Surgeon: 2000th Kidney Transplant More Than A Number

In a month that he celebrates his 52nd birthday, Dr. William C. Goggins says: “It’s just a number.” He is referring to his birthday, not his professional milestone. Today he also performed his 2,000th kidney transplant at IU Health University Hospital.

“He’s awesome. Dedicated and a no-holds barred, in-your-face real life hero,” said patient Doreen Lamar, who received her kidney transplant in 2013.  “When you go into battle, he is someone you want leading the charge. He is honest, straightforward and doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but he will never give up on you. His patients are his number one concern.”

Goggins, who serves as surgical director for the kidney transplant program came to IU Health in July of 2003 and still remembers his first transplant surgery.

“He was a 65-year-old male diabetic and a Jehovah Witness. I believe he lived 10 years after his transplant and died of something unrelated to kidney failure,” said Goggins. “I tell people my job is to make sure when you die, you die of something other than kidney disease.”


On Tuesday, Dr. Goggins chatted with patient Julie Brophy just minutes before she received his 2,000th transplant. In 2001 Brophy, diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, received her first kidney transplant at another hospital. Her husband of 17-years, Patrick Brophy was her donor. When that kidney failed in 2006, she began dialysis. Going into surgery with Dr. Goggins, Brophy said she is looking forward to feeling better and playing sports with her 7-year-old son.

“I hit the jackpot with this kidney, IU Health and Dr. Goggins. I am ready to feel better and enjoy life,” said Brophy, 45. Her transplant surgery was a little tricky, but Dr. Goggins said it’s those types of procedures that keep him focused on becoming a better surgeon.

“The unique thing about most transplants is they are pretty standard. He prides himself on following procedures and then adapting to each patient,” said nurse Elizabeth “Diana” Liska, who has been in the operating room with Dr. Goggins for more than 1,000 transplant surgeries. “Between his amazing taste in music (he listens to a lot of funk and rock in the operating room), his outspoken personality, and his dedication to his patients, he is one of the most likeable surgeons I’ve ever met.”

Over the years Dr. Goggins has experienced a number of tough surgeries that will stay with him a lifetime. He says each patient reminds him of his focus to continually learn and improve.  His 2,000th transplant is symbolic of a career high that represents a new lease on life for those suffering from long-term kidney disease.

“You always carry with you the ones that didn’t go so well. It may having nothing to do with you – technically, medically, or physiologically – but you sort of carry that around until they can be re-transplanted,” said Goggins. “As a surgeon, I am my biggest critic. That’s how you become good at what you do. You are constantly re-evaluating and trying to become better.”


Goggins was a sophomore in high school, growing up in central Massachusetts when he knew he wanted to pursue a career in medicine. He shadowed his mother, a nurse, to a blood pressure clinic and reflected on her caring spirit.

“She instilled in me the idea that you have to care for your patients like you care for your family. If that means getting out of bed at 3 in the morning then you get out of bed at 3 in the morning.” His mother passed in 2008 and his father, a former newspaper journalist, passed this month. Goggins has a brother, 11 months older, and two younger sisters.

 After college he attended St. Louis University School of Medicine and completed his fellowship in transplant surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

It was his first day on the St. Louis campus when he met his wife, Laurie, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Indianapolis. They have four children – a son who is a junior at Zionsville High School, a son who is a freshman at Indiana University-Bloomington, a son who is a junior at IU and a daughter who is a second year medical student at IU.

 “When she was thinking about going into medicine I was not one of those parents who tried to talk her out of it. I love medicine. I love what I do. I told her ‘you have to really want to go through the process and be willing to sacrifice your personal time because there will be difficult times,’” said Goggins. “I also told her ‘don’t decide what you want to do because of a lifestyle; decide by what you are called to do because if you love your work, it’s not work.’”


He’s seen much in his career spanning 2,000 kidney transplants.

“When I first started, patients over 55 weren’t candidates for transplant. Now we’re transplanting patients in their 70s.” His oldest patient is 83. Additional testing over the years has led to more knowledge about potential barriers to transplant.

“For instance people with antibodies. We now can look at antibody levels with a particular patient and look at low levels and transplant with a low chance of having a problem. You could never have done that 15-20 years ago.”

