Two transplants, 32 years of marriage: “My bride never left my side”

A year ago Steve Kennedy wasn’t sure what was ahead. He was in and out of the hospital – admitted for more than 10 weeks. Now he’s planning a trip to Europe.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender@iuhealth.org

There’s one thing Steve Kennedy wants to be perfectly clear about – he couldn’t have made it through two transplants without his wife Michelle, his four children and their spouses.

Within the span of six months he had two liver transplants and was in the care of transplant surgeon Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal and gastroenterologist/hepatologist Dr. Marco Lacerda. The first transplant was on April 26, 2018; the second was Oct. 7, 2018.

“I love the transplant team at IU Health,” said Kennedy. “They have been so good to us. The transplant coordinators and floor nurses are amazing and believe it or not I miss them. As much as we were there, you get to know them. You pour into them and they pour into you. It is really hard to be disconnected from them.” On a recent visit to IU Health University Hospital he saw Dr. Kubal in the hallway and the two exchanged hugs.

A year after his second transplant Kennedy reflects on some of the blessings he received through transplant. He recently wrote a message thanking his wife, his children, his transplant team and his donors. Then he wrote: “If you have not signed up to be a donor, please consider this – it only takes a couple of minutes.”

Diagnosed with a combination of cirrhosis and non-alcohol fatty liver disease Kennedy’s condition resulted in encephalopathy causing him to hallucinate and suffer severe headaches and disorientation. Over time, he began losing his balance requiring constant care.

On April 26, 2018 when he learned that he would receive a transplant Kennedy wrote: “I just got the call from IU Health. They have a liver for me. We are heading that way now. . . Please pray this liver is in good shape and please pray for the donor’s family. I am so sad for them and so appreciative of the gift.”

Throughout his transplants – before, during and after – he experienced several setbacks. But looking back, Kennedy said focusing on the positives made him stronger.

“I have six transplant folks that I talk to numerous times a month – some several times a week. Three of them were transplanted around the same time. That happened because of transplant,” said Kennedy.

He and his wife met during basic training in the U.S. Air Force and were married 32 years ago.

“Another thing I realized is how the caregiver also needs care,” said Kennedy. “My bride never left my side. She is an incredible woman that is a rock. I was in the hospital just shy of 11 weeks between April 26 and mid-December. She slept in a chair either in the waiting room or next to me. There were times that I didn’t sleep more than an hour and she got up every time.”

He also learned what it was like to watch his four children during his healing process.

“It has been great to watch the kids all be such amazing and caring adults. Not just with us but with each other. They have become what parents could only hope that their kids would become. We are amazingly blessed.”

With the two transplants behind him, and his health back on track, Kennedy and his wife have spent time traveling. They enjoyed trips to Disney, a cruise, and trip to see Paul McCartney in concert. In the works is an 18-day trip to Europe this spring.

Kennedy was recently asked by Dr. Lacerda how his life has changed since his transplants.

“I was not sure how to give him a short answer, but then it hit me,” said Kennedy. “I am in a hurry but I am not in a rush – meaning I have a lot to do but not in a hurry for those things to be over. I want to help my community; I want to advance the cause of transplant and I want to see my grandchildren grow up.”

Harmonicas for Health

A group of seniors with COPD learned new breathing techniques in a fun way – by playing harmonicas. A program created by the COPD Foundation and Pulmonary Empowerment Program, The Harmonicas for Health initiative was created especially for individuals with COPD and other chronic lung diseases.

Harmonicas for Health help participants:

  • Learn how to have better control of your breathing
  • Exercise the muscles that help pull air in and push air out of the lungs
  • Strengthen abdominal muscles for a more effective cough
  • Boost self-confidence, relieve stress
  • Socialize with others and have fun
  • Reported benefits include: decreased shortness of breath, increased sputum mobilization and increased quality of life.

The group meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays at Westminster Village in West Lafayette.

The local project was funded by the Community Outreach and Engagement fund, West Central Region of IU Health.

College basketball player, coach – Sidelined with transplant

Melissa Johnson, a 2003 graduate of Earlham College spent three years coaching the Quakers, and led them to a 12-13 season in her final year, when she faced uncertain health issues.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

She wears a t-shirt that reads: “Wonder Woman in Training.” By most accounts, the phrase accurately describes Melissa Johnson.

There are various media reports – including ESPN – about her resilience, her motivation, and her leadership – on and off the court. A 1999 graduate of Whiteland Community High School, she received awards as the top athlete and went on to play basketball for three seasons at Earlham College. She served as team captain for three seasons, was a two-time Earlham Defensive Player of the Year, and helped the “Quakers” reach the North Coast Athletic Conference Championship game in 2001.

