Nurse worked in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean

LaFonda “Fonda” Lillard was once a traveling nurse working in Hawaii and Baltimore. Now she serves patients at IU Health Coleman Center for Women.

People who know her would be surprised to learn that LaFonda “Fonda” Lillard once went snorkeling in the North Pacific Ocean. She’s afraid of water. For three months she served as a traveling nurse in Hawaii. She also had a stint in Baltimore working as a clinical nurse. But the bulk of her career has been with labor and delivery.

She recently joined the team at Coleman Center for Women at IU Health University Hospital where she works with new and expectant moms, along with female patients with other health needs.

Lillard grew up in Ft. Wayne and graduated from the former Paul Harding High School. She is the oldest of three girls – including a sister that is 14 years younger. Lillard said she was shy in high school but excelled in science.

“My middle sister said I fulfill the role of big sister well,” said Lillard. “I’m very nurturing and I think nursing came naturally.” She obtained her nursing degree from Ball State University, worked in med/surg. for three years and then jumped right into labor and delivery.

“I wanted to work with patients one-on-one and with labor and delivery you are working with patients who are well. You are a bridge for them during this important stage of their lives,” said Lillard.

What advice would she like to give to every new mom? “Their time with their baby is their time and how they want to spend that is up to them. They’ll get a lot of advice from family but that time is up to them.”

What advice would she like to give to every woman? “Take good care of your body.”

More about Lillard:

  • She has a 12-year-old Golden retriever named “Nala” who weighs 80 pounds but thinks she’s a 10-pound lap dog.
  • She loves spending time with family and friends.
  • She enjoys working on crafts and makes homemade gifts.
  • She loves watching super hero movies especially those based on DC and Marvel comics.

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

How To Overcome The Stress Neck Pain

The best way to overcome stress neck pain is to treat both the mind and the body. Treating the mind could help reduce stress and tension, while treating the body could help overcome the physical manifestations which often come in the form of Oklahoma chronic neck pain. Here are a few proven and time-tested exercises which could be useful in more ways than one.

Neck Stretches

 Neck stretches if done regularly can help loosen the muscle and tissue tightness and give the much needed relief from neck pain caused by various factors including stress. It also could help to keep the range of motion in tact as far as the muscles of the neck are concerned. While doing these exercises it is always better to take Owasso  Chiropractor expert opinion. Identifying the right trigger point exercises for the pain is vital and important.

Taking The Help of Cognitive Behavior Therapy

 Opting for cognitive behavioral therapy has been known to help those who are suffering from stress and tension. It could help them to develop thought patterns and habits that are healthy. One could even try and take help from an online or brick and mortar support forum. You can share your problems and concerns and there are many who would be willing to offer a supportive hand to alleviate the problem.

Importance Of Meditation

 Meditation is a proven and time-tested method by which one can overcome stress and tension. It certainly can help to soothe the nerves and play a vital role in calming ones thought and anxieties. There are quite a few videos and other resource materials available on the internet which certainly could be helpful in more ways than one.

Acupuncture And Massaging

 There is no doubt that a combination of Oklahoma City acupuncture and massaging can certainly play a big role in relieving stress and tension. It also is known to play a positive role in easing and relaxing the tightness of the shoulder and neck muscles. However, it has to be done under expert guidance and care because wrong massaging could lead to sprains and other problems. Pressure point therapy such as acupuncture is also known to help in more ways than one. Here again the role of experts is extremely important.

Taking Help From Friends And Family

 Neck pain caused by stress and tension might require the help and assistance of family members. They need to come out with a helping hand and share the load for some time. There are quite a few things that friends an d family members can do. Simple things like running errands or massaging the neck area and muscles could certainly be a big relief for the affected persons.

The Importance Of Exercise

 Exercise apart from helping the body to remain in shape, also assists the mind. Regular exercising releases and hormone called endorphins and these could result in dulling of pain and could also promote overall feeling of well being.

The Impact Of Low Impact Aerobic Exercise

There are a number of low impact aerobic exercises which could be done regularly under the help and assistance of doctors and physical trainers. They help in making the neck muscles supple and loosen the tightness which often develops because of lack of use and eve because of excessive build up of stress.

