Patient: ‘ICU Survivorship Program helps in ways I didn’t think possible’

Over the past two years the number of patients treated in ICU grew exponentially. Many cases were similar; many needs very different. One thing was clear: They needed continued care after they left the hospital. One program answers that call.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

Even on his strongest days, Richard “Rick” Letherberry’s voice is weak. He often walks with the assistance of a cane.

One year ago this month, Letherberry was diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia that attacked his lungs. He spent three months in the hospital. At one point he was in a coma and also on a ventilator for more than a month.

His wife, Caressa “Angel” Letherberry recalls the tragic day that his family was summoned to say their “good-byes.” At 38, Letherberry’s life and the life of his family changed forever.

As he continued to fight back, the virus took a brutal toll. He suffered sepsis, intense pain, difficulty breathing, walking, and talking. He experienced both cognitive and emotional challenges. He needs help with the things he once did with ease – like putting on his shoes and socks.

This man, a resident of Plainfield, Ind. is a father of three children who earns his living as a truck driver. He has been married to his wife for 11 years and has enjoyed serving as a youth pastor and minister of music.

But COVID took its toll.

“He had a beautiful singing voice but COVID stole that from us,” said his wife. And there’s more. With bilateral drop foot, he doesn’t walk the same. Letherberry used to love to play basketball. “Now he walks like an 80-year-old man and can’t play sports,” said Angel Letherberry.

Originally from Pensacola, Fla., Rick Letherberry says he’s heartbroken that he will never walk the beach again.

After a year off work, he recently returned to truck driving but it hasn’t been easy. He gets tired and continues to fight the long-term effects of the pneumonia and COVID-19. To help fight those effects, Letherberry is part of the IU Health ICU Survivor Center. Letherberry has been in the care of Dr. Sikander Khan and Dr. Conan Chittick.

“Dr. Khan is referring him out to all these specialists – occupational and physical therapy and also psychiatric therapy,” said his wife. Dr. Khan specializes in pulmonary critical care and oversaw the majority of COVID-19 patients treated at IU Health Methodist Hospital. After their discharge many patients voiced concerns about their quality of life – a majority experiencing fatigue and depression.

“We took part in a six-month research study on the effects of COVID and mental health,” said Angel Letherberry. Through the ICU Survivor Center, patients like Letherberry receive follow-up care and support. That support focuses on offering multi-disciplinary care that can address various aspects of the patient’s needs such as sleeping issues, anxiety, and overall physical health. The goal is to maximize the recovery for patients, reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions, increase patient satisfaction and decrease mortality.

“The ICU Survivorship Program helps in ways I didn’t think possible. It’s not like a regular doctor visit where you tell them what’s going on and they give you medicine and that’s that,” said Letherberry. “It’s like a one-stop shop. I went in expecting to see a doctor and met a nurse, social worker, and a chaplain. I’ve never felt so cared for by a doctor in my life.”

The ICU Survivorship Program also operates with a pulmonologist, nurse practitioner, nurse navigator, pharmacist, and a mindfulness trainer to create individualized care plans for patients. The team collaborates closely with therapy teams and makes referrals to the IU Health Center of Life for Thoracic Transplant as needed. Last year, the team saw 59 patients, and had more than 600 referrals.

“I hope the program continues to grow and reach more patients,” said Angel Letherberry. “I wish I’d known about it when he was in ICU but I was so focused on him not dying and I was just thinking about the future and what to expect. I’m thankful he’s alive and we have this support”