As a student at Earlham she met Nick Johnson – who played college football and ran track. The two married 14 years ago. They had their first child, Jayden in 2008 and their son, Jacob in 2010.

Life was good. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and graduated from the College’s Master of Arts in Teaching Program.

A year after Jacob was born Melissa became the head coach of the Earlham College women’s basketball program. Her husband served as a coach of track and field and football and later became the head football coach.

An avid runner, Melissa spent time participating in mini-marathons and lifting weights – all part of her lifestyle and commitment to coaching. But in 2014, everything changed. Shortly after going in for a routine hysterectomy, she developed severe pain that was diagnosed with severe acute pancreatitis. It was the beginning of what would become a long road eventually leading to IU Health and multivisceral transplant.

In the course of a year, she was hospitalized for 200 days – including once with life-threatening intestinal blockage. Her slender 5’6” frame dropped to 108 pounds and she relied on a feeding tube for nourishment. At another hospital she underwent surgery to remove her pancreas and transplant cells into her liver to aid her digestive system.

Just months later her pituitary and adrenal glands shut down, she developed a serious infection and was flown by IU Health LifeLine helicopter to Methodist Hospital. She was treated for a swollen brain and a cerebral spinal leak and was in a coma – impacting her ability to talk and walk.

“It was like over night life changed drastically,” said Johnson, the daughter of Sally and Mike Liffick. With her mother at her side, she talked about her life before coming to IU Health.

She resigned as women’s basketball coach after the 2013-14 season, was rehired in March 2017 but eventually stepped down before the start of the 2017-18 season. “It was a sport I loved, a job I loved but I had to focus on my health,” she said. By June of 2017, she had undergone 15 surgeries, had all or part of 13 organs removed and spent more than 600 days in various hospitals.

Last November her husband announced he would step down as Earlham’s head football coach after completing a four-year stint. He continues working at the college in student-athlete development.

“It’s been a rough road for both of us,” said Melissa Johnson. “Nick was in his first home game as head coach when I developed an infection in my blood stream that traveled into my brain, causing massive seizures and strokes.” That was when she was first hospitalized at IU Health.

“I have always held onto hope and I’ve always looked at Wonder Woman as my sort of alter ego,” said Johnson. “She can do anything because she is smart, bold, and brave.”

It’s taken a super hero to keep her focused on the good that is about to come in her life – the change in direction.

“After multiple surgeries to remove my pancreas, part of my stomach, spleen, gall bladder and part of my small intestine, I had to hold onto something that would help me remain positive for my family,” said Johnson. “At another hospital I was in hospice. They told me to get comfortable and live as long as I could. That was probably the hardest stage in all of this.”

Then she began researching options. She wasn’t’ about to give up.

“The last two years has been about surviving. We decided we’re not quitters so we kept researching doctors,” said Johnson, 38. Their research led them to IU Health and Dr. Richard Mangus, known for his work with multivisceral transplantation.

Johnson was approved on September 23 and 36 hours later received the call. Her surgery was scheduled for September 25 – a transplant of stomach, pancreas, liver, small intestine and large intestine.

Days after her transplant her family wrote: “Today was an emotional day for the Transplant Floor at IU Health – in celebrating the highs & lows for multivisceral transplant. On this floor, everyone quickly becomes family, as this is the most difficult and rarest of transplants completed on patients who honestly have no other chance of staying alive. . . . While many surgeons would never even attempt a five-organ transplant on a patient, we have come across a brilliant surgeon at IU who holds onto the hope for a patient until their last breath is taken.”

And still days later as she began to regain strength, Johnson said:

“It’s been a rough start but it’s going to be a rough start no matter what route you go – you make a choice to say ‘I’ll live in fear’ or ‘I’ll take a leap of faith.’ I put my faith in Dr. Mangus. He is fabulous at what he does and I live by hope. If you have hope you have everything.”

She’s the kind face behind the mask

IU Health University Hospital surgical technologist Seph Bruce doesn’t always get to show patients her face in the OR, but they know she is the kind face behind the mask.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

In some ways, Seph Bruce says she was always meant to be a caregiver.

The oldest child of five – she grew up helping raise her brothers and sisters. Later in life, she helped care for her grandmother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and her grandfather diagnosed with small cell lung cancer.

“We’re all caregivers. It runs in the family. I feel like when you’re around those who need extra care, you find what you’re good at and what you love,” said Bruce.

Born in Valparaiso, she moved with her family to Kokomo when she was 14. She got her CNA certification in high school and afterward took classes at Ivy Tech. She knew she wanted to do something in the medical field but was not sure what that something was.

