Their Motivation Begins With the Letter “C”

Hundreds of people filled Military Park Saturday to form a community of strength in the fight against breast cancer.

From a wheelchair, 90-year-old Joreen Caldwell smiled and waved as she celebrated 65 years of survival. Crossing the finish line in a wheelchair on the other side of Military Park Ivy McConnell celebrated five days of survival.

Both women were among hundreds of survivors of breast cancer at Saturday’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Friends and family members joined the women forming a blanket of pink warming the cool April morning.

This year’s event raised more than $600,000 toward 40,000 cancer care and education services in 41 counties. The overall goal of the race is to raise enough funds to reduce the number of breast cancer deaths by 50 percent. More than 2,000 Central Indiana women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually and it is estimated more than 400 will die of the disease.

This year marked the 28th annual Race for the Cure. Teams of friends and family members joined hands as they crossed the finish line – with team names like “Faithful Friends,” “Guardian of Girls,” and “Treasure Your Chest.” Team IU Health raised nearly $4,000 and IU Health Corporate Team raised more than $12,000.

Dressed from head to toe in pink – including a wig and tennis shoes– Wade Greegor, known as “Pink Crusader” left his home in Louisville, KY. at 3 a.m. to join the race. Crystal Sanders painted her nails pink for her tenth year of participating in the race. Her sister Rachonna Lang joined her. Another crew of 35 – team “Hello Titty” ranged in age from 74 to six months. They were walking for family members.

Four-year-old Jax Walls and his brother Jett walked with their mother, Courtney Manley – in honor of their grandma Deanna Manley, a 20-year survivor. The boys had their hair dyed pink and they wore shirts that read: “For My Di Di.”

Monica Pagac is a two-and-half year survivor. She was joined by her husband Zack and children Lexi, 12; Hunter, 9 and Cora, 3.

Caldwell figures she may be one of the oldest survivors and one of the longest-living survivors.

“I survived two strokes to come here and walk one more year,” she said.
Ninety years is a long time and 65 years is too.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Chaplain listens with her eyes, ears and heart

Single mother. Struggling artist. Christian. A woman who is familiar with domestic violence and childhood adversity. Keisha Poe-Hinton draws on her personal experiences to empathize with the patients she serves as a residency chaplain at IU Health University Hospital.

Her mother was talking to her about a “blue room in heaven.” Keisha Poe-Hinton wanted to tune it out. She didn’t want to hear about her mother dying.

“I didn’t want to think about her having a peaceful life and leaving me behind,” said Poe-Hinton. There was anxiety. There was anger. But Poe-Hinton said she knew then that God was preparing her for a career serving others. “When I went to the hospital to see my mom, there was a chaplain in her room. It gave me an experience like no other. I knew my mom was in good hands.”

Her mother had been diagnosed with leukemia and contracted sepsis. She passed on Dec. 23, 2015 at the age of 69. Her death had a profound effect on Poe-Hinton – one that was also transformational.

Poe-Hinton and her older sister grew up in East Chicago, IN. raised by a single mom, three aunts and a granny who turns 99 on May 10. In high school she loved music, and history and played softball and ran track. She played the clarinet in the marching band and sang in the choir. She dreamed of becoming a professional singer.

After high school she continued singing and performing as a student at Indiana University – with the IU Soul Review, The African American Choral Ensemble, and the African American Dance Company. She thrived under the coaching of great professors including local opera’s dramatic soprano Angela Brown.

She was in her second year at IU when, at the age of 20, she became pregnant. Her daughter was born on a Sunday and she was determined to get back to class the following Thursday.

“I remember my professor saying, ‘Keisha, why are you here. You should be resting.’ I was afraid that if I took a break I would not have the strength or courage to continue on so I went back to school and never took a break,” said Poe-Hinton.

It wasn’t easy. She had to catch two buses to get to and from campus. Her friends helped her watch her daughter and along the way she taught her daughter some of the things she was learning – Spanish and math. She graduated with a bachelor’s in African American studies and moved to California to pursue her dream of singing professionally.

