Meet Our Family Advisory Council
Gerardo Camarillo and his wife of 22 years, Dilma, are parents to 11-year-old Ivana, who received treatment at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital as a toddler. Ivana was diagnosed in 1999 with a rare chromosome transposition and acute lymphocytic leukemia that gave Ivana only a 10% chance of survival. After several rounds of chemotherapy, Ivana was one of the first patients to receive a cord blood transplant when she was only 1 ½ years old. Ivana beat the odds and thrives as an adolescent, enjoying every new trend that comes along.
Gerardo credits the Children’s Cancer Hospital for giving his family all the assistance they needed through what they describe as a nightmare situation. Nonetheless, he recalls that there were areas of improvement, especially when it came to interacting outside of the pediatric services into the adult services. Gerardo hopes to assist in the improvement of these areas as well as address the fears that newly diagnosed families face.
Cip and Rhonda Cardenas
Cip and Rhonda Cardenas have been married for 18 years and refer to each other as their best friend. Their relationship only strengthened when one of their three daughters, Katy, was diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma in April 2003 at the age of 18. She went through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy at MD Anderson, but the cancer continued to progress. In May 2004, Katy lost her battle with cancer.
Cip and Rhonda have chosen to use their experience with loss by serving on the Children’s Cancer Hospital’s Supportive Care Committee to improve care for families facing end-of-life situations. They decided to join the Family Advisory Council in 2010 to better the experience for all families coming to the Children’s Cancer Hospital and make it as non-stressful as possible. Outside of their work with MD Anderson, Cip is a retail manager and Rhonda is an accountant. They enjoy spending any extra time with their other daughters and two grandchildren.
Tracy Cimo is the associate director for clinical nursing for the George Foreman Pediatric and Adolescent Inpatient Unit. Tracy has over three years of leadership experience in women’s and children’s services lines. Her clinical experience in pediatrics is as both a clinical nurse and nurse educator. Tracy obtained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Texas Woman’s University and her Master of Science in Clinical Leadership and Health Systems Administration from The University of Texas.
In her spare time Tracy loves spending time with her two boys as well as reading and traveling. She is looking forward to working with patients, families, and staff to lead exceptional nurses in extraordinary practice to contribute to the Children’s Cancer Hospital goal of eliminating cancer in children.
Manale Elewah is originally from Alexandria, Egypt, but has lived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) for almost 20 years. She is married with three daughters, Farida, Marwa and Fadila. Her youngest child, Fadila, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2003 while living in Abu Dhabi. She received initial treatment in the UAE, but when Fadila relapsed in the central nervous system in February 2006, she and her family flew to the United States to receive treatment by Dr. Michael Rytting at the Children’s Cancer Hospital. While Fadila and Manale are here in the U.S., most of their family remain in the UAE, except Manale’s oldest daughter who moved here to attend the University of Houston.
Prior to coming to Houston, Manale worked as an environmental engineer in Abu Dabi. She has also done work, in the past, with the United Nations Environment Program. Now, Manale is juggling new roles. Not only is she Fadila’s primary caregiver, she also served on the Family-Centered Care steering committee and is instrumental in providing support to other international patients and families at the Children’s Cancer Hospital.
Sara Farris joined MD Anderson in 2006 and has been a member of the Family Advisory Council since 2008. She serves as the communications specialist for the Children’s Cancer Hospital and oversees media relations, the Children’s Cancer Hospital website, social media and other communications collateral to patients and families.
As a 7-year volunteer at MD Anderson and former caregiver, Sara brings her own personal experience to the council. She hopes to better serve pediatric patients and their families in her communications role by learning from the members’ insights shared at council’s meetings. She also serves on the Adolescent and Young Adult Advisory Council that involves young adult patients at MD Anderson. When she isn’t at work, Sara has a variety of hobbies including riding horses, playing golf, skiing, volunteering and playing with her Jack Russell Terrier, Macy.
