Viral photo of exhausted Texas nurse hits home for IU Health nurses

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

You might have seen the photo – the exhausted labor and delivery nurse in Texas who broke down in tears after a particularly brutal shift.

The picture, taken by the nurse’s sister and shared on Facebook, went viral in mid-October. It captured the emotional release of a 29-year-old nurse who ended a long work week by assisting as a patient delivered a stillborn baby.

While most labor and delivery units are filled with happy tears when babies are born, the work is exhausting and sometimes heartbreaking.

Meg Merriman, a labor and delivery nurse for seven years at IU Health Methodist Hospital, said the photo resonated with her.

“I have had days like that when you just go home and cry because you feel so much for your patients,” she said. “We love our patients. When they hurt, we hurt for them.”

In fact, the same week she saw the Facebook post, she had had a tough week herself at work.

“We had bereavement patients on our unit. It was an emotionally draining week.”

Merriman came to nursing later in life after deciding a career in journalism wasn’t for her. When she delivered her oldest son, now 11, her own labor and delivery nurse was so amazing that she was inspired to go back to school and get her nursing degree.

“I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to support new moms.”

Merriman, who went on to have three more children, said giving birth – no matter how many times you do it – is “a defining moment for women.”

So she wants to help her patients have the kind of labor and delivery experience that they want.

“I want to ensure we have a healthy mom and healthy baby at the end of the birth process. I want to support them, to care for them, to let them know they’re not alone. Because it is sometimes scary if you don’t know what to expect in labor or during your C-section,” she said.

“Having someone there guiding you through and supporting you, somebody you can look to and trust, is really important.”

Methodist, which delivered 3,005 babies in 2018, recently celebrated its Baby Friendly Hospital re-designation from Baby Friendly USA. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative focuses on providing optimal clinical care for new moms and their infants.

Brittany Gipe, a labor and delivery nurse at Methodist for four years, said she is proud of the fact that the Downtown Indianapolis hospital is known for delivering high-risk pregnancies.

“We take care of the sickest moms and babies in the state,” she said.

She often sees that first-hand because she flies with LifeLine to transport pregnant women from hospitals that can’t support a high-risk mom to Methodist, where they can be better monitored and treated before and after delivery.

Pregnant moms who want a more nontraditional childbirth such as a water birth can have that at Methodist, where midwives are an integral part of the team, Merriman said.

“I love that we give such great labor support, especially to moms who are seeking out natural childbirth,” she said. We deliver such great care because we have really good collaboration between our OB-GYNs, midwives and nurses.”

Merriman sought a job at Methodist after doing clinicals here in nursing school.

“I witnessed the nurses here and how much they supported the patients, how caring they seemed, how they used evidence-based practices to make sure they were giving the best care to patients,” she said. “I saw a water birth and a nurse supporting a first time mom who was only 16 through a water birth, and I was just in awe. I knew I had to be a part of this.”

Women are definitely the stronger gender in Gipe’s mind. Labor and delivery proves it, she said. And she is their biggest cheerleader.

“I call them superwomen.”

At the end of a 12-hour shift though, she is exhausted, emotionally and physically. When she read that Facebook post about the nurse in Texas, she had just been part of a team diagnosing a fetal death, she said. Events like that stir up all the emotions, but she tries to keep those feelings in check so she can fully support her patient.

Sometimes that means “just being there with them and letting them know they’re not alone and it was nothing they did that caused it,” she said. “And sometimes they just need you to cry with them. I try to feel the room and see what is best for the patient.”

The same is true for Merriman.

“When you have those sad times when babies are lost, we are there to offer comfort to those moms, just to sit with them in their pain and tell them it’s OK to feel what they’re feeling,” she said.

“It’s about sitting with them and letting them know they’re not alone. Even if they have family, sometimes they can’t understand what they’re going through. We can support them through that. Our team does a really good job of letting them know how much we care.”

