After surgery, she’s half the woman she used to be

For Brandi Jefferis, intracranial hypertension could have left her blind. But weight-loss surgery gave her back her vision and her life.

Brandi Jefferis is half the woman she used to be.

The 45-year-old eastern Indiana resident once weighed 312 pounds. After a serious health scare, she underwent gastric bypass surgery at IU Health North Hospital and lost a whopping 187 pounds.

Under doctor’s orders, she has since put 10 pounds back on her 5-foot 10-inch frame and weighs 135.

For her, it’s a whole new life. But the crisis that led up to it was frightening.

“I woke up one morning and was having a hard time seeing,” she said. She went to her eye doctor, figuring she needed glasses. But her doctor quickly referred her to a neurologist.

The next day she was having a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as a spinal tap – a medical procedure in which a needle is inserted into the spinal canal, most commonly to collect cerebrospinal fluid for diagnostic testing.

“My spinal fluid had built up to the point where it was crushing my optic nerves and squeezing my brain, causing blindness,” she said. “If I hadn’t gone, I could have gone blind permanently.”

Jefferis was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri (false brain tumor), also known as intracranial hypertension. It mimics the signs of a brain tumor but is benign.

She got started on medications to reduce her fluid retention, then was faced with a choice. She could get gastric bypass surgery to reduce her hypertension or have a shunt surgically implanted in the brain to drain fluid.

For her, bariatric surgery was the lesser of two evils. She met with weight-loss surgeon Dr. Ambar Banerjee and committed to working the program, which required her to lose a certain amount of weight in the six months preceding surgery.

After the November 2017 operation, she said she lost the weight quite rapidly and never looked back.

“I get up every day and I can see. I get out more. I ride a motorcycle, I have a houseboat. I’m an outdoors person and I can’t imagine waking up and not being able to see.”

Jefferis, who said Dr. Banerjee called her his “prodigy,” is proud of her 20 percent body fat and the fact that she can once again fit into clothes she wore in high school before she began gaining weight. She credits her husband, Darrell Thomas, her daughter and others for supporting her during her weight-loss journey. In fact, she said, it’s been life-changing for her entire family.

“Don’t be afraid,” she tells anyone who might want to pursue weight-loss surgery. “Everybody’s nervous about change, but sometimes it’s good. Instead of being home in pain and miserable, live life, spend time with your family, see the world. Live.”

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

Meet these Methodist transplant caregivers and their canines

They work as a team on the transplant unit and when they’re away from the hospital they have another team member. These caregivers love their furry companions.

They range in age from six months to 11 years – the dogs, that is. And their owners . . . well, these nurses have experience working with IU Health ranging from one to four years.

IU Health Transplant is one of the largest and most comprehensive centers of its kind in the region and, last year was ranked the eleventh largest by volume in the United States. At IU Health Methodist Hospital a team of caregivers combine clinical research and teaching excellence to care for heart and lung patients. IU Health performed 51 lung transplants last year and 13 heart transplants.

These caregivers all have a couple of things in common: They love their jobs on the transplant unit and they love their pups.

For most, the dogs offer comfort at the end of a stressful day. For some, their pooch is their hiking buddy. Here’s more:

  • Jordan Weed has been a nurse at IU Health since July 2018. Her three-year-old dog Heidi loves to relax outside and has her own pool.

What Jordan loves most about IU Health? “Working in transplant you get to give your patients another chance at life. You get to see them at their lows and highs. They go from being short of when breath getting out of bed to being able to jump up and down and walk laps without the aid of oxygen. It’s amazing and I’m forever grateful to be able to see what patients go through and accomplish but also to be part of their support system.”

  • Kalyn Scheidler has worked as a Patient Care Assistant with IU Health for one year. Her one-year-old dog Zoey loves to join her on hikes. Zoey is also a registered emotional support dog.

What Kalyn loves most about IU Health? “I love seeing positive patient progress after their transplant. A patient may go from no longer being able to do their favorite activities to being able to do those activities again. Their joy is contagious.”