Patient empowered by small steps; Gives team, family members hope

<p><em><strong>He’s 24 and has been in the hospital for months – part of that time spent in a coma. Now, Daniel Preuss is communicating in ways that at one time seemed impossible.</strong></em><br></p>
<p><em>By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, </em><a href=””></a></p>
<p>It’s been said that, “Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions.” On a recent Friday, in a room at IU Health University Hospital’s Progressive Care Unit there was both music and a whole lot of emotion. For many in the room, it was nothing short of a miracle. </p>
<p>Daniel Preuss came to IU Health to be treated for lymphoma. Days turned into months. He was in a coma and intubated. As he began to attempt to communicate with his caregivers, there were challenges – not only with his speech but with his sight and hearing. It was difficult for him to verbalize his needs and equally difficult for team members to tell him about his condition and care. </p>
<p>After lots of observation and consultations physical therapists, nurses, occupational and speech therapists, collaborated on a plan. They learned that Preuss had both hearing and sight impairments that occurred after he came to the hospital for treatment. </p>
<p>At first they thought the cause was from his disease impacting his central nervous system. Then they thought it may have been caused by his chemotherapy regime. Because the acute loss was so new, Preuss did not know Braille. Team members Elizabeth Dimick, an occupational therapist, Jamie Pulliza, manager of adult speech language pathology, Stephanie Roberts, speech pathologist, <a href=”″>Dr. Laura Prince</a>, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, Christa Kaeser, physical therapist, Megan O’Brien, speech pathologist, and nurse Karlee Guerrero began experimenting with ways to communicate with Preuss. They also consulted with speech language pathology colleagues who specialize in neurologic deficits, Andrea Schaeff and Jill Stewart. </p>
<p>They started with hand squeezes – one squeeze meant, “Yes,” two squeezes meant, “No.” As Preuss’ condition began to improve he showed determination to communicate in full sentences. They wrote letters on his palm but soon learned they needed to “write” faster to keep up with his questions. They eventually began bringing a letter board to Preuss’ room where they could trace the shapes with is finger. </p>
<p>He adapted quickly and began asking more and more questions. His confidence increased as he began to recognize some of his team members by their touch. </p>
<p>Team members say he developed a special trust with Guerrero and asked for her when she wasn’t in the room. The two developed a special handshake so Preuss knew it was his nurse when she walked in the room. </p>
<p>“I have put my heart and soul into him for the last month,” said Guerrero, who has been with IU Health for two years. Close to her patient’s age, Guerrero said it was important to her to make time to hang out with Preuss and get to know him. They talked about things outside the hospital. She learned he is the father to four children, one is named after his favorite car, a 1969 “Chevelle;” he proposed to his fiancé while he was in the hospital; he works as a mechanic and is a percussionist who loves rock and country music. </p>
<p>That interest in music added another layer to Pruess’ healing recently. </p>
<figure><img src=”{asset:2884235:url||}” data-image=”2884235″ style=”opacity: 1;”></figure>
<p>IU Health music therapist Emily Caudill began working with Preuss first to assess what he could feel and what he could hear. Using an instrument called a “Pentatonic Bass Metallophone,” similar to an xylophone, Caudill placed a mallet in Preuess’ right hand. She then guided him hand-over-hand as he struck the notes with minimal assistance.</p>
<p>Preuss’ mother witnessed the initial music session and noticed a change in Preuess’ expression and emotion. “He seemed to relax and smiled as he realized he was recognizing the sounds of the music,” said Caudill. Preuss had at times reported a ringing in his ear. Caudill, who was treated with ototoxic chemotherapy for ovarian cancer in 2012, also experiences ringing in her ears. She knew to watch for signs of agitation to ensure the music did not exacerbate the ringing.</p>
<p>But this was different. </p>
<p>“He verbalized a response after playing each note and reported hearing every single note of the C major scale,” said Caudill. “My personal experience is that the brain can sometimes compensate for hearing loss by producing high-frequency ringing in the ear. This is called tinnitus,” said Caudill. When she learned Preuss was a percussionist, Caudill chose instruments that might be familiar to him. One of those instruments was a “cabasa.” When she spelled the word, Preuss nodded and acknowledged that he understood. </p>
<p>Music therapy is part of IU Health’s CompleteLife Program that attends to the whole person – mind, body, and soul. In addition to music, patients can receive complimentary, yoga, art, and massage therapy. </p>
<p>When Caudill realized that Preuss did have some degree of residual hearing she said one of the goals was to use the sounds and instruments to promote a sense of empowerment and autonomy in a situation where he had limited control over what was happening to his body.</p>
<p> As the music therapy continued, Caudill played a series of notes and Preuss accurately replicated the series. As his inflection changed, Preuss indicated that he could hear the low frequency sounds. In all, Caudill said Preuss responded to three of five bass notes and all eight notes of the C major scale, beginning with middle C. </p>
<p>When his fingers were traced on the letters to ask how he felt. He responded: “Alright.” Then he smiled and eagerly pursued the music therapy. </p>
<p>It wasn’t just Preuss’ facial expressions that changed during the session. The room was filled with his caregivers. As Preuss prepared for discharge to rehabilitation, the team planned co-treatment with music, physical and occupational therapy. </p>
<p>Caudill provided opportunities for Preuss to continue playing the instrument as he worked toward his physical therapy goals – sitting and then standing. Physical Therapist Sydney Rusboldt was joined by nursing student, Maria Escobar, along with occupational therapist Dimick, and nurse Guerrero as they carefully repositioned Preuss. The team approach was to include the music to help him relax, manage his pain, and anxiety.</p>
<p>There was cheering. There were tears. </p>
<p>“I see a lot of cancer patients but I don’t see a lot like Daniel,” said Guerrero. “He is one of the most motivated people I know. The first thing he asks every morning is, ‘when is therapy?’” </p>

