Patient faces anxiety with the help of a team of healers

When a New Orleans resident came to IU Health, she knew she needed a transplant, but she also needed healing for other health complications. Before she could do that she had to face her fears.

It started with a couple of caregivers and turned into an army. Like a quilt they came together piece by piece to cover and protect one patient who had traveled nearly 900 miles for the best care. For Kristin Derry that meant holistic care.

Derry had been hospitalized in New Orleans for a year and hadn’t walked during that year. Her original diagnosis of Crohn’s disease had progressed to where doctors back home believed she might need a multivisceral transplant.

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation to the bowel and digestive tract. Chronic intestinal failure may lead a patient to multivisceral transplantation, a transplant of the intestine combined with two or more abdominal organs. But before a patient is eligible for transplant, their body must be healthy enough to accept the transplanted organs.

For Derry that meant starting a healing process – including standing, walking, and regaining strength.

“After being in the hospital in New Orleans for over a year, we were running out of options. My doctor came across a scholarly article written by Dr. Mangus and recommended I go to Indianapolis,” said Derry, 48. She came to IU Health with her sister, Cindy Boucher, 18 months younger than Derry.

Dr. Richard Mangus is a transplant surgeon and Director of Intestine Transplant at IU Health. He also supports the management of patients with intestine failure. He is known for operating on patients who have lost their intestine or have inadequate function of their intestine and are dependent upon total parenteral nutrition (TPN). IU Health is one of the few healthcare systems in the country that performs intestinal and multivisceral transplants and the only one in Indiana. Last year, IU Health was ranked sixth in the nation (by volume) for intestinal transplant surgery.

“I have a lot of skin sores and I’m trying to lose weight. I have had to take things step by step,” said Derry. The first of those steps meant getting up and bearing weight on her legs. To do that, she has been working with physical and occupational therapists. The goal is to get her into a standing position, using a tilt table – an electric table with footboards – that helps rehabilitate patients by moving them into a standing position.

Derry was petrified. And that’s where the army came in. She began working in a cardiac chair with physical therapist, Deidre Matt – moving her from a horizontal (bed rest position) to a comfortable sitting position. To help her relax, staff members within the CompleteLife Program provided complimentary therapies. Those team members included Kelsey Underwood, yoga therapist, Adam Perry, music therapist, and Lisa Rainey, art therapist.

“The first therapist I met was Lisa. She led me to the other therapies. I wasn’t going to jump in and get involved in anything. I was down in the dumps and just wasn’t sure how to move forward,” said Derry. “Lisa is very down to earth and she saw the best in me. I felt like if she could do that with me she could do it with a lot of people.”

As she talks, Derry cries. “They are happy tears,” said her sister. “She is so appreciative of the care she has received.”

Sometimes Derry and Rainey just talk about life. And sometimes, Rainey gently coaxes Derry into writing in her journal and drawing pictures. The process is simple. Derry wrote the letter “A” and then wrote and drew something that made her happy. She drew a red apple and wrote about “the Big Apple,” New York City. For the letter “B” she wrote “Big Boys” for her two dogs – an English/American bulldog and a boxer mix. 

The more she drew, the more they talked, and the more Derry began to feel comfortable and relaxed in Rainey’s presence. When it was time for her to begin working on physical therapy, she requested Underwood and Perry to provide yoga and music.

“I have this innate fear that stops me from doing things. I was afraid to get on the table – that I’d fall off. I know the physical therapists are trained but I couldn’t get beyond my fear,” said Derry. Underwood helped her focus on her breathing and redirecting her thoughts. Perry helped her relax during wound care.

“Kristin has a lot of inner strength, we tap into that during her physical therapy treatment. Identifying a phrase that keeps her feeling strong and grounded gives her an inner resource to return to when she feels overwhelmed,” said Underwood.

The practices began to take hold and Derry began to see a difference.

“It just eased my anxiety. At one time both Adam and Kelsey were with me at the same time and it just brought me out of that scary place,” said Derry. “Together they’ve all helped me remember the positive person I am. They help me believe that I’ll look back and some day this will all just be a memory.”

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