“You pray and ask the Lord to take you some place and then you forget about him. By me disconnecting from the Lord I was homeless. I slept on my friend’s couch,” said Poe-Hinton. Two trash bags were filled with the scarce belongings of the Midwestern mom and her young daughter. Everything else had been put in storage back home and was eventually cleared out by the storage company without her consent. She moved back to East Chicago and began looking for a job and doing a lot of soul searching along the way.

“I remember talking to my mom’s boyfriend at the time and telling him I was low and discouraged. He’d had his own struggles but was in a good place and was an unlikely person to guide me but he did. My daughter was in preschool and I wanted to go back to California but there was nothing to go back to,” said Poe-Hinton.

As an act of starting anew and freeing herself, she shaved her head. She didn’t know then that one day she would minister to cancer patients and share with them her journey to a fresh start.

“For every lesson, there’s a blessing; for every test there’s a testimony; for every story God will get the glory. God showed me favor.”

She landed a job at a local radio station working in accounts payable and began a career that would span a decade with various radio and TV stations. She wrote commercials, slotted advertising, and excelled in customer service.

“For a short period of time I was the only African American working at a country station. I learned so much about customer service and I learned it from the president. He had an open door policy and we had a lot of small conversations at the water fountain about my daughter’s soccer games or just life. I learned how to love on people in the workplace,” said Poe-Hinton.

She got married to Arthur Hinton, an elementary school principal, who adopted her daughter. Together they have a son Arthur Hinton IV, who is a sophomore at Covenant Christian High School where he plays on the soccer team. They moved to Indianapolis 23 years ago and Poe-Hinton obtained a master’s degree in urban ministry from Martin University. She has a master’s in divinity degree from Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Poe-Hinton began working as a therapist for Families First and her daughter, who obtained her degree in psychology, eventually joined her as an addiction counselor.

“While we were working there my mom started getting sick. I went home every weekend to see her. One thing I learned by being a therapist is that to help someone you need to do an assessment to see how they got to where they are. I realized in talking to others that I needed to do an assessment of my own life and family,” said Poe-Hinton. “I had a lot of anger and the Lord showed me about forgiveness. She began apologizing to people she thought she’d let down – her mom, her daughter. And she began to let go of disappointment and sadness – the man who hurt her in college, the singing career that she never got off the ground, the lost years of healthy relationships with family members.

Poe-Hinton became a licensed minister in 2013, two years before her mother passed. After her mother’s death she began volunteering at IU Health Methodist Hospital. “I couldn’t go on the floor but I was happy stacking books and refilling Kleenex in the chapel, because it was my way of serving,” said Poe-Hinton.

She began a chaplaincy internship two years ago but realized she was still mourning her own loss. She continued working through her grief and took a second internship. She is now in her first year of chaplain residency and working toward her Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Formation. Her role takes her to the bedside of patients throughout IU Health University Hospital and Simon Cancer Center.

She still enjoys singing and has shared her talent with a church praise team.

“I’m leaving it to the Lord but I know he’s called me to minister to women who are suffering, said Poe-Hinton. “He has me where he wants me now. I practice a lot of active listening with patients – being present because I didn’t want to do that when my mom talked about the blue room in heaven. I recently had a patient talking about death and being on the other side running through the grass. His story was liberating. I am no longer in a place where I am afraid to hear that. I know there is joy on the other side and I want to share love and compassion for people who are working through that part of their lives.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Patient From Venezuela: “Hospitals Know About Hospitality”

College student Diego Astorga hopes to own his own hotel one day. His stay at IU Health taught him much about the hospitality industry.

From the time he was about 11 years old, Diego Astorga traveled with his family – learning about different customs, countries, and cultures. His father, also named Diego, works in the hotel industry.

“I remember our first trip to South America. We stayed all the way down here,” he said pointing to a map showing the Southern most tip of Argentina. “It was in a brand new hotel in the middle of nowhere and an amazing memory for me.”

Over the years the family – his dad, mother Maria Canestri and sister Victoria Astorga – enjoyed travels throughout Europe and Asia. And when Diego left for college he chose a campus in the Southern Region of Ontario Canada nearly 3,000 miles from his home in Caracas, Venezuela.

He was in his third year of studying hospitality management and completing a six-month food and beverage internship in China when he began feeling pain in his back.

