Texas Resident is Bringing Out the Boxing Gloves

Diagnosed with Stage III seminoma testicular cancer Texas resident Travis Visitew came to IU Health Simon Cancer Center seeking help from Dr. Lawrence Einhorn.

Hanging on the post of Travis Visitew’s bed inside the bone marrow transplant unit of IU Health University Hospital is a set of tiny pink and red boxing gloves. They were a gift from a family whose daughter was in and out of the hospital with complications resulting from Down syndrome.

The tiny little gloves serve as a reminder to Visitew and his wife or 12 years, Megan.

“Coincidentally, I got my first stem cell transplant on Dec. 26, which is Boxing Day,” said Visitew, who was raised in Alberta, Canada. The origins of Boxing Day date back to a time when aristocrats distributed Christmas boxes to their employees. Today, Canadians observe it as an extension to the Christmas holiday. But for Visitew, it was a chance at a new start.

The 5’10 father of three girls – ages 14, 11, and 8 – Visitew was once a running back on his high school football team and wrestled in a 167-lb weight class. He went on to play rugby while attending college in Montana. He earned his degree in engineering and began working as a petroleum engineer. His career took the family to Europe for a time and they eventually ended up in Midland, TX.

In November of 2017, Visitew played a full court basketball game with friends and woke up the next day with what he calls a “crazy back pain.” For a guy who typically has a high tolerance, the pain took him to the floor. At first he thought he had kidney stones or appendicitis. A CT Scan showed otherwise.

“I remember the words of the doctor so well, ‘I’m sorry Mr. Visitew but we found several large masses in your abdomen. There were no masses on my testicles but one mass in my abdomen was the size of a six-inch sub sandwich,” said Visitew.

Looking back, he says there were signs long ago – maybe as far back as 14 years ago. “One testicle was a different size than the other,” said Visitew. “When you’re young and you’re thinking of your future together and family, you don’t think about cancer and no one really talks about testicular cancer like they do breast cancer and some of the other cancers. This has definitely made us more aware,” said his wife.

Visitew completed rounds of chemotherapy in Texas. And from February until September 2018, it seemed he was in remission. Through a social media forum, Visitew learned about IU Health Simon Cancer Dr. Lawence Einhorn, known throughout the world for his successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors – using a mix of high does chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

Visitew first met Dr. Einhorn in April 2018. “He was just like the sweetest man and knew everything. He has a photographic memory – he recalled everything from my scans,” said Visitew. “It just gave me a sense of peace.”

At that time, Dr. Einhorn felt the chemotherapy had tackled Visitew’s cancer and he had about a 98 percent chance of recurrence. But by September the back pain returned and Visitew’s blood tests showed his markers were on the rise.  He had just changed jobs and was worried how his new company would react to the latest hurdle. But the support was overwhelming.

“We are so blessed,” said Megan Visitew. “We have had people come and hang our Christmas lights, prepare meals, plan fundraisers and help pay our travel expenses and medical bills. I have thought so often throughout this that there are so many causes raising money for research which is great, but it would be great if a percentage of that helped families pay for the expenses of travel and treatment.”

The boxing match was on. Travis’ buddies created t-shirts with the slogan: “Testicular Cancer Warriors.”

In early October Visitew returned to Indianapolis where Dr. Timothy Masterson performed surgery to remove the tumors in his abdomen. Later that same month, the pain returned – this time in his chest. By November, Visitew learned there were more tumors.

“I was freaking out. This was a year after my first diagnosis and I thought we tackled it,” said Visitew, 36. He and his wife returned to Indianapolis in early December and he began chemotherapy in preparation for the dual stem cell transplants. A scan after his first stem cell transplant showed the tumors are shrinking.

“She’s been here all but four days when she went back to be with the girls. I couldn’t do it without her. She’s super positive and makes me smile every day,” said Visitew. The girls, who are in the full-time care of a nanny, flew to Indianapolis after opening their Christmas gifts at home. Visitew and his wife keep in touch through Face time.

“Everyone here has been great but it’s still been tough being away from my girls,” said Visitew. “The nurses have been amazing helping me manage the side effects of the chemo. I feel like it’s been a terrible experience but in the end it’s going to be a good thing. Every day I’m in here I feel more grateful for getting a second chance, getting my priorities straight and remembering the importance of family.”

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

IU Health Tipton Hosts Korean Nursing Students

IU Health Tipton Hospital recently hosted nursing students from Korea. The Korean students are senior level nursing students, and each year they come for two weeks to visit Indiana University Kokomo (IUK). 