Paired donor exchange has also made transplants more accessible by entering incompatible living donor pairs into the exchange to find a compatible donor. Dr. Goggins was one of the surgeons involved in Indiana’s first kidney donation chain in 2009, which involved eight individuals and led to four people receiving lifesaving kidneys. Through the National Kidney Registry’s Remote Donation Network and Advanced Donation Program – both offered at IU Health – living donors can provide a kidney for an intended recipient or can donate to ensure their intended recipient receives a kidney in the future. Also new are transplants from high-risk donors (those with questionable health issues). New medicines can minimize those risks and improve a kidney recipient’s chances of better health more than if they continue living with kidney disease, said Goggins.

Such advances have shortened the wait time for patients and have also increased the chances of successful transplants, said Goggins, who is a registered organ donor.

“I tell people when tragedies happen and a family has been rocked by losing a younger sibling or an older parent, it’s an exceedingly difficult time, but the one great thing that can come out of a tragedy is organ donation. A loved one lives on.” 

“I love transplant surgery because you are part of the healing process. If you do an operation well, patients are restored to normal kidney function and they get their life back,” said Goggins, who performs the vast majority of the 200 transplants recorded each year at IU Health.

“The average transplant surgeon completes about 50 transplants a year. It’s nice to think of the 2,000th transplant but I look at it like this: It makes me feel good to do something that few people do and I can help so many people. We all have gifts and talents and mine just happens to be putting kidneys in people. I’m one of the luckiest surgeons in the country because I have a spectacular team in the operating room as well as the team that takes care of patients outside of OR. They are all just as dedicated as I am to taking care of our patients.”

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

“Grandma Young” Gave This Nurse Some Advice

Estel Stewart, better known as “Stew” by his peers started his career at IU Health working as a staff nurse in the organ transplant unit. He then worked in the emergency department before moving into the role of a clinical manager for Riley Hospital for Children. He’s also worked as a nurse recruiter at Methodist.

But coming to Simon Cancer Center as the clinical manager of the hematology/oncology inpatient unit has brought him full circle. It was cancer that first sparked his interest in a career in nursing.

“I was probably about 10 or 11 when my Grandma Young was in the hospital with colon cancer. She used to always say, ‘pray for the nurses and ministers,’” says Stewart, 41. At a young age he saw how the nurses weren’t shy about caring for his grandma. They weren’t afraid to touch a stranger.

That nurturing spirit left a lasting impact on Stewart. His interest continued on into high school at Terre Haute South, when he felt his support network grow.

“One thing you acknowledge growing up, is that it isn’t just members of your family who influence you, it’s your expanded community – your aunts, uncles, and all the people who had a hand in raising you. I see that as a form of a debt that I get to pay back by growing into my profession,” said Stewart. His dad worked in a factory and his mom was a homemaker. They both pushed Stewart and his siblings – two older sisters and one younger brother – toward successful careers. One of his sisters, Gwen McIntyre, is also a nurse at IU Health working in day surgery.

More about Stewart:

What he likes best about nursing: “Nurses provide dignity in moments where dignity is lacking. There are times when a patient’s body is failing and looking them in the eye and seeing them as a whole person and not just a sick person is powerful and a privilege.”

Something few people know about him: “I’m dyslexic and I battle it every day. As a kid it was a struggle. I think if you talked to my teachers they’d be surprised I am where I am today. It’s because of my disability that I’ve been able to work harder. I used to think of it as a crutch, but now I look at it as a pole vault. It’s forced me to flex skills I may not otherwise have used.”

His Hobbies: Spinning, yoga, biking on the cultural trail and trying new restaurants.

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

A heart scan can help detect early warning signs

While heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, the deadly condition can often strike without warning or symptoms. For many adults, however, there is a way to learn more about their heart health through a heart scan—a simple preventive screening designed to help gauge an individual’s risk of developing heart disease.

A heart scan is a computed tomography (CT) scan that measures the amount of calcified or hardened plaque buildup inside the coronary arteries. The scan is completed in just a few minutes and does not require a contrast dye injection. Reviewed and evaluated by a cardiologist, the series of images of the arteries and blood vessels reveals early warning signs of heart disease. Heart scans are intended for adults, age 40 to 75, who have one or more risk factors for heart disease, which may include:

• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Family history of heart disease, stroke or vascular disease
• Diabetes
• Smoking
• Obesity
• Other vascular disease

Based on your risk factors and medical history, your primary care provider can help determine whether you are a good candidate for a heart scan. And while the scan won’t tell definitively whether you will or won’t develop heart disease, it is a valuable and effective diagnostic tool for predicting whether future heart disease is possible. Depending on the results of the scan, the cardiologist may recommend additional tests and advise diet and lifestyle changes or medication to help lower your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. 

I’m pregnant!  Now what?

