Kids Day

‘A happy experience.’ How scary hospital visits were driven away at Valley Children’s

Recently, Adrianna Barrera and her husband Steve Casarez sat nervously inside a small hospital room. Their son was getting surgery within a few hours.

Last summer, a skin growth had developed on 5-year-old Manuel Casarez’s scalp. Doctors said laser surgery was the way to remove it. One time, Manuel tried getting rid of it himself, his mom said, by pressing it down and hoping it stayed down. But he needed professional help.

After a few doctor visits in Visalia, where the family lives, Manuel was finally referred to Valley Children’s Hospital in January for laser surgery.

It was a new experience for the family. Barrera, 28, and Casarez, 30, had never visited Children’s Hospital, just north of Fresno on Highway 41.

And if they were nervous, how was Manuel, a kindergartener, taking in the experience?

The smile on his face as he rode around in a red Mini electric car suggested he was doing alright for his first big visit, that he might have forgotten why he was at the hospital in the first place. That was exactly how the staff at the hospital wanted it.

Last August, Valley Children’s Hospital began operating the “iDrive” program, an alternative that gives surgery-bound children a ride into the operating room in remote-controlled cars rather than the usual hospital beds used to wheel patients around. The idea to transfer kids into the operating room in remote-controlled cars was born out of a similar program at another hospital.

Since the program launched at Valley Children’s, hospital staff say they’ve noticed a mood transformation in parents and their children when they visit the hospital. Five cars are available for riding in the Day Surgery Department. Another is available at the Imaging Center.

“The kids are excited to get in the cars. I also see a change in the parents trying to capture that happy moment of the day,” said Shelly Reyes, Valley Children’s Charge Nurse. “It’s a reminder every day that we are working with kids.”

There are a few rules to riding the cars, according to Tana Leon-Toscano, nurse educator at the Day Surgery Department. She said children should know how to follow directions, shouldn’t weigh more than 30 kilos and it’s preferred they don’t have a severe medical history.

Overall, Leon-Toscano said, the cars are a way to reduce any child fear and anxiety during their hospital visit. It also serves to distract them from the thought of surgery. “It’s a happy experience,” she said, also noting that the program has become popular with children.

During their visit to the hospital, Manuel, wearing a sky blue patient suit, had been busy coloring with his parents beside him when a nurse opened the door to their hospital room and presented him with the red Mini electric car.

He jumped out of his bed and into the car. Each is equipped with seat belts and power buttons. When Manuel stepped on the peddle a few times, the car moved. He was ready to go.

A nurse controlled the car remotely and sent it whining down the hospital hallway. Manuel, who was later given a license bearing the face of George the Giraffe, steered as his parents quietly watched from a close distance.

Leon-Toscano said hospital staff are trained on how to operate the cars. After each use, the cars are cleaned so they’re ready for the next child, she said.

Barrera and Casarez said their fears were indeed eased when they saw that Manuel was enjoying his first visit to the hospital.

“I’m really happy that he’s happy. That’s what’s more important, that he’s comfortable and that he feels safe that he’s here,” Barrera said.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado is a journalist at The Fresno Bee. He covers the people and places experiencing economic and social inequity for The California Divide media collaboration. He grew up in the southern San Joaquin Valley and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Fresno State.