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

National Hospital Week and BB King…

B.B. King In Concert At B.B. King's Blues Club At The MirageToday is the final day of our week-long celebration of National Hospital Week, and I’m feeling a little melancholy. By now I’m sure you heard that blues legend BB King passed away last night.

BB was a hero to me and darn near any rock/blues musician. Today at noon, VMC’s “house band” Idol Hands will be performing for the staff as we offer gourmet food at a deeply-reduced price. Just our way of saying THANK YOU to the selfless and essential team at Valley Medical Center.

And, so, we’ll be playing some blues today in tribute to The King. Here’s something to think about: BB King was 89 when he passed. That means he outlived the average life expectancy of African American men by at least eleven years. Depending on the source, it could be as high as 16 years…and for African American men born in Mississippi (as BB was), tack on another four years.

We have a great deal of work to do in this country regarding the social determinants of health. For more on that, check out the World Health Organization’s website or locally, The Health Trust. And remember, BB King has passed but the thrill is NOT gone!

I hope everyone had a great National Hospital Week. Cheers and good health to you.

VMC Farmers’ Market returns May 13


Spinal cord injury patients use iPads to stay connected during rehab

Bergevin familyThe Spring 2015 issue of the VMC Foundation’s Impact Report features the moving story of Chris Bergevin, the husband and father who was airlifted to VMC’s Spinal Cord Trauma Center after he dove into the ocean and struck a sand bar, damaging his spinal cord and neck.

During his rehabilitation at VMC, Chris was able to stay connected to the outside world with the inclusion of an iPad in his rehab therapy. Distribution of iPads to rehab patients is made possible by a generous grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

Chris shared, “When you’re injured and in the hospital, it’s really important to get connected to friends, family, and the outside world. This iPad made these things possible for me! I’m very grateful.”

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


Dr. Yvonne Truong brings big smiles to Valley Health Center community clinics

YT PicMeet Dr. Yvonne Truong

Yvonne Truong was an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz when she visited a friend in dental school and watched her fabricate dentures for an HIV patient who had lost his teeth due to malnourishment. She was hooked!

“Becoming a dentist was almost an immediate decision – I could see myself doing this. I liked to work with my hands, and I wanted to make a difference,” shared Dr. Truong. She practiced as a dental assistant for a couple of years and then graduated from the Goldman School of Dental Medicine at Boston University.

While in dental school, Dr. Truong completed an externship at the Dorchester House, a community health center in a low-income neighborhood of Boston. There she discovered a passion for working in a community clinic setting, supporting underserved populations: “I saw that I could really make a difference in people’s lives.”

Dr. Truong joined VMC in 2004, working for many years in the mobile dental clinic, providing dental services to high-need areas throughout Santa Clara County. She now staffs the dental clinics at Valley Health Centers Sunnyvale, Milpitas, and Tully.

Dr. Truong shared that her typical day “is very fast paced! I see at least 16 patients each day – doing exams and cleanings, taking dental impressions, giving oral hygiene instructions, and performing extractions, fillings, and other procedures. Every day is different because our patient population tends to have a lot of dental emergencies.” Indeed, the dental clinics serve a combination of patients with appointments and those who walk-in with urgent needs.

“The best thing about my job,” says Dr. Truong, “is seeing immediate results. If a patient comes in with pain, most of the time I can make them feel better right away.”

Take, for example, a recent patient of Dr. Truong’s. A male in his 30s, he hadn’t seen a dentist in five years after losing his job and his dental insurance. The patient traveled by bus from Palo Alto to Valley Health Center Tully to attend a walk-in clinic because he had severe tooth pain. Dr. Truong informed the patient that the tooth had decayed and that he would need a root canal and crown, but the patient didn’t have the money to pay for the procedure so he requested that the tooth be extracted instead. Dr. Truong did some research and found that the patient lived in the catchment area of VHC Sunnyvale, and that funds were available to help pay for his root canal and crown – no extraction needed! The patient was extremely grateful and has been coming back to VHC Sunnyvale for comprehensive treatment ever since.