The nursing faculty takes a special interest in making their trip meaningful. Each year the students visit the IU Health Tipton Hospital clinical group and teams up with the IUK students to compare and contrast how our nurse’s training is similar or different from their training in Korea. This cultural experience is meaningful to both the Korean students as well as the IU Health Tipton staff. 

Our staff is so supportive to answer questions, include the students and really make the Korean students and instructors feel welcome. 

The students team up with an IUK clinical student for the morning. The student shows them how they care for the patient in our western culture. In Korea, the family takes care of hygienic needs and feeding the patient. They take care of ambulating the patient. 

The Korean students learned about fall risks, gait belts and nonskid footwear to prevent falls. They learned about chair alarms, bed alarms and hourly rounding to prevent falls. We showed them our med carts and the Pyxis machine that gives us access to meds on the floor. 

They were in awe about programming our Alaris pumps to assist us in safe delivery of meds to our patient. The patients enjoyed talking to the students and the interactions were very meaningful. The students love to communicate in the English language, and they are so pleased that others want to interact with them. 

The Korean students value relationships and giving presents to solidify these relationships. The pictures made the Korean students feel they were a part of the group, and IU Health Tipton gave them each a bear that has the logo of IU Health Tipton on the T-shirt. 

They loved the present, and we took a picture of them with their bears. It was personal and a way for them to remember their IU Health Tipton experience. The medical/surgical unit also bought their lunch in The Gathering Place. The students and instructor were so appreciative of our efforts to make them feel welcome.

Interpreter, Translator, Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges

Rafael Mendez sees his job as providing all patients and families with equal opportunities to quality healthcare. He does that by listening, teaching, and making communication accessible to all.

There’s a story about a patient who had diabetes. She had been working diligently to follow the guidelines of her dietitian. And yet, her condition wasn’t improving. She explained repeatedly that she had stayed within recommendations – cutting her starch intake. She had cut back to three tortillas a day – which should have reduced her carbohydrates significantly.

The dietitian was stumped. The patient was stumped.

Rafael Mendez was there to help with interpretation. As he heard the patient speak he recognized her accent. She wasn’t from Mexico; she was from Central America. 

“The tortillas in Central America are a whole lot bigger than the tortillas in Mexico. They were both talking about tortillas but they were talking about two different tortillas,” said Mendez. The revelation was all in a day’s work for Mendez, who has worked at IU Health since 2012. He started his career in medical interpretation working in California. In 1999 he moved to Indiana and worked for a time with the Hispanic Center helping families secure special assistance with utilities and housing. He also helped formalize a program that connected Spanish-speaking residents with language services and employment. He continued his work with the Indianapolis Public Library, designing and implementing programming and services for the growing immigrant population. At IU Health, Mendez is one of several interpreters/translators working with patients, families, and caregivers at Riley, Methodist and University Hospitals. He also works at the outlying clinics.

His days range from speaking with a mother in labor and delivery, to parents of a child in the cancer unit.

“There’s a lot of parent care/education, end-of-life and doctor updates that we are called for,” said Mendez. “We also do a lot of mental and behavioral health working with chaplains, and social workers. We even work with human resources sometimes when they are hiring staff.

“We don’t have chaplains, nutritionist or social workers that speak Spanish so to offer equal access to patients is so important. For me it is very motivating. When a chaplain goes into an English-speaking room, the service is so much more in depth, so meaningful. I feel like I can help create that feeling for Spanish-speaking patients.”

As he talks to Nallely Lopez Rivas, the mother of patient Brittany Midence Lopez, Mendez is animated and consoling. He wants to be sure she understands not only conditions but also pending treatments. He wants to give her assurance.

“It’s so important that we break down language barriers and make sure they know we are here for them,” said Mendez. “I think the thing I like best about my job is that

I can see results of what I do right away. There’s a sense of accomplishment that you are part of a team that is trying to give the best outcomes to patients and families.”

More about Mendez:

  • He is from El Salvador. His father died when he was young and his mother made her way to the United States seeking better opportunities for her family. She left Mendez and his two siblings with family and returned for them six years later. The family moved to Oakland, Calif. where Mendez attended Oakland public schools and then enrolled at UC Berkley. “Mom was smart in the sense she knew there were no opportunities in El Salvador.  She was brave. She not only had to make the trip to the United States, she had to leave behind the people she loved, and she also came to a place where she didn’t know anyone. She didn’t know the country and she didn’t know the language.”
  • Mendez is the father of five children ages 6 to 20. He has been married for 12 years to his wife Dulce.
  • He likes playing soccer and reading and learning about different cultures.