That kind of empathy is exactly what makes both women such good nurses, said Caitlin Ernst, clinical manager in labor and delivery for Riley Maternity and Newborn Health at Methodist Hospital.

“Meg is a wonderful bedside nurse and charge nurse who continuously aims to provide the best patient-centered care possible while also promoting a positive and collaborative culture for her teammates,” she said.

And Brittany has taken on multiple roles to help the department function at the highest level, including charge nurse and high-risk OB nurse for the LifeLine team, Ernst said.

“She has excellent clinical skills and knowledge and uses her skill set to provide outstanding care to some of our sickest moms.”

Both nurses say the entire labor and delivery team at Methodist is like a family.

“I’ve never worked in a place where it’s actually felt like family,” Gipe said. “We’re there for each other, we always know we have each other for support. It’s definitely a special connection.”

Even after the hardest days, they know there are brighter days ahead.

“It’s honestly the most rewarding experience when you hear the first cry from a newborn and then mom just saying ‘thank you for helping me through this,’ ” Merriman said. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,

She thought she had the flu, until her finger turned black

Nurse who contracted necrotizing fasciitis and sepsis believes she wouldn’t be alive today without the aggressive treatment of Methodist staff.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

As an ICU nurse, Amy Sprunger knows the signs of sepsis and necrotizing fasciitis, both of which can be fatal. But when she started feeling sick last June, she assumed she was coming down with the flu.

She was finishing up her nurse practitioner program and had just diagnosed two people with the flu that week in her clinical work.

“I started feeling feverish and thought for sure that’s what I had,” she said. “But when I woke up, my finger was completely black, and I knew, ‘that’s not the flu.’ ”

Her training told her something worse was going on.

She eventually lost that finger, her right index finger, but says the now-missing digit saved her life.

“I think I would have waited longer if it wasn’t for that finger.”

Had she waited, the 41-year-old wife and mother of three has no doubt she would be dead.


Sprunger’s ordeal started after spending an otherwise ordinary June day doing yardwork. She started feeling ill June 13, she recalled, and within two days, she was septic. Her discolored finger gave it away. Her body was shutting down.

The Fishers resident was rushed to IU Health Saxony Hospital with a temperature of 105.4.

“I was not in my right mind at that point. By the time I got to the hospital, I had blisters all down my leg.”

She was quickly transferred to IU Health Methodist Hospital, where her medical team prepared her family, including her husband, Mark, and her twin sister, for the worst.

“The doctor was very honest with my family,” she said, telling them that the necrotizing fasciitis attacking her left leg was a fatal infection but they were doing everything they could to save her.

NF, commonly known as flesh-eating disease, results in the death of parts of the body’s soft tissue. It starts suddenly and spreads rapidly, with bacteria entering through a tiny scrape or cut in a person’s body.

“I was doing yardwork, and we assume I contracted Strep A in the bloodstream at that point, which developed into necrotizing fasciitis,” she said.

She doesn’t remember having a cut or abrasion for it to enter, though she does recall later having what felt like an unrelenting charley horse in her leg, in addition to flu symptoms.

Symptoms of NF include red or purple skin in the affected area, severe pain, fever and vomiting. As it attacks, the body begins to shut down, going into septic shock, a life-threatening condition caused by a severe localized or system-wide infection.

“I was septic,” she said. “It affected my liver, my kidneys, my lungs. I went into acute respiratory distress, I was on a ventilator on 100 percent oxygen and ended up on ECMO.”

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung back into the bloodstream. The system provides heart-lung bypass support outside of a person’s body.

While she doesn’t remember most of it, she knows from her nurse training that ECMO patients are the sickest of the sick.


Sprunger works for a different healthcare system as a nurse, but she is grateful that she was taken to Methodist because the hospital has more experience with NF patients.

“I don’t think I would have made it if I was anywhere else because they were so aggressive here,” she said. “I’m very lucky. I had a lot of complications, but they knew what to do – and I’m here.”

