LifeLine Nurse: IndyCar Is Father’s Legacy

LifeLine Nurse Lisa Schlemmer grew up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway following her dad, a professional videographer, to various events. Now she spends her off days working on the racing circuit’s track safety team.

One of her favorite moments at the Indy 500 isn’t necessarily when she comes within a bumper’s width of a celebrated driver. For Lisa Schlemmer, that moment is when the race starts; the cars are grouped together taking one slow lap around the track, the green flag waving.

“My dad was always in the first turn and I always think about him and the excitement he felt at the beginning of each race,” said Schlemmer, a nurse with LifeLine. She was 17 when her father died of complications from a heart condition.

The only child of Joe and Carol Creek, Schlemmer’s racing memories include not just Indianapolis but other speedways throughout the Midwest – Eldora (Ohio), Terre Haute, Winchester, and Toledo (Ohio). Her dad worked as a cameraman for Dick Wallen Productions out of California. His job was capturing images of practices, qualifications and races. And Schlemmer and her mom were by his side taking in the action.

“Minors weren’t allowed in the infield so I hid in a large storage bench dad made to store his equipment inside the van. As we passed through the gates I’d crouch down and keep asking if we were inside yet,” Schlemmer says.

It was when her father was ill that Schlemmer decided to pursue a career in medicine. Joe Creek loved his iced tea. And during one hospital stay he was playing cards with his daughter when his heart rate soared. Nurses thought maybe it was because he was anxious over the card game. But Schlemmer asked if her dad had iced tea with his dinner and if it was caffeinated. 

“No one else had made that connection and it just made sense to me that caffeine would elevate his heart rate,” said Schlemmer. She was only about 15 at the time but that personal experience of patient care stuck with her. In high school she joined an EMT for a ride along and she was hooked.

“You make a difference in someone’s life one time and it’s the value and purpose that drives you,” said Schlemmer. Years after that incident with her father, Schlemmer remembers stabilizing a patient who was found unconscious by her husband and was swelling due to angioedema. Through quick work, Schlemmer was able to intubate right where she collapsed on the kitchen floor.

“After we got her intubated, her swelling progressed. So if we had not intubated her when we did they wouldn’t have been able to get the tube in. It could have saved her life. It made a difference by doing what we’re trained to do.” said Schlemmer.

It’s that quick response and attention to detail that drives Schlemmer in her career as a nurse.

A graduate of Fort Wayne’s Lutheran College Schlemmer began her career as a med/surg nurse, and then worked in ER for a time. While she was in ER she took an EMT class and worked with Wells County EMS, with the idea that she was going to gain as much experience as possible to help her land a job as a flight nurse. She also became a paramedic. It paid off – she eventually landed a job as a flight nurse with an air medical program in Fort Wayne.

In 2004 she started working as a paramedic with Rural/Metro, providing Emergency Medical Service coverage for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During her 10 years with the company she met her husband, Chip, also a paramedic, and they were married in 2005. They have three children Nick, Megan, and Tyler.

Last year, Schlemmer began working with LifeLine as a regional manager supporting the critical care bases outside of Indianapolis including Terre Haute, Richmond, Lafayette and Columbus. In her role she is also responsible for maintaining relationships with the hospitals and coordinating staffing and support at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May.

She and her husband also travel with the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) providing a consistent safety presence for development drivers for NASCAR.

“We coordinate fire, recovery, restoration, and the medical care for our drivers, crew and officials, said Schlemmer. That could mean working with a wrecker towing cars or as a technical inspector weighing the cars. The series runs February through October and can take Schlemmer and her husband to as many as 20 races a year.

That includes the Indy 500 where she’s close enough to hear the racing tires, feel the heat from the track and see the drivers up close.

She was in a near miss with a golf cart driven by A.J. Foyt, spent the day with David Letterman in the Bobby Rahal pit, took in an insider’s view of the Andretti team, and was within inches of Tony Stewart. She ran into Richard Petty in a restaurant and has joked about Indiana’s unpredictable May weather with Sarah Fisher.

But one of her favorite memories was delivering the green flag aboard the LifeLine helicopter accompanied by Paul George and Pat McAfee. There was a special guest in their presence – a Riley patient that Schlemmer had once helped transport for emergency care.