Congratulations! If this is your first pregnancy, or even your second or third, the thought of bringing a new baby into the world may be overwhelming. Here are a few important steps you can take now to help smooth the way.

Let’s start by dispelling a few myths.
You may have heard that once you’re pregnant, you should “eat for two.” In truth, the amount of extra calories you’ll need each day is equivalent to a glass of milk and half a peanut butter sandwich. A word on weight gain: if you’re at a healthy BMI now, you should expect to gain around 25 to 35 pounds during your pregnancy. If you have a low or high BMI, speak with your physician for advice.
The old school of thought was that if you weren’t exercising before, don’t start. That’s changed. Even if you’ve been sedentary, you can begin a modest program based on your physician’s recommendations. Walking, using an elliptical machine, or prenatal yoga classes will help your body prepare for the extra demands of pregnancy and labor. Women who are currently active can plan to continue most of their workouts.
There’s an old wives’ tale that pregnant women shouldn’t wear seat belts and should have their airbags turned off. Not true. When worn correctly, seat belts can save your life and prevent harm to the baby in an accident. You should wear both the lap belt, nestled under your belly across your hips, and the shoulder strap, between your breasts. Leave airbags on.
Dos and don’ts.

DO eliminate smoking and alcohol right away. The research is clear. Smoking causes birth defects and increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Drinking alcohol can cause miscarriage and a host of disabilities known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
DO contact your physician as soon as possible. The first appointment should fall around your eighth week of pregnancy, so you’ll want to make sure you get on his or her schedule.
DO stay hydrated.    
DO eat a balanced healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy.
DON’T eat any unpasteurized dairy or any undercooked or raw meats, such as sushi. These foods can be contaminated with bacteria or parasites. Plan to avoid eating cold cuts or deli meats because they can harbor Listeria.
DO start taking a prenatal vitamin right away. You can find these over the counter at any pharmacy. Either a pill or a gummy is fine; just make sure it says “prenatal” on the label.
DO get a flu shot if you haven’t already done so.
DON’T change or scoop your cat’s litter box. Unfortunately, those cute, fluffy critters can carry a parasite in their feces, which can be inhaled while scooping. Take pregnancy as an opportunity to pass this chore off to another family member.
DO look into both your and your partner’s medical benefits so you can plan ahead. What’s your maternity leave policy; does your partner have a medical leave policy? On that note, it’s a good idea to inquire about childcare services as soon as possible. Many have long wait lists.
Your first appointment.

This is when your healthcare provider will really get to know you and your health history, so allow plenty of time. On a first visit, your provider will typically:
            • Document blood pressure, weight, and height
            • Calculate due date
            • Ask about family health and genetic history
            • Perform prenatal blood and urine tests
            • Conduct a complete physical exam
One step at a time.
Pregnancy and all its to-dos and responsibilities can seem daunting. But if you begin by tackling each step early and methodically, you’ll have more calm and control throughout the process. It’s a beautiful journey.

Cancer “Coach” Is Friend To Fellow Patients

In high school, Jonathan “Jon” Hughes, the eldest child of Les Hughes and Wendy Sorsoleil was active in about any sport imaginable – football, soccer, baseball, and swimming were his favorites.

These days he’s taking on a different role on the team. He’s a coach.

“I’ve always been outgoing. I like video games, food, sports, traveling, fishing, barbeques and jamming in the backyard with my friends,” said Hughes, 32. But when his home away from home became a hospital room in a cancer unit, Hughes turned his energy toward coaching other patients.

“He lights up a room when he walks in,” said his dad. “He just wants to help others and be a friend.” He’s been in that role since October 27, 2016. He hadn’t felt well for over a year. Intense lower back pain led him to schedule an appointment to see his doctor back home in Sugar Land, TX. Tests revealed he had nonseminoma testicular cancer stage 3C mixed germ cell tumor. These types of germ cell tumors usually occur in men between their late teens and early 30s. Until the mid-1970s, only about 10 percent of men with metastatic testicular cancer survived.

Dr. Lawrence Einhorn is known for successful treatment of germ cell tumors using a mix of high does chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant. Hughes first tried this form of treatment at his hometown hospital but couldn’t complete the final round of chemo because of his falling platelets.

The cancer continued to spread from his left testicle and lymph nodes forming a germ cell tumor that wrapped around the aorta and left kidney.  Surgery followed. During the procedure to remove the tumor, he lost one of his kidneys.

Hughes’ aunt – also a physician – knew of Dr. Einhorn’s treatment methods and that Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong was one of Einhorn’s patients.