With financial support from the El Camino Healthcare District, the dental clinic at VHC Sunnyvale expanded to offer one evening dental clinic per week so patients with daytime jobs and family responsibilities could better access care. Dr. Truong shared, “We wanted to be better able to accommodate patients who can’t miss work, those who don’t have insurance, and those who walk in with emergency needs. Without the grant funding, these patients would not have the oral health they need to lead a healthy and comfortable life.” The evening dental clinic is consistently booked at least 2-3 weeks in advance and demand far exceeds the current capacity of the clinic.

Still, Dr. Truong is inspired by the work she does, sharing, “I feel honored and privileged to be part of VMC, working here with such a dedicated groups of dentists. This is a challenging job – we have a lot of medically-compromised patients with financial limitations and language barriers. But I love coming to work every day because of how rewarding it is.”

When Yvonne Truong isn’t practicing at VMC, she is operating her own part-time private dental practice or spending time with her 4-year-old son at her home in San Jose.

El Camino Healthcare DistrictYou can learn more about El Camino Healthcare District’s investment in the health of our community in their 2014 Community Benefit Report.

Recognizing Kathy Madlem, VMC Quality Improvement Coordinator

Katherine L MadlemThe VMC Foundation congratulates superstar VMC employee Kathy Madlem for her important role in combating sepsis at Valley Medical Center. Kathy is the manager of the VMC Foundation’s Sepsis Quality Improvement Fund and we support her coordination of VMC’s Sepsis Seminars. Kathy’s excellent communication skills, positive can-do attitude, and amazing follow-through make her a true partner of the VMC Foundation. Thank you, Kathy!


Kathy shared her thoughts in a recent interview with VMC Foundation Development Officer Debbie Burdsall:

Debbie: Can you give me some background on the sepsis training for VMC staff and how you became involved?

Kathy: I have been in my current role as Quality Improvement Coordinator for about three years. I am responsible for the coordination of hospital-wide efforts to prevent sepsis through early diagnosis. Since I have led the effort, VMC has seen a 50% decrease in mortality due to sepsis through improved screening and staff education.

A large part of my job is to provide training to VMC staff on the prevention and management of sepsis. I coordinate VMC’s Sepsis Seminars, bringing in experts on sepsis to educate staff. I really feel like part of my job is to inspire VMC staff and keep their passion for saving lives through early sepsis detection alive and ongoing.

Debbie: How long have you been at VMC and what do you like most about working here?

Kathy: I have been at VMC for 16 years. I spent 13 years working the night shift in the MICU. I very much enjoy working with our patient population because I feel like those we serve are vulnerable. By providing education and training on the prevention and early management of sepsis, I have a stake in improving the quality of care for all of our patients. I enjoy helping our staff develop the skill set to be better care providers, thus ensuring that our patients receive the best care possible.

Debbie: How has the VMC Foundation supported you and your work?

Kathy: The VMC Foundation helped me establish a fund for the Sepsis Seminars which allowed me to focus on planning the seminar content. Payments from seminar participants are processed through the Foundation’s Sepsis Quality Improvement Fund, and the fund is used to pay vendors and speakers. The Foundation recognized how important the sepsis training is for VMC staff and has been instrumental in helping to significantly reduce the cost for VMC staff to attend the seminars by helping to sponsor the training.

Debbie: What is something people might not know about you?

Kathy: I enjoy riding horses in my spare time, and I have 2 cats and 1 dog – all rescues!

The Economic Gap is Now a Canyon

Findex2015-coverolks in Tallahassee or Saint Paul or Topeka often assume that everyone living in Silicon Valley drives around in a BMW. That’s why, when I’ve traveled, I’ve tried to share the truth…and it’s shocking to many: One in four families in “wealthy” Silicon Valley cannot simultaneously afford food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

But not anymore.

