Category Archives: RAK at local events

Understanding life with asthma

Darius Collins tries to blow on his pretend air tube while his parents watch.

Try this. Roll up a piece of paper. Stuff it with cotton balls. Wrap the roll in tightly wound rubber bands to hold the cotton in place.

Then put  your mouth up to one end and try to breathe. That’s what it feels like when a child is in the throes of an acute asthma attack.

Understanding what asthma is — what it does to the body and how to respond — can help children cope with a disease that is not curable, but is in most cases completely controllable. That’s why Cardon Children’s Medical Center provides free asthma education and support programs for families in the East Valley and beyond.

One such event was held last Saturday in a classroom overlooking Tempe’s Kiwanis Recreation Center indoor wave pool. I was there with RAK multimedia journalist Vicki Balint, who was producing a video about the asthma support group and education program.

Certified asthma educator Diana Braskett, RN, CPNP, AE-C, was stationed at the first table families encountered after signing in. She pulled out a diagram of the lungs, answered questions and showed children how to make a pretend air tube.

Diana Braskett demonstrates the air tube activity.

“The cotton balls simulate the effect of swelling,” she explained. “The rubber bands are muscles constricting.”

Having asthma can be tedious. Braskett knows; she has a mild case herself. “You get tired of taking medicine,” she says. “I can relate. It’s especially hard for the little ones. They don’t understand.”

But understanding is key to the ability to carry on, to stay healthy, to participate in the activities a child enjoys.

Children must become familiar with their own particular asthma “triggers,” which may include dust, allergies, seasonal changes, rain, humidity, cold, exercise, upper respiratory infections and more, Braskett told me.

They must learn modifications to avoid those triggers — sometimes something as simple as knowing to stay indoors when the weather (or pollution) is bad. And they must follow their doctor’s treatment plan to the letter.

Each child’s treatment plan is different, of course, so no one approach applies across the board. (Learn more about asthma on Cardon Children’s website.)

Asthma educator Kim Reiners talks to Keegan Palmer about a peak flow meter.

Surprisingly, exercise is usually encouraged. Swimming, especially, can be good for children with asthma (if they are not sensitive to chlorine) because it forces rhythmic breathing and helps them develop upper-body strength. Children for whom exercise can be an asthma trigger may be taught to use their “rescue meds” before they participate, Baskett says.

“Some parents are afraid to let their kids exercise when it can be the best thing for them,” adds Kim Reiners, R.N., CPNP, AE-C, who pioneered the asthma support group and education effort at Cardon Children’s. Her station at the event allowed kids the chance to blow hard into a peak flow meter to measure their speed of expiration, or ability to breathe out.

At another station, Paula White, R.N., CNP, AE-C, was leading a board game. While it didn’t have the most enticing name (“The Breathe Easy Asthma Education Interactive Tool,” by Merck), the kids seemed to enjoy the opportunity to drive little cars around a “city,” landing on destinations like hospitals and parks to learn specific facts about asthma.

Paula White shows Isaiah and Issac Salter how to playan asthma education board game as their mom watches.

Families that attended the program were issued free wristbands for a swim in the wave pool after the event. So at times it seemed the greatest challenge they faced that morning was finding the patience to wait until the pool opened.

Everybody dance now!

Kendall Glover teaches dance lessons at The Salvation Army day camp in Chandler. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

It was staff multimedia journalist Vicki Balint’s idea, not mine. But I promised to be a good sport.

We were at The Salvation Army day camp in Chandler to interview Kendall Glover, the 11-year-old hometown dance sensation who placed second in the finals of a national competition for the CBS program “Live to Dance.”

My 11-year-old niece, Mandy, was there to help me with the interview. She attends the same school as Kendall, is in the same grade and almost shares the same birthday. (Kendall’s is Aug. 2; Mandy’s is Aug. 3.)

We talked to Kendall about all sorts of things, including the role she will play July 30 in the FOX 10 Dance Day benefit to raise money for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Participants will dance most of the day away at Jobing.com Arena, earning the money that was pledged on their behalf as they enjoy entertainment (hometown celebrity and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will be performing) and the chance to hang out real dancers like Kendall Glover.