“One of my favorite things about working as a transport nurse is the education and outreach to patients and families,” said Schlemmer. “Now I still do that but my education is internal with staff and I feel like by being involved in so many aspects of safety and care, I’m touching a lot more patients. I feel like I’m able to be their voice.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

LifeLine Nurse Meets Moms At Most Vulnerable Times

At any given moment, Susan Little could get the call – an expectant mother is in distress and she is ready to join a LifeLine crew to transport the mom to safety.

Like a Superhero, Susan Little arrives at her shift at Methodist Hospital Labor and Delivery Unit dressed in the hospital’s standard red uniform. But at any given moment she knows she could be switching into blue scrubs to assist at the bedside of a laboring mother, or changing into her jumpsuit and climbing aboard a LifeLine helicopter or ambulance.

“Some days I feel a little like Mr. Rogers always changing my uniform,” said Little. But for those in her care “Superhero” is fitting. She’s been a labor and delivery nurse at Methodist since 2010. A year later, she was one of the first nurses to join the LifeLine High Risk OB Transport Team, a group of healthcare providers that can make anywhere from 12-28 runs a month on ground or in the air.

“We may get a call that we need to come to Bloomington – that a patient has been in a motor vehicle accident and she is 32 weeks pregnant,” said Little. Other calls are about mothers with known fetal anomalies who need intervention by NICU. And others are experiencing high-risk pregnancies or preterm labor.

“It’s amazing because even if it’s maternal cardiac or neurologic issues we’re able to have the critical care staff work with the obstetrics staff to make sure that the woman gets the best care in the state of Indiana,” said Little.

As she talks, her compassion and energy are evident. She knows every minute counts.

“I can remember showing up in Jasper and the mom was dilated to six centimeters with a bulging bag of water. She had been that way for awhile so they deployed a peds team and we made it back to Methodist for her delivery.”

To date, she has had no deliveries during transport but she’s ready if necessary. It’s something that comes with training. When she’s on the labor and delivery unit at Methodist, Little is an extra set of hands assisting with deliveries and newborns. But she typically assists a primary care nurse so that the hand off is seamless for the patient when she gets the call to join the LifeLine crew.

“When the idea of a High Risk OB Transport Team was first introduced it was amazing to me and something I wanted to do my whole life,” said Little. “It brings together my greatest loves – caring for moms and working with a crew specializing in urgent care.”

A graduate of Franklin Central High School Little says that she dreamed of becoming a nurse since she was very young. At the age of 15 she signed up as a hospital volunteer and later worked as a CNA in a nursing home while pursuing her nursing degree. She was attending a vocational technical high school when she first heard a LifeLine nurse speak on career day and she got the bug. She attended Indiana State University and fell in love with obstetrics.

Little started her career working in oncology at a hospital in Ohio and continued applying for positions in labor and delivery. She was so sure that was where she was meant to be that she picked up extra shifts at a women’s center working with surgical patients.

Married to Shane Little, an engineer, Little stayed home with her two children for a time – Scott, 13 and Sydney, 12. When her husband’s job brought them back to Indiana, she set her mind to working at Methodist.

“Methodist is where you want to be for labor and delivery care,” said Little. “I have the best of both worlds. When I get to the patient’s bedside and see that look of relief I know they understand that I’m there to help,” said Little. “I let patients know I’m a mom and I let their families know that I’ll take care of them like my own daughter. I focus on easing their fears and concerns because most of the time I’m taking them out of their hometown environment, away from their support system and I think about the care I would want for my mom, daughter, or friend.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

She Reconstructs Breasts After Cancer Destroys Them, In Honor Of Her Mom

As Dr. Mary Lester headed off to medical school, she always had plastic surgery in the back of her mind. How wonderful would it be to make women feel whole again, like her mother did? To make them forget they ever had breast cancer?

Mary Lester was 8 years old and she had a dance recital to perform. She remembers getting all dressed up with her 11-year-old sister, Susan.

But as they left to head to the recital, there was a stop they needed to make first – before there would be any dancing – a stop at the hospital.

Their mom, 37-year-old Nancy Lester, had been diagnosed with breast cancer and, almost immediately, had a mastectomy.

