The first thing you might notice about Dr. Mark Colon is the tennis shoes.
They don’t match; one is white, the other is black.
Kids see it right away, which is exactly why Colon, a pediatrician, wears them.
When Colon patients see the mismatched shoes, they lose their fear. they don’t see the doctor plus, just the guy with the funny shoes.
It’s a quirk left over from his days as a resident – a perfect icebreaker for kids to talk to.
The other thing Colon does to make them feel comfortable? No white coat. In addition, he puts his stethoscope on his right shoulder.
If Colon’s appearance is casual, his mission is anything but.
Since opening 21 years ago, Colon has been the lifeblood of the CHOC Children’s Clinic at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana, a healthcare collaboration involving the nonprofit children’s recreation organization. and Children’s Health of Orange County, which is the new name for Children’s Hospital of Orange County, or CHOC for short.
The Colon clinic was the first onsite health center for any Boys and Girls club in the country. Now there is a CHOC clinic at the Boys & Girls Club in Garden Grove, and over a dozen more across the country.
No one has been more essential to the success of CHOC Children’s Clinic than Colon.
Over the years, Colon has cared for more than 100,000 children, from infancy to age 18, all at the Santa Ana site. In the organization’s ribbon cut photo of 2000 – an image that featured the kind of oversized scissors favored by developers and planners – Colon’s hair is dark with a few streaks of gray. Today it is a silvery white solid.
But the warm heart hasn’t changed at all.
Last year, for its 20th anniversary, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast, an umbrella group with locations in five cities including Santa Ana, wanted to honor Colon’s career by awarding him his DreamMaker Award. But COVID-19 has prevented the annual “Be Great” gala from taking place. Colon therefore received his award in October.
Colon, 58, was honored for his more than two decades of work at the clinic and for creating a COVID-19 health and safety protocol that has become a model for Boys and Girls clubs across the country . (His ideas on this front also helped the clubs reopen after a few weeks of closure in early 2020, so they could provide child care for the children of healthcare workers and essential workers, learning assistance to distance and other vital community services.)
But Colon deflects the praise. He says the clinic’s success comes from its membership in the community. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here.
He kissed them back.
If Colon is the right guy to gain the trust of parents who bring their kids to the clinic for subsidized health care – and he is – it’s because he understands their lives. Her father was a poor immigrant from Zacatecas, Mexico, one of 12 children.
Colon is both a role model for the children he cares for and a heartwarming figure for their families, said Robert Santana, general manager of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast.
“Imagine being a young child going to the doctor and meeting someone like you, a Hispanic, who comes from a community like yours,” Santana said before presenting the DreamMaker Award to Colon. “Someone you can touch and know, and how that potentially impacts your life as someone who might grow up in poverty.” “
Colon was working even before the clinic opened, when he saw patients in an office in an RV parked across Highland Street at Pio Pico Elementary School in Santa Ana. Finally, the permanent clinic was built next to the boys and girls pavilion, occupying a corner at the front of the parking lot. Today it is a simple one-story building, with four examination rooms in a narrow corridor.
This clinic sees around 70 patients per week, including kids who come to the club and any kid from the neighborhood and surrounding community, a dense mix of older homes and crowded apartment complexes. When parents bring their children for help, they invariably come on foot.
Most of Colon’s patients are Spanish speaking and poor. If they don’t have health insurance, they aren’t turned away – CHOC will cover the cost of that care and staff will help the family apply for Medi-Cal.
Considering the reason for the creation of the clinic, this open door policy is crucial.
A commemorative plaque embedded in the ground at the entrance shows the face of an 8-year-old boy:
“In memory of Felipe Carrillo 30-4-90 to 26-9-98. “
Felipe was a neighborhood kid and a member of the Boys & Girls Club. Her parents did not have health insurance or the money to take her to the doctor. But he fell ill and soon his condition worsened. In an ambulance on the way to the hospital, he died of meningitis.
A Boys & Girls Club board member paid for Felipe’s funeral, and the boy’s death became something of a milestone. The club quickly approached CHOC to open a clinic to prevent further deaths like Felipe’s. Colon remembers treating Felipe’s brother like a patient in the clinic and feeling their mother’s relief.
“It was almost like, ‘I’m safe now. My children are safe.
Colon, who has an older brother, was born in Los Angeles County and raised in Brea.
Her mother, Bette, was German and Irish. She met her father, Tomás, a WWII veteran, dancing to big band music. Both parents came from humble beginnings and sacrificed themselves to send Colon to a Catholic elementary school. He graduated from Brea Olinda High.
From a young age, the only thing Colon ever wanted to be was a doctor; he obtained his training at the UCI medical school.
His father had a variety of jobs, including purchasing parts for Hughes Aircraft. His mother loved having children at home, including Colon’s cousins and his friends. Some of these friends were, like Colon, children of immigrants from places as diverse as Iran and Korea.
“My dad worked harder than me all my life,” said Colon, who fondly remembers the precious Saturday downtime, watching boxing on TV with his dad. “It was not uncommon for him to work 12 hours a day. But he never complained.
Her parents were there for the opening of the clinic, but both have since passed away. He is married and has two children aged 15 and 19.
Colon sees the same work ethic and the same kindness that marked his upbringing in the parents of the children who come to the clinic. They sometimes say thank you by bringing home-cooked food to Colon and the four other staff – two nurses, a clinical assistant, and a receptionist – who run the clinic.
“I love coming to the clinic in the morning because you can smell the food that people prepare at home,” Colon said. “Chorizo in the morning, tortillas in preparation. That’s wonderful.”
As a pediatrician, Colon has many opportunities to encourage the children he sees to achieve their own dreams.
“When I look into their ears, I ask them how school is going and what they think they want to do after high school… Not what someone else thinks they should be.”
He tells them in Spanish, “Tu quieres, tu puedes.” If you want to, you can do it.
Ruby Mendez, the clinic’s health educator, speaks volumes about how easily Colon relates to his young patients, their parents, and, truly, everyone he meets.
“He’s amazing,” said Mendez, who started working at the clinic three years ago. “He’s the person you can go to and talk to about anything and everything. Families are open to him.