From Strike Out to Home Run – Cancer is No Competition for Baseball Player

A college baseball player from Canada says he’s no stranger to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Diagnosed with testicular cancer he’s facing the competition with an all-star coach – IU Health oncologist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn.

It was a recent Monday morning when Dr. Lawrence Einhorn entered the infusion pod of Jason Freeman. He was bringing good news: Freeman’s numbers were good.

“Going through this process you never know if you’re going to hear good news so to hear your numbers are improving and to hear it from Dr. Einhorn feels great,” said Freeman. Dr. Einhorn is known around the world for his successful treatment of germ cell tumors using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

Like many of Dr. Einhorn’s patients, Freeman traveled nine hours—from his home in Mississauga, Ontario to Indianapolis. The game plan began with Freeman in ER at IU Health Methodist Hospital after he spiked a fever on the cross-country road trip. Once he was stabilized Freeman had his first face-to-face with Dr. Einhorn.

But the renowned oncologist, who has treated countless men between the ages of 16 and 45, was already part of Freeman’s team long before the two met at IU Health.

It was on another Monday in July 2018 when Freeman first wondered if something might be wrong. This is a guy who played baseball at the college level and typically works out five days a week. He had joined his friends for a softball game and played 18 holes of golf – along with his usual workout – when he started feeling a little lightheaded and a little tired. The next day he spiked a fever and decided to go to the doctor.

“He’s one of the healthiest guys I know,” said his mother Dianne Freeman. Dianne and Rob Freeman, along with Jason’s girlfriend traveled to Indianapolis for the duration of Freeman’s treatment. Jason Freeman has two older brothers – Kevin and Adam. Together the brothers enjoy camping, exploring the outdoors, and fishing for bass, walleye and pike – in Northern Canada’s provincial parks. And they enjoy attending sporting events and cheering for their favorite teams – baseball, basketball, and hockey – the Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Freeman also plays hockey on a recreational league.

Weeks before he spiked a fever, he was having an ache in his rib cage. He just thought it was a pulled muscle – something brought on by his active lifestyle.  He made regular visits to a chiropractor and sometimes it eased the discomfort.

“I really didn’t think too much of it and even asked my chiropractor if I should go in for an x-ray,” said Freeman, 25. When the fever spiked, and he told his doctor about the pain, an x-ray was one of the first tests to determine the cause of the pain. The images showed a 16-centimeter mass on top of his right lung. A week later he received the definitive diagnosis of germ cell cancer. Four cycles of chemotherapy followed. By late October the tumor had shrunk and he celebrated by ringing the bell – signaling the completion of treatment.

By the first week in December he was back in the hospital for thoracic surgery to remove the tumor on his lung. After three weeks of remission, the cancer returned. It was another oncologist – the Freemans knew from their church – Danielle Doyle, who had completed a fellowship at IU Health and knew of Dr. Einhorn and his work with germ cell tumors. A connection was made and the Freemans began making plans to come to Indiana. Even before they made the trip, Freeman’s oncologist at home had been consulting with Dr. Einhorn. After another round of chemotherapy in Toronto, Freeman’s plan at IU Health is a second dose of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant.

One of the first people they met when they arrived in Indianapolis was Maria Siddons, a clinical coordinator with IU Health’s Destination Services. “The whole team has been great helping us find housing and understanding the whole process and what we’re in for,” said Rob Freeman. “We knew at the beginning about Dr. Einhorn’s pioneering treatment and then when we got here he had really studied Jason’s file.”

And Rob Freeman knew too that Jason was not a quitter – no matter how big the challenge.

“The first thing he said when we learned of the diagnosis was ‘don’t worry dad. I’ve got this,” said Rob Freeman. He remembers the same persistence when his son was young. Sitting on the deck of the family’s home he’d watch a young Jason hit a baseball with a plastic bat. He was only about four and would spend hours practicing the sport he loved.  By the time he was five he was playing in a league. He continued playing all through his youth and into high school, mostly in the corner infield spot. He went on to play at junior colleges in Texas and Oklahoma. After earning his bachelor’s degree in business, he returned to Toronto where he was working at the Toronto Dominion Bank when he received his cancer diagnosis.