She heard the words ‘ovarian cancer’ on her 60th birthday

<p><em><strong>About 19,880 women will receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Stephanie Walker was one of those women.</strong></em><br></p>
<p><em>By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, </em><a href=””></a></p>
<p>In the early stages, many women have no symptoms at all. Stephanie Walker was wise. She listened to her body and became suspicious when she was bloated and uncomfortable. She first went to the emergency room and then followed up with her gynecologist. That was in November of 2021. </p>
<p>On November 4, Walker’s 60th birthday, a blood test – CA-125 – indicated she has ovarian cancer. This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate women about the signs, symptoms, and treatment for ovarian cancer, </p>
<p>The American Cancer Society reports that about half the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older. It is more common in white women than African American Women. There is no way to prevent most ovarian cancers but there are things that women can do to lower their risks of the most common type of ovarian cancer, epithelial ovarian cancer. Those things include maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding hormone replacement therapy after menopause. Also suggested by the American Cancer Society are using contraceptives and tubal ligation and hysterectomy. If there is a family history of ovarian cancer, women may consider genetic counseling or testing. Overall, it is suggested that women talk to their physician if they have risks or concerns. </p>
<p>For Walker, the diagnosis came as a surprise. She has no family history, has enjoyed excellent health most of her life, and has maintained an active lifestyle. </p>
<p>“Just a few weeks before my diagnosis I was kayaking in Florida and sailing past a bunch of 20-year-old college students,” said Walker, who has been married to her husband, Chris, for 35 years. They have two adults daughters and four grandchildren. A long-time resident of Seymour, Ind. she is retired from operating “Stephie’s Pawn Shop.” </p>
<p>“Ovarian Cancer has been called the ‘silent killer’ and it’s true. There are few signs,” said Walker. In addition to kayaking she was taking trips with her grandson to Walt Disney World, biking several miles, and hiking in the woods.</p>
<p>With a Stage 3 diagnosis, she is in the care of Dr. Stephanie Robertson at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. She began chemotherapy a few days before Thanksgiving last year and in May took a trip with her daughter to celebrate her remission. Now she is getting blood transfusions to improve her iron levels. </p>
<p>“I love Dr. Robertson. She told me, ‘it isn’t curable but it doesn’t mean you can’t fight it.’ It gave me hope,” said Walker. In the past four months she has taken three trips – including one to the ocean where she reeled in a 170-pound sailfish. “I’m living my life and I’m going to make every day count.” </p>

TAVR procedure helps patient breathe easy

Martha Fletcher is usually on the go but noticed recently that she was falling short of breath. “When I was out walking, particularly up hills, I was finding that I would have to stop and catch my breath,” said Martha.

After some investigation, her primary care doctor referred her to the heart valve team at IU Health Arnett where experts determined she was a good candidate for a procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

“Until three or four years ago this procedure was available mostly in big cities at the bigger hospitals, but these patients are everywhere,” said Dr. Mohammad Hoque, an interventional cardiologist who brought the procedure to Arnett. “Our patients don’t need to travel to big places and our outcomes are as good as any of those big places.”

