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