VMC’s Healthier Living Program makes the Wall St. Journal!

The team of VMC's H.E.L.P. program, nationally recognized!

Every day, teams of dedicated men and women run great programs at Valley Medical Center…but it’s not every day that the news makes the  Wall Street Journal.

This week, it did! The article (read it here) features photos from a VMC Healthier Living Class, and talks about this growing nationwide movement .  Our Healthier Living program has graduated over 800 participants since 2006.

Healthier Living is staffed by the SCVMC patient association HELP: Health, Empowerment, Leadership People which consists of SCVMC patient-volunteers. The VMC Foundation is proud to support this great program (and I’m proud to be part of the photo above!)

Free Chronic Disease Self Management Program “Healthier Living” Classes are available for all VMC patients and staff, regardless of insurance or non-insured status.  This program was developed at Stanford University Patient Education Research Center.  The Chronic Disease Self-Management Program is a workshop given two and a half hours, once a week, for six weeks.  The program was developed for people with chronic health problems and their significant others. People with different problems attend the same workshop together. Workshops are facilitated by two trained leaders.

Subjects covered include: 1) techniques to deal with problems such as frustration, fatigue, pain and isolation, 2) appropriate exercise for maintaining and improving strength, flexibility, and endurance, 3) appropriate use of medications, 4) communicating effectively with family, friends, and health care professionals, 5) nutrition, and, 6) how to evaluate new treatments. There is also great emphasis on three process skills: action planning, disease related problem solving, and decision making.

Stem Cell Research – a promise we must keep

"I want to be an advocate for stem cell therapies and other types of spinal cord injury treatment that can make a difference in someone’s life." SCVMC patient Katie Sharify is one of only five people to receive stem cell treatments to treat her spinal cord injury.

The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC) Rehabilitation Center, in partnership with Stanford Hospital, launched a groundbreaking study in 2011 to establish the promise of embryonic stem cells in treating spinal cord injuries. However, the momentum of this historic collaboration is threatened and your help is needed to continue this valuable research.

In November 2011, Geron announced that it would close the Spinal Cord Injury Clinical Trial to new enrollment. Dr. Steven McKenna, principal investigator for the research at SCVMC, said, “We’re still in the very early history of what amounts to creating an entirely new field. With effective stem cell therapies we have an opportunity to actually reverse the disease process itself.” However, Geron’s decision threatens to derail our progress toward an important milestone in curing spinal paralysis.

The VMC Foundation and the SCVMC Rehabilitation Center have created a special fund to support the continuation of these highly promising trials – to reach the first milestone in achieving a cure for spinal cord paralysis. The Treatment Innovation Fund allows those who understand the importance of such a cure to make a contribution.

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About the SCVMC Rehabilitation Center

The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Rehabilitation Center is a world leader in rehabilitation services for people suffering from spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury and many other injuries. The Center also serves as the teaching hospital for Stanford Hospital rehabilitation students, and as the primary rehabilitation facility for Stanford Hospital patients.

Because of their neuro-impairment, the lives of the Rehab Center’s patients are changed in the most fundamental ways, including physical functioning, communicating and even mental functioning. For the past 40 years, it has been the mission of the doctors, nurses and therapists at SCVMC Rehab Center to improve patients’ quality of life, increase their independence, and reintegrate them into their communities. The Center, located at SCVMC in San Jose, is operated by Santa Clara County and serves anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. The Rehab Center is considered one of the most comprehensive and trusted rehabilitation facilities in the western US, and draws patients from across the state and beyond. High-visibility patients are often referred to SCVMC’s Rehab Center by physicians who could send their patients to any facility in the world.

About Katie Sharify

Katie Sharify, a USC student from Pleasanton, was injury last year in a car accident.  She become one of the first people in the world to receive stem cell treatment for spinal cord injury at SCVMC.  Learn about her amazing story with this short video from filmmaker David Alvarado.

Bryan Stow at VMC Rehab Center

Bryan Stow, pictured before being attacked at Dodger Stadium last April.

After seven months in the intensive care unit, much of what he spent in a medically induced coma, Bryan Stow is slowly recovering at the VMC Rehabilitation Center.   NBC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman visited Stow at VMC for a segment on Rock Center with Brian Williams.


Stow, a San Francisco Giants fan who was attacked at Dodger Stadium last April, has made  progress recovering from his injuries, but faces a long road ahead.

For more than 40 years, VMC has been a national leader for those recovering from stroke, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries.  We are proud to welcome the Stow family to the VMC rehab community.

“I have hope. I have drive.” – Katie Sharify’s story…

Katie Sharify knows she has a bright future ahead of her. So do we!

