Methodist’s ‘model’ patient talks about life after his heart transplant

It wasn’t an episode of “Cake Wars,” but Jeremy Carr celebrated his 39th birthday March 9 with a surprise party and a cake fight.

“I was covered in blue cake; it’s not a good look for me,” said the Avon father of two and longtime patient of IU Health Methodist Hospital. But it was all in good fun.

What better way to mark a date that he might not have reached if not for a heart transplant. The one-year anniversary for that life-changing surgery is coming up March 30, and Carr will celebrate that day in a different way.

He’ll be writing a letter to be given to his donor family. The idea both excites and terrifies him.

“I’ve been thinking about it for two months,” he said. “I just don’t know what to say. What do you say to someone that lost a loved one? There’s things I want to say, but I don’t want to bring up bad memories for them.”

He knows they haven’t forgotten their loss, yet he doesn’t want to be a painful reminder.

Carr’s life in the year since the transplant at Methodist has been one of renewal. He has strengthened personal relationships. He tries to stay active, eat right, take care of the gift he has received. It took him three months before he could refer to his donor heart as his heart, but now he and his life-giving organ are more in synch.

He got to swim for the first time in seven years. He was in the pool so long, he said, “I looked like a 90-year-old man when I got out.” He built a flower bed at his home for his girlfriend of 20 years, Jennifer. He rode his Harley one last time before agreeing to sell it at the request of his 14-year-old daughter.

“Four wheels are better than two,” he said with a sigh.

But the thing he most looked forward to during the 200-plus days he spent at Methodist was buying a 1978 Chevelle to restore in his barn. It’s his favorite classic car, and this man named Carr knows his cars.

“I’ve always been a hot rod fan,” he said. “I grew up around them.”

He also grew up with a hole in his heart that never closed. As a young adult, he did some “stupid stuff,” he said, and he thought maybe it was normal that he had heart palpitations. It was on his birthday in 2012 when he found out he was in congestive heart failure. He had eaten out at a buffet, and by the time he got home, he was having trouble breathing. A trip to the emergency room revealed the problem.

“They told me my heart was working at 7 percent,” he said.

He spent two weeks in one hospital before being moved to Methodist for several more weeks. He went home with a dobutamine pump in his arm to deliver medications that kept his heart working. Two years later, he got an LVAD, a left ventricular assist device, used in patients with advanced heart failure whose heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Then came the long wait for a heart.

 

Carr was at Methodist last week for a heart catheterization to check his progress since his surgery a year ago. He wears a pendant around his neck given to him by his mother. It reads: My dear son, May God always protect you and give you strength.

He brought along a shoebox containing two of his favorite model cars. One is a Trans Am, the other a Chevelle hybrid. Both contain bits and pieces of his hospital environment – tubing from a thermometer, pieces from an insulin injection pin, bits of plastic from a bedpan.

That’s how Carr kept his sanity while spending months in the hospital waiting for a heart. He admits driving his nurses a bit crazy with his antics, which included adapting a back scratcher to extend up and switch off monitors when they beeped. He was moved three times during his stay at Methodist, the last time to the biggest room on the second floor in the cardiac critical care unit – all to accommodate his growing hobby of building model cars, helicopters and ambulances.

When people heard about Carr and his love for cars, they indulged him by shipping more his way. By the time he returned to his home after surgery, he had an entire room full of donated model cars. One by one, he takes them and customizes them to his taste.

He can’t begin to count the number of model cars he’s built over the years. Thousands probably, he said.

“I’ve done this since I was 8 years old. I try to build cars I’ve owned or would like to own.”

He even built a model IU Health LifeLine helicopter that’s on display in the cardiac unit at Methodist. The racing fan got to take his own flight on the real LifeLine last May for Indianapolis 500 Carb Day festivities, just weeks after he came home from the hospital, and he loved every minute of it.

But it’s the full-size car he has in his barn that he’s most excited about working on now. As a surprise, friends and family took the stock hood that he had taken off the Chevelle and turned it into a 55-pound birthday card, decorated with photos of his days in the hospital, his dogs, his Harley and more.

As grateful as he was for a new heart, Carr admits to feeling on edge for the first few months after transplant. He didn’t have the security of the LVAD or the defibrillator that could save his life. It felt strange having someone else’s organ beating inside his chest. He worried about over-exerting himself.

