One minute she was fine, the next her heart was failing

“I’ve taken my donor everywhere. She’s given me life; the least I can do is to show her the world.”

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

Alexis Pavlopoulos had just gotten off the elliptical machine to get a drink of water when she blacked out.

She remembers waking up on the gym floor to the sight of EMTs standing over her.

Her heart was beating wildly – 216 beats per minutes – as medics struggled to slow it down. A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.

It was Jan. 13, 2014. Pavlopoulos was 24 years old. She’d always been active, a four-season athlete throughout high school.

She thought maybe she was just out of shape, but after being rushed to IU Health Bloomington Hospital one mile away, she learned she was suffering heart failure caused by viral cardiomyopathy – an infection had weakened her heart muscle.

The next days, weeks and months would be filled with challenges. Like when she had an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) implanted to detect abnormal heart rhythms.

She had the flu and was home sleeping on the couch not long after that surgery. She remembers springing up and screaming once, then again and again. Her ICD had shocked her three times when her heart rate climbed close to 300.

After repeat episodes, it got to the point where she was afraid to go to sleep.

When she was sent to IU Health Methodist Hospital for evaluation in May of 2014, doctors discussed the possibility of a transplant but thought she wouldn’t need one for another 10 years. Less than two years later, they determined her heart was failing rapidly.

“THEY HAVE A HEART”

Pavlopoulos was put on the transplant list June 15, 2016. Fifteen days later, the phone rang at her parents’ home in Bloomington.

“I got the call at 9:24 in the morning June 30. I was lying in bed, getting ready to take a shower.”

A heart was available.

She struggled to process the news as fear welled up inside her. From her bedroom, she called down to her mom on the first floor: “Mom, it’s the hospital, they have a heart.”

Pavlopoulos and her family were caught off guard. They expected to wait months for this call, but now they were scrambling to get ready to make the hour-long drive to Methodist.

Before she was going anywhere, however, Pavlopoulos was going to take a shower and shave her legs.

“In that moment, that was the most important thing to me – that I had a shower and shaved my legs. They told me I’d be in the hospital for about 14 days post-transplant and I didn’t know when was the next time I’d be able to shower.”

They arrived at the Indianapolis hospital at about 11 a.m., and soon they would be joined by a host of nervous family and friends. Someone brought in bags of peanut butter sandwiches and M&Ms to keep people occupied.

Pavlopoulos did her best to keep the mood light. When the surgery was pushed back to 7:30 that evening, the medical team asked her if she needed a Xanax to calm her anxiety.

“I said, ‘No, but can you divide it up and give it to all these people?’ ” She still laughs at the memory.

A NEW LIFE

That night – June 30, 2016 – into the next day is when Alexis Pavlopoulos started her new life. The day a new heart began beating in her chest. She was 26 years old.

Less than a year earlier, when her future was uncertain, she had married her longtime sweetheart, George.

“I told him to run. He said he was in it for the long haul.”

Three-plus years have passed since her transplant, and Pavlopoulos, 30, is living a life that honors her multi-organ donor.

“I’ve taken my donor everywhere. She’s given me life; the least I can do is to show her the world.”

Chicago, Virginia Beach, Asheville (N.C.), Cabo San Lucas and last year – Greece, where Pavlopoulos met her husband’s family.

This summer, Pavlopoulos sat down to write the hardest letter she’s ever written – to her donor’s family. Following is an excerpt:

“I hope to live a life worthy of the precious gift I have been given. You and your loved one are never far from my thoughts. Thank you for your generosity and selflessness to choose to give another life. Thank you for making such a sacrifice in the deepest time of your family’s grief and saving my life. Please know that her spirit lives on. I hold her in my heart. And she is with me, literally, with every breath I take. I promise to take good care of her. I promise to honor her with everything I do.”

BEATING HEART IN A BEAR

The letter, accompanied by a bear with a recording of the donor’s heartbeat, was first sent to Pavlopoulos’ IU Health transplant coordinator, Alejandra Darroca, who then forwarded it to the Indiana Donor Network. That organization is responsible for sending it to the family, provided they are interested in hearing from their loved one’s organ recipient.

Darroca believes the bear (and letter) will be meaningful to the family because it is a gift from Pavlopoulos.

For privacy reasons associated with organ donation, organ recipients can’t divulge much personal information in their letters, said Darroca, who continues to coordinate all of Pavlopoulos’ medical care post-transplant, maintaining a vital link between her and her evolving healthcare team.

