Two team members – One passion project – First hospital in Indiana

When IU Health Saxony social worker Claire Shawver and nurse Tai Oliver set their minds to helping a specific patient population, it became a passion project.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

They come in for knee replacements, heart ailments, and other illnesses. They don’t come in because they have memory loss. But the patient population at IU Health Saxony includes a high number of friends, parents, aunts, and uncles who show signs of dementia.

The term “dementia” is an umbrella for a variety of symptoms that ultimately are caused by memory loss. Patients may show signs of confusion, sadness and irritability.

When social worker Claire Shawver and nurse Tai Oliver noticed a trend, they began looking into ways that hospital caregivers could help – not just nurses, and doctors – but every employee at IU Health Saxony. They learned quickly that even employees not directly involved in patient care are part of a support system for patients with memory loss, their family and friends. So every employee at IU Health Saxony has completed a “Become a Friend” workshop making it the first hospital in the state to implement the program, administered by CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions.

“Because of this training, IU Health Saxony staff now can better engage, care for, and create the best experience possible for a patient with dementia,” said Dustin Ziegler, CICOA’s vice president of community programs.

“A patient may be standing in line at the cafeteria and need help counting money; they may be filling out forms at registration and need help with important information. We’re all here to help,” said Shawver who has worked at IU Health for five and half years.

The U.S. Census reports 86,550 citizens in the area between the ages of 45 and 64 and an additional 40,862 over the age of 65. On any given day one of those citizens can become a patient of IU Health Saxony. Now all staff members are equipped to recognize signs and symptoms of patients with dementia.

“We get involved at the point of admission. If a patient doesn’t remember what day of the week it is or what they had for breakfast, that may be a sign that they need assistance,” said Shawver. The memory loss doesn’t necessarily signal signs of dementia; it could be caused by certain medications or life events. But now, patients are recognized as needing a “dementia friend” – someone who advocates for their wellbeing.

What does that mean?

Once a patient is identified as having dementia or memory loss, a family member is given a “Getting to Know Me” worksheet to provide more information about the patient. Talking points include “The best way to communicate with me,” “Things that help me sleep,” and “The food I like to eat.” The paper remains in the patient’s room so that all caregivers may refer to the tips. If a family member isn’t available when a patient is admitted, a social worker may contact a family member to help provide information.

Some patients with memory loss have difficulty completing menu options and may need special assistance. Others may show signs of anxiety about being away from family and friends.

“During the process if we find a diagnosis or have a suspicion, staff members are alerted about the memory disorder and also certain triggers that we discover through the personal approach with the patient,” said Oliver, who has worked with IU Health for almost ten years. A tiny flower is then attached to the patient’s door – discreetly recognizing that this is a patient with memory loss.

Workshops are designed to help caregivers assist patients and their family members. Included in the workshop are “conversation tips:” Approach the patient from the front, identify yourself and make good eye contact; call the person by the preferred name; use short, simple phrases and repeat information as needed; speak slowly and clearly; wait for a response while the patient processes information. Other tips offered in the workshop include: Provide statements, rather than questions; offer visual cues, and try writing notes as reminders.

“Claire and I had talked about dementia patients before we started the Dementia Friends Indiana program. We wanted to find ways to make it a positive experience for nurses working with the patients and also for the patients,” said Oliver. “It’s already scary when you have a loved one come into the hospital and then a loved one with memory issues can make it more scary. This makes the staff more compassionate toward patients.”

Since the completion of the workshops, they have already assisted about half a dozen patients. In addition to understanding the patient’s communication needs, staff members have also been introduced to ways to help the patient cope. They may offer special activities such as word searches or activity balls to help with the stress of a hospital stay.

Over time they hope to offer the workshops in more IU Health facilities.

“So often this is something that goes undiagnosed. We want to meet the patient and family members where they are,” said Oliver. “Our goal is to provide a safe and compassionate environment. If family members want additional resources after the patient leaves the hospital, we will follow up and help guide them toward the next steps.”

She’s been with IU Health from birth to near death

Jennifer Beezley Holcomb was introduced to IU Health as a child when she became a patient at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Years later she nearly died in a car accident and was transported by IU Health LifeLine Helicopter to Methodist Hospital. And that’s not all – she also became a nurse in the same unit where she was treated.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

Jennifer Beezley Holcomb shakes her head as she tells her story. So many things are hard to imagine. For starters, she was the first person to be married on the Methodist helipad. After a near-death accident, she married a nurse who cared for her at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

The two are no longer married but remain friends. That nurse also had an influence on Holcomb’s career path. She went on to become a nurse in the same Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where she was a patient.

It’s true she didn’t choose to become a patient at IU Health, but she also looks back now knowing what an impact the hospital care had on her life.

Born with a cleft palate and abnormalities in the soft tissue growth of her inner ear, Holcomb received reconstructive surgery at Riley Hospital.

“When I was about 12 I went through a stage of wanting to be a vet and then I wanted to be a doctor. Someone I met said, ‘if you want to spend a lot of time with patients, become a nurse,’” said Holcomb. That stuck with her. At Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind. she focused on academics. It paid off. She got a full ride to Purdue and set her mind on becoming a nurse.