  • Lindsey Casselman will celebrate two milestones in July. It will be her one-year anniversary of working as a nurse at IU Health and her dog Elmer celebrates his sixth birthday. She says Elmer is a spoiled dog who loves long cuddle sessions, long car rides and getting treats at the drive-thru window.

What Lindsey loves most about IU Health? “I love my coworkers who are passionate about their jobs and always willing to help each other. My favorite thing about working with transplant patients is the connections we get to make with them. They tend to be with us for long periods after they receive their transplant so we get to know them and their families really well.”

  • Meghan Tar also began working as a nurse at IU Health last year. Her dog Fitz, is a year old. On her days off she loves to take him for walks along Mass Ave downtown. Fitz likes stopping to say, “Hi” to everyone.

What Meghan loves most about working for IU Health? “I love the patients and their families. New transplants usually spend at least a few weeks here so we get to know them and their families. It is so rewarding when they come back to visit and we see how well they are doing at home.”

  • Jackie Coleman has been a nurse at IU Health for four years. Her white shepherd Denali is almost 11, and her black shepherd Juneau is three. They love going on hikes and enjoying an ice cream treat afterward. “It’s a great way to stay active and relax during my time away from work,” said Coleman. “They are always excited to see me when I come home from work. It’s a good way to come home after a busy or difficult day.”

What Jackie loves most about working for IU Health? “The patients are definitely the best part of working on the transplant floor. We see many of them multiple times a year for various reason and visits, so it becomes a small family-like environment.”

  • Morgan Britt has been a nurse at IU Health for three years. She has a 2-year-old whippet named Crosby and a 2-year-old greyhound named Jasper. She loves going on long walks and dog dates with her pups.

What Morgan loves most about working for IU Health? “I love the patients. We’re one big family.”

  • Alex Beardsworth has been a nurse at IU Health for two years. Her dog Zebedee is two and loves hiking.

What Alex loves most about working at IU Health? “The patients. It’s a big transplant family.”

  • Martha Bill has been a nurse at IU Health for two years. Her dog Buddy likes to go to local parks and for long walks. “Just being him, helps me relax. His tendency to make me laugh puts me in a good Mood,” said Bill.

What Martha loves best about working at IU Health? We get to know our patients and their families well. I enjoy having to think about the different components of their care and involving them through education so they can enjoy and take of their new gift successfully once they are discharged.

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

Merriman Award Honors Team Members Statewide

Five IU Health team members around the state have won the “Lynda,” the Lynda A. Merriman Award for Compassionate Care. Thanks to the generosity of Chuck Merriman, this award honors the kind of dedicated IU Health team members who eased his wife Lynda’s seven-month battle with cancer at IU Health Simon Cancer Center and University Hospital. The Lynda is a cash award, and its winners are nominated by their peers at IU Health hospitals statewide.

The winners are:

Bridget Jeffries is team lead of Individual Solutions, meaning she works with uninsured or underinsured patients from her office near IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. For most people, this job would be frustrating—but not for Jeffries, according to her nominator, Paul Davis, Revenue Cycle Services (RCS) program manager.

“Bridget goes above and beyond daily to make sure patients are able to receive the great care afforded by IU Health without the worry of a heavy financial burden,” he said. “She also handles medical escalations for uninsured patients and ensures we are caring for the physical and financial health of this vulnerable population.” Other nominators noted her ability to sustain relationships with state agencies that administer Medicaid programs, and her willingness to take calls to solve problems whenever she is needed—even outside normal office hours.

Larryetta Morris, a rehabilitation technician at IU Health Methodist Hospital, works on the wound care team. Her nomination included several examples of going above and beyond for patients, including buying a special lunch for a patient who had lost her appetite, enlisting a team member’s help to repair a patient’s wheelchair, and saying at the end of every patient interaction, “Thank you for letting us take care of you.”

Morris was nominated by Kate O’Halloran, PT, her co-worker on the wound team. She said, “Etta is called in to assist with those patients who require extra help because of the size and extent of their wound(s) and/or the patient’s immobility. She sets her own needs aside, works as a great team member, and doesn’t stop until she has done everything possible to provide the best possible experience for the patient.”