As her mom recuperated, Mary Lester’s dad, Charlie, brought his two little girls to the hospital – so Nancy could do their hair.

It’s the most vivid memory Mary Lester has of the breast cancer that attacked her mom. She remembers her being gone from home. And she remembers the name Dr. Hartrampf.

It was that Georgia plastic surgeon, Dr. Carl Hartrampf, who reconstructed her mom’s breast – with a groundbreaking procedure called the TRAM flap. Nancy Lester was one of the first in the nation to undergo the surgery.

The TRAM stands for transverse rectus abdominis, a muscle in the lower abdomen between the waist and pubic bone. A flap of that skin, fat, and all or part of the underlying rectus abdominus muscle are used to reconstruct the breast, called a TRAM flap procedure.

Unlike implants, the tissue was Nancy Lester’s own with its own circulation. It felt like a real breast. 

“It made me feel whole again,” said Nancy Lester last week. “I came through that surgery just feeling great.”

And so, as Mary Lester headed off to college and then medical school and started thinking about what specialty she would go into, she always had plastic surgery in the back of her mind. 

How wonderful would it be to make women feel whole again, like her mother did? To make them forget they ever had breast cancer?

That’s exactly what Dr. Lester does now as a plastic surgeon at IU Health Methodist Hospital. More than half of her surgeries are breast reconstruction, implants and flaps. She is performing the next generation of the same procedure her mom had in 1982.

“I am proud of my daughter,” Nancy Lester said.

She knows firsthand just how important it is what her daughter’s doing.

***

She thought she might like to be a lawyer. But when Dr. Lester hurt her knee playing powder puff football in high school, that changed. She had to have her ACL repaired and she had a dynamic woman doctor.

Dr. Lester decided she would be a doctor, too. She had grown up in a family of physicians. Her grandfather, on her mom’s side, was a doctor in a small town. Her dad had doctors in his family.

“It rubs off on you,” she says.

For two summers as a young woman, Dr. Lester worked alongside her dad’s first cousin, a general surgeon. Because he practiced in a small town, he did a little bit of everything. 

One summer, they were doing a mastectomy on a patient. The next summer, that patient came back for an implant-related, touch-up surgery.

“That was my first real medical experience with breast cancer,” Dr. Lester says. “I was always interested in it, but I knew I wanted to be a surgeon as soon as I spent that time with him.”

After her undergrad at Auburn University and medical school at Emory University, Dr. Lester trained in general surgery at Emory in Atlanta.

She then moved to Charleston, S.C., for her plastic surgery residency at the Medical University of South Carolina. In 2008, she completed a microsurgical breast fellowship in Charleston with Dr. Bob Allen. 

It was Dr. Allen who became a mentor to Dr. Lester. It was Dr. Allen who had taken Dr. Hartrampf’s procedure, that Nancy Lester had received, to the next level – a less invasive, muscle sparing, microsurgery version.

“That’s what sparked it for me,” Dr. Lester said. “I could be that surgeon who brought the positive back after such a scary time.”

***

Nancy Lester remembers that scary time. It was in June of 1982 and she was 37 years old when she found a lump in her breast during a self exam.

Her twin sister was a nurse practitioner. At their grandmother’s 100th birthday party, Nancy Lester told her sister about the lump.

“If you have a lump and you still have it a month later you need to have a biopsy,” her sister told her.

Nancy Lester got in to see a cancer specialist to have a biopsy. While in the operating room, he sent a piece of tissue off to be frozen and immediately looked at for cancer cells.

When Nancy Lester woke up, he told her she had cancer.

“He said, ‘In a couple of weeks, we will take off your breast,’” Nancy Lester says. “And I said, ‘No, no. If I have cancer, I want it off right away.”

Just days later, she was in surgery having her breast removed.

The surgeon removed 15 lymph nodes, which were all negative. Her breast cancer was Stage 1. The tumor was less than two centimeters with no evidence of metastasizing.

But Nancy Lester remembers feeling the need to replace that breast. She was still so young. She went to medical libraries and researched, looking at microfilm. She sought out Dr. Hartrampf for the new surgery, that TRAM flap.

Months later, at age 38, she became the 74th person in the nation to receive the tram flap.

And now Dr. Lester is doing the same for other women.