“Alexis is a very sweet girl, and the bear is a very small part of saying thank you. It’s not enough to say thank you, but I tell her the best thing you can do to thank your donor is to take care of yourself, be a good steward of your heart and help your community.”

Pavlopoulos, “the perfect patient,” is doing just that. She is eating right, working out and staying away from people during flu season as best she can. That can be hard for the self-described social butterfly.

She now is back to working full time in payroll for Indiana University, and she and her husband have bought a house. She uses her Facebook and Instagram pages to reach out to others going through similar health challenges, talking to people around the world.

Now that she knows her letter and bear have been delivered, she hopes someday to hear from the family, but it’s enough that she has been able to share a little of what is in her heart.

“A lot of people have survivor’s guilt,” she said. “I don’t. In my support group, somebody said it best: This person chose to save a life in the tragedy of losing theirs. So you honor your donor. You live a life worthy of receiving that gift.”

To learn more about organ donation, contact Indiana Donor Network.

Transplant nurse: Her husband was the most compliant patient

During the 30 years she has been a transplant nurse Debra Beal has helped hundreds of patients toward recovery – including one she calls “her husband.”

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

It was September and pediatric transplant patients were wheeled around the halls of IU Health University Hospital – not Riley Hospital – in little red wagons. That was back when Debra Beal first started working at IU Health as a transplant nurse.

“When I first came on board, there were more kidney and liver transplants. Now pancreas transplants have increased. The patient stays aren’t as long and we don’t see pediatric patients anymore. They’re all at Riley,” said Debra Beal, a charge nurse and three-time Daisy nominee.

Over the past 30 years she’s seen the IU Health transplant program grow by leaps and bounds. She’s also seen the faces of countless patients turn from despair to hope.

One of those patients is her husband Mike. Not only does September mark 30 years of her service with IU Health, it’s also her birthday month and the date of her 21st wedding anniversary.

Beal grew up and graduated from the former Soldiers and Sailors Children’s Home, in Knightstown, Ind. The home was founded in 1865 with the original intent of providing care and education for orphaned children of Civil War veterans. Over the years the state-run facility – listed on the National Register of Historic Places – expanded to meet the needs of a diverse student population. The campus provided both a Core 40 curriculum and vocational training in such areas as culinary arts, veterinary science, and building trades up until it closed in 2009.

“I came from a family of five and after my mom passed from leukemia my father couldn’t handle raising the five of us,” said Beal. She was in the first grade and the fourth of the five children – all who graduated from the home. Two of her siblings remain in Indiana and two others live in Texas.

“Because I grew up at the home I always knew I wanted to have a profession and be self-sufficient,” said Beal. First she thought about becoming a teacher but when a family member suggested nursing, the idea took hold and she pursued her degree at Indiana University.

She had been working at IU Health for 10 years when she met her husband through a computer dating service sponsored by a local radio station. Mike Beal says a friend talked him into subscribing to the dating service. He grew up in Wannamaker, Ind. and attended Franklin Central High School.

Their first date was to a little restaurant along US 40 – close enough that Debra could get to work on time. She’s worked weekends almost since the time she started at IU Health.

Not long after their first date, Mike Beal says he was on vacation in Utah and knew he was in trouble.

“I called her and she missed my phone call and boy was she mad. I knew it was the real deal then,” said Mike. After the couple married he often brought his wife dinner at the hospital during her weekend shift.

There are so many things Debra likes about working weekends but she especially likes her patients. “I think the big thing is seeing the impact on patient’s lives,” said Beal.

On Feb. 1, 2006, that impact became very personal.

Mike Beal received a liver transplant after being diagnosed with nonalcoholic stealtohepatitis (NASH). The liver inflammation is caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. Debra Beal wasn’t her husband’s transplant nurse during his hospitalization but she never left his side and admits she couldn’t resist taking his vitals and keeping tabs on his progress.

“They called me for the transplant at 5 a.m. and I didn’t get the transplant until 14 hours later. Afterward I looked up at her and said ‘I didn’t think I’d come out of it. I thought I was going to die,’” said Mike Beal. “She just stood there smiling. She’d seen it before and she knew I was going to be OK.” At the time, Beal remembers IU Health Transplant surgeon Dr. Richard Mangus was a fellow who worked on her husband’s case.