Doctors eventually had to remove skin and tissue amounting to a third of her left leg, part of her left abdomen and her right index finger. Skin grafts were later used to restore fullness and function to her leg.

She was hospitalized from mid-June to the end of July before being released to rehab for a few weeks. While she was slowly recovering, her in-laws took the lead on caring for her and her husband’s three girls, even taking them on a trip to Hawaii that had been planned to celebrate Sprunger’s completion of her nurse practitioner program.

She is grateful for the support system that has helped carry her this far.

In August, she began coming to the Wound Care Center at Methodist for outpatient therapy. Physical therapist Gregg Toy remembers her arriving in a wheelchair in those early days. In time, she progressed to a walker, then a cane, and now she walks in unassisted.

“I feel like I’m starting to get my life back,” she said as Toy rewrapped the large wound area on her leg. “Everyone tells me I’m doing well, and I’m going to believe them.”

Toy says her progress has been rewarding to see.

“She’s doing amazing,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve seen patients smile through as much as she has. She’s kept a great attitude.”

None of it has been easy. In fact, the pain was worse than childbirth, Sprunger said. “I can’t even describe it.”

Early intervention is key with NF, Toy said. “It’s so aggressive and you can get septic and die.”

Removing all of the dead tissue and cleaning out the wound is where the healing starts. Once the patient is stable, the Wound Care Center team swoops in to continue treating the wound, using a wound vacuum to apply pressure, manage drainage and help fill in the space so healthy tissue can grow at its base.

“Bacteria loves that nonviable tissue and wants to hold onto that,” Toy said. “We decrease the bacteria by getting rid of that nonviable stuff. We have to get down to healthy tissue.”

And now, after months of treatment, Toy said his patient is in the home stretch.

“For the level of damage she had, the recovery is pretty miraculous – 99.8 percent from a wound standpoint,” he said.

“It’s rewarding to see that kind of progress, to see her bounce back from something so devastating and life-altering.”

She will need to continue to see specialists for follow-up, but the worst of this ordeal is over for Sprunger.

It all seems like a bad dream to the nurse, who still hopes to complete her nurse practitioner program in the months ahead.


Before she left Methodist last week after her PT appointment, she stopped in the cardiovascular critical care unit, where she stayed during the worst of her illness. She brought cookies for the nurses and a plaque that reads: “Not all angels are in heaven. Some work in IU Methodist CVCC.”

A swarm of nurses soon gathered around her, exchanging hugs and stories.

“They remember me even if I don’t remember them,” Sprunger said, acknowledging that for much of that time she was in a fog and suffered hallucinations.

“You look great, I don’t even recognize you,” one nurse said. Another said, “I took care of you, I’m glad to see you doing so well.”

“I don’t really know what to say, but thank you for saving my life,” Sprunger replied.

To CVCC clinical manager Jessica Jones, she said, “I can’t say enough about your team.”

Not just for her but for her mom. Because one year ago, Sprunger’s mom received a double lung transplant at Methodist and recovered in the same unit.

“I have a lot to be thankful for,” Sprunger said. “Everybody here has been phenomenal.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,

Running a Different Kind of Race

With a flip of her long dark hair and in a pair of her favorite heels, Shannon takes to the streets of Martinsville, talking with patrons at every encounter.

“I’m someone who loves helping other people. I love serving the community, and I love to go.”

Born in Avon, she moved to Martinsville when she was 9, with no intention of staying.

“Until I was 18, I told my parents I was moving back, but I made friends and never left. I decided I really liked it here, and I wanted to raise my family here. I decided Martinsville was a really great place to live.”

Her first job – as cashier at the local IGA – was an early stepping stone to her success today, teaching her notable skills in customer service and paving the way for her current job.

Today she reigns as Mayor of Martinsville, an office she won in 2015.