On November 4, following a round of chemo, Hughes married Jennifer – the woman he says is the love of his life, someone he has known since high school. Two months later, they left their jobs and came to Indianapolis.

“When I came here I couldn’t walk, I was in a wheelchair, and my pain was at a level 12. The first thing the doctor said, was ‘it’s good to meet you. Now let’s get that pain under control.” said Hughes. “That was my first clue that I was in the right place. The doctors have been straightforward and the whole team has been awesome. Aside from the staff, my wife and family are what are getting me through this.” The couple also had their dog, “Sweet Pea” shipped to Indianapolis for his extended hospital stay.

Working with Dr. Einhorn and his team that includes Drs. Nabil Adra and Mohammad I. Abu Zaid, Hughes’ treatment plan consists of two rounds of high dose chemotherapy and a peripheral blood stem cell transplant – a treatment with high remission and recovery rates. 

“His doctors estimate that he has a 20-30 percent cure rate from this treatment,” said his wife. “This is our only shot at curing him. He has five younger siblings all looking up to him to beat this cancer for good. We’re giving it everything we have. We’ve got to stick together for Jon. He’s always there for everyone else. Even when he’s not in the hospital, he’s talking to Uber drivers and complete strangers about the importance of getting tested for testicular cancer. He’s lost the ability to have kids and he’s got one less kidney, but he’s still looking out for others.”

At Simon Cancer Center, Jon makes his rounds walking the halls and chatting to other patients, offering support. It’s a routine he started at two other hospitals. His friendships have been so strong that patients have attended his wedding and their family members have credited him with giving them hope.

“Jon is one of the most genuine, generous, and kind-hearted people I have ever met,” wrote a friend, Charles Rissel. “He always goes out of his way to put a smile on someone else’s face, even if they just met 5 minutes earlier. Jon is the life of the party – a quick-witted, funny guy who would give you the shirt off his back, without you having to ask.”

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

Road To Recovery Leads To Hospital Where He Was Born

There’s a history that Andrew “Dru” Gaddie brings with him through the doors of IU Health Methodist Hospital. Some of that history connects him to the hospital; some of it connects him to his role as a behavioral specialist for patients with drug addictions.

Gaddie entered the world on July 21, fifty years ago. The obstetrician and gynecologist who delivered him – Dr. Frank Perry Lloyd would eventually have his portrait hanging in the lobby just inside the doors that Gaddie now enters to begin his work day. Lloyd, who died Aug. 27, 2002 at the age of 82, served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Methodist Hospital from 1981 to 1988.

Gaddie grew up on Indy’s east side and graduated from Arsenal Tech High School. He played football for the Titans and wrestled in the school’s 135-pound weight class. He also played trumpet in the band, and achieved the rank of colonel in the ROTC.

Things were looking good for the young man who was first held by the hands of a respected physician.

“I decided to go into the military because it was the man thing to do,” said Gaddie. “My uncles and father were service people so I decided to join the Army.”

He served from 1985 until 1988 and then moved to Chicago to care for his ailing mother. He joined the Chicago Police Department for a time and eventually moved back to Indiana where he worked in maintenance for one of the malls.

All the while Gaddie was serving others he denied a nurturing that was beyond his scope of reasoning. He needed to take care of himself.

“I had drugs and alcohol in me,” said Gaddie. “I was able to go periods of time without using, so my performance on the job was outstanding.”

There were fights, there were guns involved and there were injuries. But he was never incarcerated.

“I never noticed how bad it was. A lot of alcoholics don’t see the addiction. They define addiction by the worst things in life. Every time I’d give something away like a great career it wasn’t the worst thing, because I could create a better career.”

Or so he thought.

Eventually he started to experience health issues – serious health issues that landed him back in the hospital where he first made his appearance into the world.  He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and diabetes. At one point in his life he was considered morbidly obese at 345 pounds. Three heart attacks in three years led to surgery. Still Gaddie continued to use.

“I hung out on the streets and tried to be a father to my kids, but I started drinking at age 14. Over time drugs also became part of the mix. It became part of who I was. The excessive drug use led to my heart failure but it didn’t stop me.”

At his worst he was in a trap house and was shot by a couple of kids. He spent a day in observation but said the wounds were minor and he was released shortly afterward.

It was about that time that Gaddie, then at the age of 39, decided he needed help.

“Here’s when the light came on. I was using one night with two friends and I couldn’t feel the alcohol or drugs. I asked them to leave the house. I sat on the corner of the couch wondering why I couldn’t use and feel the high. A commercial came on the TV talking about the signs of addiction and I knew it was aimed at me.”