It was during her junior year when she was juggling a demanding academic schedule that she left campus at 5 a.m. for a two-hour drive to her Warsaw home. She visited her family dentist and at the end of the day headed back to campus.

She didn’t know then that trip would change the course of her life.

“I was so sleepy I knew I needed to pull over at the next rest stop. The next thing I knew I was plowing under a semi,” said Holcomb, who turns 43 this month. “The next thing I remember is the sound of a helicopter and the wind from the rotor blades.”

Holcomb was in a rural area traveling near State Road 115 and U.S. 24 – also known as the “Hoosier Heartland Highway” – near Wabash, Ind. A nurse was the first passerby to stop at the accident and instinctively left Holcomb buckled into her seatbelt– a move that may have saved her life due to massive internal injuries. She was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital and was then airlifted by IU Health LifeLine helicopter to Methodist Hospital. En route to Indianapolis she was administered blood and fluids to help stabilize her.

“I had massive internal bleeding from grade five liver lacerations and was taken immediately to the operating room. I had bleeding in both lung cavities and a severe femur fracture. They removed a small portion of my liver that has regenerated, packed it and left my abdomen open for a few days. During that time I had acute respiratory distress and also disseminated intravascular coagulation,” said Holcomb. She describes the condition as severe blood clotting – blocking small blood vessels. She remained intubated and sedated for a week.


It was March 24, 1998. She was given less than a five percent to live. The next thing she remembers is looking at the calendar and reading “March 31, 1998.”

IU Health Surgeon Dr. Dale Rouch was on call the day she was transported to Methodist Hospital. Holcomb says she doesn’t think she’d be alive today without him. At the time of her accident she was engaged to be married to a nurse at Methodist. They decided not to wait until the original May date. So they arranged to be married on the LifeLine helipad – her nurses served as bridesmaids, IU Health chaplain Joseph Colquitt officiated, and her LifeLine pilot pushed her wheelchair.

“I am forever grateful to LifeLine for saving my life,” said Holcomb. Two months after the accident she was back at Methodist working as a unit secretary. When she graduated from nursing school she returned to the same cardiac intensive care unit where she was a patient and began her bedside career. She also was a LifeLine transport nurse, assisting with patients with ventricular devices.

“When I was in the hospital recovering my Purdue nursing instructors Dr. Ann Hunt and Dr. Margaret Hamilton came to visit me and washed my hair. They probably didn’t realize it at the time but that made such an impact on me. It showed true compassion that wasn’t all about medicine,” said Holcomb. As a cardiac intensive care nurse at Methodist Hospital Holcomb became known as “the cosmetologist” for the unit. She provided the same care for her patients – brushing and braiding their hair.

“I don’t know that I’d be nearly the same nurse if I hadn’t experienced the personal care from the patient side. It was the little things that made a difference – like not turning on a light when a patient is sleeping, and helping a family navigate that scary time by encouraging them to rub the patient’s feet or hold their hand,” said Holcomb. “I heard stories about nurses being fierce advocates for me when I was in the hospital and not leaving my bedside – even if it meant eating packets of crackers for their lunch.”


In 2011, after her first child was born, Holcomb knew she could not continue with full-time nursing. Like Holcomb, her son became a Riley patient. He was in NICU with breathing difficulties and eventually required ongoing occupational and physical therapy. Her second child, a girl, was born in 2014 and also became a Riley patient – diagnosed with Ketotic hypoglycemia – a condition characterized by episodes of low blood sugar. She remains in the care of Riley Hospital Dr. Brett Graham, who specializes in medical and molecular genetics.

Since her accident, Holcomb’s abdominal scars remind her of the tragedy. She stays laser focused on maintaining her health. It hasn’t always been easy. A few years ago she was working a night shift and experienced an episode of Atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart beat. Last year she was diagnosed with a rare condition known as platypnea-orthodeoxia syndrome, characterized by shortness of breath.

“When I had the car accident they saw abnormalities with my heart but at the time there were more important issues that needed to be addressed. It’s hard to tell if this is related to the accident or not,” said Holcomb, who returned to Methodist Hospital for treatment.

In recent years, she has considered the care of her children her full-time nursing.

“I will definitely return to full-time nursing some day as my children get older,” said Holcomb. “What I’ve learned over the years through professional and personal experience has definitely helped me be a better nurse. I tell people who are patients that the people who work at IU Health are here because they want to be here. They have a heart to care for people.”

They share a love story at work and home

Darryl and Shawn Chapman both work for IU Health. The husband and wife share a love for family and their team members.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

He gets a little giddy when he talks about his wife of six years. And his face lights up when he describes his role in the operating room at IU Health Eagle Highlands.

Darryl Chapman loves his job; his co-workers also love him.

“We’ve never had an assistant in OR and when Darryl came it not only made our jobs easier but also more efficient,” said Barbara Mahlman, a surgical nurse technologist. “He predicts the things we need even before we need them,” said Renee Greer, a nurse.