Jessica Snyder, RN is a wound ostomy continence nurse at IU Health North Hospital. She was nominated by Shelly Lancaster, RN and other colleagues at IU Health North.

“I routinely hear from her patients how they have appreciated her gentle and caring manner as much as her clinical expertise,” said Lancaster. “She regularly helps patients come to terms with their ‘new normal’ and helps them to master the self-care required to cope with a new ostomy.”

Lancaster shared one example. Snyder had several times cared for a patient at IU Health North with complex wound care and ostomy needs. When that patient turned up in the emergency room at IU Health Saxony Hospital, the patient asked for Snyder. Snyder continues to return to IU Health Saxony when this patient needs her.

Elaine Butler, RN improves the entire nursing team at IU Health Morgan Cancer Center, according to her nominator, Sonya Payne, RN.

Payne says Butler emphasizes continuing education for herself and her colleagues, and guides new nurses. “Elaine is dedicated to her specialty,” said Payne. “She is a great role model and mentor.”

Payne pointed out two areas in particular in which Butler excels. One is having difficult conversations with patients, including discussions of death and dying. “No matter how busy she is as a charge nurse, Elaine will stop what she is doing and give the patient her full attention,” said Payne. “She truly listens—which is often what our patients need most.” The second is ensuring that the team has proper orders, education and support to practice safely, and care for every type of cancer patient.

Jean Kolp, NP at IU Health Arnett Primary Care, goes well beyond medical care to deliver holistic experiences for her elderly people throughout the community, according to Brenda DeBlaso, practice manager.

“The senior population Jean works with daily can be very challenging, and she always has a smile and kind words for her patients,” said DeBlaso. Kolp, who receives referrals from Arnett Primary Care Physicians, assists with overall wellness, psychosocial, financial and socialization issues for patients as well as their caregivers. In addition to completing Individualized Medicare Annual Wellness visits (she did over 900 in 2018), Kolp shares resources and opportunities with her colleagues at IU Health and throughout the seniors-serving community in Lafayette. She established the Indiana Geriatric Society of Greater Lafayette, and volunteers at numerous seniors-serving events.

You can honor excellent IU Health caregivers by supporting the IU Health Foundation.

It wasn’t bug bites; It was a rare type of Lymphoma

Practitioners twice-misdiagnosed Jenise Bohbrink. Her cancer is so rare that it went undetected. Now she’s a patient at IU Health undergoing a bone marrow transplant.

It was a month packed with activity – a surprise 40th
birthday party for her husband, her children’s birthdays, the 25th
Anniversary of the Brown County Community Foundation where she worked as a development program assistant.

Cancer was one of the last words Jenise Bohbrink wanted to hear in September of 2018. Friends and family members know Bohbrink as a giver. She’s served as a volunteer for the Brown County Literacy Coalition, and the Brown County weekend backpack food program, and a Sunday school teacher at Nashville United Methodist Church.

Even when she first learned of her diagnosis her thoughts were on her family. How would she tell them? Even more disturbing than the word “cancer” was the full diagnosis: Primary cutaneous gamma delta T-Cell Lymphoma. Some researchers indicate fewer than 100 cases of the rare skin cancer have been reported worldwide.

For Bohbrink, the symptoms were typical of the cases that are misdiagnosed.

“I live in the woods so when spots appeared on my legs, we thought they were bug bites,” said Bohbrink who married Brent Bohbrink May 28, 2011. They have two children Averi, 6 and Owen, 4. The family lives in Morgantown, Ind.

When the spots didn’t go away she visited her dermatologist. The first diagnosis was Lupus. Then came the diagnosis of Lyme disease. Her biopsy results were then sent to multiple labs for confirmation of the T-Cell Lymphoma.

“Once we had more information we went for a walk around the pasture and I told my husband we need to tell our families in person,” said Bohbrink. So they headed to Fort Wayne to meet her parents via Danville to meet Brent’s family.

In a journal, Bohbrink wrote: “Neither Brent nor I slept. Tears . . . fear. . . worry . . . scared – all the emotions were there but there was also peace about the situation. . . Got will take care of us.”

