Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera County is one of the nation’s top 50 children’s hospitals in neonatology in rankings by U.S. News & World Report.
The hospital ranked 49 out of 50 top centers for the pediatric specialty in the magazine’s 2016-17 Best Children’s Hospitals report.
For the 10th annual Best Children’s Hospitals rankings, the magazine said it evaluated 106 hospitals, and 78 were ranked in at least one specialty.
Todd Suntrapak, Valley Children’s president and CEO, said the hospital in Madera County has a reputation in the central San Joaquin Valley, but the U.S. News & World Report recognition extends it nationally. “This is the first of what I want to be many rankings from U.S. News & World Report,” he said.
The hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit is certified by the state of California as a regional unit – the highest level possible. The hospital also has the region’s only Level IV neonatal intensive care unit, which means it meets the highest standards set by the Academy of Pediatrics.
Suntrapak told a full auditorium of employees and guests Tuesday that the hospital’s unit cares for 1,500 babies a year. “These are some of the smallest, most critically ill babies in our state,” he said.
Flanked by former neonatal intensive care babies and their parents, Suntrapak said the hospital’s ranking, while important, does not compare with the “recognition on the faces of these children.”
Katherine Franco, 27, of Fowler, held her 2-year-old son, Treysen. He was born with short bowel syndrome and spent 2 1/2 months in the hospital unit. “The first two weeks, he had six surgeries,” Franco said. “It was a scary time.” The doctors, nurses and staff helped her through the really tough times, she said. “They were so great to us.”
Dr. Jeffrey Pietz, the hospital’s chief of newborn medicine, had a difficult time talking about the unit’s patients without becoming teary-eyed. One of the patients, 4-year-old Tyson Perez, was in his mother’s arms behind the doctor as he took the podium. Tyson weighed 360 grams (eight-tenths of a pound) at birth, “about the size of a medium can of Coca-Cola,” Pietz said.
At the time of Tyson’s birth, only 50 babies who were born under 400 grams survived, he said. “But Tyson is here,” he said. “And he’s a very dangerous preemie – he practices martial arts with his dad.”
Tyson’s father, Matthew Perez of Fresno, a professional mixed martial arts athlete, said his son is healthy. Tyson’s mother, Katie Phaphon, said the couple practically lived at the neonatal care unit for half a year after Tyson’s birth.
“There was a lot of fear,” she said. “Probably 90 percent fear and 10 percent trying to stay positive.” She said the unit “did everything they possibly could for us, and they stayed positive with us.”
Bill Smittcamp, chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees, said the staff at the hospital worked tireless hours to make the hospital one of the best in the country. “It can be difficult to talk about the greatness of what we do here,” he said, and the U.S. News & World Report rankings are a welcome acknowledgment of one area of accomplishment. “There will be more to come,” he said. “But what better place than the neonatal area to start.”
U.S. News & World Report said nationwide, 11 hospitals earned a place on the rankings “honor roll,” a distinction awarded to pediatric centers that perform at the highest level in three or more specialties.
Boston Children’s Hospital ranked No. 1 on the honor roll, with the top spot in eight out of 10 specialties. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was No. 2, followed by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center at No. 3. In California, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles ranked No. 7 and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto shared the No. 10 ranking with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.