Ten years and 1.5 million tots later, The Children's Hospital at Montefiore is still winning world renown for innovative medicine, while covering the basics right here in its hometown.
Dotted with Little Mermaid characters painted on the windows, the 10-story building on Bainbridge Ave. in Norwood, the Bronx, that serves the 21-and-under crowd boasts a new $6 million pediatric hybrid catheterization lab.
The lab is the first of its kind in the city, and allows pediatric cardiac surgeons and cardiologists to perform minimally-invasive surgery on child hearts, limiting what would normally be a five-day hospital ordeal to a 24-hour stay.
And an outpatient cancer facility allowed the hospital to be one of the first in the nation to treat some children with the disease while they're at home.
They come in, receive their chemotherapy medicine and go home with backpacks containing the pumps, making it easier for kids who normally spend up to 10 months per year in the hospital.
"Our vision was simple," explained Dr. Philip Ozuah, CHAM's physician-in-chief. "We wanted to be able to look any family in the eye and say 'We can take care of your child, whatever happens.'"
With white rosary beads strung around her neck, 12-year-old Michelle Nguyen, a seventh grader at Our Lady of Refuge School in the Bronx, sat in a hospital bed one day last week, doing her homework.
She is in her third cycle of chemotherapy, and this is her fifth inpatient stay at CHAM since she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July.
"They make it fun for me," said the girl, whose hair is thin from the harsh treatments. "I go to the play room and play [with] puzzles, and I get to talk to other kids who are sick like me - it helps me deal with everything."
Like many parents, Michelle's mother, Mai Nguyen, 37, stays overnight at her child's bedside, sleeping in a reclining chair. There are complimentary meals for inpatients' families so they don't have to eat out three times per day.
Nearly 80% of patients going through the CHAM network are covered by Medicaid. It has 25 satellite offices for primary and specialty care for children across the Bronx, where kids can receive preventive care and treatment for obesity, asthma and diabetes - three of the biggest health battles in the borough.
"We don't turn anybody away," said Dr. Steven Safyer, the president and CEO of Montefiore Medical Center. "Some of these kids come from the poorest neighborhoods and families and don't have primary care - but we make it happen."
In 2004, CHAM made international headlines when it separated 2-year-old Filipino twins - Carl and Clarence Aguirre - who shared one brain. "It had never been successful anywhere before," Ozuah said.
CHAM boasts a 100% heart transplant survival rate, compared to the national norm of about 83%, according to Ozuah.
Plans are in the works to double the size of the hospital by building another 10-story tower next to the existing one to accommodate the overwhelming need.
"Now, we're standing at a threshold," Ozuah said excitedly. "We're looking at the next 10 years with an even more daring vision."