Meet Johnny Chou

CAF speaks with Johnny Chou, Clinical Social Worker at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

What is your official title at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), and can you tell us a little about what you do?
I am the Clinical Social Worker that works directly with patients who live with thalassemia and other red blood cell deficits. My role as the social worker is to provide psychosocial supports and interventions that vary from concrete resources (i.e., referrals, applications for Social Security Insurance, taxi and food vouchers, etc) all the way to therapeutic interventions and outreach (i.e., counseling, rapport building with patients and other organizations, community awareness, etc.)

How long have you been at CHLA?
I’m a rookie here at CHLA. I’ve been here for about 10 months now and I absolutely love it.

What do you think are some of the most attractive reasons for a person with thalassemia to consider being treated at CHLA?
According to the June 9, 2008 issue of U.S. News & World Report, not only is CHLA among the Top 10 children’s hospitals in the country but it ranks #1 in California and also is a Magnet Hospital; our medical team provides comprehensive care to all of our patients. Not only do you get to work with distinguished doctors who are dedicated and compassionate, but also the nurse practitioners are extremely caring and attentive to our patients. Another major perk for thalassemia patients is that we have a transfusion center on the same floor as our medical clinic which promotes more communication and involvement between the doctors, patients, nurse practitioners and floor nurses.

What is your background?
I have a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Criminal Justice and Corrections from California Polytechnic University, Pomona and a MA in Social Work from California State University Los Angeles. In terms of employment, I’ve worked as a Child Care Counselor at Eggleston Youth Center, a Service Coordinator at San Gabriel/Pomona Regional Center, a Behavioral Modification Specialist for Howard Chudler & Assoc., a Probation Investigator Aide at LA County Probation Dept.., and an Adoptions Social Worker for LA County Dept. of Children and Family Services. For most of my years in social services, I provided trilingual services in English, Mandarin and Taiwanese.

Please complete the following sentence: “I think the most important thing I bring to my job is ________.”

Please complete the following sentence: “The thing that I would most want a person with thalassemia to know about me is __________________.”
That I genuinely care about our patients.

What are some of the typical challenges with which you help a person with thalassemia deal?
Besides the mundane reality of life, compliance, coping with a chronic illness and education/awareness seem to be the typical challenges of thalassemia; all of which go hand in hand.

What advice do you have for a patient who is experiencing compliance issues?
Remember that treatment (for example, transfusions and chelation therapy) is what makes this disease a chronic illness and not terminal. Many patients have rationalized that because they don’t feel sick, it’s okay to not comply with their chelation therapy; however, the reality is that iron overload is not as symptomatic as a cold or the flu. Chelation therapy has come such a long way…it’s not perfect, but it’s effective. If you can believe that your treatment regimen is necessary to maintain a normal life, then it no longer becomes a burden, but a conscious and empowering choice to live.

Do you find that there are any misperceptions that a person with thalassemia might have about what a social worker does or how a social worker might help him/her?
The main misperception that a patient/family would have about a social worker is that we do things on behalf and “for” our patients. Although it would be easier to take care of all of our patients’ needs, this would be a disservice to our patients and their families. Our goal is to empower and educate rather than to enable and foster dependency. Additionally, social work is NOT a charity service that has a constant influx of handouts. At times, we have some resources that are donated to the hospital for patients/families who really need it; however it is not a “service” that social workers provide on an ongoing basis. Lastly, social workers have the stigma of “taking kids away” and “psychoanalyzing” our patients/families. Although there are cases where this kind of intervention is necessary, most of our work focuses on finding constructive strategies for helping people meet the challenges they face.

What are your 3 favorite TV shows?
Miami Ink & LA Ink
I Love Lucy
America’s Best Dance Crew

If you were auditioning for AMERICAN IDOL, what song would you sing?

Bohemian Rhapsody-Queen

Please complete the following sentence: “Most people would be surprised to learn that when I’m not at work I like to __________.”
Get tattooed and karaoke! Not in that order, but yes!

What else would you like to say to those with thalassemia?

Don’t let thalassemia run your life. Take control of your chronic illness by being compliant with your medication, educating yourself, keeping an open communication with your family and medical team and mainly, strive to create “normalcy” in your life.

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