The County Hospital: When the Community Needs Us

Charlie and his brothers

In 1945, the Santa Clara valley was living through sharp incongruities. While the country had just succeeded in protecting democracy in World War II, domestically, communities were still reconciling with injustice and the human costs of Japanese internment. While the vast stretches of land in Santa Clara County were filled with mass producing orchards and vineyards, the region’s economic engine was fast transitioning to canning, industrialism and technology. Workers in the area reflected the diversity of immigrants and migrants to the Bay Area, and yet so many were shut out of jobs and economic opportunities—especially recently released Japanese-Americans and returning war veterans.

Unlike most Japanese-Americans, Charlie was not in an internment camp during the war. Instead, he was serving in the U.S. Army. In 1945, after receiving an honorable discharge, Charlie returned to Los Altos where he was born and raised. At the time, Charlie and his brother, Henry, earned a living working for local farmers and ranchers; jobs were hard to obtain, particularly for Japanese-Americans. One day during that year, the two brothers were hired by a local farmer to remove a tree trunk. They went to the site and set dynamite, but the dynamite exploded prematurely spraying the brothers with shards of dirt, wood, and debris. Their faces were blasted with gravel, their skin was burned, and neither of them could see.

The area of the accident was somewhat remote; no one else was in the vicinity except for their nine-year-old brother Harry who had accompanied them on that day. Charlie often said in the years that followed that he knew that they had to receive medical care immediately and that the only place they could go for care was Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, that it was the one place where they would not be turned away, even if they were Japanese-American.

Incredibly, they managed to get to SCVMC by having young Harry load his brothers into their pick-up truck and getting behind the wheel. Once at VMC, they received care that Charlie said saved their lives. There the two brothers were treated for burns, flesh wounds, and their eye injuries. Eventually, both brothers would make a full physical recovery, regaining their vision although Henry lost one eye due to the trauma of the explosion. Nevertheless, they were thankful to have medical doors open to them and help available for them. Both went on to live long and productive lives.

All three brothers grew up in the region and would live their lives deeply engaged in the South Bay. During the war, Charlie served as part of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), a newly created, top secret unit consisting of Japanese-American soldiers. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his achievements and after his passing, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

His prodigious service testifies to the extraordinary contributions of local Japanese-American residents. Charlie gave so much of himself to the U.S. despite the fact that his entire family was interned for three years. In the second half of his life, he returned to school, joined General Electric as a technician where he built his professional career until his retirement. Most importantly, he raised a family.

One of his children is Carolyn Brown, RN. Having experienced so much racial injustice, her father had always taught her to pursue equality and excellence, his lifelong mantra. So, Carolyn became a nurse, earned a master’s degree in nursing and worked for many years at a local community hospital. In 1995 she decided to take a leadership role at SCVMC where she could pursue her desire to ensure equitable care and health services for all people.  A fun fact: for the past six years, in her “free time” Carolyn has taught courses in the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department at San Jose State University with a focus on health systems, because hospitals function best when their systems are effective, efficient, and reliable. And lucky for us, Carolyn has been at SCVMC for 25 years and is the Director of Quality and Safety, ensuring that our systems and processes provide quality and ensure safety in settings where we serve EVERYONE, no matter what.

As Carolyn’s father experienced, our hospital doors are open to anyone who needs us while our providers ensure that every level of care is of the highest quality. This is our commitment to the County—this is YOUR impact.

With the end of the year upon us, I hope you’ll keep Charlie and Carolyn’s story in mind. When you make a gift to the VMC Foundation, you support a public system of health and helping that cares for all people, and your reach will be far. Santa Clara Valley Medical Center has for the first time in its history become a multi-hospital system. With the County’s acquisition of O’Connor and St. Louise hospitals, and the DePaul Health Center, the scope of care for our public safety net system just grew like never before.

 

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_ekso

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.

hornet