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.

Chris Wilder honored by PACT – this is what he said

Chris at PACT

On Thursday, October, 13, VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder was honored by People Acting in Community Together (PACT) as the 2016 Top Community Builder. This recognition was bestowed on Chris for his leadership and commitment to the health and well-being of the Silicon Valley community through many roles and causes over the past 25 years. PACT is a multicultural, multi-faith, grassroots organization the empowers everyday people to create a more healthy and just community.

Chris was recognized alongside John Tortora, COO of the San Jose Sharks.

Below is a transcript of his remarks to the 500+ guests in attendance at the Santa Clara Convention Center.


Thank you Leah [Toeniskoetter who introduced me], our Board of Directors past and present, our amazing staff past and present, friends and family.

My pal J and I went out Sunday to Los Gatos and dropped literature for Measure A. (show measure A). While doing this, we were able to reminisce about our time in the late 80’s/early 90’s doing door-to-door canvassing. The real stuff: Not just leaving a flyer, but actually knocking on doors. Not just gathering signatures or votes, but raising money! How many of you have done this? [many hands raised].

This is super hard work; the hardest way to raise money I know. J and I were laughing about all the stories, the things that happen to you when you’re knocking on doors…from being totally ignored, or being threatened with a trespassing lawsuit, to verbal abuse to unwanted sexual advances – and that’s just when you knock  on Donald Trump’s door!

Sorry, I didn’t write that; these jokes write themselves.

Anyway, it’s no wonder canvassing is hard – you knock on someone’s door at 6:30 at night, they’re trying to feed the baby! And the toddler! They just got home, they’re tired. They’re certainly not expecting YOU…never once did I knock on someone’s door and have them say “you know, I was just thinking about the reauthorization of the clean water act, hoping someone would come by and engage me civically!”

And yet, on any given night, a canvasser could expect to raise a couple hundred bucks and sign up five new members of the group. Then we’d go to Sacramento and meet with senators and show them how many of their constituents cared about this or that issue—cared so much, in fact, they were willing to give fifty bucks to this hippy stranger who just showed up on their front door! And then in 1990 Anna Eshoo came to our office and said, “You know, I lost my race for congress two years ago and I want to run again, and you guys go door-to-door in what would be MY district, so you probably know the electorate better than me – what can you teach me?” I was 22. That was cool. Then of course, she did get elected and has served in Congress to this day, representing—in my view—the public interest very powerfully.

So the point here is that this work matters and people really do care! If they didn’t, disasters like Flint Michigan’s water supply would happen more often. Powerful people who put their interests over public interest would win more often, thanks to people like you and organizations like PACT, this is a better place to live than it would be otherwise. The fact that people care is the reason that, if I deserve this honor at all, then we all deserve it. People give to the VMC Foundation not because of me, but because VMC is a jewel, essential for all who live here. Let’s be clear:  I don’t save lives! Doctors like Balaji Govindaswami, SCVMC’s Chief of Newborn Care is sitting there, and over there is Dr. Gregg Adams, our Chief of Surgery, and there’s lifelong RN Sue Kehl, the Director of Women and Childrens’ Health…THEY save lives! And our leaders like CEO Paul Lorenz sitting right there, and COO Benita McLaren who run the place…what do I do? I TALK about it all! And ALL the caregivers are amazing, and everyone deserves quality health care…and guys like John Tortora and the Sharks and SAP care as much about the community as they do about winning hockey games. That’s why I don’t deserve this award unless you all deserve it too. And you do.

I’d like to close with a word about RISK. In the late 80’s I left a potentially safe career in hotel management and fell into political organizing. And 13 years ago I joined the VMC Foundation despite having exactly zero knowledge about medical care. And yes, I raise money in unconventional ways…and so people say “wow, you’re willing to risk!”

Maybe…but I’m frankly a little tired of successful, wealthy, well educated, straight white men telling rooms-full of people that they need to be willing to risk. Because that’s not fair. If you’re struggling to feed your kids and pay the rent, and you have no savings and you don’t have a college education, then your opportunities to risk and throw caution to the wind are pretty limited. If you don’t have a spouse like I do, willing to support my risky moves, then the risks may be too high. Kate and I don’t have kids, we’re not a paycheck away from a shelter, so I’m lucky enough that I get to risk.

But organizations like PACT give folks a chance to risk, by putting themselves in unfamiliar and scary situations, and to band together to get things done—without undue risk in a world that doesn’t always reward it.