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

Circle of Support: Women With Cancer

The Cancer Resource Center at IU Health Simon Cancer Center recently introduced a new cancer support group for women.

They come from various walks of life. They are different ages. Some are newly diagnosed; others have been on their cancer journey for years. Some have shared their fears with family members; others have remained silent – that is until recently.

“I felt out of sorts when I got the news. I didn’t want to start treatment yet. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I wanted to get grounded first, get used to the idea,” said one women who recently learned she has endometrial cancer.

They are all survivors and they are coming together the first Monday of the month for a support group just for women.

“Cancer can make a person feel so alone, even if they have an abundance of love and support,” said women’s health nurse practitioner Tricia Grabinski, who facilitates the group along with social worker Maggie Sutterfield. “My hope for this group is to provide a comforting environment where women in different stages of their journey can share their fears, frustrations, and challenges with other women who understand and empathize. They can embrace each other and help each other cope and adjust. Ultimately, I hope to expand this to include a peer mentoring program to form bonds between women with similar circumstances.”

The first night was spent getting acquainted and acknowledging commonalities – the fear of losing hair during chemotherapy, the lack of energy, the loss of appetites, and the reactions from family, friends and strangers. They’ve heard the diagnosis of cervical cancer, leukemia, lung and ovarian cancer. Most are surrounded by networks of providers and protectors. But still they are searching for the understanding that comes directly from those who are on similar journeys.

“This is my fourth time with cancer. The first time was when I was pregnant with my daughter,” said JoNell Stevenson, Carmel. “Early on I found another woman who provided great support. Later when I had a stem cell transplant another woman came into my life. It is true; your circle of support comes in all forms. I am looking forward to this group.”

The next Women’s Cancer Support Group will meet Feb. 4. Dinner and registration is from 5-6 p.m. The group meets from 6-7:30 p.m. in the first floor of IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

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

A Patient Who Beat the Odds – More Than Once

As Perry Martinez recently chatted with IU Health University Hospital transplant nurse Nicole Miller, he joked that he had “all day” to talk.

“Someone wants me alive so I have all day and then some. By most calculations I’ve beat the odds, dodged a bullet,” said Martinez. First there was a coma in November 2018 – resulting from complications related to his failing liver. Then there was a liver transplant on Dec. 10, 2018.

The surgery and recovery went smoothly and Martinez returned to his Mishawaka, IN. home.

But in late December he returned to IU Health with his wife Shirley Martinez for a scheduled clinic visit.  They drove away from Indianapolis in winter-like conditions. The farther north they drove the more the weather provided challenges on the road. They were about 20 minutes from home when their Jeep Liberty hit a patch of black ice. Shirley Martinez tried to regain control said her husband but the slick road took over. Their jeep flipped six times.

Shirley Martinez was treated for bumps and bruises. Perry Martinez was transported by ambulance back to Indianapolis to Methodist Hospital.

“I’m right back where I started for the transplant,” said Martinez, who was eventually moved to the transplant unit of IU Health University Hospital. “I have two broken arms, several broken ribs, a cracked spinal cord, a ripped spleen and liver.”

After several days in ICU, Martinez said the pain has lessened and he feels like he’s on the mend.

“I’m fortunate to be in such good hands,” said Martinez. “The staff here is amazing. They’ve taken really good care of me.” 

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

IU Health White Memorial highlights heart health

February is heart month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, one in four deaths are caused by heart disease – claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

Heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries. Over time the arteries narrow, reducing blood flow to your heart. Certain risk factors increase the chances of developing heart disease:

  • Family history of heart disease, stroke and other vascular disease
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure

 

The news is not all bad, heart disease can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions. A few simple steps such using spices to season food instead of salt and making physical activity a part of everyday can help. 

In honor of heart month, Indiana University Health White Memorial will host two CPR classes in the Hibner Conference room. The class is free and will cover CPR for adults, children and infants. The use of an AED will also be demonstrated.

  • Wednesday, February 13 at 6:30 pm
  • Saturday, February 23 at 9 am

This class is not a certification class. Participants will receive a CPR handbook which includes a participation card. Appropriate ages for the class is 11 and up. To register, please contact Sharon Hartwell at 574.583.5152.

