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 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 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 or on Twitter @danabenbow

Mother With Leukemia: “My Daughter Was My Will To Fight”

Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a young mother spent 11 days in a coma and was given only a small chance of survival. Today she credits doctors at IU Health Simon Cancer Center for her path to recovery.

Jennifer Wright looks at the picture of her young daughter – dressed like a ballerina, and remembers the moment like it was yesterday.  The picture of the mother and daughter means more today than it did back then. It was taken on Mother’s Day three years ago – the day before Wright received a stem cell transplant.

Wright’s eyes moisten as she sits in a room at Simon Cancer Center waiting for a recent check up with oncology specialist Dr. Sherif Farag. Wright holds her daughter, Cambria, now four as she listens to the doctor speak words at one time she doubted she would ever hear.

“She’s doing really well. She’s in remission of high risk leukemia and the risk of relapse after three years is very low,” said Dr. Farag. “She is a successful case.” It will be another three months before Wright returns to Simon Cancer Center for a follow up visit. That alone is something she considers a miracle. She dabs at her eyes and begins talking about how she will make the most of that time.

A customer service coordinator for the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, Wright along with her mom Amanda Wright, help with a local Girl Scout troop. The young mom enjoys taking adventure trips with her best friend and godchildren, and watching movies with Cambria. Mostly, she enjoys treating each day as a gift.

A graduate of Decatur Central High School and the University of Evansville, Wright is the only child of Amanda and Shawn Wright. A single mom, Wright had maintained her independence since the day she turned 18. Shortly after her daughter was born, she was wrapped up in life as a new mom and didn’t think much about a lingering cold and flu-like symptoms.

By mid-January of 2015 the symptoms were accompanied by extreme vaginal bleeding. When she broke down and called her mom, she was rushed by ambulance to Methodist Hospital where she was listed in critical condition in the cardiac intensive care unit. Tests determined she had acute myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer that starts in blood forming cells of the bone marrow. It’s called “acute” because it can progress quickly if not treated, and can be fatal in a few months.

Doctors at Methodist Hospital including pulmonologist Dr. Farzad Loghmani and oncology specialist Dr. El-Sayed Aly determined Wright had blood clots in her lungs, around my heart and bleeding behind her retinas. Wright spent the next 11 days in a medically-induced coma, strapped to a RotoProne bed – a special bed designed to help aggressively treat patients with severe pulmonary complications through prone therapy – turning her body face down to improve lung perfusion and oxygenation. In all, Wright spent a month in the hospital. She went through 24/7  chemotherapy and procedures to remove blood clots from her heart and lungs. She then went through two more rounds of chemotherapy and stem cell transplant. She lost her hair twice and dropped 80 pounds, when she was unable to eat for six weeks.

It wasn’t just her life that changed overnight. Wright’s parents moved her from her apartment into their home. Her mom quit her job to care for her and her parents sought custody of Wright’s daughter when she was in a coma, unsure if she would survive.  

“Because I was in the coma for so long I’d lost all muscle function. I couldn’t talk and I could barely move. I didn’t’ remember any pain but I also didn’t remember how to function. I had to learn to sit up, walk, talk and eat again,” said Wright. Until her leukemia diagnosis, she had seldom been ill. Her mom remembers only an exercise-induced asthma that caused a few setbacks in her childhood.

As she looks at her daughter and thinks about the time that has gone by, Wright says: “She sort of grew up here, coming to the hospital. I can’t say enough about my doctors. At one point I was told I only had about a 13 percent chance of survival. That is tough to hear but I also appreciated the honesty. It didn’t give me false hope but it gave me motivation.”

There was something else that motivated Wright too.

“When I was at my worst – not knowing if I’d ever go back to work or drive again, not knowing if I’d open my eyes from a coma, my daughter was my will to the fight.”

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

Pharmacist: “These Aren’t Refrigerator Drawings.”

Patrick Kiel, a pharmacist with IU Health’s Precision Genomics Program uses a simple method to explain treatment options to patients – he draws pictures.

He starts with a series of circles at the top of the blank page. Next, Patrick Kiel adds other objects to his cryptic pen and ink drawing.  There’s a three-legged table, more circles, and words like “DNA,” “Synthetic Lethality” and “Olaparib.”

Patrick Kiel is a clinical pharmacy specialist with oncology/hematology for IU Health’s Precision Genomics Program. He is also an illustrator.

When he sits down with patients and draws his diagrams, he is helping them see their cancer diagnosis and treatment on paper. “I think patients love the interplay of sitting there watching the drawing develop and then I give it to them to take home,” said Kiel. “I warn them I’m not an art major. These aren’t refrigerator drawings; these are sketches to help them understand and connect the dots.”