Before She Was a Candidate, Gene Therapy Was on Her Radar

Lori Ann Haalck was no stranger to a groundbreaking cancer treatment offered at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. She’s now among the first adult patients to receive gene therapy known as CAR-T cell.

Cancer is no stranger to Lori Haalck’s family. She comes from a blended family of six and has lost three siblings to cancer. Her father also lost his battle and her husband of 28 years, Heath Haalck, just completed treatments for prostate cancer.

“We’ve had a crazy couple of years. God just keeps us going,” said Haalck, 48.  She and her husband are the parents of two daughters – Alyssa, 22 and Brooke, 19. Both are students at IU Kokomo. Her mom Trisha Van Kamp has also been by her side.

“Our community has been very supportive,” said Haalck, who works as a stylist at La Revive Salon and Day Spa. The salon helped out by offering discounted products to customers. Heath Haalck is a captain with the Kokomo Police Department and head of the motorcycle unit. Friends and family members came together for a motorcycle rally and also a red carpet gala.

Haalck’s journey started in March of 2017. She was having back pain that was like nothing she’s every experienced. She first went to her family practitioner near her Howard County home. She ended up in ER and tests confirmed she has Diffuse large B-Cell lymphoma (DLBCL or DLBL), a cancer of B cells – the white blood cells responsible for producing antibodies. According to the National Cancer Institute, it is the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma among adults and accounts for about 4.3 percent of all new cancer cases.

“I don’t know what are typical symptoms because mine started in the bone. I felt the pain on my left side,” said Haalck. She first completed six weeks of R-Chop chemotherapy – a monoclonal antibody drug, a group of targeted therapies.  Within a month, she relapsed and the cancer was in her right femur. Last December she had a stem cell transplant and was clear for nine months. Then the cancer returned.

“It’s kind of crazy because when I was first diagnosed my daughter came to me and said ‘mom, you need to read this article on CART-T cell. This is what you need to have done,’” said Haalck. It wasn’t a feasible treatment then, but her daughters continued to research the treatment – one is a premed major and one is a biology/physiological science major.

“They both wrote papers on CART-T cell so by the time it became an option, it was already on our radar,” said Haalck. When she again relapsed, she started treatments under the care of IU Health hematologist/oncologist Dr. Michael Robertson.

CAR-T cell is the gene therapy that uses custom-made cells to attack a patient’s own specific cancer. CAR-T cell therapy allows doctors to isolate T-lymphocyte cells – the body’s cells that fight infections and are active in immune response. The T cells are then engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that targets a protein on a patient’s cancer cells, attaches to them and eventually kills them. Indiana University Health is the only site in Indiana to administer the treatment.

“I feel good other than a nasty taste in my mouth that can only be described as tomato soup and garlic,” said Haalck, just a day after her treatment. “I’ve been thrilled with the nurses and doctors here – how attentive they’ve been.”

She’s hopeful for the future. “My Goddaughter told me that she doesn’t need to pray for me anymore because Jesus told her I’ve been healed. I hope that is true,” said Haalck. “ I want to see my daughters finish college and get married. I want to enjoy grandchildren and I want to travel.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email Follow her on Twitter @tjbanes.

Nurse Of Triplets: “I Went For Neck Pain And They Found Cancer”

She went to the doctor for neck pain and discovered she has Hodgkin Lymphoma. Now this IU Health nurse and mother of five – including 11-year-old triplets – is accepting the care given by others.

On any give day, Cheryl Smitherman, is working with a team of case managers and social workers to assess patient needs. As an integrated case management nurse at University Hospital that could mean coordinating extended care when a patient leaves the hospital or evaluating the patient’s needs during a hospital stay.

And that’s just what she does part of her day. She also works a second job at another hospital; taxis her five children to sports practices and various school activities; serves at her church; and like most moms, is busy planning for the holidays.

