Babies will be able to breathe easier at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit thanks to some help from Hollywood.
Bakersfield native Dick Cook, former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and executive producer of the Jackie Robinson biopic “42,” presented the hospital with a grant of more than $34,000 from the Will Rogers Institute Wednesday. Other board members and Rogers’ descendants were also on hand.
“Being born and raised in Bakersfield, I have a huge connection to the city and to this hospital. I had my tonsils out here,” Cook said, to the amusement of the small crowd gathered just inside the hospital’s entrance.
Cook said the hospital’s application “zeroed in on exactly what we like to do.”
Vanessa Vasquez, a respiratory therapist from the NICU, said the new equipment can keep babies from needing more invasive care, such as intubation or life support. Staff members are learning how to use the gear this week.
“It’s a piece of equipment that is going to decrease the work of breathing for these babies so that they can use their extra energy and work on growing and developing, which is what these little babies need,” Vasquez said.
Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, Rogers’ great-granddaughter, and her father, James Rogers, helped hand the oversized check to hospital administrators.
Cook and Rogers-Etcheverry, who is also on the institute’s board of directors, said Wednesday marked the first time they’ve had the opportunity to present a grant in Bakersfield. Rogers-Etcheverry, who lives in Bakersfield, said the process got started a couple of years ago when she was introduced to Memorial’s President and CEO Jon Van Boening at a Will Rogers event in Los Angeles.
For Rogers-Etcheverry, the gift honored not only her great-grandfather’s legacy, but also the memory of Lauren Small, her young neighbor who died at the age of 11. The hospital’s Lauren Small Children’s Medical Center is named after the little girl.
“It’s amazing that her legacy has continued to live on through donations like this,” she said, describing Lauren as “precious free spirit.”
The grant was one of 13 the institute distributed to hospitals in a dozen states this year for neonatal care. Chuck Viane, another board member, said the institute hopes to increase its fundraising and pass out more grants next year.
Memorial’s need made the hospital stand out in the application process, but Viane said there was also “a little bit of heart tug to this town” because of Cook and the Rogers’ family’s connection to the community.
“Being here in Bakersfield is really unique for us because we were able to (contribute) in the backyard of the Rogers’ family. We think that’s pretty special,” Viane said.