“I prayed about running for a long time. When I ran for mayor, it was never about a career for me. It was about making a difference in my community and making my community a better place to live.”

She’s been successful at that, evident by the many people in the business district who praise her name.

“Oh, we just love her,” merchants frequently say. Perhaps it’s her small-town-girl charm, blended with the traits of a business woman that have helped a once economically-depressed downtown see many advances.

She helped lay the foundation for the development of I-69, found grants for Martinsville and worked diligently to bring pride to the city.

While Shannon has opened many doors for change in Martinsville, she hit a personal roadblock earlier this year – the biggest obstacle of her 49 years. To win this race, she would have to strengthen her resolve.

In the first couple months of the year she went for her annual mammogram at IU Health Morgan. The scan was inconclusive and a second mammography and ultrasound were scheduled after she returned from a trip to Florida.

“By the time I came back, I was feeling like things might actually be OK, that it was just some scar tissue or a fatty cell or something, she says, recounting her story.

She went for her second mammogram in February, accompanied by her husband. She remembers it well.

When she walked into the medical office and saw the picture of the previous mammogram, her hopes for benign results waned, she says. The tests were run again that day and soon after the doctor explained what he saw.

“The doctor ruled out all of the good possibilities and then said, ‘unfortunately’ … and that was the last word I can remember.”

She broke down. “I had been crying for days. There was no false hope.” The diagnosis was Stage 1 breast cancer.

“You leave and you’re kind of in limbo,” she says. “The emotions of cancer for the first three weeks is probably the worst part, on probably everyone.”

It was around mid-March when she had a follow-up MRI and made the major decision to have a double mastectomy.

She spoke candidly about her choice, as she sat in her office mid-summer, post operation.

“I could have had a lumpectomy and then I would have had to have radiation. But I kept thinking I could do that and they could get it all or they might not get it all, and then I would have to go back for more surgery, more radiation. “And then I could also get it in my other side in a year or two and have to go through it all over again. It just didn’t make sense to go through it again if I didn’t have to. For me the best option, the better quality of life, although a difficult decision, was to make that tough decision. I didn’t take my decision lightly, but I want to be there for my granddaughter. I want to see her grow up.”

And there was the whole chemotherapy option she wanted to avoid.

“My son is getting married,” she said in June. “I’m not going to lie. I was worried about the chemo. I didn’t want to lose my hair for his wedding. I wanted to have hair in his pictures. I praise God everyday that I didn’t have to have chemo. I’m very blessed that I didn’t have to have that.”

“I made the decision most because I love living life. I felt like this was the better option for me. It’s not for everybody, but this was the better option for me.”

Shannon sprints off down the street or hops in her car for a jaunt to a local store. No one is the wiser in July, that she is facing yet another surgery – that of reconstruction. As she prepares for the next step in her recovery, she reflects on how the journey has impacted her.

“I’m really very lucky that I came out pretty well with this. I’m very grateful. Yes, I have the emotions of anger, like I’m sure most people do. But I am still very grateful, even when I’m angry. I feel guilty because it could be so much worse.”

She treats patients like fragile glass

Arin Suttice knows a little something about patient care. She was exposed to healthcare as a teenager. She also knows something about delicate glass. When she ends her day at IU Health, she spends her spare time creating beautiful etchings.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes

One of the first signs of Arin Suttice’s interest in healthcare isn’t the navy blue uniform she wears or the badge hanging from her collar. It’s the necklace that has not one but three ribbons – all symbolizing cancer.

There are two white ribbon charms – signifying lung cancer and one purple charm signifying pancreatic cancer.

“I never take this off. It goes with me everywhere” That “everywhere” includes patient rooms where she looks eye to eye with those who are struggling with their own health challenges. Suttice was 15 when she lost her mother, Andrea Suttice, to lung cancer. Her godmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and last year, her father Lester Weaver, Sr. was diagnosed with lung cancer.

All three have played a role in her career in healthcare.