“I have never had a surgery in my life – no wisdom teeth, no tonsils, no anesthesia – so now it’s been six months and I feel like I’m taking it day by day,” said Freeman.

“It came out of nowhere and shows it can happen to anyone. My advice to other young men is don’t take life for granted. Enjoy life to the fullest and be resilient and trust the process.

“My competitiveness has helped me get after it and not back down. I’ve learned perseverance from baseball – there are some games you strike out and some games you hit a home run but you just keep at it.” 

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

Emergency Education for Children: Teaching ‘Stop the Bleed’

Through the Stop the Bleed program, the American College of Surgeons strives to empower individuals to make a difference during a life-threatening emergency by teaching them the basic techniques of bleeding control. Teresa Williams, RN, BSN, IU Health Arnett Trauma Outreach Coordinator is now offering Stop the Bleed classes for children with the help of the Lafayette Police Department. The program focuses on teaching children how to recognize hemorrhage, identify causes of injury, stay safe while activating 911 and includes practice for applying direct pressure.

Recently, Boy Scout Troop 336 and IU Health team members brought their children to a Stop the Bleed class. While parents may worry how learning about this trauma will affect their children, it is important that children know what to do if they are faced with an emergency where an adult may not be nearby or may be the one injured. A parent attending the class with their child stated, “I thought it was great information. I think this type of class would be great for all.”

Serious, uncontrolled bleeding from trauma can result in death in less than 10 minutes. This is especially true when emergency response is delayed for an active shooter or other violent event. Ultimately, the Stop the Bleed program is similar to teaching children about “stop, drop and roll” for fire safety or teaching them about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). “We hope that we never have to use these techniques, but in the case that there is a trauma, they have the right tools and knowledge to help save lives,” Williams says.

It is not only in cases of mass shootings that these life-saving techniques can be used. “Whether the incident occurs at home, at school or on the street,” Williams says, “If someone is bleeding, we can empower these children to take action and help stop the bleed.” Anyone who happens to be at the scene of an accident or act of violence can become an immediate first responder and save lives—if they know what to do.

Children are aware of their surroundings. They are capable of wonderful things, especially if they have the right education. Stop the Bleed, can give children the confidence needed to help treat an accident in an emergency. 

Jeopardy! host Trebek’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis – Should you be tested?

Alex Trebek, told his Jeopardy! audience that he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer saying: “I plan to beat the survival statistics of this disease.” IU Health oncologist Dr. Michael G. House, who has treated countless patients, talks about the risks.

He’s been a popular game show host for 35 years. Millions of families have grown up sharing their entertainment room with Alex Trebek as part of a nightly TV-watching ritual. So when Trebek announced to his audience that he has been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, they tuned in; they listened.

And once again, they were reminded what has been said many times over: “Cancer doesn’t discriminate.”

Trebek’s diagnosis is one shared by many well-known names:  Michael Landon, Patrick Swayze, Steve Jobs, Joe Jackson and Luciano Pavarotti, and the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin – all lost their battles with pancreatic cancer.

“Now normally the prognosis is not very encouraging but I’m going to fight this and keep working and with the love and support of my family and friends and with the help of your prayers also I plan to beat the whole survival statistics for this disease,” said Trebek, 78.

Pancreatic cancer starts when malignant cells form in tissues of the pancreas – a gland located behind the stomach, in front of the spine. The pancreas is responsible for producing digestive juices and hormones that regulate blood sugar.  A Stage 4 diagnoses typically means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The American Cancer Society relies on the SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results) database maintained by the National Cancer Institute to report statistics about pancreatic cancer patients and survival rates. They report that for patients with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer the five-year survival rate is 3%.