IU Health White Memorial offers $49 heart scans. Heart scans give a picture of your arteries and can help your physician spot calcium deposits that narrow arteries. Heart scans are a convenient and non-invasive and can offer peace of mind. A heart scan can be scheduled by calling 800.542.7818. 

IU Health White Memorial welcomes new Chief Nursing Officer, Mary Drewes

Mary Drewes, MBA, MSN, RN, has been appointed Chief Nursing Officer for Indiana University Health White Memorial Hospital.

Drewes brings 20 plus years of healthcare experience, including emergency department level I trauma center, cardiovascular and intensive care units to her new role. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master’s in Nursing with a Healthcare Administration Focus and a Masters of Business Administration.

Prior to joining IU Health, Drewes served as Cardiovascular Service Line Administrator with Community Health System – Porter Regional Hospital. Drewes previously served as the Administrative Director of Cardiovascular Service Line and Nursing Operations at IU Health La Porte Hospital.

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.”

Drewes is excited to return to the IU Health family. “It feels like coming home to me,” said Drewes. “Throughout my leadership journey, I have remained committed to a shared governance model and look forward to joining the team at IU Health White Memorial as they pursue their pathway to excellence recognition.”

Drewes enjoys spending quality time with family and friends. She and her husband have five children. She is always looking for fun ways to cook healthy for her family. She enjoys playing volleyball, cycling, paintball and relaxing by the pool.

Drewes will begin in her new role on February 4. Drewes 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 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. 

IU Health White Memorial brings advanced, 3D mammography technology closer to home

Indiana University Health White Memorial Hospital is now offering breast tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography.

Brandy Edwards, MPM-HM, B.S., RT(R)(CT)ARRT, ACHE, Diagnostic Imaging Manager at IU Health White Memorial Hospital noted, “This leading edge technology reveals greater detail, which may help us detect cancer sooner. We believe it’s important to broaden our geographic reach so that women across the region have access to 3D mammography.”

The new equipment installed at IU Health White Memorial Hospital, works much like traditional mammography. During the 3D portion of the exam, an X-ray arm sweeps over the breast, taking multiple images in seconds. This is especially good for women with dense breast tissue because the dense tissue is difficult to see through on standard 2D imaging. The 3D imaging allows the radiologist to scroll through that tissue in very thin layers, like looking at each page of a book instead of just the front cover.

“Tomosynthesis gives us the ability to see masses, particularly in dense breast tissue, that we might have difficulty detecting with traditional mammography. Because it reduces the overlap of tissue, most investigators have found that it leads to fewer callbacks and therefore less anxiety for women,” explains Phyllis Martin-Simmerman, MD, a specialist in breast imaging for IU Health Arnett Physicians Radiology

The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Starting at age 40, women should begin scheduling annual screening mammograms. High-risk women may need earlier screening. If breast cancer is detected early, a patient’s five-year survival rate is 98 percent. If you would like to schedule a mammogram or have questions about this important breast health procedure, please call IU Health White Memorial Hospital at, 574.583.1714.

Nurse Who Serves Red Cross: “I’ve Made Some Nice Friendships”

Nancy Walker, who works at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, is one of several nurses at IU Health who volunteers with the American Red Cross. Volunteers are needed to provide both medical and non-medical assistance for Red Cross projects.

She’s applied Band-Aids to blistering feet and sunscreen to overexposed skin. Nancy Walker has volunteered at the Indianapolis 500 Mini Marathon, 500 Parade, the Indianapolis Indians games, and the Indiana State Fair. She’s one of several IU Health nurses who have staffed first aid stations for the American Red Cross.

But the volunteering isn’t just for nurses and medical staff. As a coordinator for the American Red Cross/IU Health Alliance, Walker is encouraging others to volunteer.

Only 40 percent of the tasks require direct care nurses,” said Walker. “The remaining tasks just need lots of hands on deck to make a big impact throughout Indiana.”

Walker has volunteered since 2016, dedicating about 3,000 hours of assistance. She is on-call two 24-hour days a week. In addition to staffing first aid stations, volunteers are needed to assist with armed services efforts. Volunteers help with travel arrangements for soldiers returning home when a loved one is ill. Volunteers also provide family support when a member of the armed service has been injured.

When a family loses their home to a fire or a natural disaster, volunteers provide support such as housing, clothing and necessities. They also canvas neighborhoods and assist with installing smoke detectors.

“There are so many options to volunteer,” said Walker. “It’s just a great way to get out and connect with the community and I’ve made some nice friendships.”

Interested volunteers can sign up on the Red Cross website and include their IU Health email. 

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