By the age of 16 she began volunteer work at various healthcare facilities – including IU Health Riley Hospital for Children. She graduated from the health professionals magnet program at Crispus Attucks High School and worked as a CNA and a medical assistant for a time.

At 19 she landed a hospital job transporting young patients.

“Since about the age of five I said I wanted to be a pediatrician. I knew I wanted to help people,” said Suttice, one of five children. “I can’t stand to see kids hurting so I knew pediatrics wasn’t for me.”

But still she had the itch to serve in healthcare.

Eleven years ago she began working at IU Health as nutrition services representative. The job takes her to the bedside of patients where she helps order their meals; deliver their trays, and works closely with dietitians to educate patients about proper diet and nutrition.

“Nutrition and diet are a big part of the healing process. You can be pumped full of meds but if you aren’t supported by adequate nutrition you won’t go anywhere,” said Suttice.

She takes her job seriously and focuses on treating each patient as an individual.

As she recently visited the room of Michelle Jones, who received a liver transplant, Suttice greeted her with the nickname “Michie.” Jones has been hospitalized more than once and Suttice jokes that she doesn’t need to keep coming back to visit her. She nicknamed another patient “banana” because she knows that she wants a banana with her meals. Sometimes, Suttice can complete the order before the patient tells her what they want.

Working on the transplant unit she often sees patients before, during and after their transplants. Over the years she has established strong ties with many of the patients and has even visited them at their homes after they are discharged.

“I have patients who come back and if they don’t see me they’ll ask ‘is Arin here?’ I take the time to talk to my patients. I go on first name basis after I get to know them because I want them to know that I am genuinely interested in them,” said Suttice, the mother of Jo’el Neville, 16. She also raised her goddaughter Shanice Caldwell, 27.

“I was brought up by a mother who worked in healthcare and I learned early on about caring and nurturing for others. I treat every patient like it’s my mother, son, brother, sister and I can always spend an extra five minutes with them.”

Her commitment earned her a “Shining Star” Award recognizing her efforts to go above and beyond.

One of her long-time memories is a testimony to Suttice’s connection to those in her care. When one of her patients passed, the family reached out to Suttice and asked her to design an urn.

“It was a very personal thing and I was touched that they asked. I’d seen the patient on a daily basis and we were close,” said Suttice. The urn was made of glass and Suttice etched a personal message requested by the family.

The etching was an art she learned from her late grandmother

Deloris Johnson, affectionately known as “GG.”

“She went back to school at the age of 62 to get her GED and by the time she passed at the age of 89 she had numerous degrees,” said Suttice. Her grandmother was a creative and resourceful woman who taught Suttice much about life.

“When we were growing up the five of us spent every summer with her and every summer she gave us a project. One summer we learned to sew; one summer we learned about formal dining and catering and one summer we learned to etch glass,” said Suttice. At the end of summer each child presented a project on what they had learned. By the end of the summer of etched glass lessons, Suttice made a windowpane for her church. She was seven at the time.

The craft took a backseat for a bit while Suttice was growing up, pursuing her career and raising her family. Then about 10 years ago she picked it back up – named her line, “Lady of Legacy” and has been hand-etching glass keepsakes for birthdays, graduations, and other milestone occasions. She recently produced 120 wine glasses for her 20-year class reunion. She’s also created one-of-a-kind mirrors and glasses for pageants, birth announcements, weddings, and pastor installation ceremonies. Each piece is hand etched and can take a couple of hours from start to finish.

One of the largest pieces she recently completed was part of the second annual CompletLife Art Show at IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

The piece was titled: “Tell me what you See.” Suttice inscribed a poem on the large glass piece and said, “The words of the poem should cause every person reading it to imagine, to be inspired and to reflect.” The source of her inspiration was her mother.

“My art like my patients is a labor of love,” said Suttice. “I put a lot of myself into both because I want there to be meaning – especially in the lives of others.”

