of builders. Volunteers from Juniper, Yahoo, Google, Fox Racing, local bike clubs and just regular folk worked their butts off so that kids could have something new, empowering and healthy for the holidays.
At one point, Sue Runsvold was left speechless…hard to do, if you know Sue! She’s the executive director for TWFK and was presented a check for $20,000 by local construction heroes DPR, Inc. Sue’s a nurse manager as well, so you’d think she was used to surprises. Other firms and groups gave too – thousands more – and the money was nothing compared to the inspiration of seeing the kids get their new shiny bikes.
Brandi Chastain, “Sharkie”, and elected officials joined in as Christmas came early for so many needy families. I could write about it all day and not do it justice…to get a better idea of what this event feels like, check out http://www.turningwheels.org/ to see all they offer. Am I proud to be a part of this? Does Rudolph have a shiny shnoz?
P.S. A big hug to Leah Toeniskoetter, VMC Foundation Board Chair and one of Turning Wheels’ greatest champions, for taking these photos. Did you see us on the news?

A gift for Edgar, and a happy Thanksgiving

Edgar Flores was introduced to Silicon Valley on Monday…and by Tuesday morning, Silicon Valley was already doing what it does so well: Helping in a time of need.

Today, a day later, I walked in to the office in the early afternoon to find the VMC Foundation staff sniffing back tears as they opened envelope after generous envelope. Thousands of dollars, yes, but more touching: The cards, letters and wishes of well for a little boy who deserves all good things.

In case you missed this amazing story, please read the article from wonderful Mercury News columnist Patty Fisher, which launched this flood of giving – and have a happy Thanksgiving!
Fisher: A gift for Edgar

By Patty Fisher
Mercury News

Edgar Flores wants to be a doctor when he grows up. And what is it exactly that doctors do?

“They poke,” he tells me. “And they help children.”
Five-year-old Edgar has become quite an expert on doctors. After a car fire in July 2007 left him burned over 85 percent of his body, he spent five months in the burn unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and had 16 operations. Several times, his doctors didn’t think he would make it.
But Edgar had too many plans to give up.

“I want to grow up to be a doctor and a firefighter,” he says now. “And a police!”

Weeks after leaving the hospital last December, he was running around and riding his scooter. Last month he was named student of the month in his kindergarten class at Trace Elementary School in San Jose .

“He always does his best,” said Kathy Rivera, assistant nurse manager of the burn unit. “He’s such a happy child that it makes it hard to feel sorry for him.”

Last week, Edgar was back at VMC for more painful skin grafts, and I stopped by to pay him and his parents a visit. The door to his hospital room was decorated with seasonal pictures of turkeys and a cornucopia he had colored in with crayons. He showed me his temporary tattoos — the planet Saturn and a shark — that decorate his arms, which are crisscrossed with marks from skin grafts.

“My nurse, Jennifer, gave me those tattoos,” he said proudly.

Edgar is a slender little boy with bright eyes and long, dark eyelashes, the only hair on his head. He has just two fingers on his right hand. Flannel pajamas conceal the scars on his legs, and two bandages on his tummy cover the places where healthy skin had been removed and grafted onto his neck.

He doesn’t remember much about the fire. He and his big brother were on their way home from a family gathering in his uncle’s Volkswagen van on a warm July day. As they drove through Pacheco Pass on Highway 152, the engine in the rear of the van caught fire.

Edgar, who was strapped in a booster seat in back, couldn’t get out. His uncle and 8-year-old brother, Jose, tried to release him. Jose badly burned his hands and face. Eventually another driver stopped and used a knife to cut Edgar out before the fire trucks arrived.

From the day Edgar and Jose arrived at VMC, the family won the hearts of the staff.
“We watched the way the family stepped up, how worried Jose was about his little brother,” Rivera said. “We’ve watched these parents work with Edgar and help him cope with his injuries. He does really well with what he has.”

As we stood around Edgar’s hospital bed, his mother, Margireta, gently stretched the muscles in his feet. He has a tracheostomy, a permanent opening in his throat, and she needs to clear it several times a day. But she can’t keep up with him on the playground.

“All the children know they have to be careful with him,” she said in Spanish.

Edgar’s father, Miguel, lost his job detailing cars because he spent so much time at the hospital. Since then he has had only occasional construction jobs. MediCal pays for Edgar’s treatment, but his parents are having trouble making ends meet. In addition to Jose and Edgar, they have a 3-year-old son, Miguel Jr.

“We have gotten help from family,” his father said, “but it has been very, very difficult.”
That’s when the people who saved Edgar’s life stepped in with some extra special caregiving. The nurses in the burn unit passed the hat and raised $720 in three days to help the family pay its rent. Local firefighters pitched in $2,000.

VMC spokeswoman Joy Alexiou said the staff members will provide gifts for the Flores family this Christmas. But they’re hoping others in the community will step up and help buy Edgar the present he wants more than anything: a computer.

The injuries to his hands will make it difficult to type or write with a pencil, so it’s essential that he adapt to a computer in order to succeed in school.

“He needs something with a touch screen because his fingers aren’t strong enough to use a mouse,” Alexiou said.

When she first told me Edgar’s story, I thought it odd that the burn-unit nurses, who see so many severely injured children, so many family tragedies, would take up the cause of this one little boy. But having met him, I understand.

