Transplant patient was trapped in a trench

A former soccer player, Victor Gonzalez, 22 sustained serious injuries when he was trapped in a trench on a North Carolina job site. Now he is seeking care at IU Health University Hospital.

He describes it as a freak accident.

Victor Gonzalez was working at a construction site near his North Carolina home. He was a utility pipe layer and on Jan. 30, 2018 his crew was working near a beach community. For the most part, the day started like any other Tuesday. Gonzalez, who had worked for the job for three years, headed into the trench box of the storm drain and as always, he was supposed to be the last one to exit.

But on this day, his boss thought Gonzalez was clear of the trench when he began operating the heavy machinery that would maneuver the concrete pipe in place.

“Somebody saw me in the trench and started yelling to stop,” Gonzalez remembers. It was too late. He became trapped between the excavator bucket and the pipe.

“It was a cloudy day so visibility was low. I’m just glad someone saw me or I wouldn’t be here today,” said Gonzalez, 22. The “here” he refers to is IU Health University Hospital where he in the care of Dr. Richard Mangus, a surgeon who specializes in liver, intestine and multi-organ transplants.

The road to IU Health spans 633 miles, 17 months, and multiple surgeries.

“They airlifted me to the nearest trauma hospital that was an eight-minute flight. I went straight into OR and that’s about all I remember,” said Gonzalez, the oldest child of Victor and Marisol Gonzalez. He has two sisters, Arlette, 7 and Sonia, 18. “They told my family I had a small chance of survival. I went through five surgeries in one week.”

The accident crushed his vertebrae and resulted in internal bleeding in his left leg. One of the surgeries was done to fuse his spine; another one was to amputate his leg above the knee.

A graduate of Franklinton High School in Franklinton, N.C. Gonzalez played soccer for the Red Rams and also played on a club team after graduation. As a midfielder, he competed in more than 40 games by the time he graduated in 2015. After his accident he spent three months – March to late June 2018 – at a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta where he received a prosthetic leg and learned to walk again.

His “can do” attitude on the soccer field kept him focused on his recovery.

“I’ve never felt sorry for myself. There were days when I could have been down but I just move on. I know I’ll be ok because I’m thankful I can walk. I met people in rehab with severe spinal cord injuries and I know I have it a lot better than they do,” said Gonzalez.

He came to IU Health in April accompanied by this cousin Vianca Valle, 21. The next phase of his recovery is repairing or replacing damaged organs.

One of his surgeries back home was to remove the majority of his small intestine and his left kidney. On Memorial Day Dr. Mangus performed a surgery to remove a fistula in Gonzalez’ small and large intestine. During his recovery he passed the time painting with art therapist Lisa Rainey. He’s also taken up cooking and he’s spent time working on his new white jeep – adding rims and tires.

“For the past year I haven’t eaten or drank. I never realized how much time I had on my hands when I couldn’t enjoy food. I had heard so much about IU Health and the great transplant program that I came here for a second opinion,” said Gonzalez. “When I met with Dr. Mangus he felt he could do surgery to get rid of the drains so I could live more comfortably while I wait for a transplant. I’ll need a small bowel and possibly a multivisceral.” A multivisceral transplant (MVT) includes the intestine combined with two or more abdominal organs. Since 2003, doctors at IU Health have performed an average of 17 multivisceral transplants annually. Last year, IU Health was one of only six transplant centers across the nation to perform more than five intestine or MVT transplants.

“I’ve learned to be patient and hope for the best. I’ve realized food is a big part of my daily life and I’m hoping I can start eating again soon,” said Gonzalez. “I really miss cereal – especially Cinnamon Toast Crunch and my mom’s cooking. She makes amazing smoked pork chops with beans and rice and in the summer I love drinking her Mexican horchata.”

Throughout his journey, Gonzalez said he has been overwhelmed by family support. His parents, older sister, cousin, and girlfriend, Dylan Harrison have been with him through all of his surgeries, doctor appointments and hospital stays.

While he waits for his transplant, he plans to move to Indianapolis and continue his recovery.