“I love to explore. I wanted to learn about a new culture and it was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Astorga, 22 of his study in China. “I’m lucky that my mom and dad have always supported me on my adventures.”

But the back pain became worse. He thought it was kidney stones and by November 2018, he was back in Canada attending classes at Niagara College but couldn’t concentrate. He went to the hospital and stayed for six hours waiting for some answers.

He was diagnosed with testicular cancer. An 11-centimeter tumor was discovered in the retroperitoneal space in the abdominal cavity.

“I was alone when they gave me the news. They put me in the emergency room and the first person I called was my cousin who is studying medicine,” said Astorga. “I passed the phone to the doctor and he talked to my cousin who took notes.” His cousin’s father is an oncologist and was familiar with IU Health oncologist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, known for successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors -using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

Astorga’s parents met him in Canada and together they flew home to Venezuela. He completed rounds of chemotherapy but the tumor only shrunk about 30 percent – not what they had hoped for. The family traveled to New York to meet with oncologists for a second opinion – hoping to have surgery to remove the tumor. But when his tumor markers continued to increase, they postponed the surgery.

With few answers, their anxiety levels were on the rise and they were searching for the best treatment options. A partner in the clinic where Astorga’s uncle practices had studied with Dr. Einhorn. The two oncologists suggested Astorga and his family come to IU Health. They arrived to Indianapolis on March 4 and met Dr. Einhorn the following day.

Dr. Einhorn had been to Venezuela and he knew Maria Siddons, clinical coordinator of destination services is from Venezuela and speaks fluent Spanish. “He sent a message to Maria and said ‘please take good care of these people’” said Astorga. “From that point my whole world changed.”

After reviewing Astorga’s medical records, Dr. Einhorn recommended surgery only –no stem cell transplant. IU Health Dr. Timothy Masterson performed the procedure to remove the tumor.

“Days after surgery when my blood work came back I was alone with Dr. Einhorn. God bless him. I hugged him and I cried,” said Astorga. “I shared my concerns with him and he said ‘this shouldn’t be happening to you. You should be worrying about tests and homework. When I talked about my fears he said ‘there is no crystal ball to see into the future.’ He made me understand there is no reason for fears.”

As part of his studies, Astorga read a book given to him by his father. He recites a phrase he read in the book: “I believe the hospitality industry comes from the same mother and father as hospitals.” His passion is hospitality and he sees it as a way to teach about serving and caring for others.

“The hospital is the same – Dr. Einhorn, Dr. Masterson, Maria, the interpreter Luis Aldrey – they all worked together to make us feel comfortable, said Astorga. “They take amazing care of us. I really hope the citizens know how lucky they are to have an institution like IU Health. This is a place that solves problems. They give you energy and strength after you have been knocked down so many times. They show passion and human soul – it’s a gift that brings joy to others.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Organ donor’s sister: “It brought goodness out of something bad”

It’s been 20 years since she lost her sister. And now nurse Gwenn Christianson, senior partner with the Indiana Poison Center at IU Health Methodist Hospital talks about her family’s decision to give the gift of life.

“I should warn you. This isn’t a new story. It happened 20 years ago, but I think it’s as pertinent now as it was back then.”

Those were Gwenn Christianson’s introductory words before she began telling a story that in fact is as familiar to her today as it was two decades ago. It’s the story of a family’s choice. A choice made during one of the most difficult times in their lives.

Christianson’s mother sat by the hospital bed singing quietly to her youngest daughter she had carried for nine months and watched grow up and have children of her own. Those three children came in and out of the hospital room, confused but wanting to see their mom for what might be one last time. Christianson and her two brothers took turns holding their sister’s hand.

It is a day Christianson will never forget. It was April 7, 1999, the day her “baby” sister – 18 months younger – passed. Becki Spanenberg-Flores was 35.

“She went into the hospital on a Tuesday night with an asthma attack,” said Christianson. “ She was in ICU but was doing well. I talked to her husband Thursday morning and they were planning to move her to a floor. Then four hours later I got a call that she was on the ventilator and was having problems. I left work and drove to the hospital. I had been sitting at my desk answering phones and I can remember the desk I was sitting in. It’s all so clear, so familiar.”