Co-worker answers call; Provides gift of life

Jason Thomas didn’t talk much at work about his need for a kidney. But, when one co-worker learned that he needed a donor, she went through the testing process and learned she was a match.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

At a recent kidney walk in downtown Indianapolis, Jason Thomas was all smiles. He posed with his IU Health nephrologist Dr. Asif Sharfuddin – both showing the bright orange signature color for kidney disease.

Thomas, 46, discovered he had kidney disease about nine years ago. He and his wife Jannette, married 15 years ago and they were living in Pennsylvania at the time of his diagnosis. They knew they wanted to move to Indiana but waited until their son was finished with high school. Two years ago they moved to Plainfield, and the timing was right. In addition to a son, Sammy Quinones, 25, they have a daughter, Kira Thomas, 11.

As he was going into kidney failure, Thomas was listed for a transplant.

“I did whatever I could to get the word out – Facebook, flyers, telling friends,” said Thomas. But one of his co-workers at the time said she worked in the same building with Thomas at GEODIS, a supply chain operation, and had no idea of his need.

“We were getting ready for a manager meeting and a coworker showed me Jason’s Facebook page. I couldn’t believe I didn’t know,” said Becky McGinty, 39. “I wrote and told him I was a little mad that he didn’t tell anyone at work. I always wanted to donate a kidney and was actually approved four years earlier for someone else but she ended up not needing it,” she said.

With O positive blood type, McGinty knew her chances were good of being a match for Thomas. When she learned that she was a fit, she planned a surprise party with friends, family, and coworkers.

Thomas reluctantly showed up at a local restaurant and was greeted with a cake that spelled it out: “It’s a match.”

According to, there are more than 90,000 people awaiting kidney transplant in the United States. Living organ donors do not need to be a relative of the recipient to be a match.

Thomas received his transplant on Oct. 23, 2020. Because of COVID restrictions, he was not able to see McGinty after surgery but they communicated via FaceTime. They later celebrated with a post-surgery meal.

“I’m glad I did it but I would say that I wish I’d been in better shape. It made recovery a little tougher,” said McGinty.

Thomas said it was amazing how different he felt after surgery. “I felt like someone put fresh batteries in me. Six months after surgery I ran a 5K,” he said. As a way to help educate others about kidney disease and the need for organ donation, Thomas became a board member of the National Kidney Foundation. He speaks publicly about the cause.

Two organ transplants later – She’s advocating for life-saving donation

A former school teacher is showing gratitude by championing for a cause.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

For nearly half her life, Amy Davis suffered the side effects of juvenile diabetes. In her adult life, the disease grew from uncertainty to fear.

“I couldn’t detect the highs from the lows. I was on one of the first continuous glucose monitors and unfortunately, technology wasn’t as good as it is now,” said Davis, 63. “By the time it detected my sugar it had already dropped so low it was dangerous.”

For more than 20 years, Davis taught high school psychology and was open about her condition with her students. Twenty-nine years ago she married her husband, Jeff. They have two adult sons.

“When my children were small, I was scared to drive with them because my sugar levels would drop. My husband barely slept because three of seven nights I’d drop so low I’d have convulsions. I was afraid my kids would find me dead,” said Davis.

Those were the words she shared with IU Health Dr. Jonathan Fridell, when she weighed the risk for a pancreas transplant.

She received that transplant in 2012. Five years later she received a kidney transplant at IU Health. She remains in the care of Dr. Asif Sharfuddin, who specializes in nephrology and kidney disease.

“I’m feeling pretty awesome. I no longer have a fear of driving or not waking up,” said Davis. To protect her immunity system, she is no longer in the classroom. She now works remotely as a health coach.

“This year I decided I was going to do as many things as I could to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation,” said Davis, who lives in Greenville, Ohio. She has participated in two 5K events and has registered for two more, including the Indiana Donor Network, “Walk to Save Lives” on October 8th.

In addition to raising funds, Davis raises awareness. She wears t-shirts that announce she is a “transplant survivor,” and “an organ donor recipient.” She also sports a license plate on her car with the words: “Transplant recipient.” Twice a year she sends a “thank you” note to her donor families.