A few times since the transplant, he did pass out, likely due to low blood pressure. Once, he thinks, was because he got up too quickly when his dogs woke him up to go outside.

“I got up and halfway to the door, I hit the floor,” he said. “I woke up to the dogs licking my face.”

All in all though, it’s been pretty smooth sailing, he said. Doctors have worked to adjust his medications, though he still takes 30 pills in the morning and about 20 at night. He folds them into applesauce and swallows them in one fell swoop.

“Down the hatch,” he says. “It makes people cringe, but I find it easier to do that.”

Next up for Carr is a job – something he’s been without since the transplant. He starts a new job as a service manager for a company in Plainfield on Friday, and despite his nerves, it feels good, he said.

“That’s what I wanted when I was in the hospital – to go out and be normal like everybody else, to have a job, have a purpose.”

That purpose is all the more important because of the second chance he’s been given. Now, Carr spends his free time back at the hospital – not for him but for his mother. He takes her to all of her appointments. He visits with physicians and nurses in the cardiac unit when he gets the chance. Recently, he found himself watching soccer, a game he never cared about. He wonders if his donor liked the sport. He wonders about his donor a lot.

“I have dreams about him or her. I really want to meet the family.”

Back to that letter he plans to write – “I’ve started it a hundred times, but after the first sentence, I can’t do it.”

Still, he imagines meeting them someday, having dinner, spending holidays together. Sure, he’s getting ahead of himself, but every beat of his heart reminds him that first it belonged to someone else.

– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist

Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist

Email: mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

IU Health Arnett Cancer Center earns National Accreditation

The Commission on Cancer (CoC), a quality program of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) has granted Three-Year Accreditation to the Cancer Center at Indiana University Health Arnett. To earn voluntary CoC accreditation, a cancer program must meet 34 CoC quality care standards, be evaluated every three years through a survey process and maintain levels of excellence in the delivery of comprehensive patient-centered care. 

Because it is a CoC-accredited Cancer Center, IU Health Arnett takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer as a complex group of diseases that requires consultation among surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, diagnostic radiologists, pathologists and other cancer specialists. This multidisciplinary partnership results in improved patient care. 

“We are proud to achieve this prestigious accreditation. Our staff has worked tirelessly to achieve this certification and it reflects our dedication to excellent patient care and services,” said Matthew Orton, MD, radiation oncologist with IU Health Arnett Cancer Center. “In awarding us CoC accreditation, ACS has provided us with the opportunity to celebrate the exceptional cancer care we provide to our patients and our commitment to the well-being of our community.”

The CoC Accreditation Program provides the framework for IU Health Arnett Cancer Center to improve its quality of patient care through various cancer-related programs that focus on the full spectrum of cancer care including prevention, early diagnosis, cancer staging, optimal treatment, rehabilitation, life-long follow-up for recurrent disease and end-of-life care. When patients receive care at a CoC facility, they also have access to information on clinical trials and new treatments, genetic counseling and patient centered services including psycho-social support, a patient navigation process and a survivorship care plan that documents the care each patient receives and seeks to improve cancer survivors’ quality of life.  

Like all CoC-accredited facilities, IU Health Arnett Cancer Center maintains a cancer registry and contributes data to the National Cancer Data Base (NCDB), a joint program of the CoC and American Cancer Society. This nationwide oncology outcomes database is the largest clinical disease registry in the world. Data on all types of cancer are tracked and analyzed through the NCDB and used to explore trends in cancer care. CoC-accredited cancer centers, in turn, have access to information derived from this type of data analysis, which is used to create national, regional and state benchmark reports. These reports help CoC facilities with their quality improvement efforts.   

How To Select The Right Chiropractor

The role of chiropractors is becoming quite crucial and important over the past few decades. This is because of increased number of pain and joint related diseases. This is caused by a number of reasons including changed lifestyles. Many of us have become very laidback in our lifestyles and there is complete lack or very little exercising and physical activities that we indulge in. This could lead to tightening of the muscles, joints and bones. Further, there could be some age related diseases or even accidents that could lead to various musculoskeletal disorders. Many of these conditions are extremely painful and also debilitating in some cases. Hence, you may have to look at multiple sources of diagnosis and treatment. There are millions of people across the world who are of the opinion that chiropractor services could go a long way in setting this right. The professionals use skilled, specialized and trained methods by which the affected areas are impacted. They use massaging, slight adjustment and other such ways to bring back mobility and comfort back to the person.