IU Health White Memorial welcomes new Chief Nursing Officer, Renea Smith

Renea Smith, MSN, BSN, RN, has been appointed Chief Nursing Officer for Indiana University Health White Memorial Hospital.

Smith brings 19 plus years of healthcare experience, including cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, non-invasive cardiology and clinical education units to her new role. She holds a Master of Science in Nursing and most recently served as the Director of Nursing Practice at IU Health Arnett Hospital.

Smith joined IU Health Arnett in 2012 as the team lead for Interventional Radiology. Over the years, Smith has taken on many leadership roles related to organizational change and regulatory needs through use of evidence-based practice, quality indicators and Magnet standards for nursing excellence. As the Chief Nursing Officer for IU Health White Memorial, her goal is to continue moving in the direction set by leadership and to continue raising the bar in achievement for nursing excellence.

Mary Minier, President of IU Health White Memorial stated, “Her passion for nursing education, excellence and leadership aligns with the mission of IU Health in providing every patient, every time with exceptional nursing care.”

Smith states that her passion is in resiliency, “I love making connections and ensuring anyone at any level, in or outside of work, has the tools they need to work through challenges and realize the goals are attainable. As individuals we are strong, as a team we can accomplish more. Resiliency is a foundation to accomplish many things; students who are struggling with a new concept and how to put it into practice, a caregiver who unexpectedly lost a patient, an outcome we just are not meeting for a patient or a team goal. With resiliency we find a way to keep making things happen while striving to achieve excellence.”

Smith also have a passion for professional development and continued education for herself and supporting those around her in doing so. In her free time, Smith enjoys spending time with family, being outdoors and listening to music.

Smith will begin in her new role on Monday, Nov. 11. Smith looks forward to working with Miner and the IU Health White Memorial team to provide high quality patient care to the community. IU Health White Memorial is a 25-bed acute care facility serving the residents of White County. Designated as a critical access hospital, IU Health White Memorial provides a full range of healthcare services including inpatient and outpatient surgery, diabetes care, emergency medicine, cardiovascular, laboratory, pastoral care, radiology, rehabilitation services, respiratory care, surgery and women’s health.

Clinics help patients breathe easier

Patients with Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD) are getting a little extra help managing their condition, as they approach the winter season.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

An Army veteran who was once an avid runner, Russell Rainwater recently joined a group of people at IU Health North who were eager to learn. They are among the most vulnerable when it comes to controlling the effects of chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD).

“I’ve had a lot of breathing problems,” said Rainwater. “I just want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to take care of myself – especially as we go into the winter months.” A few years ago he was diagnosed with asthma and on his worst days he was on a breathing machine.

During the past few weeks a number of IU Health practitioners have come together to facilitate winterization clinics throughout the city.

“These clinics are important because we want to help do everything humanly possible to decrease the risk of flu and pneumonia in patients with an already compromised respiratory status,” said Anne O’Connor Clark, an IU Health care manager with population health services and a nurse who works specifically with COPD patients.

Topics covered included smoking cessation, spirometry (a common pulmonary function test) and pulmonary rehabilitation. Medical assistants helped participants get their immunizations up to date and a social worker connected them with community resources.

Each participant received a flu/cold season preparation list that included: Verifying that vaccinations are current, have inhaler technique assessed, have lung function tested and know who to call if you need help. Participants were also given techniques for preventing infections: Wash hands often and keep hands away from their face, use hand sanitizer when soap isn’t available, avoid shaking hands, and use a mask when spending time with people who are ill.

“Their symptoms can get so severe and so scary that fear is a huge component in COPD care,” said Dr. Rick Bernhardt, medical director, Population Health, IU Health Physicians. During this year’s pilot program, all five clinics are at capacity registration. Similar clinics implemented last year at IU Health Arnett showed positive outcomes for COPD patients. “They took a group of known patients with respiratory conditions and did some group visits with them, had them all meet in one place and talk about how they manage symptoms,” says Bernhardt. “Those people had a better winter than they had previously.”