Last month, Katie suffered a spinal cord injury in a terrible car crash – the kind that could happen to any of us. When she came to Valley Medical Center’s world-class Rehabiliation Department, she became part of history.

Katie Sharify is one of just five people in the United States to receive embryonic stem cells. This emerging treatment, pioneered at VMC and just a couple of other places in the nation, could lead to dramatic changes for patients like Katie…

…but it’s way too soon to tell, which is why Katie’s optimism and positive attitude is so inspiring. You just have to see the video posted to the Mercury News on their story today, and the great article also in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I’ve been lucky to spend just a few hours with Katie, but I have to tell you I’m a better person for it. You will be too.

VMC Foundation Holiday Fundraiser to Help Homeless Patients

As you celebrate this holiday season with your friends and family, remember those who have less to be thankful for. The VMC Foundation is raising funds for New Directions, an innovative program that helps break the cycle of homelessness by providing access to a doctor, treatment, transportation, food and even housing to homeless patients.

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Since 2002, New Directions has provided support to homeless men and women with the goals of securing a home, assuring that clients have access to food and appropriate nutrition for their health conditions, assistance in applying for Food Stamps, MediCal, and Social Security, providing access to transportation for health visits, and facilitating the provision of other treatment as needed.

Each client is assigned a case manager who helps them to achieve stability in key areas to help them transition to independent self-care and employment. Clients are taught life skills, provided with access to financial assistance, and educated in tenant-landlord relationships.

Our goal

Our goal is to raise $10,000 for New Directions by the end of the year. Please support the New Directions program with a tax-deductible donation that will help our homeless patients achieve a healthy, safe, and stable way of life.

We will always remember Richard Patterson

The VMC family has lost a true hero.

Richard Patterson passed away last night peacefully, surrounded by his family and friends, to a personal rendition of his favorite song.

In the words of Dr. Stephanie Kolakowsky-Hayner, who leads VMC’s Rehabilitation Research Center

Richard was an amazing man who influenced so many diverse circles and will be missed terribly. He led the peer-support counseling program at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for the past 15 years. He was a tireless advocate for individuals with disabilities, peer support coordinator, committee member for the Public Authority for In-Home-Supportive-Services, a co-chair of the Disability Advisory Commission for the City of San Jose, brother, son, fiancé, colleague, and friend. His loss will impact the thousands of lives he has touched.

Richard PattersonOne life was mine. I met Rich eight years ago, and there’s no end to what he taught me. Rich was the first to explain to me that “you never really ‘accept’ your spinal cord injury, rather you learn to live and work with it, the best you can, which is why peer support is so critical.” As much as someone not living with a disability can understand, Richard Patterson helped me understand.

Our work together saw Richard leading adventurists (like him) with disabilities on glider rides, whale-watching and SCUBA trips, and other excursions that proved what was possible. Great men like Steve Lyon and Marv Tuttle worked with Richard for years to demonstrate to thousands that life after a spinal cord injury can be full and exciting. The VMC Foundation will be forever proud to be part of his legacy.

We have, therefore, established a fund in his name, to ensure that his peer support and community work will grow. His family requests that gifts be sent to the VMC Foundation, 2400 Moorpark Ave. #207, San Jose CA 95128. Be sure to write “Richard Patterson” in the memo of your check, or to give by ccard, call us at 408-885-5299 or visit us on line.

Rich, I’ll miss you buddy. We all will.

Another amazing story from a VMC family…

After receiving permission from the family, I am excited to share this story with you. As difficult as it is to imagine feeling “locked in” your own body, imagine being given a chance to start communicating again. That’s what VMC’s team did for Laure, and part of what the VMC Foundation proudly supports.

When I asked Mr. Chow if I could share this with you, in fact, he responded right away, saying:

You can certainly share. We credit the staff at SCVMC, especially Dr Duong and your PT/OT/ST staff for challenging while respecting Laure. Laure always faces her challenges head on.

You should also know the nursing staff has always been fantastic. Laure was very particular about her care and Laure felt both safe and genuinely cared for by your nursing staff.

Laure has a long way to go, but your staff has been a source of compassion, support and encouragement towards her recovery.

This, then, from Mr. Chow:

To Laure’s extended family:

It has been a long and difficult year for Laure and her family. She is still paralyzed and mute, and everyday life has been extremely challenging. Today however, I share some good news.

Since Laure has been working diligently with physical/occupational therapy every day, she has managed to gain enough head control to hold her head steady. This allows her to use a machine called Dynavox.

The machine tracks her eyes along a keyboard and when Laure blinks, it accepts this as if she were pressing a key. Once she completes a sentence, she uses her eyes to “click” on the “speak” button and the machine speaks what Laure has just typed with her eyes.