“I always tell my patients, ‘The goal is when you get up and put on a dress or put on a swimsuit, you’re not thinking about the fact you had breast cancer,’” she says. “That’s what I love doing for patients. We get to do the final part. We are the happy part of their journey.”

More with Dr. Lester

* She is married to Joel Corvera, M.D., a cardiac surgeon at Methodist. The two met during their general surgery residencies. They have two children, a 9-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy.

* Dr. Lester joined the plastic surgery team at Methodist in 2010.

* Due to her family history of breast cancer, Dr. Lester started annual mammograms and MRIs at age 28, spaced six months apart – along with medical exams.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

Doctor’s Work Is Labor of Love

Dr. Sharon Walker-Watkins is one of the first OBGYN hospitalists at IU Health West. Often the first time she meets expectant moms is when they are ready to welcome their newborn into the world.

When new mom Raquel Faires was recently admitted to IU Health West she met her delivery doctor for the first time. Dr. Sharon Walker-Watkins is an OBGYN hospitalist who works 24-hour shifts bringing new babies into the world. She doesn’t maintain a practice outside the hospital; her focus is inside the hospital – specifically labor and delivery.

“It’s comforting just knowing there’s someone I can ask questions,” said Faires. “To me it makes no difference that I didn’t see her throughout my pregnancy.”

And just as Faires feels at ease with the practitioner who will coach her through the delivery of her son, Dr. Walker-Watkins is also relaxed in her role. In fact, just days before she met Faires, Dr. Walker-Watkins was at the bedside of one of her three daughters as her first grandchild entered the world. The little girl was named “Sekai” meaning laughter.

Dr. Walker-Watkins is already thinking about her grandma name, “Grand Sam.” Sam is what most people call Dr. Walker-Watkins. When her daughter was in labor, Dr. Walker-Watkins did what comes naturally – she talked to the tending physician about her experience and stayed on top of the progress every step of the way.

“It’s like being a chef or a car mechanic. I could totally see what was happening and the doctor already knew I was an OBGYN and respected that and kept me involved,” said Dr. Walker-Watkins. “I always wondered what it would be like being on the other side – with family. I was supportive of her but also supportive as a medical professional. My daughter trusts me – that I would make the right decision – but I would want someone objective to make the final decision for her care.”

That trust is something that Dr. Walker-Watkins knows well. It has come with experience. It has come with reputation and built over time.

She meets patients for the first time when they come to the hospital to deliver their babies. It’s her job to provide 24-hour hospital coverage for those moms. It’s a role that gives primary care physicians work life balance.

“They can leave at 5 p.m. enjoy dinner with their families and know that their patients are cared for if they go into labor in the middle of the night. We cover their practice over night so they can come in refreshed and recharged the next day,” said Walker-Watkins. For patients like Faires, the practice of hospitalists is becoming widely accepted because most practices have multiple physicians. Any one of those practitioners could be on call at any given time for labor and delivery

“There’s always a laborist in the hospital so if there’s ever an emergency or event happening fast we are readily available to care for the patient. And there’s always a doctor available to work alongside the nurses,” said Dr. Walker-Watkins.

This month the IU Health West OBGYN hospitalist program marks it’s second year of practice.

For Dr. Walker-Watkins, one of the founding hospitalists, the around-the-clock care is a continuation of her career. For more than 20 years she maintained a private practice in OBGYN.

A native of Michigan, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and attended Howard University for medical school. Working seven days a month Dr. Walker-Watkins enjoys the flexibility of her role and knowing that she is making a difference in the lives of her patients.

“Whenever I go out with my daughters we run into people who say, ‘you delivered my baby,’ or ‘you delivered my daughter’s baby.’” It’s rewarding to know I was part of that,” said Dr. Walker-Watkins.  “Whether it’s their first child or their third, it’s so satisfying to know that each experience is unique to every mother.”

More about Dr. Walker-Watkins

  • She is married to Chuck Watkins, a retired police officer
  • She enjoys golfing, traveling – her three daughters live in three different states.

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

She Was Born At Methodist, Had 3 Babies At Methodist And…Wait For It… Is A Labor And Delivery Nurse at Methodist

The date was July 17, 1950 and little Sandy Humphrey burst into the world inside a delivery room at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

She was the daughter of a mother who was a homemaker and a father who worked in the insurance industry. She was a sweet, precious little bundle.