In one of her most challenging feats to date, Davis recently took part in Cleveland’s “Over the Edge,” event. Participants rappelled down the side of the 23-story Oswald Centre.

“I am still here today because of the selfless choice made by two organ donors. I believe I personally owe it to these unknown hero angels watching over me to educate everyone about the importance of organ donation,” said Davis. “That means conquering my fears and living life to the fullest.”

College athlete leans on family, friends for cancer support

She has always been fit and healthy, but when Janai Mitchell learned she had breast cancer, an extended care team circled up to offer help.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

Her web of reinforcement is tight. Photos show Janai Mitchell smiling with friends, and co-workers, and on the beach with her dad and stepmother. Another photo shows her with her mom, aunt, and friends wearing silly party hats.

The last photo was taken in April on Mitchell’s 27th birthday. A month earlier she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She does not have an inherited mutation, but with a family history, she was diligent with self exams.

It was during one of those exams that Mitchell discovered a lump in her right breast. Her great grandmother died of complications from breast cancer. Her grandmother is a survivor.

A long-time resident of Kansas City, Kan., Mitchell played four years of basketball and volleyball in high school. She was a middle hitter on the volleyball court and a center for the basketball team.

She received a scholarship to a Kansas City Community College and continued pursuing her interest in sports. After graduation, she moved to Indianapolis to be closer to family.

And now, it’s her family members and friends who are surrounding her as she goes through treatment.

During a recent visit to IU Health Simon Cancer Center, Mitchell was accompanied by her aunt, Tavara Holliday. In the care of IU Health’s Dr. Carla Fisher and Dr. Tarah Ballinger Mitchell underwent a lumpectomy and recently completed her sixth chemotherapy treatment. Two weeks after her treatments, Mitchell took part in a new program at IU Health called “Multidisciplinary Oncologic Vitality and Exercise” (M.O.V.E.), created by Dr. Ballinger. The program brings together a group like minded healthcare professionals from various disciplines. The goal is to offer supportive oncology services as part of every patient’s journey through survivorship. Physical therapy is one of those services.

As an athlete, Mitchell is no stranger to the benefits of physical therapy.

“I’ve been lucky that I haven’t been sick from chemotherapy and my numbers have stayed the same so there’s no decline. I’ve had a little stiffness in my fingers and the physical therapy has helped,” said Mitchell. In addition to regular visits with her physical therapist, she works on strengthening exercises at home.

Living alone, and going to work every day as a Regulated Pharmaceutical Technician has also given Mitchell focus during treatment. It’s her friends and family members who pitched in to provide transportation to treatments, grocery runs, cleaning and moral support.

“She’s very independent,” said her aunt. “We’re here to offer backup and we’re happy she’s letting us.”

He’s had a hand in transplant for 47 years

Mark Smith has brought a standard of excellence and a sense of purpose to his job in the HLA testing lab since 1975.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

Mark Bradford Smith is one of those people who makes your day better just by being who he is.

Smith is retiring after nearly a half-century with IU Health (and all of the organizational entities that came before it).

But we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, imagine you’re to meet him for an interview at his lab adjacent to IU Health Methodist Hospital, and you’re unsure where to park amid the construction of the health system’s new Downtown hospital.

No worries. He’ll pop out of the lab, still wearing his white coat, hop in the car with you and direct you around the corner, up one street and down the next until you can pull up to a curbside space about two blocks from his office in Wile Hall.

So, of course, the interview had to start during that car ride and the walk back to the nearly 100-year-old Wile Hall, formerly used as living quarters for new nurses at Methodist.


“I came home from the Army in 1975,” he says, as we cross busy Capitol Avenue on our way back to his office.

It was near the end of the Vietnam War, and Smith was staying with his mom, not sure what his next move might be.

An employee at Riley Hospital for Children for many years, she suggested he come down to the hospital and participate in a blood drive in the lab where she worked.

While there, he did what a lot of Vietnam vets did when they finished their military commitment. He asked about a job.

Sure enough, there was a position open in the Transplant Immunology HLA (histocompatibility leukocyte antigen) lab, where a small team of people conducted antigen testing/tissue typing of blood samples to prepare for organ transplants.