I was 3:45 a.m. on December 11, 2006. Gaddie will never forget the day that he made the call, and told the person on the phone that he had an addiction.

“The first step is admitting that you have an addiction.”

Now when he comes through the doors of Methodist Hospital, Gaddie is dressed in a freshly pressed shirt and pants. He wears a tie around his neck and in those pants pockets he carries three coins – two from Cocaine Anonymous and one from Alcoholics Anonymous. They represent 11 years of sobriety.

Since that December night, he has focused on the self-care that he once put on the back burner. He has undergone bypass surgery and is maintaining a healthy weight, has been married for six years to Gwen Gaddie, and has focused on a career that allows him to practice a discipline he so firmly believes in – sobriety.

“When I came into recovery I was aggressive with my recovery. By the grace of God I haven’t relapsed in 11 years and never even thought about going out. This life is so much better,” said Gaddie. 

At Methodist, Gaddie is part of a team of behavioral health recovery specialists who work with doctors and nurses connecting opioid overdose patients with ongoing care. The collaborative effort is part of a statewide plan – Project Point – that provides outreach intervention in opioid-related emergency medical services to help combat the tragic outcomes of opioid addiction.

“Having recovery coaches on the team means they can speak in a manner that others can’t. They know and understand the addiction firsthand, and patients know exactly who they are talking to. They know that they are talking to someone in recovery whose specific job at that moment in time is to help that person,” said James Ryser, director of chronic pain and chemical dependency at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

Gaddie, who worked in other treatment centers and halfway houses before coming to IU Health said he looks at his experience with addiction as a tool that can help him relate to patients.

“A lot of people keep recovery quiet. They think it will hurt them professionally or personally, and that’s their choice,” said Gaddie. “I believe it’s part of my life and how I’ve changed my life. As an addict I didn’t care if people knew I used so why should I care that people know I’m in recovery. I’m still and always will be an alcoholic and addict but I am recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body.  I am hopeful. I am no longer a hopeless dope fiend; today I’m a dope less hope fiend.”

And what does he think Dr. Lloyd would think if he saw him now?

“It was overwhelming to come on board as an employee. My mom and dad had a great relationship with Dr. Lloyd through the years and I’ve known other doctors here who never judged me and always saw the good in me” said Gaddis. “I walk through the doors and see Dr. Lloyd’s picture and I wonder what he would think of the man I’ve become. I was born at this hospital and it’s saved my life so many times. I truly believe that I have a purpose. I hope people see that I’m the one who tries to reach the unreachable.”

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

She Guides 120 Cardiovascular Critical Care Nurses At Methodist

Jessica Jones’ roster is an impressive one – 120 nurses and 15 support staff.

Her team’s mission is a crucial one – care for some of the most critically ill patients at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

The 34 beds inside the cardiovascular critical care unit are filled with people who’ve just had heart transplants and lung transplants and open heart surgeries.

Some days, that unit is filled with happiness and victories. Some days, the tears and the loss creep in.

And yet, somehow, Jones – the clinical manager of the CVCC unit – handles it all with ease. She is compassionate and upbeat. She is friendly and hands on.

Jones isn’t a bedside nurse anymore, but she can’t pull herself away from the bedside for good. On her shifts, Jones can often be found inside patients’ rooms, helping out.

“I can’t think of anything more humbling than being a part of this,” says Jones, who has been in the CVCC unit 14 years. “It’s an honor. I have to get my hands in there. I feel like it’s part of me.” 

For Jones, it’s like therapy. A hectic, bad day can be turned into a good day just by doing something for a patient that makes them feel better.

That, after all, is why Jones got into this career in the first place – to help others.


As an athletic trainer at Heritage Christian High School, Jones loved wrapping ankles.  

She soon realized that wasn’t necessarily the norm. Not everybody thought that sort of thing, taping up sweaty players’ joints, was fun.

“I just found myself drawn to wanting to help people,” says Jones, a married mother of three. “That started pretty early on.”

There’s certainly good reason for that. Jones’ dad, Randy Caldwell, M.D., is a cardiologist at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Her mom, a nurse, went to nursing school at Methodist, when the hospital offered that training.

“I guess my roots are with IU Health,” says Jones, who is known as a leader – and a mom — who likes to make things fun. 

As she headed to college at Indiana University, Jones had pretty much settled on a career – physical therapy or medical school. Healthcare was definitely in her future.

By the second semester of college, she realized nursing was the perfect fit. While in nursing school, Dr. Caldwell suggested to his daughter she might try working at a hospital before graduating.