Yet, as the nurses and doctors took care of baby Sandy nearly 68 years ago, they could have had no idea just what this hospital would mean to her – for years to come.

Methodist has, literally, been Humphrey’s life.

She had her three babies at Methodist — Stephen in 1979, Jacob in 1982 and Anne in 1983 — and she landed her first nursing job at Methodist in 1972.

“It’s been a good home to me,” Humphrey said Thursday after getting off her 12-hour shift in labor and delivery. “It really has.”

***

Growing up in Indianapolis, Humphrey didn’t really think about becoming a nurse. To put it in her words, she was lousy at math and science.

She really liked caring for people, though, so Humphrey thought social work might be a good fit.

But on her first campus visit to the University of Evansville, she and her parents happened to run into the dean of the nursing school. She took Humphrey into her office.

By the time she left Evansville, her path had been set. She would become a nurse.

When she graduated in 1972, Humphrey landed a job back at Methodist in the intensive care unit. She liked it there a lot and got tons of experience.

Over the next four decades, she had several different jobs at the hospital, including hospice care, training units on a new computer charting system, high-risk OB LifeLine, infection control, teaching, post partum and now – labor and delivery.

She came to the unit in 1996 and has been a part of delivering thousands of babies. Even after 22 years, she doesn’t ever take for granted that little lullaby that plays inside Methodist when a healthy baby is born.

“When I hear it I say, ‘Thank you Lord for another new life,’” she says.

“And thank you for letting me be part of a miracle every night I am at work.”

More with Humphrey

Personal: Humphrey has three children with her late husband, who died of cancer 14 years ago. She has six grandchildren, who are the fifth generation to live in Indianapolis.

Outside of Methodist: She loves being outdoors, doing yard work, gardening and spending time with her grandchildren. She can sometimes be found at a state park, hiking the entire day. The family enjoys spending time at their cottage at Lake Wawasee.

What does it take to be a great nurse? “Individuality, because everybody comes into it with their own personality. It takes compassion. It takes a deep care of people. It takes the desire to want to help people. Yes, you have to have your science and math and the knowledge, but you have to have a willingness to see the heart and not just see the patient.”

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

Surgeon Travels 2,000 Miles To Treat Patients

IU Health Ball Memorial Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgeon Linda Camp has made numerous trips to Honduras to treat patients.

She took her first trip to Honduras in 2005 and has made more than a dozen return trips since. Dr. Linda Camp, a plastic surgeon with IU Health Ball Memorial is committed to a team that is dedicated to serving in a country 2,000 miles away from the Hoosier state.

Working in the mountainous village of Santa Rosa de Copan, Dr. Camp joins a number of other medical professionals, including IU Health Methodist Hospital nurse practitioner Lori Kemper and IU Health anesthesiologist Dr. David Dycus. Their goal during the trips is setting up a clinic in this remote community of Honduras to serve residents who otherwise would not have access to specialized healthcare.

“We’ve had as many as 140 people in one day,” said Camp. “We have patients who come from 16 hours away – by bus, multiple modes of transportation. It’s amazing the barriers they overcome to get to healthcare.” When she first started with the medical missions, Camp worked under challenging conditions – performing surgery on outdated tables and with older anesthesia machines. Now under the leadership of Central American Medical Outreach (CAMO), healthcare providers work from an air-conditioned hospital with updated operating tables, tools and devices.

“The going is the sensational part but we reach many providers throughout IU Health that have helped us carry out our mission,” said Camp. Retired suture supplies; surgical gowns and equipment have been donated over the years to aid in the Honduras mission.

On any given trip, Camp can be involved in 25-30 surgeries a week including cleft lips and palates, scar deformities and ear reconstruction.

“I go and I go back because I feel like when you’ve been so blessed it’s required to give back,” said Camp. “I feel like I can do that on this trip. Out of abundance you can give a gift.

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

She Watches Over High-Risk Mothers And Babies

Emily Roberts, CNS, has a passion for obstetrics and making changes to provide the highest-level of care possible to those tiny newborns and their moms.