“Unfortunately, we do not have a reliable routine screening test to detect early stage pancreatic cancer,” said IU Health Dr. Michael G. House. He can’t speak specifically about Alex Trebek’s diagnosis. Dr. House has treated countless patients at IU Health and is well known for performing the Pancreaticoduodenectomy (commonly called the Whipple procedure), surgery to remove the head of the pancreas, gallbladder, and bile duct, as well as portions of the small intestine.

“Individuals who are recognized to be at higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer during their lifetime, including those with two primary relatives with pancreatic cancer or those with established hereditary cancer syndromes, should undergo pancreatic cancer screening beginning 10 years before the youngest age of a family member diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. House.

Research suggests that the risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Most people who develop pancreatic cancer are older than 45. According to the American Cancer Society about 90 percent of those diagnosed are older than 55 and 70 percent are older than 65. Of the more than 55,000 adults in the US who develop pancreatic cancer, more than 29,000 are men and more than 26,000 are women.

“Depending on where the cancer arises within the pancreas, symptoms may vary,” said Dr. House.  “The most common symptoms are abdominal or back pain, unexplained weight loss, nausea, and jaundice. New onset diabetes mellitus without obvious risk factors for this disease may be another sign of pancreatic cancer. Treatment for pancreatic will depend on the stage of cancer and may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.
   Photo: Peabody Awards [CC BY 2.0]

Yoga can be a pain in the neck … and head and spine

Study looks at injuries caused by extreme poses, but you can avoid them and still find your Zen.

A new yoga study published by the Mayo Clinic suggests that some of those extreme poses on the mat could land you in the doctor’s office.

That feeling of “shanti,” a Sanskrit word that means peace, calm or bliss, could be disrupted the next time you try the “king” of all poses – the headstand – and others that can lead to injury, primarily in people with bone-loss conditions including osteoporosis and osteopenia.

A retrospective study of 89 patients with injuries primarily caused by yoga and seen from 2006-2018 revealed a collection of soft tissue injuries, axial non-bony injuries and bony injuries, including compression fractures.

The poses most to blame involved hyperflexion and hyperextension of the spine, the study said.

But as in anything, moderation – and sometimes modification – are key, according to an IU Health physician.

Dr. Shashank Dave, who specializes in neck and spine treatment at the IU Health Neuroscience Center and IU Health North Hospital, treats many patients with yoga injuries, especially in the spine clinic at North.

“A lot of patients I’ll ask, ‘when did you start noticing symptoms,’ and more often lately they’ll say they were doing yoga and went into an extreme pose and had pain almost immediately.”

That, he said, is where yogis should stop.

“Pain is really a signal your body is giving you that it is being pushed too far,” he said. “Poses might be uncomfortable, but they should definitely not be painful.”

The Mayo report outlined a lot of the injuries he sees in his practice – head, neck and spine. Injuries can also occur in the hips and hamstrings.

“Sometimes we ask people, especially if they’ve got arthritis in their hips, knees or shoulder, even if it’s not painful, to avoid prolonged ranges of motion,” he said, “like the hip going into this wicked outward rotation might not be good for the joint itself.”

Dr. Dave is a yoga lover himself. He carves out time three days a week to practice the physical movements, breathing exercises and meditation that help center him.

“The benefits for me are really grounding myself, grounding my body,” he said, in addition to reducing stress.

And as an enthusiastic runner, yoga also helps him maintain flexibility and thus prevent injuries.

But he took it too far once. He recalled taking a yoga class during his residency in which the teacher asked him and others to go into a full headstand. He did it, but “I remember walking away from that with neck pain that I did not have to begin with,” he said.

There’s an element of pride that can overtake caution in a class with motivated students and a demanding teacher, but instructors can suggest modifications or variations to poses that can be done comfortably and safely, he said.

When in doubt, consult your primary care physician, Dr. Dave said, and don’t think you have to give up yoga.