Five years ago when she married her husband Bryan and they moved to Indianapolis, she began working at IU Health as an operating room assistant and began training at Methodist Hospital as a surgical technologist.

She was recently chosen as “Preceptor of the Year” from both Ivy Tech and IU Health Methodist Surgical Technology.

“I absolutely love my role as a certified surgical technologist for IU Health University OR and being able to teach is an added bonus,” said Bruce. “It can be tense and unpredictable but it keeps me fresh and on my toes.”

In her role she helps prepare the OR with instrument placement, positioning the patient, and getting everything ready for the surgeons.

“It’s a job that requires us to have a good knowledge of the procedure and learn the background of the patients – do they have allergies, are they a bariatric patient, do they have a central line – we need to prepare for any conditions,” said Bruce.

Her area of specialty is gynecology – working in such procedures as hysterectomies and tubal ligations. She also works with oncologists performing complex procedures. She primarily works with gynecologic oncologists Dr. Sharon Robertson, Dr. Jeanne Schilder, and Dr. Kelly Kasper.

“Because of the mask I wear, the patients don’t always see my face, but I think they know when I am smiling with my eyes and can tell I’m a kind and reassuring face,” said Bryan. She relates how she was in a surgery with a patient who had a large tumor removed. The patient was from another country and was nervous.

“I saw a change come over her,” said Bruce. “She knew we were sensitive to her needs and we were there to make a difference in her life.”

More about Bruce:

  • Her mom was studying Greek mythology when she was born so her name “Seph” comes from the Greek name Persephone, a goddess of the underworld, springtime, flowers and vegetation.
  • Her hobbies are attending concerts, playing board games and hanging out with her Chihuahua Dachshund mix, “Mini.”
  • Some of her surgeries can be long. To help keep her on her feet, she wears compression socks for blood circulation in her legs, stays hydrated, and invests in a comfortable pair of shoes – sometimes with gel inserts.

She’s a nurse by day; actress by night

Since high school Betsy Norton has had an interest in music. She went on to get her degree in nursing and now she’s back on the local stage. This month she is busy rehearing for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s annual holiday show, “Yuletide.”

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Ask Betsy Norton how acting has made her a better nurse and she’ll say: “Actually nursing has made me a better actress.”

Her life is a 50-50 split between nursing and acting.

A 2003 graduate of Mooresville High School she was a member of the school’s “Spotlighters,” a show choir with numerous competitions throughout the year. But her introduction to acting actually began in fourth grade when she performed in the Civic Theatre production of “Babes in Toyland.” She continued singing in school productions and even did some commercial work, until she started college at IU Bloomington.

“I had a few different majors my first year. I really like interacting with people and I had taken a lot of science classes so the beginning of my sophomore year I switched to nursing,” said Norton. “I think my communications skills are among my stronger points. In the nursing world I deal with a range of people with different diagnoses. I think that has carried over into acting. I meet so many people from different walks of life – everyone is going through something different.”

She started at IU Health North 11 years ago in surgery and now works in the general surgery patient care team with Dr. Attila Nakeeb. Her primary role is educating patients and serving as a point person before, and after surgery.

“I like the idea of having so many areas within nursing to choose from and this job gives me the flexibility to perform in theater,” said Norton. “It also helps that Dr. Nakeeb and his wife are huge supporters of the arts. We’re always talking about shows we want to see and they come to see most of my productions.”

In the past 10 years she has performed in a variety of musicals with Civic Theatre, the Phoenix, Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre and the Actors Theatre of Indiana. Her musical productions include “My Fair Lady,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Bright Star,” a musical composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. She also performed in Phoenix Theater’s production of “Hotel Nepenthe” a play set in Hollywood’s golden era – about 19 characters that live and work around the Hotel Nepenthe. She was recently cast by one of Indianapolis’ newest company’s American Lives Theatre, for a modern thriller “Boy Gets Girl” that will be performed at Indy Fringe Theater in March.

This month she is in rehearsals for an Indianapolis seasonal favorite – the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Yuletide Celebration.” In its 34th year, the holiday musical includes such traditional numbers as the “Holly Jolly Dollies,” “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and the “Tap Dancing Santas.” The production has a 28-show run beginning November 30. This is Norton’s second year to perform with the 40 plus member cast.

“I have eight incredible gowns that I get to wear. It’s a high energy performance that everyone looks forward to at the holidays,” said Norton.