Jones started a job as a tech in the emergency department at Riley and loved it. She thought that was where she would end up one day.

But then, near the end of nursing school, Jones had clinical at Methodist in CVCC.

“It just clicked with me,” Jones says. The unit manager asked if Jones would transfer there to be a tech. She did. And after graduating she was asked to stay on again, this time as a nurse in CVCC.

That was 14 years ago and Jones has never looked back.

She started as a night shift nurse and did that for 11 years – five as a nurse and six in a shift coordinator role. Three years ago she took on the role of clinical manager.

Being able to oversee the unit and mentor young nurses, while still caring for patients, is the perfect fit for Jones.

“I cannot think of a profession that marries my passion and my ministry better,” she says.

More With Jones

Personal: She is married to Dustin and the two have three children: Oliver, 8, Max, 7, and Ruby, 3. They adopted all their children and are foster parents. 

Outside of Methodist: She enjoys playing soccer and going to Dustin’s cycling races. Oliver plays soccer and Max is a gymnast so the family spends a lot of time at one another’s activities.

Advice to young nurses: “It’s hard. Nursing is hard. You have to go into it knowing that. When things get really hard, just remember why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Fun fact No. 1: Jones set up her twin brother with one of the nurses she worked with on a blind date. They’re now married and have a son.

Fun fact No. 2: Jones has a twin brother. Her mother is a twin and her grandma was a twin.

Always learning: Jones is in school getting her master’s degree in  nursing and health systems leadership.

On the side: The family lives in a historic neighborhood downtown Indianapolis and is renovating their home.

What she loves about Methodist: “Just being part of the
Academic Health Center, all the resources. It’s cutting edge technology.”

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow

Lung Transplant Joins Two Hearts

The mailbox. It’s the first thing visitors see when they approach the newlywed’s single-story brick home. Their names are printed on the box “Don and Krystal Smith.”

For those driving down the Kokomo side street, the mailbox is nothing out of the ordinary. But for those who know the tale of the Smiths it’s a sentimental symbol of a love story that began not in the heart – but in the lungs.

Don Smith grew up in the Delphi and Camden areas where his boyhood was filled with hours rebuilding classic cars. He was the youngest of four and after high school he left home to serve in the Army stationed in Fairbanks, AK. When he returned to Indiana, he worked as a construction superintendent, ran a welding shop and continued to pursue his passion of restoring antique cars.

Krystal Shaffer grew up in Peru, also the youngest. She liked hanging out with her brothers and playing fast-pitch softball. She also liked spending time with her Aunt who owns a bridal shop in Kokomo and taught Krystal the art of crocheting. She graduated from Peru High School and pursued a career in advertising.

They were living worlds apart.

But about five years ago, that all started to change. Don had been battling some sickness and was diagnosed as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), an inflammatory disease that can obstruct the airways to the lungs. On September 15, 2013 – his birthday – he was put on oxygen and two years later, under the care of IU Health Doctors David Roe and Thomas Wozniak, Don began preparations for a lung transplant.

About the same time, Krystal was also battling serious health issues. In August of 2013, she was admitted to the hospital so weak she couldn’t walk. She too was put on oxygen. At one point she said she was up to 37 liters and still could barely breath. Her list of conditions, which were triggered by an environmental infection, included BOOP (a form of non-infectious pneumonia), Bronchiectasis (a chronic infection in the walls of the bronchi) pulmonary edema (an accumulation of fluid that can lead to respiratory failure), and COPD. Doctors determined she was a good candidate for a lung transplant.

Suddenly their paths began to cross. They first met as friends when they were both in pulmonary rehab – working toward their transplants.

At the time, Krystal the mother of two girls had been single for 18 years. Don, the father of four, was married to his wife Janet. Their friendship was focused on their health.

“I was so sick, all I could think about was catching my next breath,” said Krystal. “Janet was there during those tough times. She was encouraging us both.”

Twelve months passed and on Christmas Eve 2015, Don’s wife of 43 years died. He remembers when she was in the final stages of her battle. The esophagus cancer had spread to her lungs. She knew she wouldn’t be around much longer and started talking to Don about who she could fix him up with. She didn’t want him to be alone.

Don continued to deal with his own health challenges and on Easter Sunday 2016 he entered IU Health Methodist Hospital where he received a single lung transplant. Five months later, on August 10, 2016, Krystal also entered IU Health Methodist Hospital and received a double lung transplant.

Krystal remembers receiving encouraging text messages and cheerful visits from Don during her recovery.