In treating patients with yoga injuries, which might include physical therapy, the goal is to get them back to whatever activity they were doing, albeit modified.

“We want them to be more functional and independent,” he said. “Obviously, they wanted to go to yoga for a reason, so we ask the therapist to walk them through what they should and shouldn’t do during class and to be open with the teacher.”

There may not be a lot of cardiovascular benefits to yoga, but the improvement in overall fitness and quality of life should not be underestimated, Dr. Dave said.

“We want patients to be as active as possible, and the benefits of yoga outweigh some of these risks. If it’s done in the right way, there are so many benefits.”

–- By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist
   Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Cat got her wish – Nurse donated a kidney

Two nurses who work in the same hospital formed a special bond when one became a kidney donor for the other.

There’s one happy cat in this world. Her name is “Gracie.” Several months ago Gracie’s picture was posted on social media with a sign that read: “My owner needs a new kidney.” The post included a phone number where readers could call to be tested as a kidney donor for the cat’s owner, Cathy Woodard, a nurse in Lafayette.

The Facebook page caught the eye of a fellow nurse Tina Scott. Other than nursing the two women didn’t have a lot in common. Scott, the mother of two adult children is a 50-year-old grandmother who lives in the country with her husband of 28 years, Carl. Woodard, 32, has been married to Ross Woodard for six years and they have a dog named, “Dixie,” and a cat named “Gracie.”

Four years ago Woodard was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. In July of 2018 she was added to the transplant list. Her body was on a fast track to renal failure and in December of 2018 she began dialysis.

Through it all she remained positive – even naming her dialysis machine, “Perry.”

A month after she was added to the transplant list, Woodard began reaching out on social media in hopes of finding a viable kidney donor.

“My best option is to find a living kidney donor instead of waiting up to five years for a transplant from a deceased donor. I am O positive. I don’t feel sick. I don’t look sick. I work three, 12-hour shifts a week. I do dialysis at home. I am tired all the time, I have a decreased appetite, and sometimes my blood levels are low. It could be a lot worse,” Woodard wrote.

After two months she still had no responses to her posts. So she increased her posts and also posted in a few groups. Her posts ended up being shared well over 500 times. One of those shares caught the eye of Scott – a fellow nurse who helped orient Woodard when she started working in CCU.

In October, Woodard received a message from Scott saying she was being tested as a donor. “It started with a blood test, then more blood tests, heart tests, urine tests, more blood work. Finally, in December, she had her final meeting with the IU Health transplant team. Then we waited,” said Woodard.  

For years, Scott had identified herself as a donor on her license. When she heard about Woodard’s story she felt the need to act now.

“I go on faith. If something happened to my remaining kidney I hope someone would step up for me,” said Scott. “People asked me, ‘what if one of your kids needs a kidney?’ My response is, ‘what if they don’t.’ I could live to be 100 and not have helped anyone. Nursing has showed me that life can change fast so you have to make the most of it.”

A post on Scott’s Facebook page reads: “No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted.”

When the women learned they are a match, Woodward celebrated by ordering kidney-shaped cookies to share with the fellow nurses at their Lafayette hospital.

On Feb. 22 Woodward was in OR under the care of IU Health Dr. William C. Goggins. Scott was in another OR nearby under the care of Dr. Chandru P. Sundaram. The surgery was a success and four days later Woodard was released to go home.

Throughout her hospital stay Woodward offered daily updates on social media and even life reports.

After her transplant she wrote: “My life has been a roller coaster for the last year. From being at stage 5 kidney disease, being evaluated for transplant, placed on dialysis at home – this is the best news ever. Thank you all so much for your thoughts, your prayers, but most of all for sharing my posts about a donor. God has been with me through all of this by keeping me patient, calm, and as healthy as I could be for my disease. February 22nd is the start of a better life. I will forever have a special bond to my donor.”