More about Norton:

  • In April she married Ryan Ruckman, a theater teacher. They met at a show they did together during the Indy Fringe Festival. They were married on the Grand Hamilton Stage in the historic Neidhammer building. They have three dogs.
  • About nursing in the theater: She once helped calm someone down who suffered a panic attack brought on by stage fright. Another time she administered an allergy shot to a fellow cast member and she hastily ordered up Ibuprofen, ice and a wrap when she tore a calf muscle and hobbled off stage of a Civic production several years ago.
  • Her three favorite musicals: “Hamilton,” “Chicago,” and “Les Miserables.”

Patient: “They thought I had the flu”

Just a few months earlier she had given birth to her daughter. So when Caitlyn Goslee became ill, doctors initially thought she was run down and had a bad case of the flu. It turned out to be something much more.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Her pregnancy was tough. She was nauseous quite a bit. But months after her daughter was born, Caitlyn Goslee was still experiencing nausea.

Married to Brian Goslee, the blended family includes three other children under the age of ten. Caitlyn Goslee, 27, was constantly on the go. But in July everything slowed down.

She was admitted to the hospital three times in July and August with a different diagnosis each time – septic, flu A, flu B and RSV. “I’d been on steroids and antibiotics and my counts were still low so a bone marrow biopsy was ordered,” said Goslee, a 2010 graduate of North Central High School. The test confirmed Goslee has Myelodysoplastic syndromes (MDS), a group of disorders that causes her bone marrow to not produce enough functioning blood cells.

With a confirmed diagnosis, Goslee switched her treatment to IU Health and is under the care of hematologists/oncologists Dr. Robert Nelson and Dr. Larry Cripe. Since August she has completed her first cycle of chemotherapy, recently started a second cycle and will begin preparing for a stem cell transplant.

During a recent hospital visit her mother Oona Elmore and grandma Marg Schroeder joined her.

“As a little girl she was always very healthy. She was very energetic – was into swimming and cheerleading,” said her mother. After high school she worked as a nanny – traveling with families and helping manage households of children. She was also an avid race fan and often joined her dad Rico Elmore at sprint car and IndyCar races and tractor pulls. She met her husband when she was organizing a fundraiser for Riley Hospital for Children. He works for IndyCar and owns a business that turns old race gears into clocks. He donated one of the artistic pieces for the auction.

Her illness caught her by surprise.

“It’s a busy life with four kids. Before all this my husband I would try to get away once or twice a month and we always did things with the kids – parks, museums, the zoo,” said Goslee. “When I got my diagnosis I didn’t know what to expect so I settled for another doctor at another hospital.”

When she began to learn more about MDS, Goslee joined a support group on social media and began talking to others with the same diagnosis.

“I was encouraged to get a second opinion and not settle for anything but the best treatment options,” said Goslee. “I also learned IU Health was where I needed to be and it has been the best.”

“A month of Thanksgiving” – Father donates kidney to daughter

A year ago Lilly Hatfield was diagnosed with sudden end stage renal disease. This Thanksgiving will take on a new meaning – her father recently gave her the gift of life.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

They spent a month last year – including Thanksgiving – at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Lilly Hatfield remembers the nurses, the doctors, and the staff members who became familiar faces during that holiday.

When she recently returned to that same hospital floor she was met with hugs and high-fives. This visit was different. This visit was a chance at new life.

Across the way – in another hospital, her father, Allen Hatfield, was donating a kidney at IU Health University Hospital.

For the past year, the family has kept a chalkboard in the kitchen of their Columbus home. They’ve marked down the days leading up to Lilly’s transplant.

“We wanted our home to be a place of healing – no sadness. We took that sadness out to the hospital hallway the first time we did emergent dialysis,” said Lilly’s mom and Allen’s wife, Misty Hatfield. That was the day that a pound of fluid was drained from Lilly’s body. She was screaming in fear and pain. It was Riley Hospital’s Dr. Amy Wilson, who specializes in kidney disease, who helped calm Lilly and reassured her parents.

“Doctor Wilson was a pillar of strength,” said Misty Hatfield. “Getting a diagnosis like that can throw you into a tailspin and she was the one who told us, ‘you have a healthy child.’”

Allen and Misty Hatfield remember that day as one filled with doubt about the health of their daughter.

It was last October when Lilly’s parents noticed she wasn’t eating or sleeping as much as usual. She was also vomiting. By the end of the month blood work showed her hemoglobin counts at 6.9. A typical hemoglobin level is about 11 to 18 grams per deciliter – depending on age and gender. Lilly’s levels were critical for kidney and liver failure. She was admitted to the hospital immediately with end stage renal disease.