“I never imagined that situation would come into my life. My husband needed a transplant,” said Debra Beal. “It definitely put a different spin on my job. I often wondered how families handled it and did it so well. And now I know first-hand what it’s like to take care of a patient who is your family member.”

Mike Beal said not only was his wife his best “transplant support group,” but she was also his encourager – reminding him daily that there is light at the end of the tunnel. They now celebrate that transplant anniversary with trips to Hawaii.

“Transplant is different for every patient and probably the hardest thing I’ve been through in my life,” said Mike Beal. “She reminds me when to take my meds even when I’ve taken them. She cares and she’s organized and I’m the most compliant patient there is because I have no choice with her as my wife.”

Inoperable tumor to cancer free with help of precision genomics

Two days after Steve Hill started coughing up blood, doctors diagnosed him with an inoperable lung tumor. He went down the road of treatment options, but with little success. Then he heard about IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital’s precision genomics team. “They found the one branch of my DNA that had a defect in it,” Hill said. “Going from a baseball sized tumor to cancer free was just something I didn’t think was possible when we first started this journey.”

Simon Cancer Center volunteer, cancer patient rides for the cause

People who meet Dave Jackson for the first time quickly learn two things – he wants to finish the race, and he wants to inspire others.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J.Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

First he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then Dave Jackson decided to volunteer for IU Health Simon Cancer Center and the Cancer Resource Center.

Volunteers are trained by five agency partners – including the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Little Red Door, and Susan G. Komen of Central Indiana to connect patients and families with information about their diagnosis and treatment as well as community programs and support services. Jackson brings an extra punch to the service. He is a cancer patient at IU Health Simon Cancer Center and is in the care of Dr. Paul Helft.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December of 2016 and began volunteering two years later.

“I wanted to focus on others,” said Jackson, a retired chemist with Eli Lilly who is married to Leanne Jackson. They have two daughters Katie Cannon and Emily Jackson. “I thought, ‘I’m being treated here. They’re keeping me alive, so why not volunteer here,’” said Jackson, 66. He comes to the hospital twice a month and is generally seen pushing a cart offering books, puzzles, and other complimentary materials to patients and families.

“I don’t often share my personal story but when I have I have seen it make an impact,” said Jackson. He relates how one day he was volunteering in the infusion center where a woman was sitting with her adult daughter. The mother was struggling and when Jackson told her that he is also a cancer survivor the woman’s demeanor changed

“I could see her visibly relax and I knew that was the whole reason I was there that day,” said Jackson.

It’s the kind of response he hopes for when he talks to others about cancer.

“Cancer affects every aspect of my life but doesn’t control me. I want people to know that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean your life stops. As long as I can do the things I love to do, I will do them,” said Jackson.

One of his favorite pastimes is bicycling – not just around the block – but serious distances. For the second year, he recently completed the Empire State Ride to End Cancer, a 500-mile ride that starts in Staten Island and ends in Niagara Falls. He and his wife are originally from New York State so the ride interested them geographically but also for the purpose – to raise funds for cancer research. Jackson averaged 40 miles a day for a total of 295 miles during the seven-day ride. He was one of 180 riders who raised in excess of $1 million for the cause – a 40 percent increase over last year’s ride.

A member of the Central Indiana Bike Association, Jackson has also participated in local rides including the Hilly Hundred, Spokes of Hope, and 24 Foundation, a ride that benefits IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

In addition to biking, Jackson practices yoga, he and his wife walk 5Ks, he plays golf and in recent years took up the violin and plays with the orchestra at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

“I was listening to Joshua Bell play Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and I was in tears it was so beautiful. I thought, ‘it’s nice to listen to but it would be even more fun to play it,’” said Jackson.

“I think people who know me know I’m 66 on the outside but I’m 11 on the inside. I’m not going to let cancer slow me down.”

Don’t ever let the music die

When her oldest sister died of breast cancer, Rita Woods took to heart her sister’s wish – don’t ever let the music die.

By T.J. Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist, tfender1@iuhealth.org

There were 15 of them – fifteen kids born to George and Fannie Shouse. They grew up in the Apostolic Church in Terre Haute where their dad served as a pastor.

Rita Woods credits the church with introducing her family to music. “My family is a singing family. It’s our language that we learned early on in life,” said Woods, who is in the care of IU Health gastroenterologist Dr. Matthew Bohm. She’s had two surgeries for Crohn’s disease and comes twice a week to IU Health for infusions.

