The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio has big plans to serve mothers and babies with the $5 million grant it received from Harvey E. Najim Charitable Foundation.

“We have always been able to provide great care, this is actually taking it to the next level,” Cris Daskevich, the hospital’s CEO said Tuesday as she, Najim, and others celebrated the gift and blessed the newly-named Harvey E. Najim Pediatric Surgical Center.

The money will help upgrade the center’s technology and hire staff that will allow the hospital to serve patients that would otherwise have to travel hundreds of miles, Daskevich said.

“Many patients and families have to travel to Houston,” she said. “Sometimes that’s very difficult for the underserved population that we reach out to, especially for moms.”

After several meetings and discussions with hospital leadership about the problem, Najim said, “I knew I wanted to be involved to help the nurses, doctors, and surgical teams get the best equipment and space needed to treat these children.”

Dr. Katherine Barsness, hired earlier this year, is the first example of that surgical talent expansion. She specializes in minimally invasive neonatal surgery, chairs the hospital’s Department of Surgery, and serves as an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

The Children’s Hospital, part of the Christus Health system, is affiliated with Baylor’s medical school.

“The vision for San Antonio is that we have a children’s hospital that provides comprehensive, interdisciplinary programs so that no child ever needs to leave the city in order to receive the absolute best surgical and medical care … and also to provide a destination for all of South Texas,” Dr. Barsness told the San Antonio Report.

Harvey Najim speaks during the announcement of a $5 million grant from his charitable foundation to The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

The Children’s Hospital will soon hire additional surgeons and staff to carry out that vision, Daskevich said, bringing “programs that don’t currently exist for kids” in San Antonio.

Minimally invasive surgery “is the future of surgery,” Barness said, “the smaller you can make the access point, the quicker that child can recover.”

Beyond having the equipment and staff to perform such surgeries, the entire experience of surgery will be improved for children, Barsness said.

“[An] integrated system allows them to start in the pre-op area with their own iPad and as they move down the hall into the operating room, the video magically appears … on all of the video screens surrounding them in the room,” she said. “So it’s no longer a scary operating room, it is a surround-sound theater.”

There’s nothing like that in San Antonio, but Najim’s gift will help fund two “minimally invasive suites that have all of that technology,” she said. “We will be the first hospital, adult or pediatric that will have this advanced generation technology and this level. So it’s extremely exciting.”

The Harvey E. Najim Charitable Foundation was founded in 2006, Najim said, and the Children’s Hospital has been its top recipient.

The foundation has funded expansions, renovations, and new equipment for the Children’s Hospital since 2007. It helped fund a bone marrow transplant program in 2016 — that center is also named after Najim — and funded two ground ambulances for round-the-clock neonatal and pediatric critical care transportation.

Najim’s parents wanted him to become a doctor, he said. Instead, he became a successful business owner, donating millions personally and through his foundation to children-centered charities.

“Mom, I’m not a doctor, but take a look at this, will ya?” he said, turning to look at his name on the surgical center. “I hope that makes you happy finally.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org