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

Flora reunited with nurse who saved his life

On
May, 9, 2015, Mitch Piotrowski was heading home with his family to Flora after
spending the evening in Lafayette celebrating his daughter’s 15th
birthday. He and his family came upon a wreck at SR26 and SR75. Piotrowski
pulled over to help. He remembers there being a lot of smoke but that is about
all he remembers. Another passing vehicle hit him and the man he was aiding,
sending Piotrowski 20 feet into the air, landing in a ditch 75 feet from the
road. 

Indiana University
Health LifeLine received the call at 10:33 pm, arrived on the scene at 11:05 pm
and performed lifesaving measures on Piotrowski. By 11:54 pm, Piotrowski was at
IU Health Methodist being treated for a lacerated kidney, three broken ribs, a
broken arm, a broken jaw, a broken orbital and head injuries.

Recently,
Piotrowski reached out on Facebook to thank the team who saved his life. IU
Health LifeLine made arrangements for him to be reunited with Dawn Jones, the
nurse who saved his life that night.

The two were
finally connected on Sunday, March 3 at the IU Health LifeLine hangar at Purdue
University Airport. Piotrowski was accompanied by his wife, Mary Jo and his
daughter Mary Beth. Many tears were shed and many hugs were shared. Piotrowski
and his family cannot say thank you enough.

“I don’t
take anything for granted these days,” stated Piotrowski. “I appreciate
everything IU Health did to save my life. You now have an entire family loyal
to IU Health for all our healthcare needs. Life is truly something to be
celebrated.”

The West Central
Region is lucky to have an established IU Health LifeLine critical air and
ground transport stationed at the Purdue University Airport. It allows the critical
care team to respond to accidents in our rural areas quickly, providing
life-saving measures. Patients can be transported quickly and safely to the
hospital best suited for their needs. 

Could you be at risk of suffering a stroke?

Following the death of actor Luke Perry, it’s important to know the signs and risk factors for stroke.

The sudden death of actor Luke Perry this week from a reported massive stroke has left many people perhaps wondering if this could happen to them.

Perry, star of TV’s “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Riverdale,” was just 52 years old.

Stroke can strike anyone at any time, according to Dr. Jaison Grimes, who practices at the IU Health Neuroscience Center and IU Health Methodist Hospital, among others.

It’s a scary thought, he acknowledges. While he’s not privy to any underlying conditions that could have played a role in Perry’s death, he said the most common risk factors for stroke include obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. The two major types of stroke are ischemic, caused by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic, caused by a ruptured blood vessel. Ischemic strokes account for 80 percent of all strokes.

Symptoms of stroke include trouble walking, speaking and understanding, as well as paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg.

But there are no obvious early warning signs, Dr. Grimes said. If you wake up one morning and your arm is numb, that might just be the result of having slept on it wrong. But if that numbness hasn’t worn off within 15 minutes, you could have a problem, he said.

That’s when the acronym FAST comes into play: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to call 911.

Look in the mirror – is your face drooping? Raise your arms – does one move slower or drift down? Is your speech slurred? If you can answer yes to any or all of these signs, call for help.

“We know outcomes are better for treating stroke when folks make it to the hospital within three hours,” Dr. Grimes said.

Treatment is a clot-busting medication called tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) delivered intravenously.

“If that doesn’t take care of it, we’re able to go in and retrieve clots with neuro-interventional radiology,” he said, “improving outcomes even more.”

Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, but it can happen at any age. Dr. Grimes said he’s seen pediatric stroke patients, as well as some in their late teens and 20s.

“Unfortunately, here at IU Health we see young folks come in with stroke all the time.”

Strokes need not be fatal. The earlier that treatment begins, the better the outcome, though there may be some lingering disabilities that can be addressed through physical, occupational and speech therapy.

The bottom line, Dr. Grimes said, is to lower your risk of stroke through diet and lifestyle changes, and pay attention to your body. “Don’t ignore symptoms.”

-– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist
   Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org
   Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Her Daughter Fell Down the Stairs and Landed at Methodist

Something wasn’t right. Fleurette “Flo” Lewis knew she needed to trust her motherly instincts. It was just a couple weeks before Thanksgiving when she was on her way to work at 7:45 am and her phone rang.

It was a call no mother wants to get. It was her 14-year-old daughter on the phone. Lewis’ oldest daughter, LaTavia “Tavia” Livingston, 17, had fallen down a flight of stairs.

“She called me screaming. ‘Tavia fell down the stairs and hit her head.’ I was a couple miles from home and I whipped across four lanes of traffic, did a U-turn and told her to call 911,” said Lewis.

By the time she got home her daughter had a knot on her forehead and her face was swelling. She was conscious but in pain. Paramedics checked her out, got the bleeding under control and verified that her vitals were stable.

“She was going down the stairs and texting on her phone. She got to step four and tumbled with her feet over her head. The steps are carpeted but she smacked her head on a door at the bottom. I wasn’t comfortable not taking her to the hospital so I took her as a precaution,” said Lewis.

At the first checkup Lewis was told that if her daughter had a concussion she’d probably have some forgetfulness, headaches and nausea. She was sent home.

By the next day, Tavia was sleepy, lethargic and complaining of headaches. She slept all day and began vomiting in the middle of the night. Again, Lewis’ motherly instincts kicked in. She took her daughter back to the same hospital where they conducted a CT scan and gave her anti-nausea medication.

Back home, the vomiting and dizziness continued. “I just knew something was terribly wrong,” said Lewis. She bundled her daughter up and took her to IU Health Methodist Hospital ER where she was treated for an elevated heart rate and dehydration. Another CT scan was performed and Tavia was admitted for observation.

“It was amazing the difference in the care we got,” said Lewis. “They saw things that made them question what was happening to her body and discovered she has Type 2 diabetes. It wasn’t because of clumsiness but because she was suffering from diabetes that caused her to fall.”

As a result of the care her daughter received, Lewis made a decision to change jobs and applied to work with IU Health.

“I’ve been in healthcare for 17 years and my love of caring for people has not wavered or changed. What happened to my daughter made me even more conscious to watch and be aware of how I treat people and to be more empathetic,” said Lewis, who received her medical assistant certification last May and was recently hired to work at the IU Health Neuroscience Center.

“My job is to check patients in and check patients out, take vitals and make sure that even if they are having a bad day, they feel a sense of comfort and security – that they have a positive experience with IU Health,” said Lewis.

And what about Tavia?

She is controlling her diabetes with medicine and is what Lewis describes as a “typical teenager.” She’s a senior at Lawrence North High School where she is active in Black Student Union, Girl Empowerment Movement, and Gospel Choir. She works part time at IHop and is an honor roll student considering a career in marine biology or biomedical engineering.

“I feel like while another hospital dismissed us prematurely, IU Health aired on the side of caution,” said Lewis. “The ER workers were very knowledgeable and treated her like a person, not a number. I feel like they saved her life.”

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

City Promoter Hypes Peyton Manning, St. Elmo’s – and Dr. Lawrence Einhorn

Along with talking up Indy’s famous and fiery shrimp cocktail sauce from the historic St. Elmo’s Steak House, and bragging about the largest kid’s museum in the country, Chris Gahl is not shy when it comes to touting one of IU Health’s most respected cancer doctors, Lawrence Einhorn.

The New Year had just started and Chris Gahl, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Visit Indy, sat on a stage beneath the bright lights of the Indiana Convention Center. He shared the stage with a man who also helped promote the city  – former Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning.

In front of a crowd of about 1,200 people, Gahl was poised and ready to ask Manning questions about his football career in Indianapolis. The event was the Visit Indy Annual Meeting – a time when the city’s stakeholders hear the highlights from a successful year of Indianapolis tourism.

“When I say the word ‘Indianapolis’ what emotion does that evoke?” Gahl asked Manning. Then he listened as Manning talked about his early years in his hometown that hosted the Super Bowl in 2012.