“He’s a very smart little boy with a wonderful attitude,” Rivera said. “He has us all wrapped around his little finger.”

if you’re interested: To help Edgar, mail checks made out to “The Edgar Flores Fund” to the VMC Foundation, 2400 Moorpark Ave. #207, San Jose 95128. Or donate online at http://www.vmcfoundation.org/.

High fructose outrage!

Maybe I’m a little late to the Anger Party here, but that’s because I don’t watch a lot of Discovery Health Channel on TV.

But I did last night, and saw something that has me fuming. The commercial shows two kids arguing about the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in their breakfast cereal, with the kid who explains that it’s a natural, nutritious food winning the argument. No kidding.

The ad is paid for by the Corn Refiners Association. On Discovery Health. OMG.

The dangers of HFCS are very well documented, and you can see the results every day at Valley Medical Center. Our patient population of obese children and adults is growing fast, and HFCS, which is found in darn near every processed food sold inexpensively in America, is a major culprit.

I agree that as individuals we are all responsible for our food choices, but it gets pretty hard when ads like this, combined with McDonalds and Burger King selling cheap quick (unhealthy) food, tell undereducated consumers what they want to hear (eat and drink up; it’s good for you!)

Physicians have an uphill battle, and the foe has squillions of dollars to spend selling their products…to a population that is on track to not outlive their parents – for the first time in human history.

Yes yes, I know overconsumption of ALL sugar is bad…so we at the VMC Foundation will continue raising funds to support our Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Center and diabetes education programs. This year, the county Board of Supervisors called for a “Soda-Free Summer”. Can we make it through fall and winter, too?

If you want to help, please donate at http://www.vmcfoundation.org/ Thanks!

A Day in the Sky for kids in San Jose…


Saturday, August 9, was an amazing day for kids with special needs who came to the VMC Foundation’s “Day In the Sky” event.

Truly, I’m humbled that the VMC Foundation was even associated with this event…we were the main fiscal sponsors, for sure, but hats are WAY off to Dean McCully and Lisa Bickford who organized the bulk of the work, and without whom it would NOT have happened.

Hundreds of children with autism, ADHD, and lots of other challenges soared above Silicon Valley thanks to dozens of voluteer pilots, including Chris Malachowski, who founded Nvidia and who also owns and flies a helecoptor. Chris and his family are also generous donors to the VMC Foundation’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

The San Jose Mercury News covered the big event, starting below…but read the full story – you’ll be totally inspired, and thrilled that VMC Foundation volunteers like Dean and Lisa are looking out for kids in our community. Check it out:

Emerging from a Cessna that had finished flitting over Silicon Valley’s treetops and tilt-ups, 16-year-old Ryan Brown’s first-ever jaunt in a small plane made him give an excited little jump when asked if it was fun.

“It sure was,” shouted the soon-to-be 10th-grader at San Jose’s Del Mar High. According to his mom, Moira Brown, Ryan suffers from autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Noting that the pilot allowed him to briefly operate the controls, the teen added, “The best thing about it was learning to fly.”

Mission accomplished for the organizers of “Take Flight for Kids,” hosted Saturday at San Jose’s Reid-Hillview Airport by the Valley Medical Center Foundation.

Leah’s wild ride!

Leah Toeniskoetter (left) is the Board Chair of the VMC Foundation, and a bit of an understated overachiever. If you read the post below this one, you know how passionate she is about Valley Medical Center (that’s your cue to read it if you haven’t already).

She’s also passionate about cycling, and the two passions meet each year at the Death Ride. Leah completed it Saturday – 135 miles up and down the California Alps…15,000 feet of elevation change. I know…it sounds totally bananas, yet hundreds complete the ride each year.

But Leah didn’t do it just for herself: She did it for the VMC Foundation program called “Turning Wheels for Kids.” More and more children battle obesity and a sedentary life every year, and a bicycle can provide a way out. Leah, personally I am astounded. Professionally, I’m so grateful for the $10,000 + your ride raised. WAY TO GO!!!

(Oh…and the photo up top shows San Francisco 49’er players riding bikes they helped build for Turning Wheels late last year…they’ll do it again this year as well. Want to help? Give us a call.)

Hooray for FISH!

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday was our big “Festival of Books” – part of the VMC Foundation’s Reach Out and Read Program. Did you know our pediatricians give away free books to every young child during their checkups at all SCVMC’s clinics? We’re talking thousands of books every month, helping send the message that literacy is PART of good health! First 5 Santa Clara County is our big champion on this program, and we sure appreciate them.

Anyway, yesterday in front of VMC, we held a great festival with scores of kids making books, eating healthy snacks, listening to stories read by our top MD’s and VMC Foundation Board Chair Leah, and ME…yes, I got to read my new favorite book “Hooray for Fish!”

Stripy fish, ele-fish, happyfish…one young mom brought her identical quadruplet boys to hear the story (she’s some kind of superhero). Three of the boys were busy running around VMC’s lawn, but one was transfixed by my crazy reading skills. Then, at the end of the book, I was paid the highest compliment you can get from a 3-year-old:

“Again!”

What a great day – thanks to Loralie, Al, Steve, Leah, and all the great volunteers who made it such a success. We’ll do this event “again!”