“I have been so amazed since I stepped foot into IU Health. These people have never once made me feel like my situation was critical,” said Gonzalez. “They know what they are doing. It’s been shocking – a whole different world. They have given me confidence and hope.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Cystic fibrosis patient writes book about his disease

Paul Merritt isn’t just coping with his disease; he’s writing about it in hopes of helping others diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

There are names that Paul Merritt likes to point out when he thinks about people who have overcome obstacles: Major League great Jackie Robinson; civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

The names are symbolic of Merritt’s outlook on life.

“Each new generation, wealthy and blue-collar, build a life that can endow their peers to overwhelming encouragement,” writes Merritt in the preface to his book, “The Best of Disease and Simple Ways to Improve.”

A 2005 graduate of Evansville’s Bosse High School, Merritt has never known a life without cystic fibrosis (CF).

“I have to always keep it at the forefront of anything I do in life. It’s something I have to pay attention to. It’s always on my mind, but it’s never prevented me from doing things. I like to say ‘I never let my obstacles become my boundaries.’ Even though CF has been an obstacle, it has never set my boundaries,” said Merritt, 32.

The younger son of Daniel and Penelope Merritt, he grew up with a dad who worked on cars. By the time he was in high school he became interested in dirt track racing and was on the open wheel circuit at the age of 16. After high school he worked in construction for eight years until his health started to decline.

Since 2015, he thinks he’s been in the hospital about a dozen times and is preparing to be listed for a lung transplant. Under the care of IU Health pulmonologist Dr. Cynthia Brown, Merritt recently spent a few days inpatient where he shared his experiences living with CF that resulted in his first book. The book is available through Amazon.

“I went to college to study bio technology. I wanted to get into research. I completed two years when I got sick so I decided to write my own book,” said Merritt, who married Ashley Merritt three years ago.

Raised as a Southern Baptist, he wanted to incorporate scripture into his healing. His 64-page book published by Christian Faith includes chapters about disease types, keeping hope alive, and medical innovation.

“The initial thought of disease is often defined as weakness, not strength. Why is the strength of someone associated with only physical strength?” he writes. He talks about the emotional strength it took growing up and trying to be a typical American boy – riding his bike around the neighborhood and playing sports, all the while hiding the disease he battled daily.

Merritt estimates it took him about a year to write his book and he’s already planning his second one. He wants to share the feats he’s accomplished even while living with CF – the t-shirt he was awarded for running 10 miles, his years pitching Little League baseball and a leadership award he was presented for his sportsmanship.

“So often we deny sickness instead of embracing it,” said Merritt. “I want to say ‘chronically ill is far from being weak.’ We are some of the most inspiring and strong-willed people you will meet.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Respiratory therapist was once a probation officer

Amber Almendinger went to school for law enforcement with her eyes set on a career as a probation officer. She soon changed her mind and now works at IU Health University Hospital with cystic fibrosis patients.

She made a career change and Amber Almendinger hasn’t looked back since. She grew up in Burlington, Iowa and enrolled in Western Illinois University with her mind set on a career as a probation officer.

That was 20 years ago and she had just had her first child. She took a year off and decided to go back to school for respiratory therapy. In the middle of schooling she had her second child. She also has a son, 15.

“Thinking back about juggling pregnancy and school and I wonder how I did it. You just do what you have to do and I’m glad I did,” said Almendinger. “I love my patients.” In 2007 her family moved to Indiana where she began working at IU Health as a registered respiratory therapist. She divides her time between working in adult cystic fibrosis, the neuro-muscular clinic, and the pulmonary function lab. She’s in the process of receiving certification as a pulmonary function technician.

“I love the diversity of the patient population,” said Almendinger. “I feel like I would get bored doing the same thing over and over and it’s nice to see patients who are actually well and not always sick.”

As she recently entered a patient’s room Almendinger talked about ways to improve the soil for gardening – adding coffee grounds and eggshells. She said she loves the personal contact she has and the one-on-one time spent with patients.