Within a matter of days she was referred to IU Health hematologist/oncologist Dr. Michael Robertson and her schedule was filled with appointments – including a CT of her chest, abdomen and pelvis, and surgery to place her port (that she nicknamed “Casanova.”) The CT came back clear and she began chemotherapy on September 17, 2018.

Throughout her treatment, Bohbrink managed to maintain a sense of humor. She referred to the stage of losing her hair as “a visit by Cousin It from the Adam’s family.” She let her kids shave her head. After starting her second round of chemo, she wore a wig and dressed up with her husband and kids in Super Hero costumes to celebrate Halloween. She also wrote a blog entry on the “benefits to being bald due to chemo” that included: “Huge savings on shampoo and conditioner,” and “Halloween wigs fit better.”

In November, a PET scan showed the cancer was gone from her legs. She moved forward with the fifth and sixth rounds of chemo and began meeting with the transplant team at IU Health to discuss her preventative stem cell transfusion.

She finished chemotherapy on Dec. 31, 2018 and started the New Year with the words she had waited to hear: “You are in complete remission.”

On April 23, under the care of Dr. Sherif S. Farag, Bohbrink was admitted to IU Health University Hospital to prepare for the countdown to her stem cell transplant. Both of her brothers Travis and Aaron Platt were haploidentical donors. Travis was chosen as the Bohbrink’s donor and April 29 became her “cell-ebration day.”

Just days before her release on May 21, Bohbrink talked about the support she received from her transplant and oncology doctors and nurses. She praised her family – parents John and Marilyn Platt, her brothers and sister, Jonell Malcomb and friends from her church and community.

“My biggest support came from God,” said Bohbrink. When I first heard the word ‘cancer’ I was scared and I said ‘God I need you. I need your help.’ From that point on I was calm. It’s not me battling cancer; it’s me beating cancer.”

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

Transplant Patient: “Dr. Fridell is a Miracle Worker”

Last year, Sarah Henderson Powell received her second pancreas transplant. Now, she’s enjoying a life filled with celebrating milestones.

A torn rotator cuff recently sent Sarah Henderson Powell to the hospital. The injury was an inconvenience but it was also a disappointment. She was all set to head to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an ambassador for the Indiana Donor Network.

But there will be other opportunities to advocate for organ donation. She was given those opportunities when she received her second pancreas transplant a year ago.

“I was absolutely devastated because I wanted to be at the track. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, right?” said Powell, 36 the mother of two boys, Jake, 6 and Jack, 4. She married Travis Powell in 2012 and he has a son Garrett.

The stress of the injury resulted in shingles and she ended up in the hospital. The good news: She was discharged in time to make it to her son’s Kindergarten graduation.

Graduations, ball games, trips to the zoo, birthdays and anniversaries are a reality for Powell now. She knows there will be more.

On February 13, 2018 Powell received her second pancreas transplant and was in the care of IU Health Dr. Jonathan A. Fridell. A year later she wrote:

“Today is a special day – not just for me but for the little girl who lost her life a year ago and whose family chose to donate her organs so that she could live on and save five lives. Today I honor her with my eternal gratitude, not just from me but also from my entire family. I’m so honored that I can continue to live my best life for her. Because of her, I was able to spend another Christmas with my family, see my children have another birthday and go to bed every night with my family. Thank you IU Health and Dr. Jonathan Fridell. I owe you everything. You are a miracle worker.”

Powell was 26 when she was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. The disease took its toll on her. She received her first pancreas transplant on Nov. 11, 2016 – also under the care of Dr. Fridell. For two months she said she felt better than she could ever remember. But in February 2017, her body began rejecting the organ so she was again listed for another transplant.

She was back home six days after her surgery and a year later, she completed training as a volunteer advocate with the Indiana Donor Network. And there’s more. Powell has also joined other pancreas transplant patients for lunches and social media share groups.