It was touch and go for a bit but then Becki was stable, holding her own, as they say.

But on Friday, Christianson was back at that desk at the Indiana Poison Control Center at IU Health Methodist Hospital where she has worked for the past 31 years. Her phone rang again. It was her brother-in-law, Becki’s husband.

The news was grim. The family again huddled at the hospital.

“They were working on her, resuscitating her. We didn’t know it at the time but they had been working on her for a long time. They got her back. She was sedated. We could talk to her and hold her hand,” said Christianson. As she talks she dabs at tears.

Becki’s condition remained the same over the weekend.

“On Monday morning they did an MRI and on Monday evening the neurologist told us she was brain dead. We were all there – the whole family. There were screams. There were lots of tears,” said Christianson.


What seemed like a short lifetime of sharing the title “sisters” floods over Christianson. Both girls were born in Louisville, KY. – the children of Richard and Judie Spanenberg. They have two brothers William and James. Richard Spaneberg was a mechanical engineer – a job that took his family to several new locations they called “home” – to Clarksville, TN., La Cross, WI., and near Memphis, TN. When Christianson was 14 and her sister was 13 the family settled in Indiana.

Their mom was an ER nurse and their dad had been a member of the United States Air Force Band. The family grew up listening to band music, attending parades, and enjoying beach vacations. Christianson remembers the girls riding bikes in the neighborhood, playing Frisbee and coddling their younger brothers.

Becki caught her dad’s interest in the pomp and circumstance of performance and in high school she joined the flag corp. After graduation she attended Purdue for a couple of years and eventually married Geno Flores. She worked for RCI
for a time – a job that transferred her to Seattle. She longed to be back in Indiana so after a short time, they returned to their home state. Becki and Geno Flores had three children.

Mostly Becki was known for her generous, loving spirit.

She went on to work for Flag Corps assisting various high schools with their color guard units. She often went above and beyond her duties – on her own time helping sew together costumes for the students and coaching performers who needed a little extra help.

She also had a soft spot for animals.

“She couldn’t resist any sad-eyed pet in need of a home. She was always rescuing animals and bringing them home, and then they stayed for the rest of their lives,” said Christianson. She started with a gray tabby kitty named “Muffy” and a yellow dog named “Cara’ and eventually acquired three more dogs and a stray cat that turned up pregnant with six kittens.

Becki was a dedicated Cub Scout leader taking a week’s vacation to attend Camp Belzer every summer with her son. At one point she carried her youngest son in a back carrier for the week. She loved to walk with her Cub Scouts in the Fourth of July Parade.

“Becki was a giver. She loved to give people presents and she would drop whatever she was doing to welcome people to her home – stretching a dinner to feed a crew, offering dry clothes after a rainstorm, or sitting for a long chat with a cup of coffee,” said Christianson.


So on that Monday when the neurologist came in and said the words “brain dead” the family gathered. In addition to Christianson and her mom – both nurses – there are several other healthcare professionals in the family. Christianson’s brother William is a hospitalist, and his wife a pharmacist.

“We knew what was right. We knew what Becki would want,” said Christianson. They asked if Becki could be tested as a candidate for organ donation. The hospital contacted the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization.

“She had asthma and was not a compliant asthma patient, but was otherwise healthy and she was only 35,” said Christianson.

April is National Donate Life Month. The US Department of Health and Human Services reports in 2018 there were 17,533 organ donors; 10,722 were deceased donors; 6,831 were living donors. As of January 2019, there were more than 113,000 people throughout the United States awaiting a transplant. Each day about 80 people receive an organ transplant. Every 10 minutes a new person is added to the waiting list. Today one person can donate up to eight lifesaving organs –heart, two lungs, liver, pancreas, two kidneys, and intestine. They can also donate bones, skin, cornea and tendons.

“Yes, it was a difficult time, but it wasn’t a difficult decision,” said Christianson, still dabbing at tears. “We were in agreement that this was the right thing to do.”

In the past 20 years Becki’s family has received letters from a grandfather in his 60s who has a new heart. They have heard from a grateful schoolteacher in her 40s who has a new kidney and a man who has a healthy liver. The family opted not to meet the recipients.