It made little sense to her parents. Misty Hatfield had a healthy pregnancy. Lilly was a typical little girl who started life in a nursery decorated in dragonflies. She was a bubbly baby and an outgoing toddler. Despite the fact that she was adventurous and liked to climb trees, she never had a broken bone. Her only operation was at the age of four when she had a tonsillectomy.

As she grew up, she took an interest in science – especially astronomy. She enjoys reading about space and is fascinated by the beams of colored lights from her plasma ball. She likes working on Smithsonian activities and drawing and painting – especially clouds and waterfalls. Even when she missed three months of school, Lilly made the honor roll.

“She loves to do anything adults are involved with,” said her mother. “She knows every 80s and 90s song. The first time I heard her sing ‘September’ by Earth, Wind and Fire, I thought my child was an 80s child reincarnated.”

Lilly turned 13 on July 26 and has also shown an interest in cooking.

“I love watching cooking shows. I learned to make a rosemary reduction sauce so I make great rosemary lamb chops and chocolate chip cookies too,” said Lilly, the younger sister of Chantel Bingham, 22.

Her wit and humor continued into her teen years.

When a visitor recently entered her room at Riley Hospital she jokingly introduced an adult family friend as “Lilly.” She talked about sleepovers with friends, eating cheese again and soaking in a tub of bath bombs – things that she has restricted since her diagnosis. She started home dialysis last November and called herself, “Cyborg,” for half human, half robot.

The dialysis continued until she found a kidney match.

“The day after we found out she needed a kidney, I started the process,” said her dad. “It was a chance to help your kid get well again and return to her normal self. It’s been a long road of blood work, tests and waiting but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

On October 9, under the care of Dr. John A. Powelson, Allen Hatfield donated his kidney to his daughter, who was under the surgical care of Dr. William Goggins. Now the family is looking forward to regaining their footing with Lilly’s healthy kidney.

In the weeks leading up to surgery Lilly enjoyed a sleepover with friends at her home – where she could continue with dialysis. The family took a trip to Gatlinburg where she stuffed herself on a Bavarian cream puff. They rented a van so they could transport her dialysis equipment and adequate supplies.

“It’s been a gamut of emotions from stress, to anger, to sadness,” said Allen Hatfield. “We’re ready to turn things around.”

For Lilly that means fewer restrictions.

“I’m looking forward to sleepovers where I can actually go to my friends’ houses and to my Make-a-Wish cruise to the Mediterranean,” she said.

Mother celebrates more than 8 decades of life thanks to daughter’s kidney

It’s been almost ten years since Lecta “Sue” Hammer’s youngest child donated a kidney to save her life. Now she is celebrating her 86th birthday looking in the rearview mirror at a life before transplant.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Her fingernails are painted a bright burgundy and are long and strong. It is one of the things Melody Biddle remembers about her mother before transplant.

“Her nails were brittle and broken,” said the youngest child of Lecta “Sue” Hammer. Like her nails, Hammer’s body was weak and fragile.

Fourteen years before her transplant, Hammer was diagnosed with autoimmune disease. At one point doctors were searching for cancer – she had a CT scan, an MRI, bone marrow tests – and nothing showed signs of cancer. Next she went to an allergy doctor. More tests followed and she was diagnosed with Lupus.

“My kidneys were diseased and I was put on prednisone for a year. I got up to 190 pounds,” said Hammer. Her weight put her at risk for a kidney transplant but she was determined to regain her health.

“I was 75 and my doctor at the time thought I was too old for a kidney transplant, but I said I wanted a kidney,” said Hammer. “After that I went into the office the next week and my doctor said he’d studied the history of my health and he thought I was able to have a transplant.”

Originally from Tompkinsville, Ky.- a community of about 2,400 people, Hammer married her next-door neighbor Floyd and moved to Indiana in 1952. She is the last sibling of three. When her husband died nine years ago they had been married 59 years.

Hammer had her first child on her 19th birthday – October 28, a girl – Phyllis (Wilson). Her second child, also a girl – Teresa (Anderson), was born on Labor Day and a son; Tony Hammer was born on New Year’s Eve. Then the Saturday before Father’s Day, June 20, 1969 her youngest child, Melody (Biddle) was born.

“As the youngest I remember we’d get together with our neighbor across the street who babysat for her granddaughter. We’d go to garage sales, the playground, school clothes shopping and then come home and have a little fashion show,” said Biddle. When Biddle was in high school at Lawrence North her mom worked in the cafeteria. Later in life the two enjoyed hitting after-Christmas sales. When Biddle met her future husband, Tim her mom was the one who created an unsuspecting memory for her future son-in-law. Biddle took him along to the airport to pick up her mom from a trip to Florida. A flight mix up caused them to make two trips and had Hammer waiting for a bit after missing a connecting flight.

