Sofia’s Lemonade Stand

Sofia Joslin, a seven year Patterson Park native and daughter of child life manager Shannon Joslin, has raised an incredible amount of money to support the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. Sofia decided that the day her neighborhood was having a large scale yard sale day (3 blocks long), she would use the opportunity to help give back to kids who may not be as fortunate as herself.

Sofia (left) and her friend pose with their lemonade stand they used for their donation to UMCH

From there, Sofia gathered up her friends and they began to play a part in the process as well. Sofia and her friends sold all of their lemonade and raised $250 which made all the effort she put in a positive experience.

After the fundraiser’s huge success, Sofia was determined to donate toys  of all different diversities to the Children’s Hospital.

She sought help from her parents who were quick to remind her there are all types of kids at the hospital: she needed to find toys that both girls and boys of different ages would like. The family headed to Target to maximize the most they could out of $250.

Staying true to her word Sofia went shopping and stuck to the basics. She set out to get dolls, craft kits amongst other items for girls, and Legos and cars for the boys.

After Sofia and her family purchased the toys, they were collected in UMCH’s red wagon and transported to the hospital. Sofia got to see her work go full circle when her parents took her down to the hospital to deliver the toys in person.

Following such a positive turn out, Sofia’s neighborhood wants to ensure that this is not a one-time donation. Inspired by the children’s involvement and by UMCH’s great care, adults in the neighborhood would like to make this a tradition and make even bigger donations going forward.

Many thanks to Sofia, her family and neighbors! Your continued support of the Children’s Hospital ensures we have the resources available to make every patient’s stay comfortable and fun.

 

Learn more about the Child Life Program and meet the team.  http://www.umm.edu/childlife

Interested in giving to the Children’s Hospital? Here’s how you can help. http://www.umm.edu/programs/childrens/services/child-life/how-to-help

 

 

Going Above and Beyond to Ease the Stress of Blood & Marrow Transplant Patients

The facility where the stem cells are stored.

The Blood and Marrow Transplant unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center was presented with a challenge in housing recovering cancer patients at the beginning of March 2017. Usually, UMMC and the BMT unit use The American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge to provide temporary housing for out-of-town BMT patients recovering from stem cell transplants. However, building construction began across the street from the Hope Lodge, making it unsafe for recovering BMT patients to stay there. Recovering from a stem cell transplant can be physically challenging, and construction debris and dirt could compromise patients’ recuperating immune systems, impeding the healing process.

This left Majbritt Jensen, a social worker at UMMC who oversees the psycho-social aspects of BMT treatment and recovery, concerned for her recovering cancer patients. Out-of-town patients must stay within an hour of UMMC to ensure that their recovery from their stem cell transplant was successful. Without discounted housing from the Hope Lodge, these patients would need to stay at a local hotel for at least 100 days. Not all insurance policies cover lodging expenses, meaning that many patients and their caretakers would be financially responsible. Jensen and her team knew that adding a financial burden to the patients and their families during this time could complicate and stress their recovery. So Jensen, along with Bob Mitchell, Associate Director for Administration, and Stan Whitbey, Vice President of Cancer Services, searched for a solution.

The solution they found was a generous grant from the Meizlesh Memorial Fund. This grant ensures that BMT patients can be housed at hotels in close proximity to UMMC. This will make it easier for the patients to be monitored during their recovery and visit the hospital if they experience any complications. Jensen attributes the success of receiving the grant money to the hard-working team surrounding her and the patients who inspire her.

“Everyone in our unit values life and treats everyone so kindly,” says Jensen. “And, I love being there for the patients and seeing them get well. Every day I am reminded of what really matters.”

Jensen also runs a support group that aims to connect current BMT patients with those who are in recovery.

For more information, visit the Bone and Marrow Transplant Service at UMGCCC.

All About Infant Immunizations: Q&A with Pediatrician Dr. Adam Spanier

 

Adam Spanier, MD, PhD, MPH is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a Pediatrician with University of Maryland Medical Center.

What vaccines are recommended for infants and children?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a group of medical and public health experts called the Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices. They develop and regularly review vaccine recommendations. Parents should talk to their pediatrician or family doctor, or reference the CDC or American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s important to know the vaccine schedule is reviewed every six months and often gets updated to reflect new evidence.

Are there any recent changes to the vaccine schedule?

In fall 2016, there was a decrease in the amount of HPV vaccine children need. The guidelines used to recommend three doses, now it’s only two. Everyone’s happy when there’s fewer shots!

Why should infants get immunized?

Vaccines protect children. They help infants develop immunity to serious diseases that we don’t want them to get. One example is polio. Because of immunization, we’ve almost wiped out polio.

Why are some parents choosing not to have their infants immunized?

My experience has been that some people don’t trust the medical system. Sometimes people read something on the Internet that wasn’t necessarily fact-based. There was a paper published in a prominent medical journal many years ago that showed an association between vaccinations and autism. But the paper was withdrawn for inaccuracies in the data and there have been many studies since that have disproven it. Unfortunately, it’s like Pandora’s Box and it is hard to put the cork back the bottle (a mixed metaphor). There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet. I always refer my patients and their families to the CDC’s vaccine information statements (VIS), which provide everything you need to know in an easy-to-digest format. We’re required to give them to parents. It’s also just good practice.

What are some of the myths out there around infant immunization?

The most common myth is that vaccines cause autism, which is false. Autism is not something that can be diagnosed at birth; the child has to show signs. Signs of autism usually start around age 1 to 2 years, which is also a period where children are receiving immunizations frequently. So parents might assume they’re related. But this possible relationship has been thoroughly evaluated and they’re not related.