In Becki’s final resting place is a headstone with the words: “Wife, Mother, Giver.” And in the upper left hand corner is a bronze medallion of two hands holding a heart. It reads: “Gift of Life Donor.” The message and the memory will live forever in the hearts of her family and friends.

“It’s enough to know that Becki’s giving spirit lives on. To be able to pause in the middle of one of the absolute worst moments of our lives and think about how this tragedy can help others, was enough,” said Christianson. “We knew it would not make her death any better, but we could at least bring some goodness out of something so bad and give someone else a gift of life.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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“I went in for a tonsillectomy and came out with a stage 3 tonsil cancer diagnosis”

At the age of 57, Dr. Phyllis Gilworth, a former school administrator, sought treatment for a pesky sore throat and was surprised by the diagnosis.

It was a stressful time in her life. Within 10 months she experienced the death of a parent, sold a house in Michigan City, built a new home in Plainfield, and began phasing out of her 35-year-career in education.

So when she developed a wicked sore throat in May 2107, Phyllis Gilworth chalked it up to a lifestyle on the fast track to many changes.

“It was like strep throat but was sore only on one side. I was bone tired, but not running a temperature . . . I am not well known to frequent doctors or miss work, but I did stay home and go to the clinic to get checked out,” said Gilworth. The initial diagnosis was a contagious virus common among young children – Hand-foot-and-mouth disease.

Three months later she had settled in Plainfield and was preparing for retirement as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at the School Town of Munster when the sore throat returned. She made another visit to a clinic and was again diagnosed with Hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Blood work showed no abnormalities; a strep test was negative; she had no fever and her white blood cells weren’t elevated.

A second round of blood work tested positive for Epstein-Barr virus (mono). More tests followed showing she had an abscessed tonsil. Her physician referred her to IU Health otolaryngolist Dr. Michael Myers and on November 10, 2017 she went in for what she thought would be routine surgery to remove her tonsils.

“At the age of 57 I went in for a tonsillectomy and came out with a Stage 3 cancer diagnosis. I did not see that coming, “said Gilworth.

“There are approximately 50,000 new cases of oral cancer per a year,” said Dr. Myers. “I have seen at least 65 over the past three years. Treatment for tonsil cancer is dependent on the stage at the time of diagnosis. Early stages can be treated with radiation with possible additional adjuvant chemotherapy. Patients may require surgery for more than tumors and tumors that do not respond to treatment with radiation and chemotherapy,” said Dr. Myers

Following surgery Gilworth went in for a PET scan to see if the cancer had spread to other parts of her body. “I was concerned about it moving to my brain, but Dr. Myers told me it would go to the lung, so the PET scan was critical to finding out what our next steps needed to be,” said Gilworth. The news was good. The cancer had not spread and was only present in one lymph node.

Based on those results it was decided that Gilworth would undergo seven weeks of radiation Monday through Friday. It was also determined that her cancer was HPV-related and was known to respond well to radiation. “Unfortunately, I was highly sensitive to the radiation and even though we took all precautions to prevent complications, my mouth really was damaged, and I did end up in the hospital with aspiration pneumonia due to swallowing difficulties,” said Gilworth, who was treated at IU Hospital West.

According to the National Cancer Institute, tonsil cancer accounts for about 3.5 percent of all oral cancers. Tobacco use is a leading cause of tonsil cancer. Human papilloma virus (HPV) is another cause of tonsil cancer. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention about 9,000 people a year are diagnosed with HPV-related cancer of the mouth and throat.

Through April 26th, practitioners with IU Health West Cancer Center, along with community dental health partners will offer free oral, head and neck cancer screenings. The screenings are highly recommended for adults with a history of tobacco use.

“I would encourage people to take advantage of any free screenings they can get and be sensitive to lumps, bumps sores or pain in the mouth throat or neck and be pro-active,” said Gilworth.

On February 5 she celebrated one year of completing radiation.

“During the first year I was seeing Dr. Myers and my oncologist Dr. Morgan Tharp monthly. We do routine scans, CT and PET, to make sure that there is nothing lurking, and we have now started to space out my appointments to every couple of months. I will be followed closely for five years and have been told by both Dr. Myers and Dr. Tharp that if I find a bump, or a lump, or I just don’t feel good to call immediately and they will get me right in. Do not wait,” said Gilworth.