By the time patients reach Kiel; they already have experience with cancer. They want to know the next steps, the next treatment options. Doctors and researchers with the IU Health Precision Genomics Program perform genetic analysis to determine specific treatments for cancer patients. That may mean something different than traditional treatment methods and could include clinical trials or off label drugs.  

Patients are referred into the Precision Genomics Program from around the country, and they receive a treatment plan recommended by a multidisciplinary team of specialists.

“Generally, I meet them where they are – take what they know and expand their knowledge. There’s a team of us that approach our patients as a consult service in coordination with their primary oncologist,” said Kiel, who has been with IU Health since 2008. He grew up in an Irish neighborhood on the south side of Chicago and completed his undergraduate degree at Benedictine University. He obtained his PhMD from Midwestern University and completed an internal medicine residency at Rush University, Chicago.

“The way I explain treatment options to patients is a distilled version. My goal is to review the findings and give them a little biology lesson,” said Kiel. “I usually start off by explaining cancer, mutations and talk about what does it mean to check DNA blueprints. I explain the goal of the Precision Genomics clinic is to review the patient’s genetics, discover the mutation, and repair it and prevent it from developing into cancer.”

So the circles represent cells and the three-legged table represents the damage to those cells. Then Kiel talks about treatment options that repair damage such as Olaparib, a targeted therapy that specifically acts against cancers in people with hereditary BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, including ovarian, breast and prostate cancer. Every patient is different; every drawing is different to represent the most personal treatment option.

“A great day at this job is uncovering a genomic finding that is new and gives a patient an effective treatment option with limited side effects,” said Kiel.

More about Kiel:

  • He and his wife, Alicia have five children ages 13, 10, 8, 6 and 2.
  • Why he became a pharmacist: “When I was younger I was a Boy Scout and earned by key merit badge in first aid. I got a job as a pharmacy tech at the age of 16 and loved it.”
  • When he’s not at work he enjoys spending time with his children camping, hiking and fishing. He also plays fiddle and is taking ballroom dance lessons with his wife.

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

A Woman Has A Stroke, Methodist Is Ready

Women in their 20s, 30s and 40s are among the highest risk groups for stroke. IU Health Methodist Hospital is ready at a moment’s notice to treat them.

Nurse Nicole Meyer can rattle off the statistics for stroke. One after another, after another. The numbers are etched in her mind.

But one of the most crucial messages she wants to relay is a little known fact to most: Women — especially those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s — are one of the highest risk groups for strokes.

“And so they have to know the signs,” says Meyer, RN, mobile stroke program coordinator for IU Health. “Minutes really matter when it comes to treating stroke and having good outcomes.”

IU Health Methodist Hospital is certified as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, providing the top level of care for stroke patients. It treats patients effectively, rapidly and with round-the-clock specialists on call.

Methodist also recently launched its Mobile Stroke Unit, which will race to the scene of a patient suffering a stroke and treat them on the spot.

Women and Stroke

— Women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men.

— One in five women is at risk of having a stroke.

— Each year in the U.S., about 55,000 more women than men have a stroke.

— After stroke, women often have greater disability than men.

— More women die from stroke (77,200) than from breast cancer (41,213) each year in the U.S.

Risk Goes Up

Pregnancy: Stroke during pregnancy affects 34 pregnant women out of 100,000, compared to 21 women out of 100,000 who are not pregnant.

Preeclampsia: This is a term for high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy, and it doubles the risk of stroke later in life.

Birth control pills: Can double the risk of stroke, especially in women with high blood pressure.

Hormone replacement therapy: Once thought to lower stroke risk, this in fact increases the risk.

Migraines with auro plus smoking: Strokes are more common in women with migraines with aura who also smoke.

Atrial fibrillation: This increases stroke risk by five times and is more common in women and men after the age of 75.

Ways to Lower Risk

— Pregnant women with very high blood pressure should be treated with safe blood pressure medications.

— Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should follow the guideline recommendation of low-dose aspirin starting in the second trimester to lower preeclampsia risk.

— Women should be screened for high blood pressure before taking birth control pills.

— Women should not smoke, and they should also be aware that smoking and the use of oral contraceptives increases the risk of stroke.

— Hormone replacement therapy should not be used to prevent stroke in postmenopausal women.

— Smokers who have migraines with aura should quit to avoid higher stroke risk.

— All women over age 75 should be screened for atrial fibrillation.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.

NICU Nurse Was a Preemie

Elizabeth Wertz, a NICU nurse and clinical educator at IU Health North started life in a NICU. Now she’s expecting her first child and says she tries to relate to what it’s like to be a parent or patient on the other side of the isolette.

Twenty-six weeks. That’s when Elizabeth Wertz and her twin sister Jennifer decided to enter the world. 