“By the time we got her she said to Tim, ‘I’ve been waiting all day to meet you,” Biddle recalls. When her son, Levi, was born 20 years ago Biddle remembers her mother was in Kentucky caring for an ill parent. It was the first grandchild to join the family in 15 years. Biddle grew up with nieces and nephews who were just seven-10 years younger.

“I was excited to have a new grandchild but I didn’t think she’d go on time,” said Hammer. Levi is one of five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. For years, Hammer and her husband enjoyed taking him and Biddle on camping trips to Raccoon Lake, McCormick’s Creek and Lieber State Park.

Hammer’s illness came at a time her husband was in the advanced stages of dementia.

“At my worst I couldn’t do my housework, I couldn’t’ care for my husband, and I had to call my kids to take care of him so I could rest,” said Hammer. Her daughter remembered years earlier touring a dialysis clinic as part of a United Way work campaign. “I thought it would be a horrible way to put your life on hold for. I remembered that – it was always in the back of my mind,” said Biddle. So when her mom’s kidneys began to fail, Biddle – who is the same blood type – was tested as a match.

“A lot of other people asked me at the time, ‘what if your kidney fails’ or ‘what if something happens to Levi.’ I couldn’t withhold what I knew I could do for what I might have to do,” said Biddle. “I found a real purpose in being able to give her a kidney. I decided if God is going to allow me to do this for my mom, he’s going to take care of my son.”

As the mother and daughter prepared for transplant, they spent hours walking the halls of Methodist Hospital and would sometimes head out for lunch after their appointments. Biddle learned much about being a living donor from her transplant coordinator Kelly Coffey.

On Feb. 23, 2010, Biddle gave her mother the gift of life.

“This was such a profound thing in my life that I didn’t know how to go forward,” said Biddle. She took a month off work and didn’t talk about it publicly until she began to see improvements in her mother.

“Gradually when I began to see her doing every day things – like the laundry – I knew she was getting better and I began to open up and tell others about being a living donor,” said Biddle. Hammer still sees her nephrologist at IU Health Dr. Ronald Bloom and says she feels better than ever. She’s taken trips to Florida and Canada and continues to enjoy her life as a mother and grandmother.

“She’s made my life worth living,” said Hammer. On Sunday mornings Biddle and her husband pick up her mom to attend services at First Church of Christ in Fishers and Biddle helps her mom by picking up groceries, medications and taking her to doctor appointments. And this month, the family will celebrate Hammer’s 86th birthday.

“Once she made up her mind she wanted to donate her kidney I only thought how wonderful it was that I was going to have a longer life and a better life,” said Hammer. “It’ just hard to put into words how I feel that she would do that for her mother.”

Viral photo of exhausted Texas nurse hits home for IU Health nurses

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

You might have seen the photo – the exhausted labor and delivery nurse in Texas who broke down in tears after a particularly brutal shift.

The picture, taken by the nurse’s sister and shared on Facebook, went viral in mid-October. It captured the emotional release of a 29-year-old nurse who ended a long work week by assisting as a patient delivered a stillborn baby.

While most labor and delivery units are filled with happy tears when babies are born, the work is exhausting and sometimes heartbreaking.

Meg Merriman, a labor and delivery nurse for seven years at IU Health Methodist Hospital, said the photo resonated with her.

“I have had days like that when you just go home and cry because you feel so much for your patients,” she said. “We love our patients. When they hurt, we hurt for them.”

In fact, the same week she saw the Facebook post, she had had a tough week herself at work.

“We had bereavement patients on our unit. It was an emotionally draining week.”

Merriman came to nursing later in life after deciding a career in journalism wasn’t for her. When she delivered her oldest son, now 11, her own labor and delivery nurse was so amazing that she was inspired to go back to school and get her nursing degree.

“I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to support new moms.”

Merriman, who went on to have three more children, said giving birth – no matter how many times you do it – is “a defining moment for women.”

So she wants to help her patients have the kind of labor and delivery experience that they want.

“I want to ensure we have a healthy mom and healthy baby at the end of the birth process. I want to support them, to care for them, to let them know they’re not alone. Because it is sometimes scary if you don’t know what to expect in labor or during your C-section,” she said.

“Having someone there guiding you through and supporting you, somebody you can look to and trust, is really important.”

Methodist, which delivered 3,005 babies in 2018, recently celebrated its Baby Friendly Hospital re-designation from Baby Friendly USA. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative focuses on providing optimal clinical care for new moms and their infants.

