Healthcare philanthropy should help everyone, not just VIPs


At some hospitals, donors practically get their own butler. At VMC, the goal is to provide the same great care to all.

One major reason I joined the VMC Foundation 12 years ago is that Valley Medical Center cares for anyone, regardless of status. It remains the cornerstone of my commitment.

Furthermore, the quality of care doesn’t vary according to any sort of “wallet biopsy”. The woman living in a shelter gets the same world-class care as the woman living in a Monte Sereno mansion.

You might think this is a matter of basic human dignity, but in fact, this is not the way it goes everywhere. Some hospitals – more than you might suspect – do play favorites, and do so as a matter of policy and practice. “Concierge service” or other VIP treatment of wealthy patients is not uncommon…and I’ve lost count of the number of seminars/conference sessions/webinars I’ve attended that encourage we medical charities to push for this.

As last week’s NY Times’ op-ed points out, this makes obvious sense on one level: Treat your wealthy patients better, and philanthropy flows. But, as the article also reveals, this can also lead to worse care…not just for the non-wealthy patients, but for the wealthy ones too!

It’s also unfair.

And it’s the last thing you’ll find going on at Valley Medical Center.

Read the full article here, and ask yourself: What are the values you’d prefer your medical care team believe in?

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.


Omar’s Dream: Educating kids…no matter what!

Remember when you were little, and the anxiety you felt missing school due to a long illness? Falling behind is sad reality for too many kids facing a long hospitalization, but now a solution is at hand.

The VMC Foundation, on behalf of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, is partnering with Omar’s Dream Foundation to enable hospitalized and medically supervised children to remotely attend school allowing them to stay connected to their teachers and classmates. The services are free for all qualified students and their educators.

We know that education and health are both equal building blocks for a child’s success. We’re so grateful to Omar’s Dream and the ability to keep those building blocks strong!

VMC Foundation staff gratefully accept a large gift from Jamila Hassan, Founder of Omar's Dream Foundation.

VMC Foundation staff gratefully accept a large gift from Jamila Hassan, Founder of Omar’s Dream Foundation.

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.

World Breastfeeding Week: VMC a Top CA Hospital in Breastfeeding Rates

National Breastfeeding WeekDid you know that VMC is among the top hospitals in the state in breastfeeding rates for new moms? That’s no accident — VMC is a leader in innovative programs to encourage breastfeeding. We all know that breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start, providing them with an ideal balance of nutrients for their growth and development, reducing the risk of infection and disease, promoting mother-child bonding, and even reducing the risk of childhood obesity.

Funding from FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and Kaiser Permanente has made possible over 8,000 hours of training for VMC’s newborn care providers in offering best practice and evidence-based breastfeeding instruction to moms. Funding also enables follow-up calls to recently discharged moms to help address any breastfeeding challenges they face at home.

VMC is investing in an on-site Milk Lab in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to ensure that even the most vulnerable infants benefit from this healthy start. Support from FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and other generous donors has helped fund special freezers and storage units, prep stations to standardize breast milk processing (breast milk for preemies is often fortified with additional calories and nutrients), and designated staff to ensure that each baby gets the nutrition he or she needs. With a recent donation from the Will Rogers Institute, VMC will soon be adding an on-site breast milk analyzer to determine how much protein, fat, and carbohydrate is in a mother’s milk. This is important because providing sufficient nutrition for NICU infants is crucial to maximizing weight gain and assuring proper physiological development.

VMC has a fabulous team of lactation experts leading efforts for increased breastfeeding rates and creating a hospital culture that supports and encourages breastfeeding. The VMC Foundation is proud to support their work, during World Breastfeeding Week and all year long!

The Standard American Diet is SAD


dennisDennis Low is a recently-retired physician who spent his career at Valley Medical Center. He’s a beloved caregiver, educator, and new VMC Foundation Board Member. We play together in the VMC “house band” Idol Hands (hence, the picture) and have become good friends.

Which explains why he invited me this morning to hear him give a talk to our docs – and blew a lot of minds.

Now, none of what Dennis told us about Americans’ diets was his own research…but he compiled it like a man whose spent his life teaching others and ensuring they remember what they hear.  For example, everyone knows that America has an obesity problem, but did you know that the Centers for Disease Control now warns that immigrating to the United States can make you sick?

And how about this: In 1976, Americans were eating an average of eight pounds of cheese per person, per year. By 2013, according to the USDA, we’re eating 33.5 pounds!

…and by “we”, I mean “not me.” I’m vegan, and know a lot of vegans. That means that for each of us who consume zero pounds of cheese per year, there’s some dude who is putting away 67 pounds.

That sounds ridiculous. But then, so is this: 16% of American men between the ages of 18 and 35 eat pizza EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. There is no other country that even comes close to our 35% obese adult population.