Inside labor and delivery rooms, in the halls of the mother baby unit, joy overflows. New babies born to healthy moms. Sweet cries and gleeful tears.

But it’s not always happy there. Unexpected outcomes. Very sick mothers. Infant deaths.

“In OB, we expect to see a great outcome,” says Emily Roberts, clinical nurse specialist, labor and delivery and mother baby, at IU Health Methodist Hospital. “And when we don’t get that, it changes everyone.”

And so, Roberts’ passion, her mission every single day is to make sure those mothers and babies have the best care, the best outcomes and that they go home together. 

Methodist is a Level IV perinatal center, the highest level that can be reached. Roberts came to IU Health nearly three years ago, bringing her passion for high-risk obstetrics.

“When you take a mom out of the equation in a baby’s life, that is so gut wrenching,” she says. “We do everything to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Her nursing start: Roberts was in nursing school and had just turned 22 when her father died of a pulmonary embolism. She chose to start her nursing career in the adult intensive care unit because of that. “I didn’t know all that had occurred and what had happened,” she says. “I chose that so I could get some closure.”

Moving to moms and babies: When Roberts gave birth to her own first baby, a son, on Labor Day, she got a taste of that unit and thought, “This is where I want to be.” “I honestly didn’t like OB at first because I missed my adrenaline rush and all my acute care,” she says. “But then it ended up this is where I felt the most comfortable. I came to love OB.” 

Stepping away from the bedside: “I miss deliveries like no other. That was really hard to step away from the bedside. I knew I had a passion set and I knew, in many cases, I was the only positive thing in that woman’s life,” Roberts says. “But now I get to fulfill that in a different way. Ultimately, what I do does reach the patient and makes a big difference.”

Her role: “What I focus on is perinatal safety, ensuring patients are safe — moms and babies. It is very outcome driven focusing on evidence-based practice and ensuring our patients receive the very best care and that we have the resources and tools for healthy care teams,” she says. “In essence, there are three spheres of influence — patient population, elevating the nursing practice and a system wide role. When changes are being made throughout healthcare, we want to make sure our voice is heard and we are incorporating that.”

Favorite part of her job: “I love seeing the entire multidisciplinary team working together to ensure the best care for that exact patient,” Roberts says. “I love it when all the work we are doing is actively making a difference in someone else’s life.”

Critical focus: “Of everything that is happening right now with maternal mortality rates, our moms are sicker. They have chronic issues,” Roberts says. “We have a sicker generation that needs attention and we need to figure out why. There are preemies now having babies, older moms older having babies. There are a lot of contributing factors.”

More with Roberts

Personal: Roberts is married to Michael and lives in Zionsville. They have three children: Noah, 8, Tessa, 6, and Georgia, 1. 

Outside of IU Health: She loves spending time with family, watching her kids play sports, going to Florida and hanging out with neighbors and friends.

An even bigger cause: Roberts is extremely involved in making a difference and improving maternal and infant health beyond IU Health. She is involved at the state level as co-chair of the Hemorrhage Task Force; she is part of the Maternal Mortality Review; and she is involved with the Indiana Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

Unlocking The Brain: Neuro Art Therapy Program Among First In Nation.

IU Health’s program works with people who have neurological challenges — Parkinson’s disease, ALS, traumatic brain injury and more. When they create art, it becomes magical, revealing thoughts they may not even know they had.

Daniel Moore was given a task: Paint a picture to show how he feels a lot of the time.

No words. Just art. Moore went to work with his watercolors.

The result was a series of different shades of green horizontal lines that filled up the entire page — like a wall that he couldn’t break through.

“Being stuck, stuck, stuck and more stuck,” says Moore, 25, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at age 13. “Because, there are days when I don’t have any work or anything going on and I’m just home. It feels just stuck.” 

That painting unlocked feelings in Moore, feelings elicited by his IU Health art therapist, Juliet King.

It’s all part of a program launched at IU Health that is one of the first — and one of the few — in the nation: Art therapy designed specifically for neuro patients.

We sat with Moore and King during a session to learn more about this groundbreaking program.

The patients

The program works with people who have neurological challenges — Parkinson’s disease, ALS, traumatic brain injury, Huntington’s disease, dementia and more.

“We provide psychological and emotional support for people coping with their illnesses,” says King. “We also help people understand what is happening to them as they are going through changes.”