Brittany Gipe, a labor and delivery nurse at Methodist for four years, said she is proud of the fact that the Downtown Indianapolis hospital is known for delivering high-risk pregnancies.

“We take care of the sickest moms and babies in the state,” she said.

She often sees that first-hand because she flies with LifeLine to transport pregnant women from hospitals that can’t support a high-risk mom to Methodist, where they can be better monitored and treated before and after delivery.

Pregnant moms who want a more nontraditional childbirth such as a water birth can have that at Methodist, where midwives are an integral part of the team, Merriman said.

“I love that we give such great labor support, especially to moms who are seeking out natural childbirth,” she said. We deliver such great care because we have really good collaboration between our OB-GYNs, midwives and nurses.”

Merriman sought a job at Methodist after doing clinicals here in nursing school.

“I witnessed the nurses here and how much they supported the patients, how caring they seemed, how they used evidence-based practices to make sure they were giving the best care to patients,” she said. “I saw a water birth and a nurse supporting a first time mom who was only 16 through a water birth, and I was just in awe. I knew I had to be a part of this.”

Women are definitely the stronger gender in Gipe’s mind. Labor and delivery proves it, she said. And she is their biggest cheerleader.

“I call them superwomen.”

At the end of a 12-hour shift though, she is exhausted, emotionally and physically. When she read that Facebook post about the nurse in Texas, she had just been part of a team diagnosing a fetal death, she said. Events like that stir up all the emotions, but she tries to keep those feelings in check so she can fully support her patient.

Sometimes that means “just being there with them and letting them know they’re not alone and it was nothing they did that caused it,” she said. “And sometimes they just need you to cry with them. I try to feel the room and see what is best for the patient.”

The same is true for Merriman.

“When you have those sad times when babies are lost, we are there to offer comfort to those moms, just to sit with them in their pain and tell them it’s OK to feel what they’re feeling,” she said.

“It’s about sitting with them and letting them know they’re not alone. Even if they have family, sometimes they can’t understand what they’re going through. We can support them through that. Our team does a really good job of letting them know how much we care.”

That kind of empathy is exactly what makes both women such good nurses, said Caitlin Ernst, clinical manager in labor and delivery for Riley Maternity and Newborn Health at Methodist Hospital.

“Meg is a wonderful bedside nurse and charge nurse who continuously aims to provide the best patient-centered care possible while also promoting a positive and collaborative culture for her teammates,” she said.

And Brittany has taken on multiple roles to help the department function at the highest level, including charge nurse and high-risk OB nurse for the LifeLine team, Ernst said.

“She has excellent clinical skills and knowledge and uses her skill set to provide outstanding care to some of our sickest moms.”

Both nurses say the entire labor and delivery team at Methodist is like a family.

“I’ve never worked in a place where it’s actually felt like family,” Gipe said. “We’re there for each other, we always know we have each other for support. It’s definitely a special connection.”



Even after the hardest days, they know there are brighter days ahead.

“It’s honestly the most rewarding experience when you hear the first cry from a newborn and then mom just saying ‘thank you for helping me through this,’ ” Merriman said. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

She thought she had the flu, until her finger turned black

Nurse who contracted necrotizing fasciitis and sepsis believes she wouldn’t be alive today without the aggressive treatment of Methodist staff.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

As an ICU nurse, Amy Sprunger knows the signs of sepsis and necrotizing fasciitis, both of which can be fatal. But when she started feeling sick last June, she assumed she was coming down with the flu.

She was finishing up her nurse practitioner program and had just diagnosed two people with the flu that week in her clinical work.

“I started feeling feverish and thought for sure that’s what I had,” she said. “But when I woke up, my finger was completely black, and I knew, ‘that’s not the flu.’ ”

Her training told her something worse was going on.

She eventually lost that finger, her right index finger, but says the now-missing digit saved her life.

“I think I would have waited longer if it wasn’t for that finger.”

Had she waited, the 41-year-old wife and mother of three has no doubt she would be dead.

RACE AGAINST TIME

Sprunger’s ordeal started after spending an otherwise ordinary June day doing yardwork. She started feeling ill June 13, she recalled, and within two days, she was septic. Her discolored finger gave it away. Her body was shutting down.

The Fishers resident was rushed to IU Health Saxony Hospital with a temperature of 105.4.

“I was not in my right mind at that point. By the time I got to the hospital, I had blisters all down my leg.”

She was quickly transferred to IU Health Methodist Hospital, where her medical team prepared her family, including her husband, Mark, and her twin sister, for the worst.

“The doctor was very honest with my family,” she said, telling them that the necrotizing fasciitis attacking her left leg was a fatal infection but they were doing everything they could to save her.