“After my transplant I was feeling isolated, like I needed to talk to someone who could really understand what I was going through. Don was that person,” said Krystal. Unexpectedly, the friendship grew into something that looked more like a lifetime companionship.

“After my wife died, my sister kept telling me to go to new churches where I might meet someone. I said ‘I’m too old to chase women. If the good Lord wants me to find another wife, he’ll put one in front of me,’” said Don. It turns out his future wife was Krystal, a woman who shares his faith and his journey through life after transplant.

A framed picture in their Kokomo home shows a smiling Krystal wearing a red and black dress with Don at her side, wearing one of his favorite cowboy hats. Krystal is holding a red rose. The photo was taken on their first date in the September of 2016. Don showed up with a rose and said he hoped the rest of the bouquet of a dozen would be distributed on future dates.

Two months later they were standing in the parking lot after attending a Veteran’s Day program at Don’s granddaughter’s school when Don told Krystal exactly how he felt about their future.

“We talked about where the relationship was going and I said I’d like us to be celebrating an anniversary in the next year,” said Don. They were engaged Dec. 12, 2016 in the same pulmonary rehab facility where they first met. They were married six months later on June 2, 2017.

In their Kokomo home, Krystal continues to crotchet blankets and Don putters around with his classic cars – his favorite a the1955 Black Rose Chevy. Their nest is filled with Krystal’s telephone collection and her husband’s John Wayne memorabilia. They are taking their time remodeling the home, just as they took time to rebuild their health. They schedule their follow-up doctor appointments together at Methodist Hospital where the nurses first recognize them by the sound of Don’s cowboy boots hitting the tile floor. Then they see them walking hand-in-hand.

“Before we were married, I visited Janet’s grave and prayed for her blessing,” said Krystal. “People say our whole life was a coincidence but we know that God had a plan.”

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

Love In The Air for LifeLine Crew

When Jeff Pearson first joined the LifeLine flight crew coworkers were anxious for him to get acquainted with a certain respiratory therapist. That therapist, named Kellie, also remembers coworkers urging her to meet Jeff.

Eventually, they joined their work friends for a night out to an Indians game and the friendship took off from there.

“We cautiously tiptoed toward our first date,” said Jeff, 37.  He popped the question in April 2016 and they were married last March.

Jeff grew up in Frankfort and studied aviation technology at Purdue before joining the Army for 10 years. As a helicopter pilot he completed two tours of duty – one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Also a fixed wing pilot, he enjoys flying in his off time from work. 

“I grew up with a fascination with flying. My grandparents were in the service so it made sense to fly and serve,” said Jeff. “That’s why I continued with LifeLine – it was a chance to continue flying and serving. I absolutely love this job. I like the flexibility, the people, and the mission.”

Kellie grew up in Greenwood. Babysitting jobs when she was in seventh grade fostered her love for children. After graduating from Center Grove High School she attended Indiana State University for a year and returned to Indianapolis to complete her degree in respiratory therapy.

“I’ve always loved children and knew I wanted to work with them,” said Kellie, 34. Immediately after graduation, she joined the staff at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Pediatric ICU where she remained for five years. Seven years ago she joined the LifeLine team.

“I like the clinicians I work with and I like the challenge because we work with less resources than in the hospital,” said Kellie. She also likes to hear the follow up “good news” about patients she helps stabilize and transport. “I love learning that a patient who was very serious has been discharged from Riley.”

As newlyweds, the pair made a pact that they would avoid working on the same crew. Kellie is based in Indianapolis and Jeff flies out of Lafayette where he is pursuing a master’s degree in aviation management from Purdue.  

“We talk a little about work but we try to limit it at home,” said Kellie. “There’s definitely more to our relationship than our jobs.” 

When they aren’t at work, the couple spends time trying new restaurants, participating in outdoors activities, traveling, and practicing sports with Jeff’s three daughters, ages 8, 10 and 13.

“We’re both committed to our church, our families and each other,” said Jeff. “When I met Kellie it was a no brainer. She’s gorgeous, a true professional and is just an all-around great person.”

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

Hope Rises From Ashes – 9/11 Set Course for Hospital Chaplain

The dust rained down like confetti, or maybe it was like lava sprouting from a volcano. Denise Woods describes the horrific scene outside the World Trade Center – grasping for words to paint the picture. Unlike confetti, there were no colors. It was dark, like gray or black.

And the sounds – there were screams. And the smells – like something burning.