So yes, I do this work because I am lucky and I get to. And because bad things are wrong, and somebody should do something about everything. Or, put slightly more eloquently by Bobby Kennedy in 1966 in a speech to students in South Africa that I only learned about in 1999:

Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [they send] forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Thank you PACT, for sending forth those ripples, and thank you all, for helping build that current. I’m honored and grateful.

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!

A new Family Lounge and Library, inspired by Nora

The first thing that visitors see when they arrive on the 5th floor of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is not much at all – an elevator lobby, white walls and linoleum. It’s a place to walk to and from and nothing more. The revitalization of this small space will be the catalyst for efforts to transform the entire current “Main Hospital” into San Jose’s first Women and Children’s Center… all thanks to a little girl named Nora.

Thomas Boström and Claire McCormack stand next to the initial rendering of the new Family Library and Lounge that will greet visitors to SCVMC Pediatrics. Their gift is being made to honor their late daughter, Nora.

Thomas Boström and Claire McCormack stand next to the initial rendering of the new Family Library and Lounge that will greet visitors to SCVMC Pediatrics. Their gift is being made to honor their late daughter, Nora.

Nora was born on December 11, 2009, in San Francisco. “Within months, she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.  Because of her diagnosis, she became very experienced in hospital visits and longer stays. She passed away on November 22, 2013, in Palo Alto.

Her parents, Thomas and Claire, were Nora’s greatest champions, and since her passing have become fierce advocates for hospital safety and children’s health issues.

With the support of family, friends and co-workers, Thomas and Claire created a fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to honor Nora’s memory. That effort brought them to VMC for the first time, and to the bland elevator lobby on the 5th floor.

Understanding the need for families to have safe and engaging spaces to visit during their hospital stay, they proposed a small library area for kids to read books with their parents. It was an idea close to their hearts.

“Nora especially loved reading books,” shared Thomas. “We hope the space will offer an escape from the hospital setting for children and their families. We want it to be a place where patients can read books alone or with their parents. They can have a quiet spot outside their rooms to relax.”

Soon, when visitors arrive on the 5th floor, they’ll be greeted by a warm, welcoming space filled with books and cozy places to sit and read. The library will be a fulcrum for a remodeled lobby and hallway, outdoor patio and a small, multi-purpose room that will preview a grander transformation of the entire 5th floor and building. The family and patient experience will be permanently altered, all for the better.

It’s a fitting legacy for Nora that will benefit VMC families for decades.

To learn more, visit www.imaginevmc.org.


Health Trust makes $250,000 gift to transform VMC café


Health Trust leadership, including CEO Fred Ferrer, present their gift to VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder, joined by SCVMC CEO Paul Lorenz and Supervisor Ken Yeager.

Health Trust leadership, including CEO Fred Ferrer, present their gift to VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder, joined by Supervisor Ken Yeager and SCVMC CEO Paul Lorenz.

Promoting healthy food choices has been at the core of The Health Trust’s efforts to confront Santa Clara County’s ongoing obesity and diabetes crisis. At VMC, that’s meant funding a weekly Farmer’s Market on campus, and now – thanks to a $250,000 gift – transforming the only café in the future Women and Children’s Center into a fun and appealing source of healthy food for kids and their families.

Modeled after the nationally recognize café do-over at the Children’s Discovery Museum (CDM) in downtown San Jose – a project that was also funded in part by The Health Trust – the current VMC space will get a physical and menu upgrade. At the CDM, a generic, junk-food dependent space that had all the charm of an airport food court was replaced by a beautiful restaurant that promotes health eating using design, color and a novel menu. Healthy eating is not presented as an option (a la ordering a “diet” soda) – it is the only option. Yet, offered in a way that promotes the inherent quality and deliciousness of the food, and not as a “take-your-medicine” necessity.

It’s an approach that suits VMC well, where high standards for healthy food options already exist. The current space, however, needs a major face-lift. And there is an added benefit to adding a revitalized café to San Jose’s first Women and Children’s Center, beyond the people served. It sends a message that healthy eating is a cornerstone to health. Indeed, the new café will literally be in the corner of the building’s ground floor.

Work on the café will commence in 2017.

To learn more about the campaign for a Women and Children’s Center, visit www.imaginevmc.org.

Medical Legal Partnership Opens at VMC’s new Health Center!