It was when she was battling her own health problems that her oldest sister Janice Warren became diagnosed with breast cancer. She died Sept. 3, 2018.

Warren, 16 years older than Woods was more like a mother figure. In fact, Woods turned 15 on the night their mother died.

“I was just starting high school and my older sisters were in college. I was the only one brave enough to start cooking,” said Woods. “It was my sister who taught me to make dressing. She taught me her secretarial skills, how to drive, and how to love people who weren’t blood.” Warren was known for taking in people who were sick or down on their luck.

Later in life, Woods and her daughter Kimberly Janeece – named after Warren – moved in with the older sister. At that time, Warren lived in Kokomo and taught high school English. She also taught at the college level and was a leader with the Pentecostal Church children’s ministry.

She also encouraged Woods to practice music.

“I learned to play the piano and she sang while I played. I wasn’t very good but when Janice got sick I’d play songs for her and send them every day,” said Woods. “Before she died she told me to never let the music die.”

Now Woods is on a quest. She wants to record a song in her sister’s memory.

“There are 11 of us left now and we’re all spread out – some in Terre Haute, some in Virginia Beach, some in Charlotte, N.C. My hope is that we can get together at Thanksgiving and make music for Janice,” said Woods. “We are her mouthpiece. We have to keep her memory alive and the way to do that is to never let the music die.”

“If it has hooves, it’s a horse, not a zebra” – Pancreatitis is not one dimensional

A Northwood, Ohio woman wasn’t satisfied with the answers she received about her chronic pancreatitis. So she dug deeper and turned to IU Health for treatment.

By T.J. Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist tfender1@iuhealth.org

It was just before Mother’s Day 2016 when Amanda Baerwaldt experienced the first bout of what would later be diagnosed as chronic pancreatitis.

“It was as if someone had thrown a switch in my body that unleashed the most excruciating pain of my life,” said Baerwaldt, 36. “I am no stranger to pain, I played roller derby and had un-medicated childbirth with both my girls – one of which was born at home.”

This was different. Like a phantom in the night, it left and then it returned a couple weeks later. After awhile, the pain became more intense and lasted for longer periods.

“I chalked it up to my obesity, poor food choices, and stress. I didn’t see a gastroenterologist until March 2017 because I was so embarrassed about my weight,” said Baerwaldt. Initial answers were vague. But after one of her most severe episodes she was rushed by ambulance to a local hospital – it was the first of many hospital stays for attacks of chronic pancreatitis.

“This would continue to happen anywhere from two to seven weeks throughout 2017, resulting in sometimes week-long hospital stays. I lost official count but I believe I had ten hospitalizations for Idiopathic Recurrent Acute Pancreatitis (IRAP) and had gone through every test in the book to determine why,” said Baerwaldt. There was one test she was pushing hard for – ERCP with Sphincterotomy. The complex procedure involves the cutting of the biliary sphincter and is typically carried out during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP).

“As I started researching my symptoms and risk factors for varying illnesses associated with acute pancreatitis, reading the description of sphincter of Oddi dysfunction (SOD) hit home for me. After my third hospitalization, the gastroenterologist who was rounding brought it up as a definite possibility. Then I saw an Integrative Medical Doctor who agreed,” said Baerwaldt, who has been married to her husband Eric for 11 years.

The challenge was finding a doctor who would perform the test. One of her early doctors told her: “If it has hooves, it’s a horse not a zebra” suggesting that Baerwaldt’s research was not necessarily the answer to her diagnosis.

But she was determined to find relief.

As she continued to research her options, she took up rowing to help her physical and emotional wellbeing. She started a Facebook group named “The rowing pancreas.”

In one post she wrote: “This is chronic pancreas disease as a mother. I am exhausted, I’m nauseous, and I’m in pain. My bones hurt, my eyes are barely open. But we’re at the zoo because I have some alone time with my daughter and that’s what she wanted.”

The disease changed her from an active parent enjoying daily trips to parks, play dates with friends and girls’ nights out, to a mother who lived in fear that something would happen to her children if she experienced an attack away from home. She became depressed and isolated. By December of 2017, just nine months from her first documented attack she had dropped about 75 pounds.

As she began researching hospitals and providers that would support her choice for an ERCP she ran across IU Health’s Dr. Jeffrey Easler, a gastroenterologist.