NF, commonly known as flesh-eating disease, results in the death of parts of the body’s soft tissue. It starts suddenly and spreads rapidly, with bacteria entering through a tiny scrape or cut in a person’s body.

“I was doing yardwork, and we assume I contracted Strep A in the bloodstream at that point, which developed into necrotizing fasciitis,” she said.

She doesn’t remember having a cut or abrasion for it to enter, though she does recall later having what felt like an unrelenting charley horse in her leg, in addition to flu symptoms.

Symptoms of NF include red or purple skin in the affected area, severe pain, fever and vomiting. As it attacks, the body begins to shut down, going into septic shock, a life-threatening condition caused by a severe localized or system-wide infection.

“I was septic,” she said. “It affected my liver, my kidneys, my lungs. I went into acute respiratory distress, I was on a ventilator on 100 percent oxygen and ended up on ECMO.”

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung back into the bloodstream. The system provides heart-lung bypass support outside of a person’s body.

While she doesn’t remember most of it, she knows from her nurse training that ECMO patients are the sickest of the sick.

“THEY KNEW WHAT TO DO”

Sprunger works for a different healthcare system as a nurse, but she is grateful that she was taken to Methodist because the hospital has more experience with NF patients.

“I don’t think I would have made it if I was anywhere else because they were so aggressive here,” she said. “I’m very lucky. I had a lot of complications, but they knew what to do – and I’m here.”

Doctors eventually had to remove skin and tissue amounting to a third of her left leg, part of her left abdomen and her right index finger. Skin grafts were later used to restore fullness and function to her leg.

She was hospitalized from mid-June to the end of July before being released to rehab for a few weeks. While she was slowly recovering, her in-laws took the lead on caring for her and her husband’s three girls, even taking them on a trip to Hawaii that had been planned to celebrate Sprunger’s completion of her nurse practitioner program.

She is grateful for the support system that has helped carry her this far.

In August, she began coming to the Wound Care Center at Methodist for outpatient therapy. Physical therapist Gregg Toy remembers her arriving in a wheelchair in those early days. In time, she progressed to a walker, then a cane, and now she walks in unassisted.

“I feel like I’m starting to get my life back,” she said as Toy rewrapped the large wound area on her leg. “Everyone tells me I’m doing well, and I’m going to believe them.”

Toy says her progress has been rewarding to see.

“She’s doing amazing,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve seen patients smile through as much as she has. She’s kept a great attitude.”

None of it has been easy. In fact, the pain was worse than childbirth, Sprunger said. “I can’t even describe it.”

Early intervention is key with NF, Toy said. “It’s so aggressive and you can get septic and die.”

Removing all of the dead tissue and cleaning out the wound is where the healing starts. Once the patient is stable, the Wound Care Center team swoops in to continue treating the wound, using a wound vacuum to apply pressure, manage drainage and help fill in the space so healthy tissue can grow at its base.

“Bacteria loves that nonviable tissue and wants to hold onto that,” Toy said. “We decrease the bacteria by getting rid of that nonviable stuff. We have to get down to healthy tissue.”

And now, after months of treatment, Toy said his patient is in the home stretch.

“For the level of damage she had, the recovery is pretty miraculous – 99.8 percent from a wound standpoint,” he said.

“It’s rewarding to see that kind of progress, to see her bounce back from something so devastating and life-altering.”

She will need to continue to see specialists for follow-up, but the worst of this ordeal is over for Sprunger.

It all seems like a bad dream to the nurse, who still hopes to complete her nurse practitioner program in the months ahead.

REUNION WITH CVCC NURSES

Before she left Methodist last week after her PT appointment, she stopped in the cardiovascular critical care unit, where she stayed during the worst of her illness. She brought cookies for the nurses and a plaque that reads: “Not all angels are in heaven. Some work in IU Methodist CVCC.”

A swarm of nurses soon gathered around her, exchanging hugs and stories.

“They remember me even if I don’t remember them,” Sprunger said, acknowledging that for much of that time she was in a fog and suffered hallucinations.

“You look great, I don’t even recognize you,” one nurse said. Another said, “I took care of you, I’m glad to see you doing so well.”

“I don’t really know what to say, but thank you for saving my life,” Sprunger replied.

To CVCC clinical manager Jessica Jones, she said, “I can’t say enough about your team.”

Not just for her but for her mom. Because one year ago, Sprunger’s mom received a double lung transplant at Methodist and recovered in the same unit.

“I have a lot to be thankful for,” Sprunger said. “Everybody here has been phenomenal.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org