But what she remembers the most is a path – like a passage that opened up in front of her and drew her far away from the devastation in Lower Manhattan. It wasn’t a clear path. It was foggy and there was temptation to turn back, to look back, but something kept her moving forward. She was still in her work clothes, including high-heeled shoes, and was carrying a few personal belongings she picked up from her office before leaving the building.

As she exited the building, she remembers seeing her supervisor and another coworker lingering in the office space. She began to descend the 92 floors, step by step. She remembers walking onto the seventy-second floor where the elevators were not working, and hearing the news – tower one was hit, her tower was safe. The elevators were then put into motion. She joined more than a dozen people who took the second elevator to the main lobby. As the doors closed, she saw one of the last people she knew. Woods hoped the coworker would join them on the elevator but she didn’t.

She was about 100 feet outside the building when the second plane hit.

“People were running and screaming. I started to run and someone said ‘stop.’ I didn’t run I walked. It was like someone said ‘don’t become part of the chaos.’ I got out of the building and I looked up and still wondered why two buildings were on fire?”

It wasn’t until she got home and turned on the news that she realized the Twin Towers had been the target of terrorist attacks. The attacks claimed the lives of 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 people.

“I just kept moving forward by myself. It was like I was being ushered from the building. We lost close to 20 percent of our workforce. A lot of people who stayed closer to the towers were the ones who lost their lives. About 20 minutes after the impact, the building just started to tumble,” said Woods.

The emotions are still raw – 16 years later.

And like the path she took to escape one of the most horrific attacks in US History, Woods has been on course to rebuild her life. Within days after the attack, she unleashed her innermost thoughts and began writing about the experience. Over time, she published two anthologies: “9/11/01 God’s Unseen Miracles – Healing Through Poetry,” and “To the Hurting – God Massages the Heart on the Hour.”  She has also published another collection “A Mother’s Love.” The day she returned to her home, covered in ashes and dust, she also realized something else was happening in her life.


Born in British Guiana, part of the West Indies, Woods is a twin and one of six children raised by a successful mother who spent most of her working years as a teacher and school principal.

“I always tell people even though I had a lot of siblings I was a very compliant child – the peaceful one always picking up the slack because kids are kids. I always emulated my mom in every area,” said Woods. “And in the final analysis, I learned much from her – to cook and all the domestic chores. Around the age of nine I fell into the role of caregiver because mom was busy working as a high school principal and then taking care of my grandmother.”

Woods remembers that no matter how busy the weekdays were her mom expected the children to be in church on Sundays.

“I think even back then I was always soul searching and feeling like I was set apart for something special,” said Woods. She adds that her childhood was spent attending Catholic schools, climbing fruit trees in the backyard, joining her cousins helping her uncle in the rice fields and soaking up the sunshine and humidity – all part of her homeland.

Woods’ sister was the first to marry and move to the United States. Woods’ mother followed in 1983 and five years later, Woods joined her and eventually became a US citizen in October of 1998.

In the past 29 years she has obtained a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in business administration and has worked primarily in insurance. She was working for the Aon Corp Insurance Co. as an insurance specialist when the World Trade Center was struck.

That all changed when she walked away from the dust and ruble.

“It was like until that point it was about the dollars and cents and a successful career. When I walked out of that path to safety, I raised my hand and said, ‘where do you want me, God?’”


In 2010 she was on her way to seminary in Missouri, made it as far as Indianapolis and her car broke down. She stayed in Indianapolis and her first day on campus at Crossroads Bible College; she met the man who ended up becoming her husband, Anthony Woods.

“We had a connection. We were both Christians and we just knew,” said Woods. Exactly 11 hours after their first meeting, Anthony proposed to Woods.

“I was a survivor of the 9/11/01 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and Anthony was at that time an active military personnel (Army) who was given his orders to go to war. Anthony, like thousands of American servicemen and servicewomen, was told that he would be going to Afghanistan, to fight in the ‘Operating Enduring Freedom (OEF), Afghanistan War. Anthony spent 288 days in the battlefield defending our Great Nation,” said Woods.

In 2015 she started the internship program at IU Health while completing her master’s in religion at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, graduating in 2017.  Last August she began her residency in pastoral care working at University Hospital during the week and at Riley Hospital for Children and Methodist Hospital on the weekends.

On a recent weekday she sat at the bedside of a patient hospitalized for side effects of cancer. She talked in a soft voice and then prayed for strength and healing. She then joined a group of nurses offering morning devotion.

“I think this is where I’m met to be – giving of myself,” said Woods. “It’s about being compassionate and caring. For so long I was focused on business and now I walk with people. It’s no longer about Denise; it’s about humanity and love for others.”

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