Against All Odds
Frank Chimienti of Fresno sees Valley Children’s Hospital from a unique perspective: as a patient nearly 25 years ago, an employee since his college years, and most recently as a father to his 3-year-old daughter, Kathryn, a patient since before she was born.
Frank was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 8. The most common type of bone cancer and sixth most common type of cancer in children, osteosarcoma is one of the few types of cancer that originates in the bones. He received treatment at Valley Children’s Hospital for over a year, and just before his 9th birthday Frank underwent surgery to remove his right leg to midthigh.
“The experience made me want to work in medicine,” said Frank, a physician assistant in the pediatric orthopaedic practice at Valley Children’s. “I’ve always been involved in the Hospital,” he said with a smile and a slight shake of his head. “I attended camp for 13 years straight.” Camp Sunshine Dreams is a summer camp sponsored by Valley Children’s especially for cancer patients and their siblings. “And my first medical job was here.” Frank began working for Valley Children’s in 2002 as a technician in the emergency department while attending California State University, Fresno.
As a father, Frank appreciates Valley Children’s Hospital even more. “We are extremely lucky to have a facility like this in the Fresno area,” he said. “There are people who drive hours to come here and we’re right here with our daughter, Kathryn.”
Frank’s wife, Dorilyn Chimienti, became pregnant with triplets in 2010. “She went into preterm labor at 20 weeks,” said Frank. “At first we were told that none of our babies would survive, but we didn’t accept that. So we came here to Valley Children’s for a second opinion and that’s when we met Dr. Fuentes.”
Dr. Armando Fuentes, medical director of maternal fetal medicine at Valley Children’s, began managing Dorilyn’s high-risk pregnancy with additional care provided by Dr. Beni Adeniji, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Valley Children’s.
“He got Dorilyn to 23.5 weeks,” said Frank of Dr. Fuentes. Dorilyn went into labor Dec. 8, 2010, and was taken to Saint Agnes Medical Center, where she and Frank met with Dr. Fuentes and Dr. Adeniji, who delivered three baby girls the next day. Two of the triplets did not survive, but tiny Kathryn was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s, where she received lifesaving care for four and a half months.
“Kathryn has cerebral palsy, but uses a walker and is very independent,” said Frank. “She’s not talking yet, but she lets us know what she wants by taking us by the hand and leading us.”
Frank’s daughter continues to receive comprehensive, multidisciplinary care at Valley Children’s Hospital. “She’s followed by a neurosurgeon, a neurologist and a physiatrist,” he said. “She’s doing really well and we’ve got her visits down to about once a year now.”
Frank is honored to work alongside Dr. Joseph Gerardi, medical director of pediatric orthopaedic surgery at Valley Children’s. Dr. Gerardi performed an ilizarov lengthening, or leg-lengthening procedure, on Frank the year he graduated from high school. The procedure involved cutting the thighbone, placing an external plate and turning a screw in daily increments. Over time Frank’s leg grew 4 inches. “It helped a lot with walking with my prosthesis,” he said.
Dr. Gerardi is thrilled to have Frank on his team. “He’s a true asset,” said Dr. Gerardi. “The patients love him.”
“I enjoy working with pediatric patients because of the perspective I share with them,” said Frank. ”I’m able to relate to a lot of the patients here and I can help them with overcoming something and learning to walk.”
From his unique perspective, Frank is especially passionate about the level of care he provides. “It’s more than just a job,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in what I do here. I feel like I’m giving back. It’s not just getting a paycheck.”
The former patient now assists the surgeon who lengthened his leg and works at the Hospital that saved his daughter’s life. “We owe everything to Valley Children’s,” said Frank. “I thank God we were here for Kathryn and not somewhere else.”
Generations after five young mothers dreamed of building a hospital for children only, Valley Children’s Hospital provides incredible care to kids like Kathryn through the compassionate hands of amazing people like Frank. This level of care is available because our founding mothers believed the community to receive the benefits of a dedicated pediatric hospital should also be the source of its financial support, and this generous community continues to contribute essential support to this day.