“There’s always that one cystic fibrosis patient who can’t seem to get their treatments and things in a row. You talk to them and help them learn to do what they need to do and see the improvement over time,” said Almendinger. “I know that their life is a struggle with a chronic disease and helping them learn to work with that through education makes everything worth it.”

The respiratory care team is accepting nominations for the new “PHIL Award.” The only nationally recognized hospital-based award honors outstanding respiratory therapists. The award was created in 2006 in honor of Philip C. Lamka, who passed away from Interstitial Lung Disease. Nominations may be made at

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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IU Health Arnett Physicians welcome new Family Medicine nurse practitioner, Kristie Tidrick, FNP- BC

Indiana University Health Arnett Physicians is pleased to announce Kristie Tidrick, FNP-BC has recently joined our Family Medicine department.

Kristie Tidrick, FNP-BC began her nursing career in 2013. Tidrick believes in providing a personalized approach and partnering with her patients to develop a plan of care. Her goal is to empower patients with the knowledge and tools to not only manage their health conditions, but prevent illness and improve health. In her free time, Tidrick enjoys reading, gardening, cooking and spending time with her family.

Tidrick obtained her master’s degree in nursing from Walden University. She is certified through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. She is practicing at IU Health Arnett Medical Offices located at 1 Walter Scholer Drive in Lafayette.

Indiana University Health Arnett Family Medicine physicians provide primary healthcare for the entire family — infants and children, teens, adults and seniors. They provide services at Greater Lafayette medical offices and regional medical centers.

Services include:

· Cancer screenings
· Care for infants, children, teens and adults
· Dermatological procedures, including mole removal and skin biopsies
· DOT, pre-employment and sports physicals*
· FAA physicals*
· Geriatric care, including extended care facility supervised care*
· Men’s health
· Prenatal and obstetric care*
· Preventive care
· Women’s health

*Available at select locations

For more information, call 765.474.MYMD or 866.377.MYMD.

IU Health Arnett Earns National Recognition For Patient-Centered Care

The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) announced that Indiana University Health Arnett has received NCQA Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCHM) recognition for using evidence–based, patient-centered processes that focus on highly coordinated care and long-term, participative relationships. This recognition includes primary care medical offices located on Walter Scholer Drive, Greenbush Street, Sagamore Parkway West and in Otterbein, Frankfort and Monticello.

The NCQA Patient-Centered Medical Home is a model of primary care that combines teamwork and information technology to improve care, improve patients’ experience of care and reduce costs. PCHM facilities foster ongoing partnerships between patients and their personal clinicians, instead of approaching care as the sum of episodic office visits. Each patient’s care is overseen by clinician-led care teams that coordinate treatment across the health care system. Research shows that medical homes can lead to higher quality and lower costs, and can improve patient and provider reported experiences of care.

“NCQA Patient-Centered Medical Home Recognition raises the bar in defining high-quality care by emphasizing access, health information technology and coordinated care focused on patients,” said NCQA President Margaret E. O’Kane. “Recognition shows that IU Health Arnett has the tools, systems and resources to provide its patients with the right care, at the right time.”

To earn recognition, which is valid for three years, IU Health Arnett demonstrated the ability to meet the program’s key elements, embodying characteristics of the medical home. NCQA standards aligned with the joint principles of the Patient-Centered Medical Home established with the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Osteopathic Association.

“It takes an extraordinary amount of effort at all levels of the system to reach and maintain this designation,” stated Dan Neufelder, president of the west central region IU Health. “Reaching this designation is the result of several years of preparation and longstanding commitments to patient care through quality and process improvements as well as interdisciplinary collaboration.”

New police chief set on protecting the IU Health brand

His experience in public service comes as much from his upbringing as from his profession. Roman Holowka was recently named police chief of IU Health AHC Campus and he is proud to serve and protect.

There’s something very personable about Roman Holowka. It’s a presence he hopes will spread across the IU Health campus. He sees his role as the new police chief of IU Health as a member of team committed to providing the best customer service possible to patients, families and staff members.