At first Laure spelled, “I am tired”, then “thank you Larry”, and “Annie (her caregiver) you are special”. Then Laure was on a roll, spelling:

I want Internet.

I want email.

I want email.

I want email.

She was then able to spell / speak, “I love Ton Ton” and “I love Caillou”.

Finally, she spelled, “ I am happy” and “I have a voice”. We all cried.

All this took well over an hour; the device is not 100% accurate, and Laure gets exhausted just trying to hold her head steady, but we will keep practicing and hopefully send a few emails soon.

I know you share in our joy, and thank you for your thoughts, prayers, love and support of Laure.

Larry Chow

Good Samaritan gives 85 year old VMC patient birthday to remember

Greg GeierGreg Geier could hardly believe his eyes. Walking back to his office from the construction site, he spotted on older man lying face down on the sidewalk in front of Valley Medical Center.

The man was alone, and on this quiet morning, nobody else was in the immediate vicinity. Greg and his colleagues quickly rush to his side. The man had just left the hospital after a visit with his doctor, and apparently tripped.

“He was disoriented,” Greg said, “and banged up pretty bad.”

Greg quickly found a VMC staff person, who alerted the Emergency Department and arranged for his immediate transport. In just a few minutes, the man was gone.

Greg caught his breath, a carried on with his busy day. As the Piping General Foreman for F.W. Spencer and Sons, Inc., a major HVAC and sheet metal sub-contractor for the new VMC hospital wing, he had plenty of work to keep his mind occupied.

But something didn’t sit right with Greg.

He asked himself why this 80+ year old man in poor health was by himself at VMC? Did he have no family to accompany him to his appointment? And what would become of him now all alone in the Emergency Department? He didn’t even know this man’s name, but he couldn’t get the image of him laying facedown on the cold, damp concrete out of his mind.

“I just kept thinking about the guy and it really bothered me,” said Greg.

He also couldn’t help think of his own father, also in his 80s, who was recently injured after a nasty fall on a busy street. It was total strangers who helped get him to safety. Whatever it was, Greg decided that he needed to make sure this man would be ok.

So Greg returned to the hospital and spoke to VMC staff in the ED. He learned that the man had been hospitalized in the Medical Short Stay Unit (MSSU), where he would remain for the next few days, recovering from his injuries.

Greg found his way to the unit and explained who he was to the nurses. They were somewhat skeptical at first. Greg, after all, was not a family member or friend. And a construction worker looks nothing like a candy striper. But seeing no harm, they led Greg to the proper room.

Greg introduced himself.

The man was named Richard. A World War Two veteran, he used to ferry supplies via truck for the Army between the Bay Area and ports in Southern California. Now in his mid-80s, Richard was living alone in San Jose, his family long since gone. He explained that he had been visiting the doctor that day, when he tripped leaving the hospital. He was grateful for Greg and his colleagues for their help, and touched that Greg would even bother to visit him again in the hospital.

As the two men continued to speak, Greg learned that the very next day would be Richard’s 85th birthday. After a few more minutes of conversation, Greg said goodbye and left for the evening, thinking he had brought closure to the events of that morning.

And yet, once again, Greg just didn’t feel right. On the ride home, his thoughts drifted back to Richard, alone in the hospital – and on his 85th birthday, without family or friends.

So when Greg awoke the next morning, he decided to see Richard again. But this time, he would bring along a birthday card filled with the money he had in his wallet.

“I thought that maybe he could take himself out to dinner with it,” Greg said.

He grabbed a company sweatshirt for Richard and trekked over to his room in the MSSU.

This time, it was Richard who couldn’t believe his eyes.

“He was just beaming,” said Greg. “He was very thankful.”

The events caused a small stir on the unit, as nurses and other MSSU staff crowded into the room to see the scene unfold. By this time, the story of the friendly construction worker who had come to Richard’s rescue had brought smiles all around.

“It just felt really neat,” said Michelle de la Calle, R.N., the MSSU Nurse Manager. “Here is a person who is physically building our new hospital, but cares so much about our patients too.”

“It was just one of those things,” Greg said. “It felt like a calling. I just had to do it.”

Ow. Help?

Every few years I like to experience the emergency services at Valley Medical Center for myself, to make sure the excellent care I always tell people about is for real. Last weekend, Saturday 3am seemed like a super time…nothing much on TV, ya know.

I’ll leave it a mystery how it exactly happened, but I’ll say this: If you gave me a hundred bungee cords and had me try to replicate the accident—on purpose—I’d never manage it again. It was in so tightly and deeply, there was no way I was getting it out without expert help.

So off we went to VMC’s Emergency Department…my friend Lydia drove, thankfully. She was visiting from the Southland, and I think she was pretty surprised to see how efficient and, yes, cheerful everybody was in OUR “county hospital”. Many—okay, most—folks waiting were in worse shape than I was and had priority, but it couldn’t have been an hour before they were taking x-rays of my finger to see if I’d gone through the bone or something else important.