Kendall said the great thing about the event is that you don’t have to be a dancer to enjoy it. I am definitely not a dancer and neither is Mandy, though she’s a heck of a good soccer player. But with some urging from Vicki, who was there with her video camera, Mandy and I agreed to give it a shot.

Kendall patiently taught us some moves. We did okay, but not as well as the kids from The Salvation Army Camp. You’ll see them dancing with Kendall after our (blessedly short) appearance.

If we could do it, so can you. Register here to create a team for Dance Day.

Sparks will be flying at dance fundraiser

Jordin Sparks

Phoenix Children’s Hospital broke the news last week that hometown celebrity and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks will be the featured performer at the FOX 10 Dance Day fundraiser on Saturday, July 30.

When I heard the news, I decided it was time to unleash some sparks of my own. I’ve spent some time with another hometown sensation who will be at the event. Kendall Glover is 11 years old (for a few more weeks anyway), she has been performing since she was 4, she came in second in a nationally televised dance contest (“Live to Dance”) and I had the privilege of interviewing her last month — along with my 11-year-old niece Mandy — after she finished teaching a dance class for her volunteer job at The Salvation Army day camp in Chandler.

We had RAK staff photographer Daniel Friedman with us (all photos from here forward are his) and multimedia journalist Vicki Balint, who handled the audio and video.

Kendall gives dance instructions (Mandy and I are watching in the top right corner).

Kendall was fulfilling a volunteer commitment required of her participation in the National Charity League. But it looked like more fun than work as she taught the kids — eight girls, two boys and two additional volunteers — a dance sequence similar to one she performed on Just Dance Kids for Nintendo Wii.

Mandy and I are preparing a story about our interview with Kendall for the magazine’s September performing arts issue. But because we knew the Dance Day event was on the horizon, we also asked Kendall to talk about that.

Listen to our mini-podcast.

Recording our interview with Kendall, and with help from Vicki Balint.

Dance Day takes place from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, July 30 at Jobing.com Arena. It’s a brand new event designed to be fun for families and friends to do together. You can create your own team and dance all day (get all the sign-up details here). Need an extra incentive to get involved? Jordin Sparks will hold a “meet and greet” with the event’s top fundraiser.

Kendall Glover.

Don’t want to dance? You can also have fun watching. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for kids ages 12 and younger. Click here for more information. Proceeds benefit patients at Phoenix Children’s.

Kendall promised us that you don’t have to be a dancer to have a great time at the event. “It doesn’t matter how you dance or how you look, it’s just about what you love to do,” she says.

Tomorrow: Kendall teaches Mandy and me a few moves.

Two non-dancers learn from the pro.

A “snow day” at RAK

When I got to work Thursday morning I could tell it was going to be one of “those” days.

Sadie Smeck, our editorial intern, couldn’t get onto the Internet. Then Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist couldn’t access any of our internal network drives. Then Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb called in from a meeting to say she couldn’t access her email.

Deep breath.

I called Leon Hauck, who does our IT troubleshooting and he said he’d be over within the hour.

We all looked at each other, baffled. What could we do now? Our email was down, we couldn’t get on the Internet and we couldn’t access any of our network files. (Our website, which is hosted in “the cloud,” was fine.)

I did the only thing I could think to do. I declared a snow day.

Never mind that it was 97 degrees before we even got to work, or that it was expected to top out at 111. We were stuck. We couldn’t engage in our typical routines. We needed to think outside the box.

A momentous anniversary arrived this month with little fanfare. It’s now been a year since “The Great Office Flood of 2010,” when we were forced to evacuate our office for three months as we dried out from a burst pipe in the suite overhead. When we were finally able to move back in, we were so focused on getting back to the business of running the business that we let many non-essential tasks fall by the wayside.

That included the unpacking of dozens of boxes and the sorting through piles of flood-damaged items we just never seemed able to find the time (or mental energy) to examine.

It didn’t really bother me until Mala told me that someone  had come to our office one day and asked if we were moving. And that made me realize that we were still operating in kind of a triage mentality. We never really settled back into our space. It was almost like we didn’t trust the fact that we were staying.