“I drive four hours to see Dr. Easler because I was unheard by other doctors. I present differently. Doctors looked for other things and I started my own research,” said Bearwaldt. “Dr. Easler was the first doctor to validate my feelings and felt confident I’d pull through the procedure just fine.” The procedure was completed at IU Health on Jan. 3, 2018.

On September 14th, Dr. Easler will take part in a free patient/caregiver education symposium at the Drury Plaza Hotel in Carmel. The event will take place 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include a light breakfast and lunch. The Indiana Chapter of the National Pancreas Foundation sponsors the event.

Bearwaldt knows her diagnosis will always be part of her life but she’s learned about managing the disease and her care.

‘My advice to others is to learn as much as you can independently about your disease and find a doctor who will listen to you.”

Photo by Bergen Howlett Photography.

Reunion brings LifeLine patient face-to-face with crew members

They found her in severe respiratory failure and Lydia Hutchison and Jeremy Harris helped stabilize Breigh Maples. Recently, she got to thank them for their service.

By T.J. Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist, tfender1@iuhealth.org

There were tears. There were hugs. There may have been more tears, but Breigh Maples had practiced and anticipated this special moment for days. She was meeting the IU Health LifeLine crew members that helped save her life.

It was Nov. 14, 2018 when Maples’ parents Mike and Andrea Maples thought they were losing their daughter and her then boyfriend Matt Chaney thought he was losing the love of his life. Just two days earlier she was admitted to a hospital near her Liberty, Ind. home. She was weak, tired, short of breath, and coughing up blood.

“They were at a loss and not sure what to do so they contacted LifeLine,” said Andrea Maples. When LifeLine medic Jeremy Harris and nurse Lydia Hutchison arrived at the hospital Maples was in severe respiratory failure.

“Lydia was the real hero,” said Harris. The former ICU nurse walked in and took over. Hutchison said she did what she is trained to do. “I try to make sure I meet the patient’s needs by acting quickly and bringing comfort to a family on what might be their worst day.”

Hutchison has been with LifeLine for six years; Harris has been with LifeLine for nearly five years.

Maples, a 2011 graduate of Lincoln High School in Cambridge City, Ind. was intubated and transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital. She spent eight days on life support and in a medically induced coma.

“I got down on my knees and prayed next to Breigh every night and kept telling her not to give up, keep fighting and that I will not leave her side. I reminded her every day how strong, beautiful and brave she was and how much I loved her,” said Chaney. He and Maples met seven years ago playing on the same co-ed softball team. They became best friends and started dating a year later.

Andrea Maples told her daughter that Chaney cried every day when she was in the hospital and was worried sick about her. He operated on little to eat and limited sleep. “He wanted to sit with me the entire time and keep eyes on me and warned anyone that wanted to go in the room to wash their hands and put a mask on,” said Maples. Chaney knew then that he wanted Breigh to become his wife. But he waited patiently for her body to heal.

Two days after being admitted to Methodist Hospital, at the age of 25, Maples was diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome. The pulmonary-renal syndrome is a group of acute illnesses involving the kidneys and lungs. It causes inflammation of the blood vessels in the kidneys that help filter extra water and blood. It can also cause bleeding in the lungs.

The day of her diagnosis Maples began chemotherapy. “LifeLine crew members saved me during my transfer to Methodist Hospital, but Matt’s been my first responder for many years. He took me to my chemo treatments, waited on me hand and foot, got me my meds, picked me up out of bed and carried me to ER. I don’t know what I would do without him,” said Maples.

She continues with monthly chemotherapy and has been on steroids for eight months. She in the care of a team of doctors at IU Health including Dr. Sarah Perryman, a rheumatologist, Dr. Rajat Kapoor, a pulmonologist, Dr. Michael Burk, who specializes in internal medicine and pulmonary disease, and Dr. Damien Patel who specializes in pulmonary and critical care medicine.

The autoimmune disease caused hemorrhaging in her lungs and she spent 18 days in ICU before she could build up enough strength to begin physical and occupational therapy. She has relapsed four times since her initial diagnosis and has been hospitalized at IU Health each time.

But she is alive.

“I have about two good days a week,” said Maples. It was on one of her best days when she recently met Hutchison and Harris at the LifeLine base in New Castle. The meeting was the culmination of a yearlong journey to diagnosis and recovery.

Andrea Maples only knew the first name of the nurse who flew to her daughter’s aid. Mike Maples works just up the road from the LifeLine base so Maples stopped in one day and asked if there was a nurse named “Lydia” on the crew.