Choosing The Right Professionals Is important

If you do your research, it is quite possible that you will come across dozens of chiropractors in Owasso. We need to find out ways by which we can separate the wrong from the right. We are happy to share some useful and pertinent information and we are sure it will help in making the right selection.

Be Aware Of Experience And Expertise

Like all professions, there is no doubt that one needs to have at least 10 to 15 years’ of experience to be a successful and dependable chiropractor. Therefore, this is one of the most important points that you must bear in mind when you are looking for such professionals. Before you get into the right due diligence process after identifying a chiropractor, you must be sure that he or she has the required experience and expertise. This also should be backed by a successful track record, a certification and the best of customer feedback and goodwill.

Always Interview The Chiropractor

Whether it is for pregnancy, or whether it is for treating an injury or for handling acute back pain or neck pain, you must always believe in interviewing the chiropractor before choosing them. It would be wrong to just go by website information or through the advertisements placed by these professionals. You must, as a patient, insist on seeing him or her personally. This will help you to get the right information about their location, their overall experience, gurus from whom they have learned the skill amongst other things. Interviewing does help quite a bit. This is because it is much more than merely exchanging mails and other forms of communication. Hence this is one of the most important points to be kept in mind when it comes to hiring these professionals.

Check On Their Skill Sets

Chiropractors are known for their skill sets and this comes with age and experience. It is therefore advisable for you to ensure that you have a close look at the kind of skill sets that they possess.

Conclusion

The above are just a few points that could be squeezed in this article. If you are serious then you must understand the importance of the kind of services that they offer. They must be versatile, while being quality conscious.

Contact Owasso Chiropractor:

Ashlock Chiropractic

Address:12899 E 76th St N #101
Owasso, OK
Phone: (918) 272-0444

Combating Opioid use at IU Health Frankfort

Death by drug overdose has increased in Indiana by 500 percent since 1999, and Indiana ranks 34th in the nation in drug deaths. Clinton County, like many rural counties, is facing the challenge of opioid use which continues to debilitate the economy by crippling the workforce. The IU Health Frankfort Hospital Emergency Department and Pharmacy teams are making huge strides to help combat the opioid crisis in the Clinton County community.  

Some of the IU Health Frankfort shining stars are Maci Mathews, RN, and Tricia Lohr, PharmD, along with Brandi Teyema, RN and the Emergency Department team. 

One of the most impressive facts is that this team has reduced the prescribed number of opioid pills coming out of the Emergency Department from 3,000 per month to less than 30.  

Providers are receiving training on best practices for controlled substance prescribing. Providers are only prescribing controlled medications to the appropriate patients for the shortest duration necessary from the Emergency Department. Chronic pain patients are receiving additional information and assistance with referrals to providers best suited to their needs outside of the ED. This evidence-based best practice is one of the many elements to help fight the opioid epidemic by decreasing the number of unnecessary tablets that can lead to opiate use disorders.  

Help prevent drug addiction and overdose deaths by turning in your unused or expired prescription medication for safe disposal. 

Unwanted, unused or expired medications should be deposited into the drug disposal box, much like a letter is dropped into a mailbox. All medications should be in one plastic container with personal information removed or crossed out. The prescription drug drop box may be accessed at IU Health Frankfort Hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If her sister could see her now: Giving back in her memory

When she tragically lost her sister, Onna Jones vowed never to return to the hospital where she last saw her loved one’s face. But now nearly 20 years later, she’s a valued employee who sees her calling as helping others.

The end of this month marks eight years since Onna Jones joined IU Health. But every day she walks through the doors is like her first day at work. She brings through those doors a history that is known to few.

She was 17 when she lost her older sister Rodneka Jones at the same hospital she now serves.

“We went to grade school together, we were on the same cheerleading squad, we shared a bedroom and the same bed. We shopped together. Everything she did, I did. She was my best friend,” said Jones. “My sister was outgoing. She was the life of a party. She got along with everyone and just had a magnetic personality. She was a singer and a dancer and we used to perform in talent shows. She was a super star. I can remember walking home from School #70 and people would stop and ask her to sing. They heard she could hit the high notes like Mariah Carey. I think if she were still alive she’d be on American Idol.”