Smith had no medical background, but he knew a good opportunity when he saw it. He enrolled at IUPUI, earning a degree in immunology/biology while he worked in the lab, first in more of a sterile processing role before taking on more responsibility as a technologist.


That lab, housed for decades in the basement of the research wing at Riley, moved to Wile Hall in 2003. For 47 years, he has worked in the HLA testing lab.

“I worked 28 years at Riley, 19 in this building,” he said, as we entered the lab on Wile Hall’s first floor. He laughs when he recalls how he and the lab team adapted to their basement workspace at Riley:

“We painted scenery on the walls to make it look like the outdoors. I was glad to come here and be above ground to see the daylight.”

He does miss seeing the children and families in the hallways and the cafeteria at Riley though.

“I got accustomed to seeing the children and the babies, even outside the transplant world,” he said. “This is more isolating.”

But it’s hard to argue with the sunlight streaming through the windows and the cheerful greetings of his co-workers, most of them a generation or two younger than him.

Smith is 66 now and says the time is right for him to step aside and let the younger folks lead the way.

“Life is not that long, and I’m closer to the end than the beginning. I don’t want them to have to drag me out in a wheelchair or be in a sickbed.”


Smith shows off the corner of the busy lab that has been his domain for 17 of the past 19 years. Vials of blood are labeled and waiting for testing, as he explains the process for separating red blood cells from the plasma itself. The blood samples arrive daily from hospitals, clinics, dialysis centers and offices throughout the state and nation.

“The testing we do gives the surgeon the OK to go through with the transplant,” he explained. “Everybody’s hands here help lead the surgeon’s hands in delivering that organ to a person to see them live another five to 10 years. It is critical that we be precise in our data and steadfast in our decisions.”

Back in his early days at Riley, he would visit potential transplant patient family members in their homes to collect blood samples to determine if they might be a donor match.

“We wanted to make it easy and accessible.”

These days, he doesn’t see patients. “Samples come to us in a pneumatic tube, but their blood flows through here,” he said.

And often he gets to hear good news via transplant coordinators and patient stories revealing that surgeries have been successful.

“It’s good to be able to connect with those people in our minds.”

He’ll miss that, of course.

“I’ll miss knowing that I’m helping, that the work I’m doing is extending life for individuals who are facing these types of illnesses,” he said. “I’ve had my hand in that and I’ve given the OK to go through with so many transplants over the years because that’s what we do here in this lab.”

That often meant working nights, weekends and holidays over the years because organ donations are unpredictable.

“I’ve been here night after night after night, day after day, weekends. I have slept in the lab many times because donors come whenever they come. But that’s OK because I know that I’m helping extend someone’s life.”


So, while this chapter is coming to an end, Smith has plenty of living, ministering and mentoring yet to do. An ordained minister, he preaches for Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and will continue his work with youth. He is an AAU basketball coach for 14- to 16-year-olds and coaches baseball at the Hendricks County YMCA.

He and his wife, Debra, have seven children, 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

But these people right here in this lab are his other family. They are a tight-knit group, he said, celebrating birthdays, babies, holidays, weddings – any excuse for a party.

Smith, who grew up in Kentucky watching his grandmother bake and his parents do plenty of cooking, learned his way around an oven at an early age.

“I used to be a sweets man,” he said. “I had to get away from that as I got older, but I still love to fix that type of stuff.”

His colleagues appreciate that.

Transplant immunology manager Mindi Kincade, who describes Smith as “a caring and compassionate team member,” said he brings the best birthday treats. Aside from that, he is a lifelong learner, she said.

“He participates in lectures building on his knowledge of HLA and organ transplant. He handles 800-plus patient samples each month with 100% accuracy and efficiency,” Kincade said. “Maintaining sample integrity is the foundation of all subsequent testing that takes place while patients wait for their organs.”


And that is what he is most proud of during his career.

“One of the things I prided myself on over these 47 years is being precise with my handling of the specimens and testing,” he said. “I’ve always looked at it as an extension of myself. This is how I would want my situation handled. People can make errors; no one is perfect, but I always strive for that.”