“I learned a lot about myself. Things can change in a heartbeat,” said Gilworth. In the past year, she has traveled to Mexico, Spain and California making new memories. She started back pursuing accreditation work – a role that recently took her to South America.

“I am looking forward to even more opportunities to travel internationally. I am enjoying my kids and grandkids with abandon. I pray more and whine less. I bought myself a cherry red 2018 Camaro convertible and drive with the top down even when it’s cold, and never use the cruise control. I am blessed to have been given a second chance, I don’t intend to squander it.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Methodist nurse wins Circle of Excellence Award

Jessica Jones is being welcomed into an esteemed club next month.

Jones, manager of clinical operations for the cardiovascular critical care unit at IU Health Methodist Hospital, is receiving the Circle of Excellence Award, a national honor given annually to only 15-20 nurses in the nation by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses.

It’s an award she neither sought nor expected, but her colleagues in critical care thought she was deserving, so they nominated her without her knowledge.

“They conspired while I was on vacation,” she laughed, “and pulled together the application.”

The Circle of Excellence Award recognizes excellence in addressing the needs of acutely and critically ill patients and their families.

And that is something Jones excels at as a nurse and as a leader, her team said. Patient outcomes have improved, staff satisfaction has increased, and turnover has decreased in the four years since she assumed the management role.

Jones has spent her entire 15-year career on the CVCC unit at Methodist. She started while in nursing school and continued as a bedside nurse and shift coordinator over the next 11 years.

“I love that unit, and I love the people on it,” she said, “and at the end of the day I hope that’s what comes through.”

Apparently it does, or her team wouldn’t have nominated her.

When registered nurse Emily Meister read about the call for nominations to the Circle of Excellence, she knew she had to nominate her unit manager, she said. She asked others, including unit educator Jenny Baker and clinical nurse specialist Dawn Horvath, for help.

Meister said Jones is not only an expert nurse but one who consistently displays authentic leadership, deftly challenging the status quo.

“In three years, she transformed the unit to a top performer, demonstrating excellence in patient outcomes and staff satisfaction,” Meister said. “Her enthusiasm for patient care and her humbling yet executional management style and presence on the unit certainly never go unnoticed.”

Jones is passionate about patient care and ensures that her nurses are not only heard but are given the appropriate tools and education to deliver the best care among the diverse, acute patient populations the unit serves, Meister said.

“She absolutely deserves national recognition for her outstanding contributions toward nursing excellence,” Meister said.

The loyalty her team feels for her is no doubt inspired by her support for them.

Dr. David Roe, medical director of the CVCC, said he’s never seen a nurse manager more dedicated to and supportive of her staff, whether in training opportunities, patient care responsibilities or collaborative approaches to problem-solving.

“Jessica has shifted the culture of the cardiovascular critical care unit into one of constant vigilance for reduction of adverse patient events while maintaining consistent and exemplary levels of care for patients,” he said. “She has consistently demanded more educational opportunities from physicians for her nursing staff as well as advanced practitioners in the unit.”

Jones, who honed her leadership skills in high school as a camp counselor, president of student council and captain of her soccer team, believes in a team-led approach.

“I’ve always loved coaching,” she said, “and I try not to ever dictate things. If the team makes the decision, it’s going to mean a stronger implementation.”

She gives credit to excellent mentors she’s had along the way, as well as “good peers that give honest feedback.”

Though humbled by the award, she will accept it – as well as a Beacon Award – in Orlando next month on behalf of her entire team.

“I don’t think I do anything differently than anybody else, but the fact that they took the time to do this is pretty cool. That’s the most special part of it.”

The conference, which attracts about 7,000 critical care nurses from around the country, is like going to the playoffs, Jones said. It’s that same kind of super-charged energy.

“It reminds you why you do what you do. You get to see cutting-edge technology, you get to hear about the latest and greatest evidence-based practice,” she said. “The cool thing about being with IU Health is that a lot of times we are leading the way.”