Facilitating the Q & A with one of the most iconic athletes in football history was undoubtedly a highlight of Gahl’s career.

But there was another Q & A session that discreetly marks a turning point in Gahl’s life. It was with IU Health oncologist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn. This Q & A was in the privacy of Dr. Einhorn’s office and Gahl didn’t need to ask the questions. They were answered without prompting.

“When he entered the room for the first time he introduced himself and sat down in a chair right next to me,” said Gahl. “I expected him to be wearing a white coat and sitting on a doctor’s stool but he pulled his chair right up next to me and said, ‘how are you doing? I know you must be scared. I know you have family. How are they doing?’”

Gahl was in Dr. Einhorn’s office seeking answers. He had just been diagnosed with testicular cancer and he was there to find reassurance, to gain confidence in his treatment plan.

“He answered my first two questions before I asked them. I have never felt so loved so quickly by another human being in my life,” said Gahl, who turned 41 on December 13.

***

After they talked for a bit, Dr. Einhorn told Gahl that there were two doctors from two different countries shadowing him for the day and since Gahl was seasoned in the area of hospitality, would he mind offering a warm welcome to the visitors. Gahl happily obliged. It’s what he’s done for 14 years in his role with an organization that promotes tourism in the state’s capital city. It is through that role that Gahl was no stranger to Dr. Einhorn.

“I had studied Dr. Einhorn. I had talked about Dr. Eihorn and I had pitched him to members of the media as far back at 2008,” said Gahl.  “I was familiar with his treatment of testicular cancer and because my profession promotes Indianapolis inside and outside the city part of that is culling over people who are interesting people. Dr. Einhorn’s reputation with curing testicular cancer makes him an Indiana ambassador,” said Gahl. “We don’t only promote major sporting events, chefs and athletes, we promote leading oncologists – people making a difference.”

Patients have traveled from around the world seeking care from Dr. Lawrence Einhorn; known for his successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors – using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

“When the world’s leading oncologist for testicular cancer resides in your community, you call,” said Gahl. When Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl 2012 Gahl in fact pitched Dr. Einhorn’s story to several sports writers, promoting men’s health.

Gahl is passionate about the cause – in part because of his own family’s experiences facing cancer.

***

Gahl’s maternal grandmother died of complications from breast cancer; his mother, Nancy Gahl, is a 20-year breast cancer survivor and his great grandfather died of complications from testicular cancer.

It was the last Friday in September. Gahl, his wife of 17 years Catherine Eberspacher and their sons Kanoa, 12, and Kai, 10, had just returned from one of their favorite vacation spots – Hawaii. Gahl had felt a dull ache in his groin. He made an appointment with his urologist when he returned home.

“He examined me and there was no lump, but I felt God poke me in the back and I asked my urologist for an ultrasound. They did one to be safe,” said Gahl. It was that poke in the back that marked a turning point in his personal life. On October 3 he got the news – there was a sizeable mass in his right testicle. He had surgery within 72 hours and had his first meeting with Dr. Einhorn on October 17.  

“When I sent him an email he responded within 17 minutes and said he’d be happy to see me and he copied his scheduler so I could get an appointment in a few days. I have kept that message because it reaffirmed his authentic desire to help his patients,” said Gahl.

A graduate of Pike High School and Butler University, Gahl has visited 44 islands across five continents, has helped generate millions of tourism dollars, and was once named to the Indianapolis Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40.” In addition to Peyton Manning, he personally knows some of Indianapolis’ most influential people – including the city’s 49th Mayor Joe Hogsett.

And when he learned of his cancer diagnosis, Gahl turned to another intimate relationship.  

“After my surgery, the weather was nice. I had the windows open and I put away work and spent a lot of time praying and refocusing my life lens,” said Gahl. “I’ve always focused on work and life balance and this time I put away the phone and laptop and focused on faith and family.”