“Hands down Dr. Fridell is the best doctor I’ve ever had and I should know. I’ve had a lot of them,” said Powell. “Every time I’ve had a little set back, he’s been on top of it. Is it easy? Heck no. Do I have sick days? Yes, but fewer than before. Will life be easy for me? Probably not, but I want to live my best life and give back to others to honor my donor for giving me a chance to live my life.”

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

New Agent Helps IU Health Arnett identify re-occurring prostate cancer

Indiana University Health Arnett is using a new imaging agent, Axumin, to help doctors identify and localize re-occurring prostate cancer. Axumin is a radioactive agent used for positron emission tomography (PET) imaging that can achieve early detection of recurrent prostate cancer after surgery or radiation. According to the American Cancer Society one in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and of those diagnosed one in three will have a re-occurrence of prostate cancer.

For years, healthcare professionals have relied on standard body and bone scans with a blood test to measure prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. The chance of having prostate cancer increases as PSA levels increase. Normal scans are unable to determine the location of the cancer until the PSA levels are excessively elevated. An Axumin PET can detect the disease much earlier and with greater specificity, which is why it is an important development.

“Being able to detect the re-occurrence of prostate cancer has two advantages,” stated Neil Estabrook, MD, radiation oncologist with IU Health Arnett Cancer Center. “The knowledge of where the cancer is can help guide effective therapy to that specific area of the body and limit damage to other areas of the body. Secondly, an accurate scan offers a deeper insight into the disease process itself – revealing whether or not the cancer has metastasized and to what degree.”

The Axumin PET scan works by detecting the metabolic activity of the cancer itself. Axumin exploits the fact that prostate cancers absorb amino acids at a much more rapid pace than normal cells. Axumin consists of a radioactive tracer linked to an amino acid. Since the cancer cells absorb the amino acids more avidly than normal cells, the radiation concentrates inside the tumor cells. When the patient is placed under a scanner the location of high areas of radiation signal the location of the cancer in the patient’s body.

“Axumin is a great imaging development in staging prostate cancer,” added Estabrook. “The advent of improved cancer scanning with Axumin increases hope that other new types of scanning breakthroughs will be coming in the near future.”

Axumin PET is only available in select locations, including IU Health Arnett. The agent is very expensive and has a much shorter half-life than the drugs used for other PET imagining and therefore the patient must be scheduled within a very small time window.

Volunteers sit with patients during final hours

Through a new volunteer program at IU Health Ball Memorial, volunteers serve as “compassionate companions” for patients who are alone.

That one look in his eyes was all the affirmation Tish Wright needed.

“I think that one moment confirmed I was doing the right thing,” said Wright, one of more than two dozen volunteers taking part in a new program at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. The program called “No One Dies Alone,” (NODA) provides a bedside vigil for patients who lack family support. Volunteers received special training before the program was implemented at the first of the year.

Wright was one of seven volunteers who took part in the first 20-hour vigil. Each volunteer remained with the patient for three hours. The program is set up to provide volunteer support up to 48 hours.

“When I got to the hospital, he was labored and distraught. I sat with him and found a spot on his forehead that I rubbed gently. I repeated over and over, ‘you’re safe; you’re loved; you’re not alone,’” said Wright. “At some point he opened his eyes and looked at me and seemed so calm.” She remained by his bedside after he passed – just after 11:00 in the morning.

Lori Luther, the COO for IU Health Ball Memorial also volunteers her time with NODA.

“I’m not clinical, I’m not a nurse, I’m not a physician and I see all the wonderful things that our clinicians and patient-facing staff do. This was an opportunity for me to actually touch a life and experience this,” said Luther. She said she was motivated by the time she spent in the Middle East shortly after 9/11 working as a healthcare consultant. “I experienced a very lonely aloneness and I think about somebody dying alone. It’s not something you should have to do.”

As she sat with the patient Luther gently rubbed his arm and talked to him in hushed tones. Music played and a calm and comfort filled the room.

Susan Magrath, a retired nurse practitioner at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital who spent years working in palliative care, started the program. It was not unusual to spend the end of her shift sitting with patients in the final stages of their lives. When she retired in February, Magrath made it her mission to start the program she learned about from a daylong conference sponsored by the RESPECT Center at IUPUI – Research in Palliative and End-of-Life Communication and Training.