“When our patients and families walk through the doors I want the men and women of the AHC police department to be passionate and fair. When patients come in contact with someone in uniform I expect them to receive the same customer service as anyone else they come into contact with,” said Holowka.

Raised on the north side of Chicago, this Cubs fan learned at a young age the importance of family. His father’s parents Gregory and Valerie Holowka were Auschwitz survivors and moved to the United States seeking new opportunities.

“When they came to this country there were few family members. Being Polish, I was raised to value family and community. We lived on the same block,” said Holowka. His grandparents found support through their church and Valerie Holowka named his dad “Roman” after the New Testament book of the bible composed by the Apostle Paul explaining salvation. His mom’s father – Grandpa Gene – was a Korean War veteran and his Grandma Otha, was a nurse in Chicago who administered care to inner city children who couldn’t afford to go the hospitals.

“I think that’s where I got my interest in healthcare was from my grandma,” said Holowka. In high school he played football and baseball and after graduation he enrolled in the Navy for four years. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor for a time and is a disabled Gulf War veteran.

“Even before the Navy, I felt my calling as a public servant. I used the Navy to gain experience learning about rank structure, discipline, and putting others before yourself,” said Holowka. When he moved to Indiana his dad and mom – Roman and Jackie moved too and live down the street from him. His sister Natalie Holowka also moved to Indiana.

Twenty-one years ago he married his wife Brandy. She was a server at a steak house and he wrote his number on a napkin to get her attention. She called him and they’ve been together ever since. They are the parents of Roman, 20; Faith, 19; Nathan, 13; and Ryan 10. The youngest became a Riley patient when he was diagnosed in December with epilepsy.

“I’m fortunate to be part of the Riley network I’ve bought into the culture because I see it every day in my house through the care for my son,” said Holowka.

Holowka joined IU Health in 2017 as the executive protection manager, providing security for the IU Health executive team, Board of Directors, IU School of Medicine leaders, and personal security for the CEO. In addition, he led a team of officers responsible for the physical security of the Pathology Laboratory, Medical Tower and Fairbanks Hall.

Prior to that he worked for the Indianapolis VA Medical Center as a criminal investigator, captain, lieutenant and lead evidence custodian, responding to the scene of critical evidence. He was also employed as a patrolman in the Town of Plainfield for eight years.

“When I was employed at the VA an executive position opened up and I knew IU Health was growing and I talked to people who were very happy working here. During the interview process I met with impressive people and felt the good vibe. This is the best job I could have,” said Holowka. The IU Health police department includes 50 police officers, and eight police dispatchers – working four shifts.

“We’re a new police agency having transitioned from a security department to being fully certified through the Indiana police agency. We have a few challenges but my objective is to meet those challenges and to show the value of the men and women in uniform and to protect the IU brand.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Brother travels 13,000 miles to donate his kidney

When his brother’s kidney failed, Ram Cung Nung traveled from Southeast Asia to become a living organ donor.

There was a lot of excitement in a room on the transplant floor of IU Health University Hospital. There were also a lot of visitors.

Transplant nephrologist Dr. Asif Sharfuddin, stopped by to check on his patient, Aung K Oo, a friend stopped by and then there were family members – including Oo’s dad, Sui Di, and his brothers Boi Hmung and Ram Cung Nung.

There was cause for celebration. Nung traveled 13,000 miles from Burma, the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, to become a living kidney donor for his brother.

It’s estimated that more than 123,000 people are listed for organ transplant nationwide; more than 100,000 are awaiting kidney donation. Nearly 7,000 transplants were made possible through living donation last year. Doctors with IU Health kidney transplant program perform more than 200 kidney transplants annually. Last year, the program ranked 33rd out of 240 kidney transplant centers.

Diagnosed with Stage 4 renal failure Oo was originally scheduled for transplant on February 14 but an illness delayed surgery. On May 29 under the care of IU Health surgeon, Dr. William Goggins, Oo received a new kidney from his brother. He had been on dialysis since March of 2018.

The son of Sui Di and Lian Uk the 32-year-old Oo is the third of six children including five boys and one girl. Nung, 26, said he was happy that he was a match for his brother. He proudly wore a shirt with the message: “Got Kidney? Share Your Spare.”