How about that pizza company that’s now stuffing cheese into the crusts of ever-increasing sizes of XXXL pizzas? Have we gone mad? And because I like pointing out the enemy as much as I like rhetorical questions: Who convinced us that cheese was good n’ healthy in the first place? Why, the American Dairy Association and Milk Advisory Board of course, who spend increasing millions every year. They lobby to reduce their costs. They lobby to ban soy milk (you can’t make this up; google it while you’re looking at how much they spend influencing congress).

And they advertise. To kids. When I was little, I must have seen that “educational” cartoon “I Hanker for a Hunk of Cheese” 500 times. Ring a bell? If you’re near my age, I bet you remember it.

Obviously cheese is not the only contributor to our country’s high calorie/low nutrition diet. Even many vegans (and I’m WAY guilty here) eat too much vegetable oil, bagels, salt, sugar and delicious, delicious French fries. It’s led to doctors like Dennis Low to consider the adipose tissue (fat) around our bellies a quasi-organ.

Yes! Your visceral fat is driving your appetite, causing the production and release of hormones…acting like a pancreas or something. How scary is that? No wonder it’s hard to lose weight; your fat has a mind of its own.

Another system in your body influenced by your diet is your intestinal microbiota, or “gut flora”. All those little bugs in your digestive system that aren’t “you”, per se, but are living things that effect not just digestion, but cell division, metabolism, and much more. You have around three pounds of them in you right now, and if you eat a plant-based diet, they are good bugs. A meat-heavy diet? Bad bugs.

This is evidenced by rates of cancer, stroke and longevity across cultures. I know you know all that in general, but I learned today from Dennis that, for example, Seventh-Day Adventists have remarkably long lives and low incidences of chronic disease. They eat, as a matter of religious practice, plant-based diets. This is coincidentally of interest to me because each summer, for a week, thousands of 7DA believers congregate very near my house in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Soquel, CA. They happen to be there this week as I write this! Until Dennis’s talk, I knew little about them…and now I know, at least, that among whatever else they’re doing at their massive conference center they are preparing and enjoying a lot of plant-based meals!

Sorry – the point really is that the body of evidence is growing that our nation’s diet is killing us, and that a plant-based diet is better for us. Dennis suggested to all our doctors to avoid “naming” diets, and suggesting to patients easy ways to slowly change their habits; “Stop going to Burger King and go vegan” is advice rarely taken. “Try eating more colorful, fresh veggies and fruit more often” is more manageable.

I could copy a dozen links here on healthy eating, but you know where to find all that. I just really appreciated watching a skilled educator keep a big room full of busy doctors enthralled for an hour this morning. I am going to have a carrot later in Dennis’s honor. And if you really want to know more, send Dr. Dennis Low an email at – or take him out to lunch!

How to help Julio and Abigail, victims of San Jose apartment fire

Photo credit: San Jose Mercury News/Elizabeth Ramirez

JULIO AND ABIGAIL | Photo credit: San Jose Mercury News/Elizabeth Ramirez

An apartment fire on June 25 severely injured two of Amelia Gomez’s three children, and has left the family with no home or possessions. The injured children, Julio and Abigail, jumped from a second story window to escape the fire. Both sustained serious injuries and have been treated at Valley Medical Center. Julio is expected to remain in Valley Medical Center’s burn unit for months and endure surgeries for years.

Read more in these articles from the San Jose Mercury News:

Two children jump from second story window to escape apartment fire
Long recovery begins for San Jose mom, siblings who jumped for their lives from apartment fire
San Jose apartment fire that burned 2 kids blamed on electrical malfunction


Please help this family of four by making a donation to one of the sources below.

Cash Donations

San Jose Police Officers’ Association
Go Fund Me
Fill My Fund

Donations of Household Items and Clothing in Good Condition

Can be dropped off Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm:

DCP El Camino Middle School
1155 E. Julian Avenue
San Jose, CA 95116

Items needed:
Gift cards, school supplies, linens, household items, furniture, clothes/shoes, etc.

Clothing sizes:
Amelia (mom): Pant size 14/16, shirt size XL, shoe size 7
Atziry (16-year-old daughter): Pant size 5 (teen), shirt size small/med, shoe size 4 or 5
Abigail (12-year-old daughter): Pant size 7 (teen), shirt size large, shoe size 7
Julio (10-year-old son): Pant size 14, shirt size large, shoe size 5


Please email with any additions to this list.

Bryan Stow visits VMC to thank rehab staff

The last time many of us saw Bryan Stow, he wasn’t able to walk or talk.

And while he still has a long way to go, this video from NBC Bay Area has a lot of us pretty emotional.

If you’ve followed Bryan’s story since that terrible day when he was attacked at Dodger Stadium on March 31, 2011, this story will surely move you too. The entire care team at VMC’s Rehabilitation Center was so grateful for his visit on June 10!

Click the photo below to watch this moving video.

BStow visit