Friday, May 28, 2010

Derek Esquibel with K-1 Racing Coach Tim Breig above


By Diana L. Chapman

Last summer, as Derek Esquibel lay in the hospital for 28 days suffering from agonizing pain stabbing at his abdomen like an icepick, one thing that made him feel better was watching car races on TV with his mom and dad.

“I’d watch a race or two and feel like I was getting well,” said the aspiring race car driver and San Pedro High School sophomore. “It would really lift my spirits. And my dad would tell me when I got out of the hospital, he’d take me to K1,” an indoor go-kart track in Torrance.

His mind brimmed with ideas—despite the raw abscess in his bowels, an on-and-off fever that reached 103 degrees, and the loss of 20 pounds. About 1.4 million Americans—150,000 of them children—are afflicted with this embarrassing and dangerous disease. At the hospital, Derek vowed that no one, especially a child, should suffer like this. He decided to become part of the solution in the “race against Crohn’s disease.”

Three hospitals, four near surgeries and many intense medications later, Derek decided to go public with his chronic illness, peddling his first fund-raising events at K1, where his passion shined as one of the speediest drivers. He ranked 32 out of 880,000 K-1 drivers. His first event – with all proceeds going to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America – will be Saturday, June 12, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Jo Bender, a foundation spokeswoman, said she’s delighted with Derek’s efforts because most people with Crohn’s try to hide the disease. But more children are stepping forward.

“It’s not a glamorous disease whatsoever,” Bender said. “We are trying to raise awareness. With awareness comes money. Oftentimes, children are our biggest advocates. They are very brave. We have had a hard time trying to get celebrities to sign on.”

This is the first racing event Bender knows of that benefits the foundation. She noted that Scott Speed – a professional driver who also has Crohn’s – has stepped up to support the group.

Derek says he drew courage from Speed’s story after reading his autobiography.

Diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2005, two days before his 11th birthday, Derek often kept himself preoccupied with racing as it drove away the negative aspects of the disease – especially stress. Crohn’s often attacks the intestinal track and can lead to intense abdominal pain, bloody stools, weight loss, fevers and an immune system that erroneously attacks the intestinal lining, triggering complications that can be life‑threatening.

His father, Gil, a Los Angeles police officer, took turns with his mother, Jean, spending the night with their youngest child at the hospital. Gil takes him to as many races as possible, including the Long Beach Grand Prix, where he watched Boris Said, a professional racer and part owner of the six K1 tracks.

“I enjoyed being able to watch you battle the Corvette,” Derek wrote to Said when requesting K1’s participation in the fundraiser. “As you probably already know, a driver needs two things: talent behind the wheel and marketability. I have the confidence to talk to people and the willingness to learn more and expand my knowledge ... This is a great way to show people that I will not let Crohn’s disease slow me down, on or off the track.”

Although Derek didn’t hear back from Said personally, managers at the Torrance K1 track, having come to know the 16-year-old and his deep-rooted love of racing, wished the corporate office would permit him to launch the fundraiser. When Derek first called the corporate office, employees there didn’t take him seriously because, after all, he was a kid.

When his mother called, she was told it would cost $2,000 per hour to use the track as a fundraiser – defeating the whole purpose. Jean queried back: Would it be okay if Derek handed out fliers advertising that K1 would donate $5 (per race?) to fight Crohn’s disease for each racer who brought in the flier?

A few phone calls later, K1 agreed.

“I had read his letter (to Said) and it really touched me,” explained Daniel Santos, one of the general managers at the Torrance track, who was delighted that K1 agreed. “He’s a strong kid for everything he’s going through. It’s good because he never gives up. He’s got something going for him. He believes in himself.”

As for Derek’s racing skills, Santos said: “You don’t see too many kids able to drive, but he’s got it in him. He has a lot of talent and not a lot of attitude.”

Fliers for Derek’s fundraiser – which could become an annual event at all six K1 tracks – can be found online at or The track is at 19038 S.Vermont Ave., Torrance (near 190th Street).

Prior to his diagnosis, his mother said, Derek was “an old soul” as her eyes filled with tears because of how proud she is of his determination to fight Crohn’s and raise funds.

“Last summer when he got so sick, it really threw us for a loop,” Jean said. “We didn’t understand the magnitude of it. You never think it’s going to be your kid. It was an eye-opening experience for Derek and our whole family. You don’t know what will trigger it.

“But you can’t live your life in fear. And that’s the whole purpose of this fundraiser.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


By Diana L. Chapman

The first graders chatted in huddles at school when one of them asked outright: “Did you know (Joey) flunked kindergarten?”

Like a gossiping bunch of adult hens, the kids excitedly went at it with cruel words such as:

“Joey flunked? Woo!”

“ Joey flunked!....giggles….“Figures Joey would flunk.”