Married six years to Niangtha Oo, Aung Oo lives in Southport and is the father to a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy.

“I feel great. The first thing I want to do is enjoy a beach vacation with my family,” said Oo. “Then I want to get back to work.” Before he became ill, Oo worked as a Medicaid specialist for the state. “I am thankful for my health. I am grateful to my brother, and I am happy for such great care.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Patient With Eating Disorders: “I was Secretive. I had a World that Others Weren’t Aware of.”

She was an adolescent and her body was changing. She didn’t feel accepted. That may have been the beginning of Kristina Denton’s declining health that eventually led her to IU Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders.

She could say she was bullied. She could say she pushed her food around on her plate. She could say her weight was a target number.

But because Kristina Denton has been a patient with eating disorders, she knows the triggers. She knows that some people look at those target numbers, those behaviors and habits as a way to measure and compare the degree of their illness.

“Numbers and weight are tricky for people in recovery. My eating disorder mind became so insidious that it picked up on everything. It all felt so related to my eating disorder goal,” said Denton. She prefers to focus on the realization that she had health issues and how she recovered.

She grew up in a Southern Indiana community filled with German heritage. Her grandmother taught her to speak German as a child and she spent time visiting in the Black Forest region of Western Germany.

At about the age of 12 she began gaining weight and was going through the growing pains of adolescence that included wearing glasses and braces.

“Not only was my body changing but there were stressors at home that I was coming to terms with and I’m a very sensitive and emoting person. I was having a hard time dealing with the fact that I wasn’t accepted by my peers,” said Denton. “I didn’t wear name brand clothing. My mom worked at K-Mart and my dad worked at a factory. I was awkward and other kids bullied me because of that. One kid pulled my hair and broke my glasses on the bus,” said Denton. She remembers making herself vomit to avoid school.

“My logic was ‘if I’m sick I don’t have to go to school I can stay home and read and create a world where it is easier to cope,’” said Denton. By high school she was at her highest weight and decided she would decrease eating and increase exercise.

After graduation she left her southern Indiana town and headed to Muncie where she met a close- knit group of friends at Ball State. From the outside her life seemed fulfilled. She was enjoying her newfound independence and studying to be a social worker. But privately she had vowed not to gain the “freshman 15,” and fixated on her weight.

“I was secretive. It was like living in a world with rules and values others weren’t aware of. I would lie about whether or not I’d eaten,” said Denton. “I would exercise obsessively for hours on end. I would make excuses when eating with my friends to attempt to explain why I wasn’t eating. I was socially withdrawn to the point my eating disorder was my whole world.”

It was her junior year when her friends sat her down. Speaking through tears they told her she needed help and they would go with her.

“My motivation to lose weight became greater than my motivation to appease my friends and the people I surrounded myself with,” said Denton.

She first went to a therapist close to campus who referred to IU Health Charis Center for Eating Disorders. She was enrolled in therapeutic programming in 2012 and again in 2013. In 2017 she was enrolled in a partial hospitalization program.

At her worst, her blood pressure and blood sugar levels dropped so low she would pass out. She developed pre-osteoporosis and her skin was covered in lanugo hair.

“In 2012 when I did the intensive outpatient program it made me aware that my eating disorder was a problem. In 2013, when I did the program a second time, I realized how I contribute to the problem and by 2017 I was ready for a solution. It was something I never want to do again,” said Denton.

The programs involved group and individual therapy including expressive therapy such as art and movement. Counselors helped her focus on trauma and how to understand and express her emotions.

As part of the program at the Charis Center, patients learn about issues that can contribute to the development and maintenance of eating disorders such as perfectionism, cultural pressures and relationship issues. They are educated about physical and nutritional consequences and how to develop healthy coping strategies. A dietitian works with patients to help them plan healthy, nutritious meals and snacks. The programs run on set schedules ranging from six to eight weeks, but patients’ timetables may vary based on their individual treatment plans.. The program involves treatment for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other related disorders.

