At the specially licensed JoyCare center, medically fragile kids — and their tireless caregivers — are offered a new opportunity for growth. By Zachary McKenzie, Photos by Greta Connolly
Upon entering the new JoyCare Pediatric Day Health Center in Gulfton, it’s easy to see why “joy” is included in the name. The big, open play area is flooded with sunlight as children, ranging from newborn to age 20, play on multicolored floor mats, scoot along on toy cars, and write on the dry-erase walls that line the space. A wall in the front lobby features a Dr. Seuss quote: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” It was chosen by JoyCare founder and administrator Cottichia Burke, a certified pediatric speech language pathologist, because it speaks directly to the families she works with.
JoyCare is a prescribed pediatric extended care center (PPECC), one of just two in Texas. PPECCs are attended by children who are medically complex or fragile, and who are often dependent on technology or equipment. JoyCare employs registered nurses, physical therapists, speech language pathologists and occupational therapists, and blends those therapeutic services with other educational activities, like reading, music, art and more. Burke explains that patients who attend PPECCs show improvements in cognitive and physical development — and enjoy an opportunity to socialize, getting out of what can be an isolating home environment. The center also grants parents and caregivers a respite used to recharge and manage their own daily lives.
Burke worked at a similar facility in Philadelphia, but saw ways in which she wanted to expand the concept. When she saw that Texas passed legislation in 2015 that made PPECCs possible, she moved straight to Houston. “I saw it as a blank slate. I saw a glaring need for parents to have a support group and for children to have the opportunity to socialize, in addition to having their medical needs serviced.”
Construction on JoyCare began in early 2016. “Since it was the first PPECC in the state, no one had immediate answers when various issues would arise,” says Burke, who’s currently on maternity leave, but doesn’t let the demands of motherhood stop her from sharing her passion for the subject. “It was a complicated construction process.” The facility opened its doors in the fall of 2018.
Burke, wearing long black braids and an infectious smile, describes one child with Down syndrome who uses a trach, a type breathing tube, who came to JoyCare as a newborn. “He was significantly delayed” when he enrolled, she says — but he’s gone from crawling to walking, and now uses sign language as a means of communicating with adults and with other children at JoyCare.
“His parents told us they love and hate JoyCare,” Burke explains with a laugh. “They used to be able to leave him in the living room with his toys while they cooked and cleaned, but since he’s been coming to JoyCare, they’ve had to baby-proof their house because he’s been getting into everything!”
AT TOP: Hayden who attends JoyCare in Gulfton.