A national volunteer program NODA started in 2001 in Eugene, Ore. with a goal of providing bedside companionship during the last hours of life.

“We’re working now to get the word out that this is available to patients. We don’t want to miss anyone,” said Magrath. After the first vigil she reached out to the nurses for feedback. “They seemed to appreciate that we were there in the middle of the night and able to advocate for the patient’s needs when there was no family there. This can happen at any time.”

Wright, owner of Cotton Candy Quilts in Gaston, Ind. said she was looking at ways to volunteer after she semi retired.

“I have a bucket list and one says ‘I want to make a difference in someone’s life,’” said Wright, who lost her brother to cancer and her mother to a stroke.

“I think death is part of life and we’ve institutionalized it over the past 19 years,” said Wright. “I knew I could do this. Not everyone could but it’s inherent that death is a human part of life and I no one should die alone.”

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

IU Health extends behavioral health support to Arnett Hospital

On Monday, June 3, Indiana University Health will begin providing virtual behavioral health support services to IU Health Arnett Hospital.

The new service provides around-the-clock access to advanced practice nursing and psychiatry for emergency room patients in need of a psychiatric evaluation. Through the use of live video, the virtual service enables IU Health’s hospitals to access behavioral health expertise 24/7.

“Our Behavioral Health Hub serving rural hospitals will give more Hoosiers access to behavioral health care and will alleviate some of the strain put on emergency departments,” says Anne Gilbert, psychiatrist and medical director of Behavioral Health Virtual Services. “For many who don’t have access to a primary care physician or don’t know where to go—the emergency room becomes their entry point for treatment.”

Use of virtual services through the Behavioral Health Hub will allow patients in need to stay where they are and significantly cut the wait time for an assessment. Traditionally, patients at smaller or rural hospitals in need of a psychiatric assessment are transferred by ambulance to a bigger hospital — causing long wait times for treatment, additional costs and transportation issues once they are released.

“Addressing the growing need for behavioral health issues in our community is a priority,” added Dan Neufelder, president of IU Health Arnett Hospital. “Having around the clock access to experts when help is needed most during critical moments is an important key.”

Patients will be assessed when they come into an IU Health Arnett emergency department as someone in need of a psych evaluation. ED personnel will connect patients with the advanced practice nurses or psychiatrists who interact live via video.

The Behavioral Health Hub, based in Indianapolis, also offers 24/7 access to social workers and therapists so even when patients are not admitted to a hospital, they can have access to a safety plan, acute treatment and a follow-up to assist with behavioral health services in their area.

“Our clinicians in the emergency department have identified behavioral health as a critical need and are excited about this innovative approach to psychiatric care. We are confident that it will help us better serve our patients during a time of crisis.” says Cherri Hobgood, MD, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at IU School of Medicine.

The behavioral health initiative is part of IU Health’s strategic plan to improve the health of Hoosiers by focusing on mental health. The virtual health hub for IU Health statewide hospitals also provides addiction recovery coaching for patients with opioid and other addictions.

IU Health extends behavioral health support to White Memorial Hospital

This week, Indiana University Health began providing virtual behavioral health support services to IU Health White Memorial Hospital.

The new service provides around-the-clock access to advanced practice nursing and psychiatry for emergency room patients in need of a psychiatric evaluation. The virtual service aids IU Health’s smaller hospitals, such as White Memorial, enabling access to behavioral health expertise found in larger urban hospitals.

“Our Behavioral Health Hub serving rural hospitals will give more Hoosiers access to behavioral health care and will alleviate some of the strain put on emergency departments,” says Anne Gilbert, psychiatrist and medical director of Behavioral Health Virtual Services. “For many who don’t have access to a primary care physician or don’t know where to go—the emergency room becomes their entry point for treatment.”

Traditionally, patients at smaller or rural hospitals in need of a psych assessment must be transferred via ambulance to a bigger hospital—causing long wait times for treatment, expensive bills and transportation issues once they are released. The hub will allow them to stay where they are and significantly cut the wait time for an assessment.