A native of Indiana, Chapman attended the former Broad Ripple High School. His late father David Chapman was a chef in the military and shared his interest in the hospitality industry with his son. After high school Chapman moved to Grand Rapids, Mich. to pursue a career in culinary arts. He also volunteered as an ambassador for the city and met his wife, Shawn when he was promoting local arts.

Six months ago, Chapman moved his family – including two children – back to Indiana to be closer to his mother.

“I’ve always been interested in helping people and in the service industry. It was my wife’s idea to apply at the hospital,” said Chapman. He landed a job in outpatient surgery and he loves it so much he is planning to return to school for nursing.

“I’ve seen a different side of patient care and think I’ve found my calling,” said Chapman. His wife, a Michigan native, landed her first job in Indiana also working at IU Health Eagle Highlands, in registration.

“It suits us. We are very family-oriented and it’s very family-oriented here,” said Shawn Chapman. “People are welcoming, compassionate and love what they do to help others.”

And what about working with her spouse?

“I love it,” said Shawn Chapman. “We come to work together, meet for lunch and we both understand and appreciate the importance of caring for others.”

Tumor was the size of a small baby – Patient traveled 3,000 miles for care

When Aron Svavarsson traveled across continents he was surrounded by a team of caregivers from IU Health – showing compassion not only for Svavarsson but also for his family.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

The way his mom describes it, Aron Svavarsson’s care team swarmed around him like a circle of attentive relatives – anticipating and preparing for his arrival.

First there was the contact with Maria Siddons, a coordinator with destination services. Svavarsson was traveling to Indianapolis from Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, seeking care for germ cell tumors. He had been diagnosed with testis cancer. Six tumors had been discovered ranging in size from a small baby to a tennis ball. He was scheduled to arrive in Indianapolis during a busy conference week so housing was scarce. Siddons helped him locate a place to stay. From the moment the family arrived, Siddons remained in touch – helping them navigate appointments, complete paperwork, direct them throughout the city, and then securing rehabilitation and additional housing. He was joined by his mother and girlfriend Vigdís Marteinsdóttir and Asthildur Greta Simonardittir.

The second oldest of five siblings, Svavarsson, 25, had other needs when he came to Indianapolis. He says at the age of 15 he started drinking and experimenting with drugs. Five years ago, he entered rehab and turned a corner.

“I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I learned that if you want to make progress you need to go to a 12-step program and stick with it. I relapsed after two months and I experienced the desperation of a drowning man. When I went back, I began working the steps with my sponsor,” said Svavarsson.

It’s part of his story. He wanted it to be part of his care. So when he was a patient in Indianapolis, he attended AA meetings at Methodist Hospital.

“I can tell you my experience with destination services is way beyond what we can describe. We are so grateful. I get teary-eyed thinking about it. They have gone above and beyond,” said Svavarsson. His oncologist in Iceland referred him to IU Health, but even before his plane landed in Chicago, Svavarsson was well aware of the reputation of IU Health doctors for treating testicular cancer. Dr. Lawrence Einhorn is known throughout the world for his successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors – using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

It was December of 2018 when another resident of Reykjavik traveled to Indiana for treatment of testicular cancer. Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Kesler removed a six-pound tumor from Gudbjorn Johann, 23.

“We spoke to my oncologist to get in touch with previous patients who had come to IU Health and the next thing we know my mom gets in touch with the mother of another patient, and then we are connected through a Facebook support group and we’re hanging out together,” said Svavarsson. That experience alone, made the world seem a little smaller. And then when he arrived in Indianapolis, Svavarsson said everything seemed familiar, not so scary. His mother even delivered cards to the staff of destination services from a former patient.

Primarily found in males ages 15 to 44, testicular cancer most commonly spreads to the lymph nodes and chest, pelvis and neck. Svavarsson’s first detection came from a lump near his left shoulder in July 2019. By August he was scheduled for an orchiectomy followed by chemotherapy at a hospital in Reykjavik. When scans showed additional tumors he began making plans to come to Indianapolis.

On December 13, a team of physicians including Dr. Kelser, Dr. Timothy Masterson, and Dr. Michael Moore performed more than 12 hours of surgery. Setbacks followed – including a seizure that landed him in ER. He was intubated and unconscious for five days. Svavarsson lost muscle tone and more than 40 pounds, but he is alive and looks forward to resuming his life back home.

In Reykjavik he works alongside his father as a sheet metal employee and also enjoys restoring old cars. He’s the proud owner of two projects – a Volkswagen and a Mercedes.

“Since I got here I’ve constantly been waiting for that emotional dive – when I hit rock bottom and feel hopeless, but it hasn’t come,” said Svavarsson. “Sure, I’ve been in severe physical pain, but there’s an undisputed feeling of gratitude that has carried me through the whole process. I have so many people at IU Health to be thankful for.”

Coronavirus: Under The Microscope

The 2019 novel coronavirus also known as Covid-19 has infected tens of thousands of people, and killed more than 1,000 people worldwide.

IU Health infectious disease physician, Dr. Douglas Webb is the medical director for infection control across the IU Health system. He and his team offer this comprehensive look at Covid-19, efforts to contain the spread of the virus worldwide, and how you can stay as safe as possible in your own community.