Parked in the middle of a Saddleback Valley school parking lot is a 36-foot RV. Inside, this van does not look like it is prepping for a cross-country road trip, but rather it is set up as if you’re going in for a doctor’s visit.
This is CHOC’s Breathmobile Asthma Clinic, which began in 2002 by CHOC asthma and allergy specialist Dr. Stanley Galant. And it is across the street from Lorena Rivas’ home —she consistently utilizes it for her three young children’s asthma care.
Stepping into the vehicle, Lorena and her kids are greeted by the familiar Spanish-speaking care team, whom they view as members of their own family. Complete with all the equipment for asthma diagnosis, treatment and education, Lorena is able to receive this specialty care for her kids, right in her backyard.
Before the Breathmobile, Lorena had to take three different buses with her young children—all under age five—to get to CHOC’s different clinics for their appointments.
“It was constantly coming to the hospital almost every day because my kids were having an asthma attack,” she shares. “They couldn’t do the things they wanted to do like have an ice cream or go to the beach because it brought on an asthma attack.”
After being connected to Breathmobile, Lorena’s kids were put on a treatment plan that is keeping their asthma under control to this day.
“Now that they’ve been getting care through the Breathmobile, they’re able to be kids,” she says with gratitude.
CHOC seeks out underserved families like Lorena’s and helps them by removing the physical and financial barriers that prevent them from accessing high-quality pediatric healthcare. And the Breathmobile is only a starting point for a full suite of services that CHOC is planning to provide directly to the community.
Expanding From Asthma Care to Comprehensive Care
After witnessing the Breathmobile’s long-standing success, CHOC sought to expand on the program by furthering its services to include advanced health screenings, regular wellness check-ups, guided play and physical activities, health education on nutrition, obesity prevention, mental health topics, and more. This new and enhanced mobile program is called Wellness on Wheels (WoW) and its vision is to be neighborhood-based and culturally and linguistically proficient so that it can best promote community engagement and family resilience.
“What we decided to do as we thought about [the Breathmobile’s] approach was ‘why can’t we do that with other aspects of care?,’ says Dr. Michael Weiss, pediatrician and vice president of population health at CHOC. “So what we’ve done is taken the idea of the Breathmobile, and expanded that to mental health, fitness and nutrition and other ways to prevent disease, rather than waiting for kids to get sick.”
Launched in late 2022, CHOC is currently in the process of getting the Wellness on Wheels vehicles retrofitted, ready and equipped to be able to bring resources, education and services throughout Orange County and beyond. The roll-out and growth of the program is dependent on philanthropy and community support.
The Promotora Model
Dr. Olga Guijon is one of the leaders in the development and anticipated launch of WoW. A CHOC pediatrician, she knows from personal experience the impact that WoW can have in the community.
Dr. Guijon suffered from asthma her whole life, but was not diagnosed until she was in college. A big factor for the delay of her diagnosis was because she did not have access to specialty care and did not have a consistent doctor or care team. Thinking that it was just lung problems, Dr. Guijon grew up with frequent hospital and emergency room visits and even failed Kindergarten due to her continual sickness.
“It wasn’t until I got to college, where I was diagnosed, and my life changed. All of a sudden, I could run [and participate in sports]. I could do those things and I realized that other kids were going through the same thing I was going through,” Dr. Guijon recalls. “The whole reason I went into medicine was because I wanted to give back to my Latino community. I’m a product of the community and I wanted to give back and be able to make a difference.”
WoW depends on community leaders like Dr. Guijon to be a trusted source for families to rely on for their children’s health needs. This is called WoW’s Promotora model.
“A Promotora is a trusted community-based individual who speaks the right language, understands the right culture and be a liaison for us at CHOC to the community,” explained Dr. Weiss.
Another group of promotoras is CHOC’s Latino Advisory Council (LAC), a committee that helps foster collaborative partnerships between CHOC and the Latino community.
The LAC focuses its fundraising efforts for Wellness on Wheels, most notably through the annual Unidos Por CHOC event. This year’s Unidos Por CHOC is taking place on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at NorthGate Gonzalez Markets in Anaheim, and will be a special celebration dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of Latino children in Orange County.
“If you don’t get the patient, you can’t help them,” shares Michele Cortes, co-chair of CHOC’s Latino Advisory Council. “And I think that CHOC is taking an extra step. The LAC realizes that having Wellness on Wheels is actually the opportunity for us to do one step more and that’s reaching out to the community. That’s going into their place of livelihood and seeing the environment. CHOC will grow so much more from that, as well as the community.”
The Road Ahead
With Wellness on Wheel’s upcoming launch, Dr. Weiss hopes that it will have the same positive and enthusiastic reaction as when an ice cream truck drives by the neighborhood.
“I want neighborhoods to see that vehicle coming, know it’s coming, and be excited that it’s CHOC, and that we’re coming to bring them resources; we’re coming to educate; we’re coming to be their conduit and their liaison to some of the things that are probably more challenging for them to get. So to me, it’s having CHOC embedded in the community, deepen the community, in a way that people look to us to be that trusted source for everything that is pediatric,” he says.
Dr. Guijon adds, “We want that when we roll up, instead of kids going, ‘oh no, there’s the medical unit,’ that they come out and say, ‘Oh, this is when we get to have fun.’ And that’s really what it’s about. It’s about making health and fitness to where it’s fun for these families.”
Wellness on Wheels is driven by philanthropic support to be able to bring resources, education and services for underserved children and their families directly in their communities. Donate to help CHOC develop, launch and grow this amazing program throughout Orange County and beyond.