It was the night of Jan. 15, 2000 and Jones remembers rushing to IU Health Methodist Hospital with other members of her family. The news was grim. Her sister was driving near East 38th Street when she was struck by another car forcing her vehicle to collide into a light pole that came crashing down on her car. The driver left the scene but was later identified.

“I remember all the doctors rushing around in the emergency room, and all my aunts and uncles, my mom, dad and sisters all there,” said Jones. “It was the last place I saw her.”

It wasn’t a place she wanted to return to. But time had a way of changing Jones’ heart. Eight years ago she started working in guest relations at IU Health and now works as a financial navigator.

“I had a dream and it was like an outer body experience. I was in the hospital and all the monitors were going off. I was dying. Two weeks later I got a call offering me a job in guest relations and I realized I had something to give to others – I wasn’t working as a doctor or a nurse – but I was able to help give life to patients.”

It was at that moment that she began using her personal experience to walk beside the patients she serves.

“I feel like this is my purpose – serving others. We tend to run from death because it hurts but God brought me back here to help others navigate their health,” said Jones, the mother of two girls and a boy. “I have patients tell me ‘you’re an angel,’ and I think that’s because I truly care. I have been in their shoes.” As a financial navigator, Jones is often the first point of contact a patient has with the hospital. She registers them, activates their accounts and makes sure they have insurance.  Ninety-five percent of the patients she sees come in for radiology – CT, MRI, nuclear medicine, and intervention radiology. Others come in for endoscopy, lab work, x-rays, and bone density scans.

“A really good day is going above and beyond and extending courtesy to patients. I always say, ‘thank you for choosing IU Health I hope everything goes well with your health.’ When a patient can walk away from me and feel more confidant about being here then I have done what I am called to do,” said Jones.

A graduate of Broad Ripple High School, Jones received certification in business clerical after high school and later used IU Health’s tuition reimbursement program to continue her training in billing and coding.

Her path to IU Health was paved even before her sister’s passing. Both her parents worked at Methodist Hospital. Her mother Denice Fay Jones worked in dietary and patient care access, and her father Rodney Vincent Jones worked as a phlebotomist.

“My grandmother, Mary Alice Dorsey, was 92 when she passed. She also worked at Methodist back when the employee bathrooms were segregated,” said Jones.

“I remember as a little girl when my mom was working I’d walk the hallways at Methodist. I always said I wanted to work here. There was a piano in the lobby that played automatically. I used to sit and listen to it. It was like I grew up here.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

IU Health Focusing on Mental Wellness

One in four people in the world are affected by mental or neurological disorders and around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

And the picture is not bright in Indiana. Mental Health America (MHA) ranks the state 42nd for the prevalence of mental illness and less than optimal access to care.

IU Health Bloomington Hospital has long been the safety net for caring for patients with mental health disorders. That commitment will continue with the opening of the new Regional Academic Health Center in 2021, offering 24 inpatient beds as well as 8 beds in the Emergency Department for patients needing psychological evaluation.

Improving Access to Treatment

Due to the opioid crisis there has been an influx of patients seeking substance abuse-care that has not always been easy to find or access. In response to the desperate need within our community, IU Health opened an outpatient addiction treatment program in Bloomington in November of 2018 and plans additional services with a million dollar investment from the IU Health System’s Behavioral Health Collaborative.

“The IU Health Bloomington Hospital Addictions and Treatment Program is evidenced based and offers hope for people in this region of the state struggling with addiction of one form or another,” says Michael Kane, MD, Addictions Medical Director for IU Health.

The main focus of the program is on using individualized-treatment interventions that are most successful in addressing and treating substance abuse disorders. The program pairs intensive outpatient therapy three-to-five times a week, with medically-assisted treatment to decrease withdrawal side effects. It also includes a family therapy component. The program is the second to open within IU Health and is modeled after the program at IU Health Methodist Hospital which has a 60 percent sobriety success rate after six months.

IU Health has also recognized the value of Peer Recovery Coaches who bring the experience of recovery, combined with training and supervision, to assist others in initiating and maintaining recovery. Coaches are available in person at IU Health Bloomington Hospital’s Emergency Department through a partnership with Centerstone.

Expanding Rural Options

The Peer Recovery concept is catching on – virtually – at IU Health’s smaller facilities in the South Central Region.

Peer recovery coaches are available to patients at IU Health emergency departments in Paoli and Bedford through a virtual service that enables access to behavioral health expertise found in larger urban hospitals. Patients are assessed when they come into the emergency department as someone at high risk for, or struggling with, a substance use disorder. ED personnel then connect patients with the recovery coaches who interact live.