“I have a Type A personality. I’m always on the go,” said Smitherman. She’s a co-leader for her daughter’s Girl Scout troupe, has led Boy Scout dens, and coached soccer. She was preparing to go back to school to get her nurse practitioner license when life suddenly slowed down.

A year ago in November, she went to the emergency room complaining of neck pain. Initial testing indicated she had cancer.

“They thought I had lung cancer at first. I didn’t want to believe that,” said Smitherman. She reached out to Becky Hardin, an oncology nurse coordinator, and was admitted to IU Health. Further scans showed she has Hodgkin Lymphoma. She is under the care of Dr. Michael Robertson.

According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Hodgkin Lymphoma is one of the most curable types of cancer. It is a cancer of the lymphatic system, part of the immune system, and affects people at any age, but most commonly those between the ages of 20 and 40 years old and those over 55.  Smitherman turns 42 just five days before Christmas.

She completed treatment and was in remission until the end of March. She returned to work and her busy life of raising five children.

But the beginning of October she began having difficulty swallowing. Her lymph nodes were swollen and she felt like she had strep throat. Tests showed she had relapsed. She again started chemotherapy to control the cancer.

During a recent treatment Smitherman talked about how life has changed since her diagnosis. As she talked, co-worker Kali Bonanni dropped by to deliver a snack and check on her friend.

“She is strong,” said Bonanni. “She loves her kids and would do anything for them. Cheryl is also willing to help out others. Cheryl is a team player and helps when it is needed.”

As a caregiver, it’s difficult for Smitherman to accept help from others. “My co-workers have been amazing. Very helpful to me and my family,” she said.

A graduate of Ben Davis High School, Smitherman received her nursing degree from Indiana University and started her first job with IU Health working in the lab at Methodist in 1997. She then worked in pediatric resources with Riley Hospital for Children and migrated to IU Health North in NICU and pediatrics.  She returned to University Hospital two years ago in her current role in case management.

It was a fellow nurse, Angie Thompson who convinced Smitherman she would be a good nurse. They were on a trip to Israel, Egypt and Jordan when Smitherman began discussing her options in medicine. She was biology major at the time and switched to nursing. She completed her degree in 2003.

A year later she married her husband John. When their oldest daughter was born 12 years ago, they named her after one of Smitherman’s former Riley patients – Hannah. Next came their triplets Jack, Emma, and Claire, 11; and then their youngest Samuel, nine.

She was raised as the youngest child – an older sister and older brother, but later in life her parents adopted two girls from China who are now 16 and 11. “It’s a little funny when your younger siblings attend the same school as your children and you hear them calling, ‘Aunt,’” said Smitherman.

Throughout her diagnosis and treatment, Smitherman has relied on what she calls the “three F’s” – Faith, Family, and Friends.

She chooses a different scripture each day – many take her back to that trip to the Holy Land when she decided to become a nurse.

“My grandmother had a bible from Bethlehem. I remember I was five and I just loved it and said that one day I’d have one of my own so when I went on my trip to the Holy Land, I got one. It’s very special to me,” said Smitherman.

And when it comes to her family, Smitherman’s voice softens. She begins to talk about how she told her children of her diagnosis. It wasn’t easy.

“In the beginning, we didn’t use the word ‘cancer.’ We kept it simple and told them what we knew. Once we knew what was ahead, we told them about the cancer and that I’d take chemotherapy and get better,” said Smitherman. “They were there when I had my head shaved. I thought I’d cry but then I realized I look more like my son with my head shaved.”

Her kids have been involved with fundraisers for cancer including the Relay for Life and the Curtain Dance Center. So they know the tough questions.

“I do get asked, ‘Mommy, will you die?’ I tell them ‘we are all going to die,’” said Smitherman. “This diagnosis has taught me to slow down.”

And as a nurse, Smitherman uses her diagnosis to better understand and empathize with her patients.

“I have had patients say, ‘You’re the first person who understands my pain.’ There are different layers of pain having cancer and there are things people have given me to help me get through from snacks to advice,” said Smitherman. “The one thing we can’t do is solve the problem and make the cancer go away. Cancer is one day at a time.”

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

White Memorial Grants Announced

Seven projects are receiving funding from the fall round of the Grassroots Grants program at IU Health White Memorial Hospital. The grants are known as “grassroots” because an individual team member with an idea champions the grant application.

Winning grant applications are selected by the White Memorial Philanthropy Council, which assists the IU Health Foundation in its grantsmaking work. This fund has granted an average of $15,000 per year in the 10 years of its existence. The monies are taken from contributions made to the hospital’s area of greatest need fund.

Mary Minier

“Grassroots grants are one of the best ways that we see our charitable dollars at work here at IU Health White Memorial Hospital,” said Mary Minier, president of White Memorial Hospital. “These grants make a huge impact on patient care delivery in our community.” 

The grants were awarded to: 

  • $10,200 for keyless entry supply carts in the emergency department that will decrease the amount of time needed to access emergency equipment.
  • $6,500 for “Bair Huggers,” to warm outpatients before surgery and improve outcomes.
  • $5,800 for whiteboards in each inpatient room to improve communication among physicians, caregivers, patients and their family members.
  • $2,200 to upgrade sleep study mattresses for better patient experiences and more accurate evaluations.
  • $2,100 for a keyless entry/lockable IV cart, which will decrease the time needed to start an intravenous line and ensure safe storage of supplies. 
  • $850 for a new “comfort cart” that delivers food and drinks to families who can’t leave their loved ones.
  • $370 for a carpet extractor/shampoo machine to ensure hospital cleanliness in all carpeted areas.

 To contribute to programs you care about, or learn more about the IU Health Foundation, visit 

​Transplant Coordinator; Minister Who Prays For Her Patients.

Josephine “Cissy” Brents has been with IU Health for 40 years. As a transplant coordinator she sees a need and she isn’t shy about fulfilling that need. She prays for her patients.

She remembers one of her first patients as if she were the most recent one. Josephine “Cissy” Brents was helping the woman navigate her journey to transplant. The woman received a kidney from her niece who lived out of state. It was a time of joy for the patient and Brents shared in every moment.

“I love my job. There have been so many patients who have touched my life. They are thankful to me but I am grateful for them,” said Brents. She relates how one patient became frustrated and on edge and through it all Brents repeatedly offered assurance that they would get a transplant. “When it all clicked and they realized I was here to help them get the best outcome, they were like a changed person. I love seeing that,” said Brents.

She was a student at Arlington High School working in the school nurse’s office when her course was set. It wasn’t a course specific to a hospital setting but more of a course set toward caregiving, she said.

She started at IU Health as a student nurse in 1979 and has worked on the renal floor and dialysis at both Methodist and University Hospitals.

“My mom, Bernice Fleming, helped me get into nursing school. She put the papers in front of me and helped me complete the process,” said Brents. “She died of cancer when I was in my freshman year. She was only 49. I can still see the nurses at Methodist Hospital all dressed in their nice white uniforms – so kind and caring – and thinking, ‘I really do want to be a nurse.”

As a nurse Brents spent six years in the Air Force Reserves. One of the highlights was to attend a weeklong Combat Casualty Care course with the Army, Marines, National Guard and Navy.  She went to yearly training and spent time in Germany and Florida, helping to train medical technicians. Also while working at IU Health, she took on the role as assistant worship leader at her church and began working toward her Masters in Divinity.

“I’ve done a lot of work with pastoral care – speaking at funerals, visiting families. It’s all helped me become more patient and practice perseverance. I also pray for my patients and I pray for my co-workers and the transplant team,” said Brents. “I think it’s important to recognize that we all need that faith.”

More about Brents:

  • What makes her a good nurse? “I was working at a health fair and recruiting donors and discovered I have a kidney disease. It makes me more compassionate. I know a little more what patients are going through.”
  • About her personally – Brents has a twin brother, and two other siblings. She has been married to Mark Brents for 29 years.
  • A high point of her career? She was the transplant coordinator when Dr. William Goggins performed his 2,000th kidney transplant earlier this year.
  • Something that might surprise people to learn about her? “I used to ride a Harley Davidson Road King.”

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