“I was in the NICU for a couple months. My twin sister passed at two days old. There wasn’t as much NICU technology back then and it was rare that I survived at 26 weeks. Now lots of 26-weekers survive even with challenges,” said Wertz. The reality of those challenges is something she faces daily as a nurse and clinical educator at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health North.

When her parents Lou and Judy Lenzi raced to the hospital there was no warning. It just happened early. They were living in New York at the time. “We never figured out why. There were no risk factors,” said Wertz. “Mom went into pre-term labor, they put her in an ambulance and shipped her to the closest hospital.”

Wertz was only intubated for a week – somewhat unusual for a preemie so young. “I have a little chest tube scar but for me I was lucky. I got to go home at 34 weeks. I did pretty well for a NICU baby in 1985.” Her parents documented the journey with a series of photos – treasured by Wertz even more today as a NICU nurse and a newly expectant mother. She and her husband John are expecting their first child in October.

“People not familiar with NICU say it must be tough. It can be tough. It has its moments but it is also very rewarding. Every day is potentially the worst day of someone’s life even if their child will be OK, but we also get to see kiddos when mom gets to hold them for the first time or they take a bottle for the first time or when they get to go home.”

The experience is one that Wertz would never have guessed as a career choice years ago.

“Honestly, never in a million years did I think I’d become a nurse. I didn’t like shots and hospitals,” said Wertz, who attended Purdue University. While an undergraduate in neurobiology and physiology with a concentration in research, she took a night class to become an EMT. She loved the experience so much that she put in extra hours to learn more about patient care. Shortly after graduation, she enrolled in the accelerated nursing program at IUPUI and shadowed a NICU nurse.

“I loved the combination of ICU and helping these little newborns thrive. I immediately started wondering what I needed to do to be hired as a student nurse.” She was so sure of herself that she walked right up and knocked on the door of the manager at Methodist Hospital’s NICU and was hired shortly afterward. After taking her first nursing job at Methodist, she later went to Riley to work in NICU, picked up shifts with LifeLine, and worked in the Riley PICU. She started at IU Health North in the NICU three years ago. Last May she became a clinical educator and is in graduate school studying to become a pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS).

Last year, she was back in New York and returned to the hospital where she was born to meet some of the nurses who cared for her. And again at a nursing conference she met other nurses who cared for her.

“The nurses and doctors are a big reason I am here now,” said Wertz. “When I have patients and their families in the NICU, I know that I didn’t know what my parents experienced, but I do know everything we do, affects those babies for the rest of their lives – from dimming the lights, to how we touch and turn them. Part of what we’re here for is to teach parents who have never had a preemie how to care for their baby, and I always keep that in mind.”

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

Patient Running the Mini Thanks to Worried Doctor Who Wouldn’t Give Up

Julie LaFore thought she was over cancer after successful treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma in 1996. She was used to celebrating all-clear checkups with oncologists as she relocated to Chicago and Wisconsin.

When she moved to Indianapolis, her doctor recommended Sead Beganovic, MD, of Indiana University Health Central Indiana Cancer Centers. With Beganovic, the all-clears continued—patient and doctor even celebrated her 21 years cancer-free with a glass of milk for the 2017 #winnersdrinkmilk campaign.

At her April 2017 check-in, Beganovic discovered LaFore was slightly anemic and ordered an ultrasound on a Thursday morning. His office called LaFore that afternoon and said, “Go to the ER at Methodist immediately. You have a mass in your inferior vena cava.” 

After an MRI and a biopsy done through the jugular vein, LaFore was told the mass was a blood clot. She was treated with blood thinners during a week in the hospital, but Beganovic wasn’t convinced. He ordered a PET scan, which showed a low level of cancer activity. “It wasn’t high,” LaFore said, “but Dr. B was worried.”

She had completed the 500 Festival Miler Series in preparation to run the 2017 Mini-Marathon, but deferred her entry.

Beganovic suggested that LaFore have a second biopsy, this one through the groin to test a different side of the mass. That biopsy confirmed Beganovic’s suspicions. It found leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that can occur inside blood vessels.

LaFore was referred to Daniel Rushing, MD of IU Health Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center for chemotherapy to reduce and contain the sarcoma. “They hit it hard,” LaFore said. “I had inpatient stays in July and August.” In October, she had surgery to remove the piece of vein containing the sarcoma and the blood clot encasing it.

And this week, she’s running the Mini-Marathon again.

“Dr. B just wasn’t going to let it go,” LaFore said. “My primary care doctor told me to hug Dr. Beganovic, and at my consult, Dr. Rushing said, ‘Someone was watching over you, my friend.’ Still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.”