“Addressing the growing need for behavioral health issues in our community is a priority,” added Mary Minier, president of IU Health White Memorial Hospital. “Having around the clock access to experts when help is needed most during critical moments is an important key.”

Patients will be assessed when they come into an IU Health White Memorial emergency department as someone in need of a psych evaluation. ED personnel will connect patients with the advanced practice nurses or psychiatrists who interact live via video.

The Behavioral Health Hub offers 24/7 access to social workers and therapists so that even when they are not admitted, they’ll have access to a safety plan, acute treatment and a follow-up the next day behavioral health services in their area.

“Our clinicians in the emergency department have identified behavioral health as a critical need and are excited about this innovative approach to psychiatric care. We are confident that it will help us better serve our patients during a time of crisis.” says Cherri Hobgood, MD, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at IU School of Medicine.

This initiative is part of IU Health’s strategic plan and aims to impact the health of Hoosiers. Mental health has become more of a focus because in order to move the needle on becoming a healthier state, we must address mental health.

IU Health is always looking for community partners in behavioral health.

Transplant nurse works through the night

Jennifer Whitehead is known by patients for her calming ways – some things she learned at her mother’s bedside.

The patient was in severe pain. Medicine had been administered and every effort was made to make her comfortable. And then Jennifer Whitehead had an idea.

She started a water fight with another nurse using syringes. The distraction did the trick. The patient began to laugh. Laughter isn’t always the best medicine for the patients in Whitehead’s care but her intuition usually steers her in the right direction.

“She is the best. Without her I don’t think I would have been able to get through my recovery,” said Sarah Henderson Powell, a two-time pancreas transplant recipient.

As she begins her night shift, Whitehead looks through the patient list and addresses some of the more familiar ones by a nickname. Some of the patients she has seen more often than others.

“Liver, pancreas, and multi-v patients go straight to ICU. With kidney patients, we’re constantly in their rooms – every hour drawing labs, checking their urine, so we have lots of time to talk,” said Whitehead. “I like to ask them, ‘what do you need from me?’ Each patient has different needs and I want to set them up for the best possible success with their transplant. Do they need me to hold their hand; encourage them; give them sarcasm, or make them laugh? “

Whitehead remembers talking through the night with a college student who had multiple questions. It was all in a day’s work for this caregiver who began her pre-requisites for nursing school at the age of 35.

She started her career with IU Health working as a secretary in OR at Methodist for nearly 10 years.

“One of the girls encouraged me to enter the cohort program for my associate degree in nursing. I had been pondering it so I jumped on board,” said Whitehead, who also has an undergraduate degree in business and worked for years in sales positions.

She was in her first nursing school lecture when her mother, Anne Christian was undergoing surgery for a traumatic brain injury.

“The first nine weeks of the semester I ran between class, the lab, and the hospital. I was her primary caregiver for years and learned things about nursing at her bedside,” said Whitehead. “The whole reason I became a nurse is I was watching other nurses do amazing things. I haven’t been in that hospital bed but I’ve been in the chair next to the bed. I know how that feels.” She graduated from nursing school in May of 2014, turned 40 in July and her mother passed in August.

The next Christmas Whitehead worked to keep her mind occupied. It was tough but through that holiday shift she was reaffirmed of her purpose.

“I took care of a young girl who came in with abdominal pain. She was being evaluated for an intestinal transplant. Her parents were divorced and took shifts visiting her. She was terrified and I sensed that I was a calming presence for her family. When I came in for my shift Christmas night her dad had left me a cookie and a note of thanks. I felt I had made the right choice just being there for someone who was scared.”

More about Whitehead:

  • She is married to Steve Whitehead. Fun fact: Jennifer is preparing to go on her third mission trip to the Ukraine this summer. To help support her trip, her husband makes and sells homemade salsa and guacamole.
  • They have one son Anthony Joseph “AJ” who is 16.
  • What surprises Whitehead the most about her career in nursing: “The connections I have with my patients which is stupid because I watched how close my mom got to her nurses and I’m still connected to some of her nurses.”

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