Denton’s diagnosis was anorexia, but the diagnosis shifted over the years. When she first walked into Charis Center she was struggling with binging and purging.

Not long after she enrolled in therapy, her mother was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. She was diagnosed in February of 2014 and she died in August. At the age of 26, Denton left her job in Muncie and moved back to southern Indiana to care for her ailing her mom.

“It’s part of my personality to take care of other people’s needs and worry about others. I spent most of my life caring for others and through my work at Charis Center I learned about how to take care of myself, said Denton. “I have discovered who I fully am as a strong, confident woman. I found my voice. The past year and half has been about learning to accept my body and learning to step into my power. I am no longer afraid to advocate for myself and others who have experienced similar struggles.” As part of that advocacy she has helped plan the National Eating Disorder Association Walk.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders (ANAD) at least 30 million people in the U.S. of all ages and genders suffer from some type of eating disorder.

Denton has learned several myths about eating disorders.

First, eating disorders have little to do with a person’s body weight. She has been in treatment with people of all shapes and sizes. Second, eating disorders aren’t limited to people of a certain age, race, or culture. She’s met a diverse group of people who suffer from eating disorders. Third, eating disorders are not about food. It’s more about an underlying emotion.

“My advice to others is don’t be afraid to ask for help and when you ask, try to be as honest as you can during recovery,” said Denton. “There’s a lot of shame and a lot of people react to shame by hiding or lying. People who are trying to help you can’t fully help you unless you tell the truth.”

Anther thing Denton has learned is that “intention” is a verb.

“If I set my intention on recovery and eating, I have to take that intention. I have to decide every day I’m going to pack my lunch, eat dinner and take snacks for my day. There are days I don’t have the energy and they don’t go so well but I’m constantly trying and intention is an ongoing process.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Type Of Services To Expect From Dental Clinics

Visiting a dental clinic is more of a habit than anything else. Our teeth and gums play a big role in keeping our digestive system working in good condition. They also play a role in defining our looks and appearances. Teeth and gums require regular upkeep and maintenance. While quite a few things could be done in the home, there are many problems that might require the help, assistance, and treatment of professional dentists in OKC. Visiting a dentist is not about visiting an office where some private practices are offered. They offer a host of services and you must know the kind of services offers so that you can make the best use of the services that are offered.


They Offer Regular Checkups

 To begin with, any good dental clinic offers the basics in checkups. They range from checkups to find out the condition of the teeth and gums. They could help the patients to know whether there is an excess buildup of plaque and tartar. These need to be removed immediately. Plaque if not removed regularly turns into tartar and this could lead to the weakening of the teeth and gums and cause tooth pain, gum infections, and other such problems. It also could lead to various other problems such as decaying teeth, weakening of the teeth and eventual falling off and so on. Hence, regular checkups from dentists could help you to be proactive rather than being reactive.


Diagnosis And Treatments

 Apart from the above, dentists also offer the best of diagnosis and treatments for various problems related to the teeth. This relates to the field of cosmetic dentistry and also restorative dentistry. Orthodontic problems are also addressed by dentists who have special skills in these areas. These include root canal treatment, filling of the teeth, dental crowns, veneers, Invisalign and other such problems. They have the best of experience, expertise, and technology to ensure that the problems are identified well on time before it becomes serious and unmanageable in some situations.


Treatment Of Periodontal Diseases

 Gums are extremely vital for preserving teeth and therefore you must try and avoid periodontal problem diseases as soon as possible. This can be done best by professional dentists. They offer the best of professional cleaning services, scaling, root planing, and other deep cleaning services. Periodontal surgery is also another area where dentists help quite a bit. Finally, once the treatments are over, they do help in keeping the gums and teeth healthy and in good condition.


Tooth Extraction

 There is no doubt that natural teeth are the best for biting and also for maintaining jawbone and mouth structure and shape. Therefore, the first task of any good dental professional in Oklahoma City is to try and repair, restore and help keep natural teeth in good condition. However, this might not be possible always because of deep-rooted dental decay, risk of pain and infection. In such situations, they offer painless and professional tooth extraction services.