Gail Goodwin has been a part of the communications office at MD Anderson since January of 2000. She initially worked with the Children’s Art Project and Volunteer Services, but added the Children’s Cancer Hospital to her list of responsibilities in 2005. As a program manager for external communications, Gail serves as the editor of the quarterly Family Matters online newsletter for pediatric caregivers, and also the Children’s Cancer Hospital Newsletter for regional pediatricians. In addition, she often writes about pediatric issues for several MD Anderson publications and develops brochures and videos for the hospital.
Gail, who is a survivor of brain cancer, enjoys the relationships she has made by being a member of the Family Advisory Council. While she admits to learning more about the Children’s Cancer Hospital at every meeting, she also feels that she brings information and concern to the table.
“I’ve been an MD Anderson employee for a long time,” she says, “but coming here as a patient is a whole new world. When I am at the hospital for my doctor appointments, lab work and MRIs, I get a sense of what other patients go through during their treatment here. Working with the families of our pediatric patients is another eye-opener for me. I can truly empathize with all of these dedicated families.”
Hallie Immroth and her husband, Andy, live in Houston and have spent many years at the Children's Cancer Hospital. One of their two sons, Aidan, had neurofibromatosis and was diagnosed at 20 months with brain cancer. After fighting through several relapses, Aidan passed away in 2010 at the age of 13 from his cancer. Between chemotherapy rounds and multiple surgeries, Aidan was in an out of the hospital quite a bit. During his care here, Aidan interacted with the child life specialists and became involved with the Children’s Art Project and the Arts in Medicine Program. His artwork has been selected for various CAP products, and he has been featured in videos related to his artwork with the Arts in Medicine Program.
“We were able to celebrate Aidan’s passion for art through CAP and Arts in Medicine, which allowed our family to focus on positive activities versus a singular focus on battling cancer,” says Hallie.
Hallie says she is happy to be a part of the Family Advisory Council.
“I have gained knowledge and insights over the last few years that I would like to put to good use for other families,” says Hallie. “It would be an honor to know that I helped make things just a little bit easier for families who are new to the experience of coping with the impact cancer has on the family.”
Liza joined the Children's Cancer Hospital as clinical business manager in the fall of 2010. Liza oversees the financial operations and many processes for the Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Clinic and the Patient Access Center. Liza was eager to join the Family Advisory Council to help improve some of the first interactions families have at the Children's Cancer Hospital. Whether it's trying to make an appointment, work with insurance or coming to the hospital for the first time, she wants families to feel their needs are taken care of in a welcoming way.
"Parents play a vital role in ensuring the health and well-being of their children," says Liza. "I want to work with members of the council to enhance the admittance and communication experience families have with our staff in the clinic and Patient Access Center."
Liza is in the process of implementing new programs and policies for the Patient Access Center and looks forward to getting feedback from families through the development process.
Val Marshall joined the Family Advisory Council in 2010 after spending a year caring for her son, Addison, who has acute lymphocytic leukemia. Addison was originally diagnosed in May 2009 at the Children’s Cancer Hospital and relapsed in April 2010. Anyone keeping up with Addison, though, will know that cancer is just a blip on his radar screen. He continues to work out with his football teammates, stay involved with his Boy Scouts troop and playing with his dog, Pineapple. Val and her husband, Jack, have another son, Austin, who attends Texas A&M University.
Since Val and her family are in the midst of active treatment, she hopes that she can provide timely insights into the day-to-day life of the hospital and what patients are going through. She wants to use her experience to help other families and wants to find ways to assist families who don’t have a built-in support system within their community or who come from out of town for treatment.
Holly Meredith and her husband, James, have been married for 20 years and have two sons, Warren, 17, and Dalton, 11. At the age of 2, Warren was diagnosed with paraspinal brachial plexus undifferentiated sarcoma and came to MD Anderson for treatment by Dr. Ater. He endured many rounds of radiation and chemotherapy and has now been cancer free for 13 years. He returns to the Childhood Cancer Survivors Clinic at MD Anderson for long-term follow up care.
