You might remember Karissa Grote as a baby.
Twenty-nine years ago she graced the first cover of The Fresno Bee’s special Kids Day edition that helps raise money for Valley Children’s Hospital. By the time she was 2 1/2 years old, she had gone through 30 surgeries at Valley Children’s Hospital because she was born without an esophagus.
“I’m a miracle baby,” the now 32-year-old Grote, a seventh-grade teacher at Visalia’s Valley Oak Middle School, says. “Without Valley Children’s, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Grote was too young to remember a lot about the time she spent in the hospital, but she has one memento that is dear: a multi-colored Popple.
“I had a friend, Josh, who had leukemia. He told his mother to give me the toy before he died,” Grote says. “I can remember our mothers pulling us around in wagons and it was Valentine’s Day. Josh gave me Mickey Mouse Valentine’s cards with strings in them.”
Grote doesn’t talk a lot about her medical history because there are no real external signs of her long battle. But she did recently share her story with a mother she met through the school whose child was dealing with a medical problem.
Make a donation to Kids Day at www.valleychildrens.org/kidsday
Becoming a teacher is something that Grote wanted to do all her life. Most of the conversations she has with parents are about her students. She doesn’t share her medical history story – it’s really not something that comes up easily in conversation.
The only sign of all those years of medical care is a faint scar on the right side of her neck. It was one of two tubes placed in her through Valley Children’s when she was a child so that her parents could feed her while the surgeries were being done to build her esophagus.
That feeding process, like so much other hospital care she received, isn’t even a faint memory for Grote. She did come to realize how much time her parents spent staying with her during the hospital stays as they worked with the staff to help her survive.
The hospital’s care for very young patients and their parents has been a mainstay since the doors opened and continues today. Valley Children’s was ranked as one of the best hospitals in the country in neonatology by U.S. News & World Report’s 2016-17 Best Children’s Hospital Rankings.
Todd Suntrapak, Valley Children’s Hospital president and chief executive officer, points out that none of this could have been accomplished without the “awe-inspiring” and “generous acts of philanthropy, large and small, we receive from the community.
“Last year alone, we had a record number of more than 350,000 inpatient and outpatient visits. We received our Level II Trauma designation and became the only Pediatric Trauma Center in Central California.”
Grote was part of the army of volunteers helping sell Kids Day newspaper for years. She was too young to be on street corners that initial year, but her smiling face was a big part of what went into the first edition when The Bee and ABC30 joined forces in 1988 to start what would become the annual Kids Day publication. That year, $56,000, a little more than one-tenth the amount that is the target for this year’s fundraiser, was raised.
About Kids Day
The 30th edition of Kids Day will be on sale Tuesday, March 7, with thousands of volunteers lining streets in the San Joaquin Valley selling special editions of The Bee. Their goal: raise $625,000 for Valley Children’s Hospital. That would break the record of $600,000 collected last year during the Kids Day fundraiser. The almost $8 million raised in the past 29 years has gone to help thousands of children who have been patients at the hospital.