The alert reader of this blog will remember two years ago when we celebrated the five-years of VMC’s Medical Legal Partnership Clinic. This is the innovative idea that, sometimes, a lawyer can solve your medical problem better than a doctor!

Intrigued by that concept? So were we in 2009, and so was FIRST 5 Santa Clara County which funded this great partnership and kept it going for five years.

Sometimes, it takes that long to prove a concept…but the good news is that in Santa Clara County, especially at Valley Medical Center, a proven concept leads to my favorite word: SUSTAINABILITY.

After hundreds of patients helped, fueled by donations from FIRST 5, the leadership of VMC asked the County to make the Medical Legal Partnership a permanent part of its budget, and to give it a home in the new Valley Health Center Downtown.

…and that happened, and today was Opening Day! A huge congratulations to Dr. Leanna Botkin and the team at the Law Foundation Silicon Valley’s “Legal Advocates for Children and Youth” for demonstrating how this collaboration can make such a positive difference for patients who often have little recourse to improve a situation for themselves or their children.

Click here to learn more about the Medical Legal Partnership, and here to learn more about Valley Health Center Downtown, the latest jewel serving the population of our country’s tenth largest city.

Stem cell transplant at VMC makes history

Jake stem cell

photo by Julie Haener, KTVU

Last week, Jake Javier became the 5th person in the world to receive ten million stem-derived cells directly into his spinal cord, in a trial that the VMC Foundation has helped move forward.

Led by VMC’s renowned Rehabilitation Center, the trail is a result of years of work that has made Santa Clara County’s safety-net hospital a focal point for stem cell research.

While much is still to be learned, VMC physicians hope to blaze a trail to a future where stem cells can treat diseases and injuries that at present have no cure.  From paralysis to brain injuries, the potential use of these therapies are vast.  VMC will continue to lead, and the Foundation – through fundraising and administrative support – will be part of the team to help make it happen.

For more information on the trail, visit the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine website here.

VHC Sunnyvale expands services thanks to grant funding from El Camino Healthcare District

VHC SunnyvaleValley Health Center Sunnyvale is one of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s ambulatory clinics providing care to underserved children and adults living in North County. Services include integrated primary care, dental services, comprehensive perinatal services, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and a pediatric healthy lifestyle center to help children combat obesity and related conditions. Lab and pharmacy are also centrally located for ease of patient access.

This year, thanks to a generous grant from El Camino Healthcare District, VHC Sunnyvale expanded its express care services to increase access, and continued to provide full-service dental care including an evening dental clinic. Funding from ECHD made it possible for VHC Sunnyvale to provide over 4,000 visits to 2,000 patients.

A VHC Sunnyvale patient shared, “At last, I am so very happy to have a dentist who cares about my well-being in regard to my dental health. The service from all the staff has been excellent.”

El Camino Healthcare District has been a long-time supporter of VHC Sunnyvale. Since 2008, over $8.7M in grant funding has been provided to improve and expand healthcare services for North County residents. Due to the success of the partnership, the ECHD board recently voted to award an additional $968,000 to VHC Sunnyvale to continue expanded services in the express care and dental clinics in 2016-17.

Read more about El Camino Healthcare District’s funding priorities for 2016-17 in their Community Benefit Plan.

VMC staff raises $2,000 to help end sexual assault

Members of VMC’s team: Matt Gerrior, Tau Gaoteote, Chris Wilder, Jerry Wright, Gilbert Gutierrez, Steven Hernandez, James Crew, Paul Lorenz, and Erick Bourassa.

On Wednesday, June 22, a team of male VMC staff participated in the YWCA’s 14th annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundrasier at Santana Row. The event, in which men walk a mile in high-heeled shoes, is a lighthearted way to increase awareness about the very serious issue of violence against women.

From the YWCA: “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes may look like a stunt with men racing in heels, but it’s actually a statement about men’s roles in ending violence against women and drawing attention to the issue that is connected to strict gender roles and expectations of men.”

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has become an international event that engages men in raising awareness and funds to stop sexual assault and domestic violence. Funds raised from Walk a Mile in Her Shoes make it possible for YWCA Silicon Valley to provide critical response, intervention, and comprehensive support services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The VMC team, led by Jerry Wright, raised $2,000 toward the $68,000 total raised by all participants this year. Congratulations and thank you to all who participated in this important community event!