LaFore has demonstrated her gratitude with a gift to the Simon Cancer Center. To learn how you can support the work of dedicated physicians, visit

Marathon Runner: “Breast Cancer Won’t Win This Race”

Noblesville resident Charlene “Char” Cooper, who is battling breast cancer, came in first in her age group in last year’s Indianapolis’ OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon. She’ll be back at it this year – not missing a day of practice during chemotherapy treatments

Charlene “Char” Cooper wears a tiny silver bar on a chain around her neck. The bar is engraved with the Roman numerals “XXVI.II.” The necklace was a gift from her daughter after Cooper completed her first Boston Marathon – 26.2 miles – three years ago.

She was in training for the 2018 Boston Marathon this year when she got the news. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I don’t think I ever asked ‘why me’ because I could just as easily have asked ‘why not me?’” said Cooper, 67. “I was reading ‘The Book of Joy’ recently and it said ‘when bad things happen you can become embittered or ennobled.’ I choose to be ennobled.”

In addition to the silver necklace, Cooper wears a baseball cap over her bald head and a pink bracelet around her wrist that reads: “#CharStrong.”

Both remind her of her breast cancer diagnosis. The bracelet was a gift from a group of female runners ranging in age from 26-67 who Cooper calls her “sweat sisters.” Having met one of the women in the airport on her way to the Boston Marathon last year, the close-knit group race together and have supported Cooper during her journey with breast cancer.

As she shows several pictures of races, Cooper laughs at one where a muscular male runner trails her petite frame. “It reminds me that no matter how big or strong cancer thinks it is, beating it depends on a magic combination of a great medical team, amazing support from my incredible family and friends, a strong faith, a positive attitude and running.”

On Saturday, May 5 Cooper will return to the starting line for what will be her 19th running of the Indianapolis Mini Marathon. She finished as the first place winner in her age group in last year’s race. This year she has decided to scale back to run the 5K due to her cancer treatment schedule and so she can conserve her energy to run a relay with her sweat sisters the following day.

Married to her husband Walt for almost 45 years, Cooper is the mother to three children – sons Walt and Mark Cooper and daughter Abby Santurbane – and the grandmother to four.

“I tell my grandkids ‘you can do hard things. Now it’s time for “Gram to do hard things,” says Cooper.

In 1995 she founded Cable Tie Express, an industrial distribution company that sells zip ties. That same year she ran her first half marathon. About nine years ago she began running competitively.

On November 30, 2017 she retired from her company – about the same time she discovered a lump in her breast. Four days after her retirement, a biopsy confirmed that she has breast cancer. Another picture serves as a memory of that news.

“My daughter, also a runner was six months pregnant. We had successfully ascended the Manitou Springs Incline in Colorado, feeling on top of the world when the day turned from one of the true highs to what could have been a very big low with my news,” said Cooper. “The news was particularly surprising because I don’t have one bit of cancer in my family, no health issues and I live a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and exercise. It just shows cancer does not discriminate.”

But the runner’s high wasn’t going to let Cooper slip into low places.

Working with a team of medical care providers that include IU Health hematology/oncology specialist Dr. Tarah Ballinger, Cooper began a full treatment plan with six rounds of chemo every three weeks.

“Char is undergoing a difficult chemotherapy regimen that contains four drugs and is given for 18 weeks prior to surgery.  She made a goal to not let chemotherapy affect her running plans,” said Dr. Ballinger. “I am convinced Char’s active lifestyle, relentlessly positive attitude, and support system she has through running have allowed her to handle a very difficult chemotherapy regimen so successfully.  So many of the qualities important for training are important for the cancer journey – goal-setting, determination, strength, positive thinking – and Char embodies all of that.”

In fact, she had just finished her second treatment when Cooper completed a 10K with her son and 16 days after infusion, she completed the Carmel Half Marathon placing second in her age group. Working with trainer Matt Ebersole Cooper of Personal Best Training, she has continued to run about 30 miles a week and will run both the Indianapolis Mini Marathon and the Cincinnati Flying Pig in the same weekend with her sweat sisters at her side.

Her coach’s mantra has become her mantra: “There are No Deals, Run the Miles – or with Cancer, Power Through the Treatments.”

She was sidelined from this year’s Boston Marathon due to travel restrictions related to her treatment. And she’s counting down the days she gets the green light to make the trek to Colorado to see her newest grandbaby. Other than that, she says her running goals are simple – she wants to run the 2019 New York City Marathon cancer free and return to the Boston Marathon line up in 2020 and 2021. 

“My coach always says ‘the hard things we choose to do (like running) make most things seem easy and the impossible things (like beating cancer) possible.’ It’s true, this has been a curve ball but there has also been a lot of good that has come out of it. I tell my family and friends to hold tight to those they love, share kindness, forgiveness and goodness with others, trust in God and celebrate each mile of life’s journey.”

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