Long-Distance Treatments

By Joe Goldeen for the Stockton Record

Stockton – Justin Kasper had just celebrated his second birthday when his parents were given the diagnosis: autism.

“They told us he was mentally retarded. He will never do sports, and he will be in special ed the rest of his life,” said his mother, Dana Kasper.

Seven years later, he is in Lodi Unified School District’s Gifted and Talented Education program [northern California] and just completed his first year as a safety on a Lodi Bobcats youth football team. Prior to playing football, he was a regionally ranked gymnast.

All this is not without great effort. Nine-year-old Justin is on medication and regularly sees one of California’s few child psychiatrists who specialize in treating children with needs similar to Justin’s.

That doctor is in San Diego.

But thanks to Valley Mountain Regional Center’s telemedicine program, Justin needs to travel only from Lodi to VMRC’s Stockton office to visit with Dr. Christopher Morache every three months.

Morache, working out of his San Diego home, meets with about 300 VMRC clients via live videoconferencing. In 2004, 816 clients came to one of three VMRC telemedicine sites in Stockton, Modesto and San Andreas; 790 of them consulted with a psychiatrist while most of the rest visited with a neurologist.

For the Kaspers, access to telemedicine offers an option that has made a vast difference in Justin’s development.

“It’s been wonderful. Telemedicine was the last piece of the puzzle,”
Dana Kasper said, noting that quarterly meetings with Morache for the past three years have given her the confidence to put Justin on medications that have helped him tremendously.

“Dr. Morache listens to me. It’s as if we’re seeing him personally,”
she said.

VMRC’s telemedicine program is under the direction of project coordinator Chrystina Crocitto, who said her state-funded agency — one of
21 regional centers in California — provides services to anyone living in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties suspected of having a developmental disability such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or autism.

VMRC is one of only a handful of regional centers with videoconferencing capability, and she is one of just two telemedicine coordinators statewide.
“We got into telemedicine because of the lack of specialists in the area. We’ve been doing telemedicine since 1998 with about 10 consults a year back then,” Crocitto said.

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