The Medium

On this day, Moore is working with clay instead of watercolors.

“It makes me feel good. I know I’m pushing on something here,” says Moore, who also volunteers at IU Health. “I can start building on something. I like to build.”  

Clay is going to elicit a different response, cognitively and emotionally, than watercolors will, says King. Each patient has different needs and therapists craft each session for that need, including which medium to use.

Setting goals

“Art therapy affords a space and a place to put images to how we feel,” King says. “We work with a person to establish goals, depending on what they’re struggling with.”

Serious stuff

“Although we get to have fun, sometimes therapy is not always an easy or a pleasant experience,” King says. “Therapy is hard and it takes a lot of courage to be able to engage in the process. There is something very different between making artwork by yourself and in the context of making it for therapy.”

Changes in patients

“I’ve seen people become less depressed and less anxious and have better abilities to cope with what it is they are dealing with,” King says. “I see people become more free in their expression. Often times, creating art, it becomes kind of magical and surprising. You learn things about yourself.”

Not arts and crafts

Some people think of art therapy as playtime. But it’s not. Therapists have to complete a 60-credit master’s program and 1,000 hours of clinical internship.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

Transplant Coordinator, Breast Cancer Survivor

Her co-workers call her “Mama Cheri” because she’s always checking on everyone else. Cheri Richard is a transplant coordinator for University Hospital, a singer, a mom, a grandmother, and a breast cancer survivor.

Cheri Richard looks at her job as a transplant coordinator as a marriage of sorts.

She graduated from a small Delaware County High School, obtained her Bachelors Degree in Nursing from IU and started with IU Health working in intensive care at Methodist Hospital.  After awhile she moved into OB outpatient and then helped patients with insurance claims.

“A friend said they needed someone in transplant. I didn’t know a lot about transplant other than I had helped with insurance claims for transplant patients. They needed me, I needed them so we got married,” said Richard. “I was told that the lifespan of a transplant coordinator is about 2-3 years because it’s so intense, but 13 years later I am still here.”

And she can’t imagine being anywhere else.

“It’s never the same two days in a row – different patients, different diagnosis, different plans. There’s a lot of individuality.”

As a pre-transplant coordinator, Richard works with patients listed specifically for liver transplants and oversees about 175-225 patients. “When our nurses are out of the office we cover for each other so sometimes I’ll cover for post transplant and its rewarding to see some of my patients who have gone through successful transplants and are healthy again,” said Richard. “They call me ‘Mama Cheri’ because I’m always looking out for others on the team and the patients too.”

She understands what it means to have others on the look out. She too, relied on the help of others when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 1999. During chemotherapy and radiation, she said the hardest thing was reaching out to others for help. But now, when she talks to pre-transplant patients she shares with them the importance of accepting that help.

“I learned that with the support of other people you can get through anything. That’s made me a better nurse.”

More about Richard:

  • As a 19-year breast cancer survivor she has participated in the Komen Race for the Cure a number of times.
  • Music is her passion. She performs with a praise band at her church Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg and also plays hand bells.
  • She is the mother to three adult children and one 15-month-old grandson.
  • Last year she joined 10 of her classmates from Wapahani High School Class of 1975, including a jungle medic in Guatemala for a seven-day medical mission trip. “We didn’t speak the language, but we didn’t need to. Smiles and a caring touch went a long way. It was quite a life-changing experience.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at
 T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.

She Became A Mother After Double-Lung Transplant — Against All Odds

Andrea Heichelbech has cystic fibrosis. She wasn’t supposed to live past 30 and she wasn’t supposed to ever have children. This Mother’s Day, she is one blessed woman. She is 31 and has a baby girl named Vivian Rain.

When her friends would talk about getting married and having babies, the sadness would set in. Andrea Heichelbech would force a sweet smile. 

Good for them. Awesome for them. That would never be her life.

Dating wasn’t happening. Heichelbech had a line she gave to men who asked her out.

“Don’t waste your time. I’m going to die, anyway.”

Babies definitely weren’t in her future. Heichelbech had been told since she was old enough to remember that she couldn’t have children. She shouldn’t have children.

Not in her condition.

And yet, on this Mother’s Day, there is an 11-month old baby girl named Vivian Rain.