Happening to walk by this bunch of first-grade gossip mongers (I hate to see them turn out like us adults in this fashion), I tried – in vain – to correct them. “Joey did not flunk,” I explained carefully. “He was held back because he was an early baby.”

Try explaining that one to a clutch of wide-eyed, first graders who eagerly went off to play still firmly convinced Joey was already a ‘flunkee’ at age 5. They spread the rumor far and wide. It’s not a pleasant way for a kid to kick off his school career.

This – and for many other reasons -- is exactly why I back State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto’s, bill to change California’s cutoff date for kindergarten.

Our state is only one of four left in the country that uses a late cutoff date. Instead of Sept 1, California uses Dec. 2. What that means is many children born between September and December are stuck with kids already turned 5, and often nearly months older, making those students better equipped to socialize and learn.

Those few months in a young child can make a giant difference.

The best way to understand this perhaps is using my son as an example. His 5th birthday fell on January 24. Because of that, he didn’t begin school for another eight months – making him more mature, able to handle the classroom academic experience and ready to move to first grade.

Or look at it like this: a six-month-old pup and a newborn are not going to learn at the same pace. And it’s not fair to expect them too.

In California, hundreds of kids like Joey are currently forced to keep up with their classmates – and having volunteered in the classroom for years – I can tell you how troubling this is.

Parents, asked by kindergarten teachers to hold their child back another year, see this as failure – when it’s not. Other students see it too as failure. While Joey’s name is changed, I did witness this incident.

So how are kids like Joey supposed to feel?

Even more troubling: Many parents who are asked refuse recommendations to keep their children behind, shuffling them up and onward without the proper preparations for the remainder of their school career.

Of course, some children will make it. But many lag way behind their counterparts and will never catch up. We might as well stamp a brand on these kids saying: “FAILURE!” OR “POOR STUDENT!” OR “LAZY KID!”

Using the current system means that kids as young as four years and nine months begin school, according to Simitian’s fact sheet.

Under Simitian’s bill, no child will start kindergarten unless they are five by Sept. 1, a plan – if passed -- will be phased in over three years beginning 2012.

Just these extra few months can help a kindergartner – and their parents. SB 1381, not only spares children humiliation, it saves $700 million a year for more than a decade while offering students more stability and parent’s peace of mind. That alone, will give the state money to help more students attend preschool and help to offset the state’s budget crunch.

It’s unusual that a decision like this can be such winner for everyone! The state gains money. The children learn at a better pace. And test scores are expected to improve.

According to a 2005 Rand study, such action move boosts test scores significantly, especially for low-income families, the fact sheet stated.

I know from watching first hand that forcing children into kindergarten too soon – unless they are exceptionally advanced both socially and academically – spells harder times for many of those youngsters who often spend their school careers trying to catch up to their older peers.

Thank you, Senator, for introducing this bill. As to the rest of you I ask: Pleeeassssse pass this so kids like Joey don’t have to spend the time believing they are inferior to their peers or – worse -- believing they’re failures at age 5.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Dear Readers: This is my first launching of sharing the extraordinary lives of people who have some type of chronic illnesses. I will write my own stories and hope you will add yours! Please send them to And pass these stories on to help others. Diana


By Diana L. Chapman

It was a gray, winter morning, when I woke up in a good frame of mind. I was happy that my son had a friend over night – a rarity in our small household, a clutch of three.

Immediately, I snapped out of bed, ready to concoct a giant breakfast – so the boys would come back again. All the other moms lavished them with good meals, play stations, pool tables – and most of all in the case of our son – something we couldn’t provide -- other children.

I pulled the eggs and bacon out of the fridge, dragged out the apple bread and flicked the oven and stove top on. For me, it was an honor when Ryan had a friend over. His idea of family was to go to everyone else’s house “where all the kids are.” Because I had multiple sclerosis which attacks the central nervous system, we only had one child.

There are times when you have a chronic illness, such as multiple sclerosis or a variety of other diseases, you have to learn to laugh at yourself. Since this particular ailment likes to attack the memory, it puts you in often puzzling and embarrassing situations – but not the kind of forgetfulness other people go through who immediately acknowledge: “Oh, I forget that too.”

I assure you, it is not the same – and what makes it worse, of course, not all those who have multiple sclerosis even have this ailment or share the variety of symptoms – making this chronic disease a master of illness and illusion. I frankly call it “tailor-made,” as it changes its face for just about everyone who has it.

Sometimes I feel it’s the actually the “Joker” in disguise and no one knows when the Joker will hit. Not you. Not your general practitioner. Not even your neurologist.

On this morning, it didn’t hit me particularly in a physical way – but mentally.

When I got up, I first busily began to put away many condiments stacked up on our peacock-colored countertop. The sun began to peek through the gray skies outside, shimmering her rays in at a 90 degree angle warming up our mustard-colored kitchen on a cool winter morning. Well, as cool as your likely to get in most of Southern California: 50 degrees.