By this time I was pretty freaked out. If you know me, you know that playing guitar is more important to me than pretty much anything else I use that finger for, so you can imagine my relief when the news came back that I’d missed serious damage by, oh, the width of an eyelash or two.

I’m not used to being the least chipper person in the room, and it really helped that all the doctors and nurses and techies around me were so upbeat. Maybe they thought this case was pretty cool. I wasn’t looking (believe me!) when they finally got the bungee hook out, but in no time I was anesthetized, sterilized, trussed up and we were on our way.

Yes, this wasn’t a life and death situation like so many others that come through the doors (or land on the roof via helicopter) at VMC every day, but I cannot thank the team enough for saving my finger.

Maybe you have a VMC Emergency story more compelling than mine (most are, I recon). Feel free to share if you like at echristopher.wilder@hhs.sccgov.org , as we at the VMC Foundation pass on the kudos when we can. Until next time, make sure your bungee cords have those rubber safety tips on each end. It could save your weekend.

A Little Sunshine in VMC Rehab

The Rehabilitation Center at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Recognized nationally as a center for excellence, the VMC Rehab Center treats patients with severe head, spinal cord and stroke related injuries, regardless of ability to pay. Since its founding, over 15,000 patients have been served.

Each one of those patients represents an amazing story of struggle and hope. Here is one, as told by Connie Pugh, Nurse Manager, SCVMC Rehab (2Center)

“A Little Sunshine in VMC Rehab”

For the last six months, a group of nurses from 2Rehab (a Rehab unit within VMC) have been brainstorming ways to improve the patient experience. In May, 2010 one of the new programs launched was the Sunshine Club.

The Sunshine Club was developed to provide a bright and energizing breakfast experience for the 2Rehab patients to help them start their day in a positive way. The Club involves setting up the Rehab Day Room with small tables covered with brightly colored tablecloths, fresh flowers, uplifting music and serving the patients coffee, tea and juice before breakfast. Breakfast then arrives and the staff is there to assist the group of patients with their meal. Conversation is encouraged between patients, families and staff.

On the first day of the Sunshine Club, the staff had the Day Room bright, shiny and ready to go. The problem was the patients didn’t want to get up. They had previously been eating their morning meal in their rooms alone. With a little encouragement, the patients got up and joined the group in the Day Room.

One patient, “Mr V,” just did not want to attend on that first day. I went in to speak to Mr. V and said to him “Mr. V, people just are not made to eat alone in a dark room – we would really like to have you join us in the Day Room.

Mr. V replied back “but I like my dark room and I want to eat alone.” I said to Mr. V, “We want to add some hope and brightness to your morning here in rehab,” and Mr. V replied “but I don’t want hope and brightness, I want to be in the dark.”

At that point I explained to Mr. V that the Sunshine Club was new and we would really like to have him come the first day and then if he did not like it we would not ask him again. He reluctantly agreed to come, although he muttered complaints on the way in to the day room and throughout breakfast.

Later in the day, Mr. V wheeled himself to my office and said he wanted to “fess up about something.” He said the Sunshine Club was a real nice thing we did for patients, including serving coffee, the music and the flowers. Why he really objected to go, he said, was because he had been a youth counselor at one time and seeing young head injury patients in rehab made him very sad.

I then asked Mr. V, “You were a youth counselor?” He replied yes. I said, “Then Mr. V, I really need you to help me with the Sunshine Club. I need you to bring brightness and hope to our young patients – in fact, you can be Mr. Sunshine and come help me each day.”

Mr. V replied to me, “Well if you really need me to help I guess I could do that.”
Bright and early the next morning, and every morning after until discharge, Mr. V helped with the Sunshine Club. He had a special way of getting patients to talk and laugh and have a good time, particularly the young patients.

On Mr. V’s day of discharge, I didn’t see him come into the Sunshine Club at the usual time. A little later he wheeled himself in and said “Everyone, I have an announcement to make: I’m going home today.” The group of patients all clapped for him. He then said, “You all know me as Mr. Sunshine, well today I’m leaving and want to pass the torch to someone else. I’ve chosen ‘Mr. E’ to be the next Mr. Sunshine.”

Mr. E looked up and said “I don’t know, man, what do I have to do?” Mr. V said “Well you have to show up early to help Carlo and Connie get the Day Room Ready and help serve coffee and you have to bring sunshine to all the patients.” Mr. E said he would think about it.

The next morning when I arrived at 0630, Mr. E was already up and in the Day Room. He said with a smile “What do I need to do to help?”

Our new Mr. Sunshine had arrived.