And 31-year-old Heichelbech is beaming. 

Vivian is her baby, the baby she conceived and gave birth to after having a double-lung transplant at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

The baby that made her a mother – against all odds.

***

When her parents brought Heichelbech home from the hospital in 1987, they quickly knew something was wrong. Heichelbech cried all the time. She wasn’t gaining weight.

When four months passed and things didn’t get better, her parents took Heichelbech to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

There, they received devastating news. Their baby girl had cystic fibrosis. She was failing to thrive. Her life expectancy, in a best-case scenario, would be 19 or 20 years.

Cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disease that causes lung infections and, over time, limits a person’s ability to breathe. A thick, sticky mucus builds up in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. In the lungs, the mucus clogs the airways and traps bacteria leading to infections, extensive lung damage and, eventually, respiratory failure. In the pancreas, the mucus prevents the release of digestive enzymes that allow the body to break down food and absorb vital nutrients.

As Heichelbech hit her teenage years and then into young adulthood, the lung infections got more frequent. So did the hospitalizations. 

She knew when things were getting bad. It would feel like a 10-ton weight was in her chest. Her energy level was low. In the hospital, she would be on IVs for two weeks to get the infection out of her lungs.

It would work for a bit and then the sickness would set in again. And then it got so much worse.

In January of 2014, doctors told Heichelbech there was no other option but for her to get new lungs. 

“The day I was listed, I was relieved. I just knew that getting the new lungs, it would be a better life than what I had,” she says. “I remember telling my mom and dad, ‘Even if I have the new lungs just a month before I died, it would be worth it.’”

Heichelbech was living with 18 percent lung capacity. She could barely walk 10 steps. She had to be carried everywhere she went.

She was on four liters of oxygen per hour and, at night, six liters. She was a young woman in her 20s stuck at home, stuck to a pole.

“I had prayed to God to take my life,” she says. “That’s how miserable I was.”

***

James Gustin was 20 when he met Heichelbech. She was 17. His band was shooting a music video and Heichelbech and her friends had agreed to be some extra bodies in the filming.

Gustin instantly fell for Heichelbech and wanted to date her. They talked now and then, but Heichelbech gave him her standard response.

Her life expectancy was 29 or 3o. He shouldn’t waste his time on her.

And so the years passed and Heichelbech grew up. She decided dating might be OK. She would get a boyfriend every now and then, but quickly shy away. It was always in the back of her mind – her mortality.

But then came that December day when Heichelbech got the call. There was a set of lungs for her. On Dec. 13, 2014, Heichelbech received the transplant surgery. 

Without the transplant, Heichelbech most likely would have died, says David W. Roe, M.D., a pulmonary critical care physician at IU Health and Heichelbech’s doctor.

Heichelbech couldn’t believe how good she felt after getting her new lungs. She could breathe and walk. She didn’t need oxygen.

And so two years ago, when Gustin and her crossed paths again, she took the chance. The two started dating.

And then came the unexpected. Not long after going on a cruise together, Heichelbech found out she was pregnant.

“I was shocked and scared and emotional,” Heichelbech says. “I just had so many different emotions.”

It seemed like it should have been a joyous occasion, a baby on the way for Heichelbech. But there were so many issues to consider. This would be a high-risk pregnancy.

Heichelbech’s own health could worsen drastically. And a lot of the medications she was on could be detrimental to the fetus, Dr. Roe says. The baby might be born with genetic abnormalities or physical malformations.

Dr. Roe brought together a team at IU Health – specialists in obstetrics, transplant, high-risk maternal fetal medicine, pharmacology and others. Together, they planned a course of action.

Throughout Heichelbech’s pregnancy, they tweaked medications and monitored antibodies that could attack the baby or Andrea’s new lungs.

On June 15, 2017, Vivian Rain was born – a healthy baby girl.

Inside her Lafayette, Ind., home this week, Vivian woke up from a nap – smiling and squealing, clapping and giggling.

She blew bubbles with her dad and gave kisses to her mom.

“She is always so happy,” says Heichelbech. “She is always smiling, just the happiest baby.”

Maybe, just maybe, Vivian knows how lucky she is to have her mom around — and what odds the two beat together.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow