The last time Josaiyah Sam of Modesto went on that familiar ride to Madera County, smoke from the wildfires filled the sky.
The 10-year-old Josaiyah, who has a seizure disorder, could not risk breathing the unhealthy air and stayed inside the vehicle during the 90-minute trip to Valley Children’s Hospital north of Fresno.
Friday, his visit to the new Valley Children’s outpatient clinic in north Modesto, which opened to patients last week, was as easy as crossing Pelandale Avenue. And his time spent at the eye-catching clinic was memorable. Josaiyah chatted and posed for pictures with Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and took home a new football.
“I am glad he came here to support us,” said Josaiyah, whose family lives just south of Pelandale.
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The Raiders’ signal caller was the star attraction Friday as Valley Children’s Healthcare held a ceremonial opening for its Pelandale Specialty Care Center. It’s the building sporting the giraffe on Pelandale Avenue just east of the shopping center anchored by Costco and Lowe’s.
About 300 city and county officials, dignitaries and invited guests attended the ceremony and then checked out the 40,000-square-foot outpatient center, where children in Stanislaus County diagnosed with rare and chronic diseases can see doctors who are specially trained to meet their needs.
The new center is part of an expansion program by Madera-based Valley Children’s Healthcare to deliver close-to-home services for families throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
The center, representing a $33 million investment by Valley Children’s, replaces a smaller, less visible clinic on McHenry Avenue that had 12,000 patient visits last year. The wider assortment of services at the Pelandale center is expected to more than double patient visits to 27,500 annually by 2030.
Last year, more than 8,000 children from Stanislaus County traveled to the Valley Children’s hospital complex near Fresno for care, accounting for more than 18,500 visits with pediatric specialists. The nonprofit health system built the Modesto center so that far more of those physician services can be delivered here.
Carr and his wife, Heather, have been Valley Children’s supporters since their son, Dallas, was born in 2013. The child underwent surgery within hours of his birth for intestinal malrotation, which threatened to cut off blood supply to his intestines. The boy required two more surgeries and spent 23 days in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit with members of Carr’s extended family gathered in the NICU waiting room.
The Carrs, who have two sons and a third child on the way, established the DC4KIDS campaign that pays for needs at Valley Children’s Healthcare. Contributors donated $100 for each of Carr’s 19 touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown for the Raiders in the 2018 season.
“They are very good at helping families and understanding what families are going through,” Carr said in explaining his respect for Valley Children’s. “It’s important because Valley Children’s has always been good for us in helping Dallas with three surgeries. We just want to show our support and the commitment that we are here. It’s a family relationship.”
Along with the DC4KIDS campaign, Carr spends some time with kids who are sick and lets his NFL fame brighten their day. “When the parents say he has not smiled like that for weeks, it makes my day and makes it all worthwhile,” Carr said.
Todd Suntrapak, chief executive officer of Valley Children’s, said the ultimate goal is placing specialists within 30 miles or a 30-minute drive of every family in the valley. He vowed to keep working to add pediatric specialists who will live in Modesto or nearby communities.
Valley Children’s operates the 330-bed Central California hospital for pediatric patients off Highway 41, just north of Fresno, and has four other specialty care centers from Merced to Bakersfield. Another care center in Fresno County is under construction.
The organization with 575 physicians and 3,400 staff members says it serves about 1.3 million children across a 12-county region.
The north Modesto center has outpatient services including pediatric cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology, nephrology, neurology, orthopedics, pediatric surgery, plastic surgery, pulmonology and urology. The clinic also has ear, nose and throat specialists.
Parents can make appointments for their children close to home rather than taking a day off work and filling the gas tank for a 190-mile roundtrip. The McHenry Avenue clinic, opened in 2002, had services for patients but had space limitations and a small waiting room.
“It is so convenient,” said Fernando Martinez in praising the Pelandale center. His son, Luiz, has a disorder called diabetes insipidus that prevents his body from retaining water. Dealing with the illness required four or five trips a year to the children’s hospital.
“We would take those long drives to the hospital,” Martinez said. “Now, we have a three to four minute walk from home.”
The Valley Children’s mascot, George the giraffe, is prominently featured in the Pelandale center’s glass-enclosed lobby. The center was designed with lively interactive exhibits such as George’s Treehouse for creating a friendly environment for kids waiting to see the doctor.
A mother or child can use a touchscreen to load up a hot-air balloon for a simulated tour over sights in Modesto and the surrounding area. Outside the clinic’s lobby are play areas with spongy turf.
“We are trying to make it a lively experience,” said Sareen Creede, a public relations coordinator for Valley Children’s. “When a child comes in for an appointment they are pretty scared.”
Some departments in the clinic are named for donors to the children’s healthcare network, such as the E&J Gallo Imaging Department. The imaging and lab services will be activated as soon as staff members are hired, representatives said.
Suntrapak said Valley Children’s stipulated that more than 70 percent of construction contractors for the building were local businesses.
The head-turning construction project in the past two years required approval of a small annexation to the city of Modesto.
“It is a great facility to have in our city,” Mayor Ted Brandvold said Friday. “Families will have direct access now and will not have to travel for these types of services.”
For more information about services offered by Valley Children’s Healthcare, visit www.valleychildrens.org.