As alarming as this fact sounds, I learned yesterday at the “State of the Valley” Conference that it’s no longer true.

It’s worse.

The number, according to Joint Venture Silicon Valley who compiles the “Silicon Valley Index” every year, is now 30%. That’s how many households don’t meet what they call “minimum self-sufficiency standards”. Working families, typically, whose incomes cannot make ends meet. They rely on Second Harvest Food Bank, or Homefirst or other shelters, or Valley Medical Center for their most basic of needs.

We’re not talking about the Federal Poverty Level here; that number is a joke—and a not-funny one. That’s because it’s not adjusted for region. In the most expensive housing/rental market anywhere, your family of three is considered above the Federal Poverty Rate if you earn $21,000 a year. Try living on twice that in Silicon Valley. Three times that.

Know this about Joint Venture: They’re not some lefty-liberal group; They are an inclusive team of leaders in tech, development, banking, government, academia and more…and what they really do is gather the data, report on it, and then allow you and I to have conversations about what it means.

Sometimes, like in the statistics I just mentioned, they’re shocked by their findings. This year they discovered a frightening gender/wage gap that I think caught a lot of Silicon Valley leaders off-guard…but there it is, staring us in the face.

We have to deal with these issues. Think of it: 30% of families in the richest region of the richest nation on earth struggle to get by every day, every month. And yes, I understand that you don’t have to live in Bangor, Maine to be surprised by this economic chasm…it surprises people who live in San Jose and Sunnyvale too.

It’s also why Valley Medical Center is here, and why I’m proud to serve its Foundation. Not only do we offer this crucial part of the safety net to the 30% who need us, the care is as excellent (or better) than anywhere else.  More and more families with coverage and good incomes are choosing us for that reason. This is a good thing.

But let’s not forget VMC’s mission, which based on Joint Venture’s findings this year, has never been more important for the health of our entire community.

Learn more about the Silicon Valley Index here, and thanks to Russell Hancock, Joint Venture CEO, for asking me to participate as an Index Advisor.

President Cortese: “If we are bold,” we can stop diabetes

President Dave Cortese gave his “State of the County” address on Tuesday, January 27 to a packed house at San Jose’s Montgomery Theater. He spoke about many of our county’s pressing problems, and in each case, how we can only solve them if we work together.

That sounds cliché, but it’s really not: If homelessness was easy to end, wouldn’t someone have done it already? If steering kids away from gangs and drugs had a step-by-step manual, we’d follow it wouldn’t we? Sadly they don’t, which is why I was glad to hear President Cortese’s call to unite across our differences and work together on solutions.  No single tech genius or business leader or dynamic politician can do this alone.

Such is the case with diabetes, which affects hundreds of thousands of our county’s residents. 40 million Americans have “pre-diabetes”, according to the American Diabetes Association, and alarmingly, most who have it don’t know it. This is why President Cortese is calling for increased screenings to catch pre-diabetes before it gets worse. Type-2 diabetes used to be called “Adult-Onset Diabetes”. No more. Valley Medical Center’s pediatricians have been fighting this disease in children for too long.

The VMC Foundation has been fighting with them. Through grant funding, we helped launch VMC’s Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Center led today by the amazing Antonia Charles, MD. Our Turning Wheels for Kids program aims to get kids off the couch and pedaling their own brand-new bike. With The Health Trust, we opened a Farmers Market on VMC’s main campus. With our partners El Camino Healthcare District and Kaiser Permanente, grant dollars become innovative programs at VMC’s health centers and specialty centers to battle diabetes every day.

But, as President Cortese said, we have to do more.

His colleague, Supervisor Ken Yeager, will be leading the fight against diabetes and he’s already recruiting soldiers. The VMC Foundation vows to continue our role in this fight, as we’ve done for decades.  Thank you for your leadership, President Cortese. We stand with you.

To read President Cortese’s State of the County address, click here.