That put me in an even more cozy mood. But then this happened:

Instead of sticking the olive oil in the pantry, I stuck it the fridge. Ok, No big deal, right?

But then came the eggs so I could whip up some scramblers.

I broke one egg open, headed for the bowl, and instead put it down the garbage disposal.

Why did I do that? I couldn’t understand it.

Then came the next egg. I did it again, plopped it down the garbage disposal instead of tossing it into the bowl.

The third time I did it, I began to wonder if the teens would ever receive a morning breakfast at all. Even though I wasted three eggs, somehow I was able to get some into the bowl and whip them up to a frothy, batch of golden-beauty.

When Jim, my husband, bopped into the kitchen, now smoky and smelling like bacon, I kissed him and warned him of all those misfires I was making already.

“Make sure you put the bacon fat into a tin can and don’t pour it down the sink whatever you do,” he reminded me gently after I alerted him to my small travails. “Otherwise, you’ll ruin the sink.”

He even pulled out a can and put it on the counter as a reminder.

Amused, Jim hugged me, grinning at my attempts to get things right.

As far as the bacon fat, in my mind, I had it all resolved. It’s a cinch. I’d pour the oil from the flat pan, to a larger and rounder one, and then it would be easy to stick the grease into that puny container, the size of a small soup can!

Dripping the oil into the larger pan, I raced over to the sink, dropped both pans into hot water, and rinsed the oils down the sink – not yet realizing I had made another mistake.

Then I spotted the tin can on the counter – and knew this was my fifth strike out that morning – and I hadn’t even started the day. Mama Mia! Oh, lordy. Or as the teens say: “OMG,” for “Oh my God!”

Forgetfulness for some multiple sclerosis patients becomes a way of life. It often makes friends and family angry and confused – or more often –befuddled. It makes your family pick up work you’ve – well, forgotten. And it makes some people consider you, well, stupid.

For 18 plus years now, I’ve lived with an illness that’s robbed me of joy, strength, emotional balance – and learned to walk a plank carefully. But even I forget and find myself hanging by my fingertips off that plank.

If I go beyond my boundaries – and don’t plan which is tough when you forget and fail to link things – can mean days in bed -- where if you have a 24-hour brain -- is not the place you want to live your life.

I must also put my situation into perspective. I can still walk and talk – without slurring. Some patients with multiple sclerosis can do neither of these things. I’m not blind – which has happened to thousands encumbered by multiple sclerosis along with the inability to control the bladder or their balance – which has led those who hide their disease to be accused of excessive drinking or drug use.

It’s as though most of us operating with multiple sclerosis are missing many cogs in the great wheel of life. Some of us are lucky and haven’t lost as many cogs as others -- yet. Only time will tell us what will happen next. It could happen tomorrow, the next day, two years from now, 15 years later or maybe never.

Most wounding: Many people I’ve met with multiple sclerosis are 24-hour- a day personalities. Meaning if they could run to the level of a normal capacity, there would be miracles of accomplishments throughout the world that have still yet to be conquered.

Missing those many cogs may keep some of us from flourishing or leading us too prosperous lives. But perhaps we flourish in other ways. There was a time in my life, when I was younger, that I was actually scared of sick people. Now I embrace them.

While I was always compassionate, I found myself even more so – especially with children who have any type of disorder whatever that may be, from cancer to bipolar disease.

Despite all my mistakes that early morning, the boys sat up on the counter top slurping down orange juice, gunning down the eggs and bacon – and thanked me profusely for a good meal. The food vanished in seconds and that made me laugh.

I had to remind myself that the boys didn’t give one hoot about the many mistakes I made. They only cared about one thing – the end result.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Letters to the Underdogforkids:

Dear Underdogforkids:

Hancock Park School's Library Aide is in the same position. She can't afford to only work three hours, even if the Booster Club funds that, because she and her husband and college-age son need benefits. Her husband is self-employed, and they rely on the LAUSD health and welfare benefits. And they can't really afford COBRA, because the three hours of work would just be eaten up by those payments.

And the District also doesn't allow aides to work two three hour positions at different locations, because that would mean benefits eligibility would kick in.

Teresa Feldman


Dear Underdogforkids:

As others have said it, far better than I am capable of, let their comments speak for me:

“Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul.” ~Library at Thebes, inscription over the door

“I cannot live without books.” --Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Adams, June 1815

“A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.” --Henry Ward Beecher

“The library connects us with the insight and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” ~Carl Sagan, Cosmos

“The richest person in the world - in fact all the riches in the world - couldn't provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library.“ ~Malcolm Forbes

“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.” ~Lady Bird Johnson

“The best of my education has come from the public library... my tuition fee is a bus fare and once in a while, five cents a day for an overdue book. You don't need to know very much to start with, if you know the way to the public library.” ~Lesley Conger

“A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.” ~Jo Godwin

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” ~Andrew Carnegie