Sadie finds nails and hooks for awards plaques.

Our “snow day” was a first step toward rectifying that situation. I ran around the office and announced that were were going to use this “found” time to tackle the boxes and piles, get rid of things we didn’t need, get ourselves organized. Mala, Solvay and Sadie quickly embraced my plan. Mala grabbed a big box and started filling it with papers for the recycle bin. I dumped a pile of awards, plaques and  framed photos on the floor and Sadie and Solvay started mounting them on the walls. Then I dragged 22 years worth of hastily packed RAK history — much of it brittle, stained and rippled by water damage — into the hallway so I could organize it by year.

Snow days are gifts. Moments when time stands still. Times when small moments matter, and memories are rediscovered.

Sadie offers support as Solvay prepares to pound a nail into the wall.

I heard Sadie, who will be a junior in college this fall, talking to 12-year-old Solvay in a nurturing and affirming manner born of their unexpected camaraderie.

“You have a good eye, Solvay!” she said as they decided where to pound nails and place plaques. I heard Solvay talking to Sadie about last year’s flood. “I really learned a lot about the magazine’s history when the flood happened,” she said, a positive memory of a time filled with frantic packing and unpacking, but also with staff members sharing stories about our past.

Snow days are gifts. Moments when overwhelming tasks, like tackling this pile in the corner of my office…

…yield unexpected, and joyful, surprises. Like this picture I found of my two sons, now grown, who were helping me staff a Raising Arizona Kids booth at a big community event so very long ago.

A celebration of cancer survivors

Sometimes a big cake isn’t about birthdays or graduations or weddings. Sometimes it’s about surviving — and celebrating life.

Sometimes your best friend joins you for an arts and crafts project. You have so much fun you almost forget that you are stringing Beads of Courage. But you never forget that your friend stood by you, even when you were the sickest you have ever been in your whole life.

Sometimes the doctor who helped you beat back your cancer has other talents you never knew about.

Sometimes you don’t feel that great on the day of the party but you come anyway. It’s how you say to your cancer, “I will not let you stop me and I will be back again for next year’s party without this mask and IV pole!”

Sometimes the child life specialist who patiently explained scary stuff to you and made you laugh, even when you were hurting, gets a chance to sign your “autograph hound” for graduation.

Sometimes a whole room of people who don’t really know each other feel united by a shared, and very joyful, milestone. One more year, and my child is still here.

Sometimes even a kid who is fighting cancer will fight for a piece of cake before it is served.

Sometimes she’ll get it. And sometimes, she’ll even get seconds.

Photos and memories from the Sunday, June 5 Cancer Survivors Day event I attended at Cardon Children’s Medical Center with RAK health editor and multimedia journalist Vicki Balint.


Watch Vicki’s video.

An Ethiopian adoption story – a chance to hear it told

July 2010: Keri and Solomon.

I’ve heard her tell it dozens of times but I never tire of the story. When Keri deGuzman tells people about the remarkable journey she and her husband, cardiothoracic surgeon Brian deGuzman, M.D., took to adopt their four Ethiopia-born children, she is transformed.

Any pre-event jitters evaporate as soon as she begins to talk. There is no place for discomfort she may feel about public speaking. This isn’t about her. It’s not even about the four beautiful children that she and Brian are raising, though the children are the underpinning for her amazing and still-evolving story.

When Keri speaks, it’s about the millions of other children. The ones who don’t have clean homes and nutritious foods and the chance for meaningful education or productive lives. The orphans of Ethiopia.

Keri will share her Ethiopia adoption story at 10:30am tomorrow (Saturday, April 23) at Scottsdale’s Mustang Library. I’ll be with her, adding what I can about my experience traveling with her and Brian to Ethiopia last summer, when they welcomed their two youngest children, Solomon and Tesfanesh, into their family.

Keri’s four Ethiopia-born children are happy, healthy, thriving — and cherished. The story about how they came into her life is beautiful, uplifting and inspiring. Hearing it will be a perfect kickoff to the Easter weekend.

After flying all night from Addis Ababa, Keri and Brian unite their family at Washington's Dulles International Airport. The two older children, Jesmina and Musse, stayed with Brian's parents, who live in the Washington, D.C. area., while we were in Ethiopia.