One more thing about Jones. She has spearheaded a revamped approach to competency testing for the 120 nurses on the unit that puts the focus on learning in a fun yet competitive environment. The annual safety fair has a theme each year, complete with costumes, games and prizes. One year, it was a Las Vegas theme, last year it was based on the game Clue. This year’s fair, slated for the end of July, will have a Harry Potter theme.

– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist


Photo by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist


New Mom Captains Komen Team: “Do More for Stage Four”

Months after her daughter was born, Jessica Stevens, a lab supervisor at IU Health White Memorial Hospital was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal breast cancer. Now she is heading up a team for the 2019 Komen Race for the Cure on April 27. The name of the team: “Do More for Stage Four.”

She thought it was a clogged milk duct. She was a new mom and Jessica Stevens was focused on breastfeeding her seven-month-old daughter. Cancer was not on her mind.

It was early August 2018 when she discovered the lump in her left breast. She decided to wait a bit and see if it would clear up. But after two weeks when the lump hadn’t changed Stevens messaged her OB/GYN who suggested massaging the area and applying warm compresses. The focus was still on a clogged milk duct.

“So I did that for about a week. I remembered that mastitis usually causes tenderness and pain, but that wasn’t the case for me so I called and made an appointment with my OB/GYN. Dr. C. Jeffrey Myers took a look, asked if it had grown since I had first noticed it – I wasn’t sure,” said Stevens.

A graduate of Twin Lakes High School, Stevens earned bachelors degrees in biology and chemistry from St. Joseph College. She started as a med tech at IU Health White County Memorial Hospital in the fall of 2008 and advanced to Laboratory Supervisor in the spring of 2017. In May she will celebrate her ninth wedding anniversary to her high school sweetheart Carey Stevens. They welcomed their first child, a daughter named Aurora Quinn in February 2018.

Life was busy. Life was full.

Even when her doctor ordered an ultrasound, Stevens didn’t think there was much cause for concern.

“I have a history of cysts that have been removed and I figured it was just that,” said Stevens. An ultrasound and mammogram were scheduled that day. With Steven’s dense breast tissue, a cautionary recommendation was made to have a biopsy.

“Once I called my OB/GYN the radiology team at IU Health White Memorial was amazing at getting me scheduled quickly,” said Stevens. The night before the biopsy she discovered something else – another hard lump. This one was in her left armpit.

Both areas were biopsied and a week later, on Oct. 4, 2018 Stevens was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in her breast and a benign lymph node. There was more. She had been coping with reoccurring back pain and more tests showed a tumor on her spine. Further tests showed the cancer had spread to her lungs.

“The spine tumor biopsy showed the same cancer cells from my breast so it was decided then that my diagnosis had changed to metastatic (or stage four),” said Stevens. “In less than a month I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had two surgeries, multiple MRIs, and was officially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer,” said Stevens.

It was a meeting with IU Simon Cancer Center hematologist/oncologist Dr. Kathy Miller that set her on a course for an immunotherapy trial. She began treatments in December and after one cycle (three infusions) scans showed her tumors are gone.

“The doctors working on the trial were amazed. Apparently none of their patients have reacted this well to the Atezolizumab plus Chemotherapy combo,” said Stevens. “I’m pretty sure I almost fell out of my chair when I heard the news.”

While she knows the future is unpredictable, Stevens remains focused on the present.

That means taking her daughter out for her first Halloween, seeing the Christmas lights as a family and celebrating her daughter’s first birthday with family and friends. It means living her life.

“I know that a terminal diagnosis means that I’ll never win my personal war against cancer. I also know that I can win certain battles in that war. I decided early that this disease would affect my life as little as possible,” said Stevens. And she hopes to make it her mission to help educate others about metastatic breast cancer.

As part of that mission, on April 27 she will captain a team in the Komen Race for the Cure. The name of the team: “Do More for Stage Four.”

“Currently metastatic breast cancer is not survivable, causing the death of nearly 40,000 men and women each year. I do not want to be part of that statistic, so I will be raising awareness while raising funds,” said Stevens. “Cancer is a scary thing, but at this point everyone has been or will be affected by cancer in some way. My goal is to get people to talk about it. Talking about cancer makes it real and real can be fought. There are advances in cancer research every day, and I hope the more people talk about it the more they become aware of all they can do to help.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Doctor Talks About Hockey Puck-Sized Pain Management

IU Health pain specialist Dr. Michael Dorwart offers an alternative to managing pain from pancreatitis.