That’s why he agreed to stay on an additional two weeks so he could properly train his young replacements.

“Mindi wants me to give a precise demonstration on how I’ve been able to avoid problems over the years,” Smith said. “I’m proud to do that because I want them to maintain these standards. There’s a right way to do things.”

He credits his semi-retired previous manager, Nancy Higgins, for her guidance and support during his time in the lab at Wile Hall.

“I would be remiss to not make known that it was wonderful being under her leadership during those years,” he said.

And while IU Health’s transplant program has evolved and grown to one of the largest in the nation, Smith says it hasn’t changed in its direction, nor in its care.

“Right now, I think we have close to 2,000 patients on our waiting list for various organs.”

As he prepares to leave his work home of nearly five decades, Smith said his son just hired into the IU Health system, working in nutrition.

“Out with the old, in with the new,” he laughed.

“It’s been a great 47 years. God has placed me in this field, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “But you gotta know when it’s time to go. It’s time to let the new people come on in and be a part of this great experience.”

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

On Tuesdays, her son brings her to work

Jason King, IU Health Morgan Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer, picks up a special volunteer every Tuesday and brings her to work—his mom, Sandy King.

As she says, “Tuesdays are definitely one of my favorite days of the week.”

She’ll spend the day volunteering with the oncology team and then hang out until it’s time for her son to drive her home.

The volunteer team at IU Health Morgan is growing, and they’re looking for more people to join them.

Watch the video to learn more about Sandy King and the volunteer program.

Meet ‘Miss Pickles:’ Spirit animal and mascot

Why would a stuffed giraffe live in a hospital office space? Here’s the story:

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

A floor of offices occupied by doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers, might seem like an unusual place to encounter a giraffe. There are no patients in this area of IU Health Methodist Hospital. But behind-the-scenes is a story of one big spotted stuffed animal.

Affectionately known as “Miss Pickles” – she resembles a grand prize won at a carnival game. This plush toy is recognized by members of the Acute Care Surgery Team as a sort of group mascot. On any given day, team members face some of the most serious situations for patient care. Days can be long and taxing.

Throughout those long days and long nights Miss Pickles has provided a little light-hearted relief.

She came to IU Health several years ago. Her official owner is nurse practitioner, Heather Denger, who started at IU Health 15 years ago. Denger isn’t sure where the name came from but the idea of having a giraffe in the office actually has a backstory.

“When I was a kid, I was tall so I got called ‘giraffe’ a lot,” said Denger, who stands 5 feet 10 inches tall. The nickname stuck into adulthood and eventually Denger adopted the giraffe as her spirit animal.

A friend purchased Miss Pickles as a humorous gift for Denger and soon the giraffe became part of her team.

“We’ve had some fun pulling pranks on each other with Miss Pickles. Sometimes team members will go into their offices and see their desks a little messy and Miss Pickles gets blamed,” said Denger. One of the biggest pranks was when members of the ortho trauma team kidnapped Miss Pickles.

Denger received text messages from an unknown number with pictures of Miss Pickles ordering pizza at Sonny’s, one of the hospital diners, and pictures of the stuffed animal resting on the floor wearing a blood pressure cuff.

All part of the fun, team members made a “Missing Person” sign seeking help for her safe return.

“The nurse practitioners working nights even looked around the hospital for her,” said Denger.

Eventually, Miss Pickles was returned to her rightful owner – wearing casts on her legs, signed by members of the ortho team.

These days Miss Pickles also wears scrub pants, a neck brace, patriotic beads, and a headband. She also has a sign around her neck that reads: “I miss my mommy.”

A year ago when Denger changed her position and joined the lung transplant team at IU Health Methodist Hospital, Miss Pickles stayed behind.

“I didn’t really have room for her in my new office, and I knew how important she was to the team,” said Denger. “It’s a little thing but it’s really given us some light moments.” She still receives photo updates on Miss Pickles from co-workers.

In Denger’s absence, other team members, including Nurse Navigators Wendy Hoover and Katie Watson, oversee Miss Pickles’ care – that includes sprucing her up for special holidays and of course . . . protecting her from being snatched up by other team members.