Warren is a Life Scout and currently working on his Eagle Scout Project. He plays the trumpet in the Taylor High School Marching Band, and this year, he is a member of the National Honor Society. He also rode in the MS 150 and likes to skateboard and hang out with his buddies when he isn’t at school.
Holly works as a speech language pathologist for Katy ISD and volunteers with many of her sons’ activities. Her goal as a member of the Family Advisory Council is to provide perspective as a parent of a long-term survivor and continue the discussions of the ongoing needs of a family in that position. She also wants to assist families in finding the many resources available to them. Holly hopes to use my experience working with special needs families to relate to the families in diagnosis, treatment and long-term care at MD Anderson.
Dawn and Jerry Mortus
Dawn and Jerry Mortus have been married for 23 years and have four children ages 12 to 17. When Jerry retired from the Navy in 2007, the family moved to Katy, which Dawn looks back on as a divine move. In March 2009, one of their daughters, Caitlyn, was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma and was admitted to MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. After going through several rounds of chemotherapy, Caitlyn was declared cancer free in August 2009. Caitlyn, now 14, has returned to her active lifestyle of cheerleading, soccer, gymnastics, tumbling and track.
Dawn credits the Children’s Cancer Hospital with making Caitlyn’s experience as pleasant as possible. She decided to join the Family Advisory Council in 2010 to give back to MD Anderson and help other families. In 2011, Jerry joined her as a member on the council. They both want to help so that other families can feel the love and support they felt during Caitlyn’s treatments at the hospital.
Michelle “Missy” Ramirez
Missy Ramirez and her husband Roger have been married for 17 years and live in Katy, Texas. When their son Jacob was 15 months old, he was diagnosed with Juvenile Pilocystic Astrocytoma, which is a tumor on the optic nerve. He came to the Children’s Cancer Hospital for treatment in April of 2000. With Dr. Ater as his pediatric oncologist, Jacob underwent chemotherapy and surgery to treat the brain tumor. Although Jacob relapsed at the age of five, he is now nine years old and doing well.
“MD Anderson and the Children’s Cancer Hospital helped save our son,” says Missy. “I have always wanted to give back and the Family Advisory Council, I feel, is a wonderful way to help those who have always helped us.”
Like many families, the Ramirez family spent countless days getting to know the inpatient unit and outpatient clinic. Missy also had the opportunity to meet many other parents who had children with cancer.
“One of the most devastating things a parent could hear is, ‘Your child has cancer.’ It is stressful and life changing to the entire family,” says Missy. “My goal is to give the staff at the Children’s Cancer Hospital a parent’s perspective so that they can help other patients, parents, and families through this most difficult time in their lives.”
Julie Segovia is the Director of Clinical Services for MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. Julie worked with children and families at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital prior to joining MD Anderson three years ago. She understands that each family’s experience is unique and her role is to ensure that staff members have both the knowledge and resources to guide and support each family member through their individual experiences and needs.
Julie is responsible for providing strategic leadership including all aspects of clinical operations, nursing practice, professional development, customer service, finance, human resources and quality outcome management. She will contribute to the Family Advisory Council by sharing MD Anderson’s institutional goals with the council, bridging alliances with staff, and offering resources to priority projects identified by the council. Julie’s belief is that patients and families are our customers, so it is important to develop goals that align with services that are important to patients and families. She feels privileged to have been selected to join the council this year and looks forward to working with the team.
Angela Simmons is a Certified Public Accountant with 24 years experience in hospital operations, finance and public accounting for healthcare entities. For the past fourteen years, Angela has held the position of Director of Clinical Revenue and Reimbursement at MD Anderson Cancer Center. However, in 2009, she gained a new perspective about hospital operations as her son, David, was diagnosed with childhood lymphoma.
Angela plans to use her professional and personal experience to help other parents fight insurance disputes and obtain coverage for important treatment services. She is working now to assist in coverage for cancer related fertility preservation services. On a personal note, Angela has been co-directing a Master’s Musicians Children’s Choir for seven years. Angela has also numerous volunteer and community service hours advocating for children with special needs, mentoring students, and leading Girl Scout troops and various sporting teams. In addition to David, Angela and her husband Bradley have three daughters.