“Addressing the growing addiction problems in Southern Indiana is a priority,” says Larry Bailey, President of IU Health Paoli Hospital. “Having around the clock access to experts when help is needed most during critical moments is an important key.”

Support continues after the patient leaves the hospital. Recovery coaches follow up with individuals within 48 hours of initial contact.

Help Where it is Desperately Needed

According to a 2017 report by the Indiana State Department of Health, between 2011 – 2015, Morgan County ranked second in the state in emergency department visits for nonfatal overdoses making it a top priority for IU Health.

Through a generous grant from the Kendrick Foundation, IU Health Morgan is piloting an innovative, cost-effective telehealth service delivery model to make intensive outpatient treatment and medication-assisted treatment available at its facility. While the live service is offered at IU Health Bloomington Hospital, Morgan County patients will be able to participate from IU Health Morgan.

Catching it Early

Primary care providers routinely screen patients for mental health concerns and refer them to a counselor. Often the appointment can take months. Through a new pilot program offered in Bloomington, patients are now linked to a therapist on the very same day.

“By using telehealth we can connect the patient and a therapist right away so they don’t fall through the cracks,” says James Laughlin, MD, Chief Practice Officer, IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians.

“I am proud of the progress we have made in the last 18 months to greatly expand services related to substance abuse in our service area,” says Brian Shockney, President, IU Health South Central Region. “In order to be a healthy community, we must be there to care for our patients no matter their issue.”

For more information on how to access behavioral health or substance abuse services, please call 812.353.5630.

A Decade After Diagnosis – Colorectal Cancer: “What I Wish I Knew”

A patient of Dr. Patrick J. Loehrer shares what life has been like since her diagnosis at the age of 21. 

Her last appointment with IU Health oncologist Dr. Patrick Loehrer was filled with tears. Not because she received bad news, but because after a decade, Gwen Brack was being released from Dr. Loehrer’s care. 

She was a junior in college – studying at DePauw University when Brack was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Now Brack talks about her friendship with the doctor who helped save her life, and how her own life has changed – including an engagement and move to the Windy City. 

“It was really hard to say goodbye to him as my oncologist, because he is someone that I have placed so much trust in over the years. But he referred me to a great oncologist in Chicago,” said Brack. She recently got engaged to Noah Schmidt – someone she met at a wedding of one of her sorority sisters from DePauw University. She works as an account manager for Pearson Education and is settling into the Lakeview neighborhood where she is closer to her fiancé. Together they have a dog named, “Clark” and another puppy joining them soon.   

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – a time the Colorectal Cancer Alliance promotes education and challenges assumptions and myths about colorectal cancer. To help aid in that awareness, Brack offers five things she wished she knew when she was diagnosed at the age of 21.

  • I wish I would have been aware that the symptoms I was experiencing were signs of colorectal cancer – the bloating, the bleeding when using the restroom, the change in bowels. I knew something was up, but I attributed the symptoms to my college lifestyle – too much beer and junk food. I would have seen a doctor sooner if I had realized the seriousness of symptoms. Since more and more young people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, it is incredibly important that people are aware of the warning signs, so they can take early action.”
  • People are usually kinder and more understanding than you expect – I have a permanent colostomy because of the location of my rectal tumor, and I was very worried about what my life would look like as a single 20-something woman. Dating is hard as it is, but add in a poo-bag to the equation and I thought it would mean the end of dating or ever meeting someone. How wrong I was. It turns out that most people really are more understanding than I originally anticipated. And I was lucky enough to meet my perfect match and am now recently engaged.”
  • “I have learned that in healthcare, you must be your own advocate, no matter how good your doctors are – You must press your team to answer all the questions you have, to take the time to explain things until you understand them. It’s ok to ask them why when they think something is the best treatment plan for you. Your life is literally on the line, so it is important to understand your plan of attack, why you’re choosing it over another line of treatment. It’s ok to present your medical team with other information you’ve found during your research. They should be able to explain why it would or wouldn’t work for your case. Don’t be afraid to challenge them. If he is a good physician, he will appreciate that, as he would do the same for himself/herself or their loved ones.”
  • “It’s ok and encouraged to get second or third opinions – Piggy backing on my last point, it’s ok to want more opinions on your life and well-being. It’s ok to not agree to the first thing someone presents to you without gathering more information. Ego should be left out of medicine, and if your doctor truly has your best interests in mind, he/she will welcome you gathering more opinions.”
  • “Life does go on, but it doesn’t get easier as soon as you finish treatment – I think most new patients think that once they finish radiation and chemo, and recover from surgery, and the immediate threat is over, that they’ll be back to their normal selves. Newsflash: That self is gone. It is forever changed. You will never be that same BC (before cancer) person. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is hard to reconcile. You will mourn the loss of that self. You will grieve the loss of the simplicity of life BC. You will cry for the body parts that have changed or that you’ve lost. It will take you time to remember how to interact with your friends and family, without every conversation revolving around cancer. Once you’re done with treatment, you’ll have extra time that you aren’t spending at the infusion center, or as an in-patient recovering from surgery, and you won’t know what to do with yourself. This free time is yet a blessing and a curse – a blessing because physically, you’re home free (for now), and a curse because your mind is now the main patient. I found this free time paralyzing. I would throw myself too many pity parties, and would yearn to see my favorite nurses and doctors, as they had become my new best friends.  I didn’t know how to live a normal life again; I could hardly remember who I was BC. Life does go on, but it takes time, and it takes work. It takes extending yourself grace and the empathy you would feel for others. Be patient with yourself. Getting a puppy doesn’t hurt to help pass the time either.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.

Tragedy leads to a passion to educate parents

Of the tragedies a parent can endure, perhaps none is more heart wrenching than the loss of a child. Jen Hittle, a nurse at IU Health Arnett and consultant in the Clinical Risk Management department, believes in finding the good in every situation. She has made it her mission to spread the word on the importance of safe sleep practices for infants since her son Brenton passed away in 2013. “Sharing Brenton’s story is not easy, but I hope by sharing, I will help open people’s eyes and hearts,” Jen says, “I have been given the opportunity to educate and bring awareness to such an important issue and hopefully it will make a difference and decrease the chance of it happening to others’ loved ones.”

Jen and her husband Brock welcomed their fifth child, Brenton, into the world on July 19, 2012. He was a happy, healthy baby boy. Being the youngest of five, he was surrounded the by love and spoiled by his parents and older siblings. At just 6 months and 5 days old, Brenton passed away, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). He was at the sitter’s, put down for a nap in his pack in play on his tummy with his blanket. The sitter went to check on him and he was not breathing. Even with the quick work of paramedics, they were unable to bring him back. They found nothing wrong with him and determined the final cause of death as SIDS.

With Jen’s medical background, she had a hard time wrapping her mind around not knowing what caused her son’s death. She reached out to SIDS researchers to see if they could give her a reason why. Researchers responded to her, letting her know of strong findings that SIDS is caused by a defect in the part of the brain that controls breathing, heart rate, etc., while sleeping. Babies who have this defect look and act completely normal during the day, but defects are unmasked during sleep. These findings helped Jen understand the importance of the “why” behind safe sleep practices.

It was Jen’s heartbreaking journey that led her mission to educate people on the importance of safe sleep practices. Whether it be talking at local high schools, to future parents, seasoned parents, babysitters or fellow team members—Jen and her family share Brenton’s story to bring awareness to SIDS and the significance of safe sleep.

She wants to encourage all to listen to their healthcare providers on safe sleep techniques. “I know as an experienced mom with several older children it is not easy to practice safe sleep,” Jen says, “But it is definitely worth it. They are knowledgeable and have our best interest at heart.”

Approximately 3,500 infants die annually in the United States from sleep-related deaths. Even though this statistic is alarming, many of these deaths are preventable. Learn the ABC’s of Safe Sleep.

Alone – Babies should always be on their own sleep surface. Bed sharing is a risk factor for SIDS and other sleep related deaths.

Back – Babies should be on their backs for every sleep.

Crib – The crib should be empty. This means no bumper pads, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, toys or supplies such as diapers and diaper wipes.

Accepting Palliative Care

Mind over matter: Deciding what’s next on the journey

You just never know what curve balls life will throw at you. But it’s how you react to life’s challenges that makes all the difference.

Such is the case for Albert Childers, 48, of Bloomington. He’s been knocked down time and time again, but always bounces back ready
to live life to the fullest another day.

He was 39 years old and delivering propane bottles like he had done for years. Each bottle usually weighed in at around 60 pounds.

Suddenly, he felt a sickness come over him, as if he had the flu. He looked at his reflection in the rearview mirror and noticed he was
white as a ghost.

“Pain started to throb in my left arm and shoulder,” he said. “I thought I had strained a muscle from lifting all the weight that day.”

Call it divine intervention, call it luck, but Albert was due to get his blood pressure medication refilled that very day, so he had a visit scheduled to see his doctor. “I told him I felt like I had the flu, and just to be safe, he ran an EKG. All I could hear were the doctor’s feet pounding down the hallway going after aspirin.”

That was Albert’s first major heart attack – the LAD (Left Anterior Descending artery), otherwise known as the widow-maker due to its high death risk.

From there, things seemed to get progressively worse for him.

Chest pain again, RCA (Right Coronary Artery) stent.

Chest pain again, Circumflex artery stent.

Then a stroke.

“I think the stroke was the worst thing of my life. I had no control,” Albert said. “I could not talk. The right side of my face drooped. I couldn’t control my saliva. Things got better as I went, but it did permanent damage,” he explained in his slow, stuttered speech, which is now a way of life for him. “I get a word here and there and have to stop and rearrange and make sure it’s correct.”

Then, a few years later another stroke.

He went to IU Health Methodist, but by the time he arrived it was too late for blood-clotbusting medication.

“I had to just ride that one out; then the wheelchair came along, and I rode in that,” he said with a laugh.

“Ultimately, though, Albert’s got an indomitable spirit, but, boy, it really got tested, again and again,” said Robert Stone, MD, Medical Director of the Palliative Care program at IU Health Bloomington Hospital and a 28-year veteran of the Emergency Department.

Sometime later Albert’s heart started quivering. It was his left ventricle this time. Doctors said he needed a pacemaker and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), otherwise the heart would eventually stop.

During his various medical battles (four heart attacks, two strokes), Albert had seen regular physicians and had been treated the best he could be within the scope of their care. As time went by though, he needed much more.

It was shortly after this revelation that he found Dr. Stone. Albert has been visiting Dr. Stone for nearly two years, but within the first few months, his life started changing for the better.

Albert just had his second stroke when he met Dr. Stone. He had survived a few heart attacks and several different heart procedures and he was in a wheelchair.

“Albert had been diagnosed with an unusual condition called central pain syndrome, related to his strokes,” Dr. Stone said. “It’s very difficult to treat. In fact, a doctor at IU Health in Indianapolis suggested that his pain was so bad that they should implant a pain pump.”

That was when Albert pushed pause on his medical treatments. “He didn’t want to do that,” Dr. Stone said. “He had had enough surgical procedures and problems that he decided he didn’t want to proceed in that way.”

First, Dr. Stone tried to address Albert’s pain, prescribing some medicine and adjusting others over the course of several months. “I can’t say it’s just medication,” Albert said. “It’s actually the physician and staff (Amber). They changed the way I thought about medical care. I felt comfortable, felt like I could say what I wanted, and I wasn’t on a calendar of you’ve got five minutes with this guy, now the next one. Dr. Stone asked questions and opened me and my wife up to new ideas. After that, I felt empowered, felt like I could do anything I wanted to do.”

“That’s what I do as a palliative care doctor,” Dr. Stone explained. “I look at the whole. Not just the whole patient but their social situation, their family dynamics, whatever is going on with them. Some of it is just old-fashioned counseling.”

Dr. Stone started realizing that over time, Albert was visiting his office with a cane instead of a wheelchair and his right hand was gaining strength and mobility.

“Even though he always seemed upbeat, he became more positive and grateful,” Dr. Stone explained. Then over a span of another six months (during which time Albert went through medical bankruptcy), he was hired by a plastic injection molding company – not to work on the assembly line but to design the new molds with computer assisted technology, “a lot of which he taught himself,” Dr. Stone said.

From then on Albert worked hard to accomplish his goals more than ever before.

“The way that Dr. Stone treated me mentally and spiritually helped me get back to work,” Albert said. “I work 40-plus hours a week now
and I’m doing great. I’m living a much happier life and I owe it to palliative care, myself and my family. It’s all one big group that’s helped raise me up to do what I need to do.”

Albert has been officially back to work in a new job for eight months now and is leading a productive life.