It’s about the size of a hockey puck – or maybe an English muffin. And this small device can punch about as much power as a slap shot.

It’s called a pain pump and can serve as an alternative to other pain medications prescribed for pancreatitis.

“We rely on the GI physicians to make a diagnosis and initial treatment, but most of the time when the patient comes to me with that diagnosis we determine functional status based on pain – can the patient work, attend his child’s ball games, make a trip to the grocery story,” said Dr. Michael Dorwart, IU Health pain specialist. “It’s pretty much given that that their pain is worse than they want.”

Pancreatitis causes pain in the abdomen that can spread to the back. It can cause nausea and vomiting and may become worse during a meal. Gallstones, heavy alcohol use, a genetic disorder, or use of some medicines may bring it on. Typically potent narcotic medications are effective in controlling pain associated with acute pancreatitis.

It affects both male and females and Dr. Dorwart has seen patients between the ages of 20 and 60 years old. That can mean years of pain management.

The Indiana Chapter of the National Pancreas Foundation will host a free public event at 6:30 p.m. April 29 where Dr. Dorwart will present “Management of Painful Chronic Pancreatitis: Perspectives from an Advanced Pain Provider. The event will take place at University Medical Center, 550 N. University Blvd., Room 0633. IU Health gastroenterologist Dr. Jeffrey Easler will also be on hand to answer questions.

“The pain pump is an alternative means of delivering opioid medication. It doesn’t make you opioid free; it offers better efficiency and fewer side effects,” said Dr. Dorwart. Through a surgical procedure that last about 90 minutes, the pumps are implanted in the abdomen under the skin but outside the muscular wall. The pump is attached to a catheter that distributes the medicine directly to the spinal fluid, which is where opioid medications have their main mechanism of action as it relates to decreasing pain. The pumps are programmable and release and accurate dosage of pain medicine, and are refilled in the physician’s office about every two-to four months – a procedure that takes about five minutes.

“The biggest advantages are better and more consistent pain control, a lower risk of side effects than systemic opioids, and a low incidence of overdose from opioid medication,” said Dr. Dorwart.

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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Her family is her life

A quilted blanket keeps her warm as Pamela Gerow sits through one of her regular infusions. Right by her side is her youngest son Mitchell. He wears a t-shirt with the message “Mom: Mind over Matter.

The t-shirt is the inspiration of Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Dak Prescott who started the “Faith Fight Finish Foundation,” in honor of his mother Peggy who died of cancer. Prescott has made it his mission to continue spreading his mom’s message “do the best with the cards you’re dealt and make adversity your inspiration.”

Like Prescott, Mitchell Gerow admires his mother’s strength and unwavering support of her family.

The blanket on her lap is a small indication of her treasures – each patch represents the college where her children earned their degrees – two from Ball State, one from IU, and one from Albion College in Michigan. In addition to Mitchell, Gerow is the mother to Valerie Hatcher, Ashleigh Hubley, and Thomas Gerow. It was friends of Thomas Gerow, a teacher, who sewed the blanket for Pamela. She also has one granddaughter.

“My kids are my life,” said Gerow, who formerly worked in sales for hotel amenities. Her other love is her rescue dog – a white German Shepherd mix named “Simon.”

It was Mitchell she called when she began having excruciating pain on her right side. She thought it was appendicitis but after a day in ER she was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was given about three to six months to live. They were unsettled by the prognosis and switched to IU Health where she is in the care of oncologist Dr. Safi Shahda.

“IU has been amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Gerow. “It doesn’t matter if I’ve been assigned to a particular nurse – every nurse is helpful and friendly. From the people at the front desk to the people who check you out, everyone is so kind.”

Just six weeks after her September diagnosis Gerow’s family surprised her with a special 59th birthday party.

“I always said I wanted to have a blow out party for my 60th and it came a year early,” said Gerow. “They ordered a ‘rent the runway dress,’ reserved a special venue, hired a guitar player, ordered up some amazing food, and each child shared a special sentiment. There were tears and there was laughter. It was a night to remember because I was with my family.”

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