Anna Smith joined the Children's Cancer Hospital in 2005 as a nurse on the inpatient unit before transferring to the Pediatric Ambulatory Treatment Center where she is the lead nurse. Her interest for pediatric oncology began when Anna was a patient. At the age of 13, Anna was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Her insight into what it’s like to be a child with cancer is one few medical professionals have. She hopes her example as a childhood cancer survivor gives other patients the hope and desire to continue their journey through the difficulty of treatment. Anna has also traveled to Washington, D.C., on two different occasions to advocate for childhood cancer with Cure Search.
Anna wanted to be a part of Family Advisory Council to help implement policies and procedures that will ease the day-to-day process for Children’s Cancer Hospital families. She also wanted to learn more about what she can do for her patients as a nurse to make their time at MD Anderson a little better. She notes that no one knows better than the individual cancer patient about what is the best way to meet his or her needs.
Rhonda Armstrong Trevino
Rhonda Trevino was hired in February of 2008 to serve as the Children’s Cancer Hospital’s first parent coordinator for family-centered care. She and her husband, Mario, live in Katy and have three children. Their oldest daughter, Abigail, is 16 and in the 10th grade, and they have two sons, Micah, 8, and Noah, 6.
Abigail was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on her 12th birthday in September of 2006. She received three rounds of chemo before having limb salvage surgery and then received six more rounds of chemotherapy. Abigail completed treatment in August 2007 and has remained cancer-free.
Rhonda first learned about family-centered care when she joined the family-centered care steering committee in July 2007. Since that time, she has seen a purpose form as the committee has worked to get the initiative going and a Family Advisory Council formed.
"As the Children's Cancer Hospital moves toward family-centered care, it becomes crucial that parents move along the journey with the staff,” says Rhonda. “As the parent of a child who has been treated at the Children’s Cancer Hospital, and who continues to take advantage of the programs and services offered here, I believe that I can be available to help improve the ‘parent experience.’”
Rhonda says she feels her role is to educate other families so they know they have a choice when it comes to their child’s medical care—even when it means asking the tough questions.
“As parents and patients partner with staff and faculty along this journey, we believe we can help make the Children’s Cancer Hospital the best possible pediatric cancer experience.”
Patricia Wells is the Director of Family-Centered Care at the Children's Cancer Hospital, overseeing the Family Advisory Council and other family-centered care initiatives. She has been working in pediatric health care for more than 35 years as a nurse, manager, administrator and educator in several large medical centers. She has also worked in the Middle East.
Patty has been affiliated with the Children's Cancer Hospital for two years, re-locating from Cincinnati, Ohio where she directed family-centered care initiatives throughout the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. She has a great passion for listening to and working with families and continues to guide the Children's Cancer Hospital as it grows stronger with a family-centered care approach to caring for patients and their families.
Robert Wells, M.D.
Robert Wells, M.D., is the Deputy Chief of the Children’s Cancer Hospital, specializing in lymphoma and leukemia. He joined the Children’s Cancer Hospital in 2003 after serving as a pediatric oncologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio, where family-centered care was part of the hospital’s culture.
He served on the steering committee to spearhead the family-centered care initiative at the Children’s Cancer Hospital before joining the Family Advisory Council.
“I believe the Family Advisory Council is the best hope we have of making true, family-centered change within the Children’s Cancer Hospital,” says Bob, “and I would like to be a part of that change effort.”
Bob feels his years of experience as physician and administrator at other medical centers will help him serve as a leader for the Children’s Cancer Hospital as it evolves into a more family-centered hospital for pediatric patients and families.
Welcome to our new members for 2012-2013!
- Karen Broussard
- Sherree Buckland
- Najat Daw, M.D.
- Jennifer Funderburk
- Rowena Hudson
- Sung Kim
- Terry Reese
- Rosa Rivera
- Lauren Shinn
- Karen Stepan
Bios and photos to be posted soon.