A member of Cornerstone Lutheran Church, Gahl turned to his pastors, his mother, his wife, his brother and two sons for support. And he looked to Dr. Einhorn to help him navigate his treatment plan.

“He said, ‘Chris, men from all over the world have sat in this chair and have been successfully treated. You will be no different,” said Gahl. Based on CT scans, Dr. Einhorn recommended no additional treatment after his surgery. No radiation. No chemotherapy. He suggested monitoring what he described as “pin prick cancer cells” and felt that Gahl’s body would fight off those cells.

“He asked if I felt comfortable with that and I said, ‘yes, I trust you,’” said Gahl. Since then, he exercises regularly and is judicious about what he puts into his body. His recent blood work and follow up scans showed no tumors. And like the poke in his back encouraging him to request the original ultrasound Gahl is responding to others who have reached out about their own cancer diagnosis.

“When someone asks to meet with me, I make that a priority,” said Gahl. “Sitting with them helps me put things in perspective – I caught it early. I’m an advocate for monitoring mental and physical health. I don’t bring it up proactively but if someone brings it up I’m happy to faith share and I’ve been really moved by the reciprocal faith connection. I’m thankful this process has strengthened my faith, refocused my life lens and helped me share with family and friends.  I’m thankful God is in control.”

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

Sisterly bond – Strengthened by kidney donation

They grew up together – four years apart.  When Amber Howard’s kidney failed, it was her younger sister who donated a new one.

Growing up Amber Howard was the adventurous older sister. April Howard was more artsy, said their mom.  They both ran track. April played the violin and was in theater.

Their late father, Gary Howard was in the military so the family made several moves. The girls often hung out with the same friends, many from their church youth group – hosting pizza parties and game nights in the family basement. Some of their best memories were camping trips and family vacations to Colorado, Kentucky and the Michigan’s upper peninsula. In warmer weather they’d pack a lunch and go for a swim. On wintry days they’d enjoy cross-country skiing near the Canadian border.

Amber, four years older than April, sometimes babysat for her younger sister. On one occasion, their mom, Barbara Morgan, remembers coming home to a house filled with “snow.” The sisters decided to rip apart a beanbag chair and every time the furnace kicked on the tiny particles of white stuffing would spew out from the vents.

“She thought I was a brat. A pest. She’s more of a girly girl. She likes to get her nails done and I like to go for a hike,” said April, 41. “We’re very different but we both are foodies and we travel together taking vacations in Florida,” said Amber, 45.

The sisters graduated from high school in Sault Sainte Marie, MI. Amber went on to obtain her nursing degree and works at IU Health Ball Hospital in the psychiatric unit. She has a daughter, 23. April is married and lives in Arizona where she works as a wildlife biologist.

Even though they were separated by nearly 2,000 miles, the sisters remained close at heart.

Barbara Morgan says Amber was born with small kidneys – something she believes was a genetic abnormality – but nothing that ever caused any health issues. A few years ago, during a routine checkup doctors discovered Amber’s creatinine levels were elevated – an indication of impaired kidney function. In July 2016, she was listed for a kidney transplant. Initially her mom and a couple of friends were tested as potential donors. During the testing a mass was discovered on Barbara Morgan’s lung. It was benign but she was no longer qualified as a donor, said Amber.

“We ran into a lot of bumps in the road. Originally my sister couldn’t be a donor because she was diagnosed with high blood pressure,” said Amber. After a few lifestyle changes, April was reevaluated in May of 2018. She was an ideal donor candidate.

On January 31, Amber was in one in operating room under the care of Dr. William C. Goggins and April was in an adjacent operating room under the care of Dr. John A. Powelson. After surgery they were in separate rooms – FaceTime bridged the distance – and when she felt strong enough April made the trip down the hospital halls to see her big sister.

“I was in ICU for six days. I had great care. I can’t say enough about Dr. Goggins,” said Amber. “It can be scary living with one kidney but I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to be a living donor,” said April. “This is giving my sister a chance to live a healthy life.”

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