LifeLine flight nurse cautiously optimistic mother of two

As a LifeLine Neo-Natal and Pediatric flight nurse Misty Johnson has seen the tragedy of accidents involving children. That makes her a little extra cautious with her two boys.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes

When Misty Johnson and her husband of 16 years, Jeremiah recently built a new home one of the first things they did was add a fence around the pond.

“I think seeing other people’s misfortunes has helped me prepare my boys more,” said Johnson, the mother to Jack, 7 and Parker, 5.

Johnson knows that in an instant, lives can change. In addition to working as a LifeLine Pediatric Nurse she works as a PICU shift coordinator for Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

She has seen so many every day situations turn into nightmares.

There have been drownings and near drownings, children who have become paralyzed when a cartwheel goes bad, youngsters struck by cars, and freak accidents where a child is hit by a falling limb or chokes on baby carrots. She’s treated curious toddlers who accidentally ingested citronella or swallowed buttons, batteries and magnets.

Johnson started working at Riley Hospital 21 years ago with a degree in biology. She worked five years in the bio-chemical genetics lab and then completed the accelerated nursing program at IUPUI. She started her nursing career as a PICU nurse and never left.

“It was honestly about three and a half years ago that I had enough confidence to follow my passion to become a critical care transport nurse. Once I was able to predict what a physician in the room would say or need, then I felt I was ready to interview for LifeLine,” said Johnson. “I never intended on doing both jobs but I couldn’t imagine not working at Riley.” She works there two days a week and one day with LifeLine.

She said working in PICU helped prepare her for her role with LifeLine.

“I worked side by side with all the nurses and physicians and having that rapport with them really helps me understand the magnitude of the job,” said Johnson. “When I’m outside the hospital working with LifeLine I can actually hear their voices in my head and I know I can pick up a phone at any time and they trust me when I say what I’m seeing.”

As a mother, Johnson knows both her roles with IU Health require parental trust.

“I come in as a stranger, only have a few minutes to spend with these parents before I take their child away from them on what could be one of their worst days so giving me that responsibility is an honor,” said Johnson. She tells about one young patient who was scared and she held her hand the entire flight.

“She wasn’t sick enough that I needed to be constantly working on her.

As a mom I am a better flight nurse because I knew what she needed right then was to have me hold her hand and tell her everything would be ok,” said Johnson.

“It’s slightly an adrenaline rush working in a challenging environment and requires a lot of critical thinking. Kids have an innate will to fight and survive and easily my best days are seeing the kids get better and get up and play,” said Johnson.

She carries that adrenaline rush into her free time. She and her husband have enjoyed hiking Mount Kilimanjaro and have camped in the Serengeti.

So what do her boys think of their mom’s job as a flight nurse?

“If you ask them what mommy does they’ll tell you I take care of sick babies and children. I hope they see me working and will learn to follow their passion,” said Johnson. They also love visiting the heliport and sitting in the back of the ambulance. Jack dressed up like a LifeLine pilot for Halloween one year and his brother was a fire truck.

“I try really hard not to be overly protective,” said Johnson. “This job has taught me how short and precious life is and not to sweat the small stuff.”

Radiologic technologist: Breast cancer advocate from the inside out

When she received her own diagnosis of breast cancer, Stephanie Busselberg saw her job as a radiologic technologist in a different light.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes

At first she didn’t want to make it public.

Stephanie Busselberg, 45 was diagnosed with Stage One breast cancer on May 29. It was the start of summer vacation and she was determined that her life wouldn’t change. Married 14 years to Jeff Busselberg, the couple has three children ages 17, 20 and 22.

“My advice to other women would be ‘your attitude can change who you are,’” said Busselberg. “People would say to me ‘you’re doing so well with it.’ That’s because the first thing I told my kids is ‘this won’t change our summer plans. We aren’t doing anything different.’ I was determined not to mope at home or work.” And so the family enjoyed a summer filled with Cubs games, backyard pool parties, cook outs and boating.