“It’s almost hard for a big guy like me to hold back emotion, but it changed every aspect of my life. I’m doing what I feel like a man should be doing for his family,” he explained. “Before, I was being fed, being helped in the shower, not anymore. It’s on my own and I get up and get it done.”

“There’ll be a day when we all pass,” Albert added, “and it looks mine may be sooner, but I will have accomplished my goals. I
have no fear of dying. I fear for my people around me, fixing them and doing what I need to do for them.”

Albert readily admits that he didn’t know a thing about palliative care until his internet search led him to Dr. Stone.

“I thought it was for people who were just going to pass away, like hospice, so I was very leery at first,” he confided. “I thought,
once you cross that line, you’ll gradually go down. But instead, I crossed the line and it raised me up. And that was the total opposite of my expectations. It changed my life.”

Videos featuring patient Albert Childers can be seen online.

Featured IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians provider seeing patients for palliative care and serious illnesses:
Robert Stone, MD
812.353.3717

Methodist nurse: “I was afraid that cancer was going to kill me”

Nichole Barnett faced down the disease with strength and unwavering love for her family.

Nichole Barnett is used to facing life and death moments as a nurse on the cardiovascular critical care unit at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

But at 37, she didn’t expect to be confronted with her own mortality.

It started with soreness on one side of her throat. She thought it was a problem with her lymph nodes, but then she noticed a lump in her neck. She showed it to her primary-care physician, and that’s when her world turned upside-down.

Tests revealed stage 3 head and neck cancer. It was one year ago this month, not long after Barnett’s 37th birthday.

“It was pretty terrifying,” she admitted. “I was afraid that cancer was going to kill me.”

Her first thought was for her family – husband Justin and their two teenage sons, Julian and Jedediah. It wasn’t so much the fear of dying herself, she said, but more the fear of her boys losing their mom.

They asked if she would survive. She didn’t have the answer then, but what she did have was an unwavering love for them and a determination to fight.

She put on a brave face and forged ahead with multiple surgeries, then seven weeks of chemo and radiation at Simon Cancer Center.

“I just felt I had to be strong for my kids,” said the Camby resident, who was inspired to become a nurse after being treated for a heart defect at Riley Hospital for Children when she was a toddler.

Funny thing though, the more positive she was, the more she believed she would get through it. She had plenty of help – from her family, from prayers, from friends and colleagues, including Jennifer Adams, shift coordinator in the CVCC, who organized a T-shirt fundraiser for Barnett.

“Nichole will fight hard for what is right for her patients,” Adams said. “I think this quality helped her through her journey. Many of our staff kept in contact with her while she was out, and what we saw was perseverance and faith. Although she ran into multiple obstacles, she remained strong. She kept looking forward.”

Barnett, now in remission, was finally able to return to work Jan. 7, a day she had looked forward to for eight months. But it was a bit of a culture shock, she said.

“So many things had changed and there were so many people I didn’t know, which was weird to me. It was like starting over again.”

She’s settling in now, working three 12-hour shifts a week and discovering a new sensibility to patients’ fears and concerns.

“I think I am different as a nurse,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always been a good advocate, but now I feel I have more empathy. I know what it’s like to have that fear that you’re going to lose someone.”

She also understands when patients are impatient for milestones. She used to remind her ICU patients that progress comes in baby steps. Now instead of just saying that, she really understands it.

“I remember when I just wanted to be able to drink water; I look back now and I’m starting to be able to eat chicken and things, but it took a long time to get here.”

Self-care is something nurses are notoriously bad at, Barnett said, but she is trying hard to take care of herself so she doesn’t get run down.

That includes taking time to enjoy the little things – movies with her family, shopping and just hanging out at home with her boys.

“A lot of people told me I inspired them because of my attitude. But I needed to be positive, I honestly think that helped me as well. There’s so many bad things that come with cancer, but so many good things come with it, too.”

For her, that means a closer relationship with her family and friends.

“You realize how much you mean to people and how much you need to be there for people.”

Jessica Jones, manager of clinical operations in the CVCC at Methodist, has worked with Barnett for eight years. She describes her as fighter with a “let’s-do-this attitude as a person and as a nurse.”

“She never tires of advocating for what is right for her patients and her teammates, and she approached cancer the same way. It was beautiful to see our team rally together around her.”

–- By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist
   Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org
   Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist
   Email: mdickbernd@iuhealth.org