A celebration at Phoenix Children’s Hospital

Randy Christensen, M.D., autographs a book.

As we approached the table where pediatrician and newly minted author Randy Christensen, M.D. was autographing copies of his book, we joked about being his “groupies.”

The book-signing event in the airy, natural light-filled lobby at the new patient tower at Phoenix Children’s Hospital was the second event in the past three weeks that multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint and I have attended in support of Christensen, his new book (Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them) and his work with the Crews’n Healthmobile, a collaborative effort between Phoenix Children’s Hospital and UMOM New Day Centers.

Vicki and Randy at a March luncheon where he was the featured speaker.

Groupies? Well, certainly admirers. Vicki, who interviewed Christensen for a story we published in January 2008, has followed his journey with great interest. She even read an advance copy of his book, which is a memoir about his work spearheading medical outreach to homeless teens, and wrote a review that will appear in our upcoming May magazine.

I am looking forward to reading my own copy, which I purchased at the PCH gift shop and which is inscribed, “Thanks so much for your support!” by “Dr. Randy.”

The event, which carried on throughout the day and early evening, was a true celebration. Many of Christensen’s coworkers and medical colleagues from around the community were there. Everyone was beaming. Some were wearing handmade bracelets mimicking the one adorning the book jacket. Teresa Boeger, a child life specialist and director at PCH (with responsibilities encompassing The Emily Center and the gift shop, too),  found a couple of extra bracelets, which she promptly gave to Vicki and me. With the “Ask Me Why I Hurt” message so relevant for the hospital’s young patients, I would expect to see a lot more of these around the hospital in the days and weeks to come. Vicki urged her to market them at the gift shop, with proceeds benefiting the Crews’n Healthmobile.

Michelle Ray, who sought medical help from the Crews'n Healthmobile while living at a UMOM New Day Center, came to offer her support. Michelle, now the mother of a 4-year-old, is studying to be a nurse. Christensen is her child's pediatrician.

Before we left, we took a quick tour of the new Crews’n Healthmobile, a big upgrade over the original vehicle (which Vicki wrote about visiting in her Health Matters blog).

When Vicki first interviewed Randy, he wasn’t necessarily thinking about writing a book. And yet he first talked to Vicki he told her about the young woman who wore a bracelet saying “Ask Me Why I Hurt.” As I listened to the interview again recently, I got chills. The larger purpose behind this man’s life, work — and now, his writing — is plainly clear.

Listen to Vicki’s 2008 podcast.

Randy and Amy Christensen. Amy is also a pediatrician.

The Crews'n Healthmobile and staff. Photo by Vicki Louk Balint.

With Randy at the PCH gift shop. Photo by Vicki Louk Balint.

A wonderful civics lesson for all

A huge video monitor was used to share a message of welcome from President Barack Obama.

Twenty people. Nineteen different countries of origin. Anywhere from four to 52 years of time spent living in this country. Working here. Contributing.

The flag of the United States of America. The flag of the Department of Homeland Security. Girl Scouts. Public officials, including former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.

The story of a man whose family escaped the wars in Nicaragua when he was just a first grader. A vivid description that captivated each person in the audience, including the very youngest.

The Pledge of Allegiance. The National Anthem. Trusting, innocent voices singing, “This land is my land, this land is your land….” Knowing it.

Smiles that wouldn’t stop. A baby that wouldn’t stop crying. A videotaped message from the President of the United States.

Hugs. Tears. Handshakes of congratulations. A sunsplashed patio. Fairytale Brownies and lemonade. Goodbyes. Good wishes.

Two of the citizenship candidates who were led to the ceremony by Desert View Learning Center students.

Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley hosted a naturalization ceremony Friday. Because several of our staff members have children who attended the school, its principal, Piya Jacob, invited us to attend. Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint, staff photographer Daniel Friedman and I were honored to witness this sacred rite of passage that is something akin to a baptism, a wedding and a graduation all rolled into one.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services typically conducts these ceremonies within the confines of a courtroom. Just recently, the decision was made to offer some of the ceremonies within different venues in the community. Desert View was chosen because one of its parents is an immigration officer.

