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White Memorial: Making a Difference in Alexander's Life

Alexander is a happy little boy who makes new friends easily. He’s now in preschool and will start kindergarten this fall. Just 4-years-old, he is already a veteran of two surgeries to correct the cleft palate he was born with.

When Alexander was born, the doctors told his mother that he had a bilateral cleft palate, a genetic malformation in the roof of the mouth. She was surprised and scared, but the hospital quickly assured her that it could be corrected. “At that time, I was naïve and didn’t know anything about a cleft palate — I’d never even heard of it,” says Neomia Hancock, Alexander’s mother. “The doctors at the hospital referred me to White Memorial Medical Center (WMMC), where they have a special Cleft Palate Program for children like Alexander.

“I took him there the first week of his life and we’ve been going there ever since. Everyone was extremely friendly and from the very beginning I felt like they treated him more like a family member than a patient. They have a group of specialists — the surgeon, dentist, therapist, nurses and others who see him regularly. They learned our names quickly and have helped us so much.”

Alexander had surgery on his lip at 10 weeks. Just a week before his first birthday, he had palate surgery. Children with cleft palates are often prone to ear infections, but since the palate surgery, he has not had any ear problems.

WMMC’s Cleft Palate Program provides comprehensive care for children like Alexander. It is the only such program in east Los Angeles county. “Since my son was born, I’ve met other parents who have children with a cleft palate and their experience is unlike mine. I think White Memorial treats people differently and makes them feel like family.”

She’s been bringing Alexander to WMMC for speech therapy once a week since he first began to talk, so the therapist can address any speech issues that may arise. He’s doing well and speaks clearly. “They’re so great — they’ve helped him in every way — with his self-esteem as well as his language. He’s very social and likes to talk to everyone,” she says. Today, Alexander is a loving, confident child who knows he has a “special mark” others sometimes ask about, but he is self-assured and feels good about himself.

“I am just so grateful to the WMMC Cleft Palate Program for all they do. They make it possible for Alexander to receive the care he needs. I’m a full-time student and also work part-time, so it can be difficult at times. At the beginning, before I had a car, they even provided transportation so I could bring my son in. They’re so great at working to accommodate my schedule, which changes all the time. They’ll sometimes even switch us with another family if necessary."

“We live in Whittier, but it’s worth the hour drive each way to have him come to the Cleft Palate Program at White Memorial,” she emphasized.

WMMC’s Cleft Palate Program serves approximately 350 cleft lip and palate children each year. Without treatment, affected children can suffer life-long handicaps such as facial deformities, chronic dental and hearing problems and even malnutrition. They also suffer from the psychological and social consequences of the disfiguring condition.

Since WMMC is a not-for-profit hospital, all donations made to the hospital are gladly accepted and deeply appreciated. For more information about the Cleft Palate Program or to make a donation, please call (323) 260-5739.


 White Memorial: Making a Difference in Emily Hope's Life

Last year, Emily Hope Reynoso was a healthy six-month-old spending her first Christmas at home with her parents, Hector and Kristy. This story could have had a different ending because on April 6, 2000, when Kristy was just 26 weeks into her pregnancy with Emily, a doctor's exam revealed that she was at risk for premature labor.

"I was so afraid," Kristy said. "I had already lost two babies for the same reason."

Kristy was admitted to White Memorial Medical Center's High Risk Obstetrics Unit, which is designed to meet the needs of women with prenatal complications. On May 22, she delivered Emily Hope.

Because Emily weighed only 3 pounds, 10 ounces at birth, she spent the next three weeks in White Memorial's Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where she was given the loving and specialized, state-of-the-art care she needed to grow and thrive. During their stay, both mother and baby were closely monitored on a daily basis by both the perinatologist and the nursing staff to assure that both were progressing well. Emily was released from the NICU when her weight reached four and a half pounds.

"Emily Hope wouldn't be here if it weren't for White Memorial," Kristy said. If she'd been born at 26 weeks, she could have had severe complications or even died."

Patients like Kristy, who are at risk of early delivery or complications due to reasons such as premature labor, high blood pressure, diabetes or infections, are now receiving extra care and attention at White Memorial. We have always taken excellent care of high-risk patients, but by designating a separate unit, these patients now receive specialized care focused on their particular condition. And most important, by delaying birth as long as possible, babies get a better start at life.

"Being hospitalized for seven weeks was hard on me and my family," said Kristy, "but the staff did everything they could to make me comfortable. They encouraged Hector and our children to visit often. One nurse knew I liked to read, so she brought me books and videos from home. I even made some friends on the unit."


White Memorial: Cleft Palate Program Making a Difference in People's Lives

Brothers Kevin and Mario Hernandez, three and four years old, respectively, share the same loving parents, the same peaceful home, and the same devastating birth defect.

The brothers, separated by just 10 months, both entered the world with a cleft palate, a malformation in the roof of the mouth. If left untreated, then children with cleft palate can suffer life-long handicaps including severe facial deformities, chronic dental and hearing problems and even malnutrition.

In addition to the physical complications the condition causes, even more painful are the social consequences. People stare. Children taunt. Even well-meaning adults look away.

But thanks to the expertise of surgeons, dentists, therapists and other specialists with White memorial Medical Center’s Cleft Palate Program, the Hernandez brothers can now speak, breathe and eat without the stares they once received.

“They look like normal children again,” said their mother. “No one laughs at them anymore.”

The cleft palate program is just one of the highly sophisticated specialty programs for children available at White Memorial Medical Center — one of the only places in the community where such care is available. A team takes a comprehensive approach to repairing the condition and gives kids a far more normal childhood.

Mario and Kevin’s mother compared the quality of life before and after the surgeries. “Now I take them everywhere,” she said. “No one can tell they were born with a birth defect. They look really good. I am so grateful to the staff at White Memorial. They are so patient and loving to my children. They are so prepared to help the community they serve.”

White Memorial remains dedicated to advancing the technology and expertise needed to continue providing the highly specialized care so needed in its community. For the Hernandez brothers, it has made all the difference. 



A Heart for His Community: Dr. Miguel A. Martinez 

When six-year-old Miguel Martinez entered school, his teacher placed him in a class for mentally challenged students – because he could not speak English.

Back then, the Martinez family had just emigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, to a tough, crime-plagued neighborhood in Los Angeles. The family could not afford English classes for the young boy, who dreamed of being an astronaut or an architect. When his father noticed that Miguel wasn’t bringing home any homework he knew something was wrong. He immediately went to the school and ensured that the boy was placed in regular classes.

Then when Miguel was in the eighth grade, his father, a tile layer, believed in the power of education and set the expectation that each of his children would go to college. One day, he turned to his son and said, “You’re very smart, and you help people. Go to medical school.”

So Miguel did. He attended both Yale and Stanford Universities on scholarships. He completed a residency in urology at White Memorial Medical Center. Today, the boy is Miguel Martinez, MD, President of the Los Angeles Urology Medical Group at White Memorial. Dr. Martinez has served as Chair of the hospital’s Charitable Foundation Board of Directors, and has also served on the hospital’s Governing Board.

He formed a lasting friendship with the family of renowned boxer Oscar De La Hoya who later gave a generous donation to establish the Cecilia Gonzalez De La Hoya Cancer Center, named after Oscar’s mother.

With an ivy-league education, Dr. Martinez could have practiced medicine anywhere. Instead, he chose to stay and give back to the community.

“This is where I wanted to be because I wanted to be close to home,” he says. “I love this community.”



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