Under the care of oncologist/hematologist Dr. Hillary Wu, surgeon Dr. Kandice Ludwig, and radiation oncologist Dr. Naoyuki G. Saito, Busselberg had a lumpectomy in July followed by 20 rounds of radiation.

Even though her family members and coworkers knew about Busselberg’s diagnosis, she made the decision to keep it private until she completed her final treatment.

“When I finished my radiation therapy I rang bell signaling the end of treatment. That was October 1 and I decided since it was the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I should speak out,” said Busselberg. Her role with IU Health was also a big influencer. For seven years she has worked as a radiologic technologist – starting part time at Riley Hospital; then working at Methodist Hospital and more recently IU Health Saxony.

“The main thing people should know is breast cancer can be detected through a mammogram,” said Busselberg. “Mine was so small and at such an early stage that it couldn’t be felt. Technology is advanced and the mammogram caught it. I felt if just one person got a mammogram after reading about my diagnosis on Facebook then it was worth it to make it public. I know of at least three so far,” said Busselberg.

“Going through this has made me think twice – looking at someone you don’t know what they are going through. I don’t look sick. I never lost my hair. I have no scars, I wasn’t even sick, but I had breast cancer.”

Melanoma – Not just a spot, but cancer of the largest organ

Amy Henderson has had numerous procedures to remove melanoma – her most recent procedure was on her leg.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

She’s had four procedures to remove melanoma – two on her face – forehead and right temple – and one on her right arm. On a recent weekday afternoon, Amy Henderson was flat on a table in the outpatient clinic of IU Health dermatology for her fourth procedure.

Dr. Ally-Khan Somani was removing a spot from Henderson’s left thigh.

“I’m a red head and ghostly white so the sun’s not always my friend,” said Henderson. “ When I was a kid we grew up on a lake boating and skiing and I didn’t wear sunscreen. That changed as an adult I’ve worn sunscreen since I was in my 20s.” Thompson is now 37 and some of the effects of her childhood are only now manifesting into the cancerous spots.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. If it is allowed to grow, it can spread quickly to other parts of the body. When found early it is treatable. The AAD encourages people to learn the warning signs, look for warning signs on the skin, and see a dermatologist at the earliest hint of unusual skin growth or marks. The Cancer Center at IU Health West Hospital will offer free skin cancer screenings from 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12. Call 317-217-3800 to schedule a screening.

During Henderson’s recent in-office procedure, Dr. Somani removed the spot on Henderson’s leg and then a small margin of skin around it.

“Normal sutures come out in one to two weeks and by six weeks the wound is 50-60 percent healed,” said Dr. Somani. “After six weeks she can resume normal activity and in about a year it will be completely healed. The face heals faster than the rest of the body.”

Dr. Somani is a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon. Mohs surgery is a micrographic procedure to remove skin cancer, layer by layer. The surgery is the only treatment that allows doctors to evaluate the skin cancer cells during the procedure and a surgery that results in a high cure rate for patients. Somani has seen many types of skin cancer and has learned to work with tumors in challenging locations – including the nose. He also has experience in complex wound reconstruction.

Henderson was recommended to Dr. Somani by her dermatologist. Her first procedure was in November of 2018 when she discovered what she describes as a “strange growth on her right arm.” The spot was itchy and was growing. She makes regular visits to her dermatologist every three months.

“I got lucky – my melanoma hadn’t metastasized to my lymph nodes,” said Henderson who is married to Eric Henderson. They have a daughter Ady. “I am diligent when it comes to avoiding the sun. I try to keep Ady out of direct sun light as much as possible and if we are in sun she wears shirts and hats, and is coated in sunscreen.”

The Tragedy of Losing a Child

October is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month. 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 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.