The students played an active role in the event. Their artwork adorned the programs. They made paper flags of each citizenship candidate’s country of origin. The candidates proudly carried their flags as they were escorted by the third grade class into the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix. (The school rents space from the church.) A Girl Scout troop presented the colors.

The entire student body was seated on the floor at the front of the sanctuary so that each student had a clear view of the ceremony. Many wore red, white and blue. The group sat quietly, respectfully, jumping up only when it was time to sing one of several songs they performed.

Piya, herself a native of India who became a naturalized citizen a number of years ago, was expecting “a wonderful civics lesson for all, and a most heartwarming ceremony.” The actual event surpassed all expectations.

Candidates take the oath of citizenship.

Weekly photo challenge: shadow

Sometimes a shadow is an echo. A memory. A moment that thrilled, touched, moved. Sadness that it has ended and the flicker of hopeful anticipation that it may come again.

Three-time Grammy Award winning musician Tom Chapin performed for 3,500 school children this week during three separate performances at Higley Center for the Arts in Gilbert. He ended his Thursday morning concert singing a “goodbye” song, walking slowly offstage, strumming a refrain on his autoharp. He seemed unwilling to severe the connection he’d established with the children, each of whom had learned Chapin’s songs in school, thanks to a special curriculum developed to teach life lessons about about inclusiveness, making healthy choices, tolerance, respect and the environment.

For the adults in the audience, it was an electric moment — filled with hope and silent prayers that those lessons will shadow these children for the rest of their lives.

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Why am I thinking about about shadows? WordPress hosts a Weekly Photo Challenge for those of us who took the 2011 Post a Day (or Post a Week) Challenge. I think you’re supposed to let the picture tell the story by itself but I couldn’t help myself.

A fitting tribute to women

I was in the neighborhood Hallmark store looking for a birthday card when I stumbled upon one of those refrigerator magnets designed to amuse and inspire. “Life is tough,” it said. “Women are tougher.”

Immediately I thought of the 11 honorees who were celebrated at the YWCA 2011 Tribute to Women, held today in the massive Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel & Spa.

All of the women honored have made remarkable and inspiring contributions to our community, some despite staggering challenges. But Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb and I attended the event this year out of respect for two very specific women: Phoenix Mercury President and General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale (who was named “Sports Leader”) and Frances Mill-Yerger, Ph.D. (who was named “Health & Science” leader).

Meyers Drysdale with DJ and Drew.

We have some history with these women. Meyers Drysdale and two of her children, DJ and Drew, appeared on our July 2009 cover and the corresponding “A Conversation with…” interview. Despite her demanding schedule, this formidable athlete and legend in the sport of women’s basketball spent an unhurried few hours with us in the Mercury locker room, graciously and warmly engaging each of us in conversation. I came away a fan for life, knowing I’d been “In the presence of a true champion.”

“Sports gives you the understanding that we all fail sometimes,” Meyers Drysdale said in a video interview that aired during the luncheon. “It teaches you how to be a good teammate. How to work well under your coach. These are all important lessons in life. If you never try, if you never attempt, you’ll never know where you could have gone.” In simply undertaking the effort, she said, “you are going to run across so many positive things.”

Frances Mills-Yerger, Ph.D. and MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb.

Mills-Yerger is the founder of Workshops for Youth and Families, a program that fosters personal leadership and resilience in youth and families. Though my sons were never able to attend Workshops, both of MaryAnn’s two children did. And we’ve both heard countless testimonials from parents (and young people) who attest to its value and significance in their lives.

What I didn’t know about “Dr. Franny ” is that she fought non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the early 1990s, at the same time she faced the not-insubstantial challenge of completing her Ph.D. “I’m a warrior,” she said in her video interview. “I decided I was not letting go of this program. There’s an old Japanese proverb: ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight times.’ I never missed a Workshop while I was in treatment.”

Mills-Yerger also appeared in our magazine, in a story that apparently ran so long ago the article is not even archived on our website. So as MaryAnn and I approached her after the luncheon, this good-natured warrior accepted our congratulations and then announced, “It’s time you did another story!” I’d say she’s right.