“She and Jeremy were both here and I told them that Breigh wanted to meet them and thank them,” said Maples. The LifeLine crew members only had Breigh in their care for 30 minutes. They were happy to learn she was doing well.

“I have to tell you how thankful I am,” said Maples. “A lot of people in your profession don’t get the pat on the back they deserve.”

As they exchanged hugs and presented Maples with gifts of flowers and a LifeLine patch, t-shirt, and coffee mug, Hutchison and Harris heard updates of Maples’ life. Chaney, the man who has stood by her side throughout her healing, proposed to her on December 23. Maples joked about inviting Hutchinson and Harris to the wedding.

As the sun went down over the rural landing field, the LifeLine helicopter served as a backdrop for photos of Chaney, Maples, her sister Bayleigh, and her parents. This time there was laughter rather than tears.

“I felt like their wings were wings of an angel and they swooped in when she needed them most,” said Andrea Maples. “Now Breigh’s living the life where she doesn’t have to take a vacation from because every day is a vacation.”

IU Health Foundation COO Receives International Industry Honor

Strong. Ambitious. Driven.

Human.

For Laura Pickett, chief operating officer for IU Health Foundation, her humanity is at the core of her drive to excel within the realm of health care philanthropy.

“My call to leadership, passion for operations and serving within an Academic Medical Center are driven by personal health care experiences,” says Pickett. “Not only do I see the fruit of our work, I’ve experienced it personally in life-changing ways.”

The work is life-changing, but also career-changing. Pickett’s dedication and compassion have caught the attention of many leaders in health care philanthropy, and now she’s receiving professional recognition at an international level. The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) announced Pickett was selected as one of their 2019 AHP 40 Under 40.

The honor is a prestigious one—AHP is considered the leading industry organization for health care philanthropy professionals, with 4,500 members representing 2.200 healthcare facilities, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

And this isn’t the first time Pickett has found herself and her meaningful work in the spotlight. She was nominated in 2016 by senior leadership to participate in the Indiana Healthcare Leadership Academy, a program that guides, trains and strengthens the next generation of leaders preparing to take the reins in an ever-evolving industry. In 2017, she was recognized as Goodwill Industries International Volunteer Board Leader of the year.

The staff and leadership of IU Health Foundation congratulate Pickett on her most recent honor, and look forward to the impact she is sure to have on our industry, our system, and most importantly, on our patients.

As for Pickett’s vision for the future, it’s simple: “To answer the call of leadership to meet our opportunities and address challenges. I want the next 30 years of my career to positively impact the health of our current generation and future generations.”

Learn more about Pickett’s accomplishments and inspiration at www.ahp.org/member-center/awards-and-scholarships/40-under-40/2019-winners/laura-pickett.

Transplant helping hands – One step ahead

Chelsea Hamilton is a surgical technologist at IU Health University Hospital. When she’s in the OR, she tries to stay one step ahead of the surgeons – thinking of their needs.

By T.J. Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist, tfender1@iuhealth.org

The transplant surgeons are systematic. Chelsea Hamilton has learned that sometimes it’s the patient that changes up a procedure.

Like a well-rehearsed dance, she methodically sets up the OR, counts the instruments, hands them to the tending surgeon, and then recounts the instruments at the close of the surgery. She started her clinicals at IU Health three years ago, worked in general surgery and then moved to transplant as a surgical technologist.

“Between the main attending surgeons there are a few differences, but for the most part they perform the surgeries the same. There may be something a little different about the patient’s anatomy but you get used to working with the same team,” said Hamilton. Her focus is on assisting in liver, kidney and multivisceral transplant surgeries.

The most challenging part of her role is the long hours and uncertainty of the call. She works on a six-week schedule with 10 off days. During those six weeks she can get a call at any time of the day or night.

“Kidney transplants are generally scheduled ahead so I could come in for a 7:30 a.m. surgery and then come back that night if there is an organ procurement and we schedule another surgery,” said Hamilton. Many of the surgeries can last hours.

“I really just go with the flow. If I’m in the grocery store line and I get the call, I go. I usually tell my friends, ‘I’ll make plans but I may need to cancel at the last minute,’” said Hamilton. When she’s not working, she’s hanging out with her dogs, going to dinner with friends, or enjoying a fire in her backyard pit.

What does she like best about her role in transplant?

“I love it because we know we are giving patients the gift of life.”