Polishing And Cleaning

 Finally, no one would like to exhibit teeth that are dirty, stained and filled with plaque and tartar. A good dentist ensures regular cleaning of teeth, removing plaque and deeply embedded tartar. They also offer polishing and natural whitening of the teeth.



Contact US:

Reflections Dental Care

Address:10924 Hefner Pointe Dr Oklahoma City, OK
Phone: (405) 563-7097

Chaplain speaks: “Surviving & thriving with blood cancer”

Chaplain Tanya Willis-Robinson serves bone marrow patients and their families every day at IU Health University Hospital. She will share some of her insights on the power of resilience at a free workshop on June 15.

As she enters the infusion waiting area of IU Health Simon Cancer Center Tanya Willis-Robinson is greeted by patient Debra Poynter. There’s a big hug and then Poynter says: “Gulp of Grace.”

Willis-Robinson has become known for the phrase encouraging others to be patient with their healing and take in a gulp of grace.

“You touch a lot of people’s lives. You are always so happy and cheerful,” said Poynter’s sister Susie Ferrand. Poynter, of Rochdale, Ind. had a bone marrow transplant at IU Health and is in remission. She’s one of many patients Willis-Robinson has seen in her six years with IU Health.

She treats each patient as an individual.

“I always give my best. I never know what difference I make. I go in and try to be very present and go in with fresh energy. It’s a new encounter every time,” said Willis-Robinson. So many patients remain on her mind. She tells about one who shared his fears of chemotherapy.

“I remember the day he became vulnerable and cried. I pulled a stool by him and held his hand. I said ‘we’re not going to talk about chemo or leukemia; we’re just going to enjoy this moment,” said Willis-Robinson. She met with him, his wife and daughter several times and after he passed his wife sent Willis-Robinson a letter of appreciation. She quoted Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Willis-Robinson lives by that motto.

A native of the city’s eastside, she graduated from Arlington High School and served two years on active duty and seven years reserved with the US Navy. She was stationed on the USS Yellowstone at a time women were just beginning to be integrated on Naval ships.

After the Navy she enrolled in Marian University where she obtained a degree in religious education and then received a Master in Divinity from Bethany Theological Seminary.

“I saw my first female chaplain when I was in the Navy. It resonated with me. I am Pentecostal and you don’t see a lot of women in leadership but I knew it was something I was called to do,” said Willis-Robertson. “There was always a knowing in my subconscious that I wanted to work in a field that allowed my vocation to meet my faith. I was privileged to be able to do both. I’m a professional chaplain however my vocation is in spiritual care and I love it.

“As a chaplain I don’t go and offer prayer I offer myself and with that a space is created for them to share themselves. As chaplains we’re individuals who have been trained in many areas. I’m able to offer generous and empathic listening and let them talk about fears and hopes.”

Willis-Robertson will take part in a free workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Saturday, June 15 at St. Richards Episcopal School where she will speak on the “Power of Resilience.” IU Health patient Teresa Altemeyer will join her. IU Health Dr. Rafat Abonour, who specializes in hematology/oncology, will also speak about Myeloma & Waldenstroms Emerging Therapies. The program is presented by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and will include complimentary breakfast and lunch for patients and caregivers.

“My focus on resiliency is coming from a faith lens – a more holistic lens that encompasses body mind and spirit,” said Willis-Robinson. “Not every person may have a faith story but they are individuals who can be touched and encouraged. My goal is to encourage families to share their hopes and fears and hopefully they can suspend their hopes long enough to be resilient. I want them to be able to speak the truth, to name their feelings and share them with loved ones. Before you can be resilient you have to speak the truth.”

More about Willis-Robinson:

  • She is the daughter of Samuel and Mattie Willis and the sister to Gregory Willis. Her older brother Samuel “Tyrone” Willis became a Riley patient when he was born with a heart defect. As an adult he was a patient at IU Health University Hospital until the time of his death at the age of 30.
  • She has been married to Ronald Robinson for 15 years. Together they have three sons ages 26, 22, and 11.

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email