Is spacing out your infant’s immunizations a good idea?

No, it’s not a good idea for a few reasons. First, there is no evidence to support changing the spacing between vaccinations. Second, it may affect a child’s response to the vaccinations. The spacing recommendations are based on medical studies with years of data behind them. The timing is important too, in order for the vaccines to be effective. And there are certain windows of exposure. For example, the Rotavirus vaccine must be given within the first four months of life; once you get past that age, you aren’t able to get it. You don’t want to miss your opportunities to prevent serious illnesses.

What if a family can’t afford to have their child vaccinated?

These days, no child should be without insurance, but even without insurance, there are places to get free vaccinations. Vaccines for Children is a program that helps doctors’ offices get free vaccines for children whose families can’t afford them. Health departments also provide free vaccines to children in need.

Is there any reason a child should not get vaccinated?

There are very few reasons why a child shouldn’t be vaccinated. Usually it is related to specific vaccines and specific health conditions. A few vaccines are live vaccines and we don’t give them to a child who is immunosuppressed. When a child is on cardiac bypass, live vaccines are not recommended. These are rare, complicated issues. Most healthy kids can and should get vaccinated.

Can a vaccine make a baby or child sick?

Some parents have this misconception. The average child gets eight to 10 colds per year, so it’s more likely the child caught a cold around the time of the shot. If you have an infant and he or she is getting vaccines every couple of months, it’s statistically likely you’ll be getting a vaccine and also happen to have a cold. The regular vaccines do not have anything in them that cause cold symptoms.

Are there any side effects to infant vaccines?

The most common side effect of a shot is a little pain and sometimes swelling at the site of the shot, or a low-grade fever. It usually only lasts a couple of days. Most of the vaccines can’t cause illness because they’re not live viruses. Only a few vaccines are live viruses, and even those are very inactive viruses so the risk of getting the actual illness is practically nonexistent and transmission to anyone else is unlikely.

What are some ways to reduce child anxiety or fear around vaccinations?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Comfort techniques, such as a position where the baby or child can be held while getting a shot
  • Numbing medication
  • Distraction techniques, such as the Buzzy®
  • Sugar water solution, such as Sweet-Ease®

Often, kids are too young to be scared. Parents on the other hand sometimes get nervous when their child needs shots. There are some children who have anxiety related to shots and often they say afterward that it was no big deal. I don’t think it’s a good idea to surprise the child, but you also don’t want to build them up too much. Explain to children that they need a shot and it’s going to keep them healthy. Some kids get anxious, but most of the time they do just fine.

What’s the bottom line?

The vaccine schedule was based on decades of scientific evidence and expert guidance.  It is not a good idea for families to try to take medical practice into their own hands by making up a new schedule. Trust your doctor – he or she has the most up-to-date medical advice. When it comes to infant immunization, the problem is if too many people don’t get vaccinated, we start to see disease outbreaks. There have been mumps and measles outbreaks – many more in recent times and it happens where people haven’t had their shots and immunization coverage isn’t as great.

To make an appointment with Dr. Spanier or one of our other pediatricians, please call 410-225-8780.  Visit our website for more information. 

Minority Health Month



By Jameson Roth, Communications Intern

Each April marks the beginning of Minority Health Month at UMMC, when we strive to celebrate and acknowledge the initiatives in place to reduce health disparities among minority groups in the greater Baltimore area. UMMC also seeks to honor the service of the individuals who work tirelessly to bring these initiatives to deserving communities across the city.

One of these hardworking individuals is Anne Williams, DNP, RN, whose current role is director of community health improvement at University of Maryland Medical Center.

Williams perfectly sums up her mission at UMMC, “I am committed to trying to decrease the levels of health disparities across West Baltimore communities.”

Thanks to the contributions of dozens of full time staff, UMMC can facilitate multiple community outreach programs designed to decrease health disparities of minority groups. These widely acclaimed programs include:

  • Stork’s Nest , a series of perinatal education classes for low-income, minority women
  • Violence Intervention Program, an R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center initiative that aids victims of violent injuries
  • MD Health Men program, a citywide health initiative to decrease rates of hypertension in African American males
  • Breathmobile, a custom-built asthma and allergy clinic that provides preventive asthma care to over 500 children in 2016, increasing access to critical evaluations, testing and ongoing treatment

“We are able to offer care to individuals age 2-18 at 17 schools in Baltimore,” said Lisa Bell, MSN, CPNP, AE-C, and Breathmobile nurse practitioner. “The outcomes we measure are ER visits, hospitalizations and missed schools days; all of which significantly decrease after participating in the program.”

While the Breathmobile is responsible for serving Baltimore city youth, the MD Healthy Men program, of which Williams is especially proud, is responsible for serving the population of African American adult males.

“With MD Healthy Men, 35% of the African-American men who participated decreased their blood pressure,” said Williams. “Two individuals who participated in the program were sent directly to the emergency room after evaluation because their blood pressure was so high that they were in immediate danger of experiencing major cardiac events. This program provides immediate and impactful health benefits to African-American males in West Baltimore.”

Mariellen Synan, UMMC’s Community Outreach Manager, is responsible for the coordination, staffing and operation of UMMC community health fairs. As a 34 year veteran of community outreach, Synan is regularly tasked with administering blood pressure screenings at community outreach events. One of Synan’s major upcoming events to debut in August is the back to school community health fair, designed to provide immunizations and encourage school attendance in children who attend the Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary and James McHenry Elementary schools in West Baltimore. This community health fair will feature fun, games and health education alongside critical vaccinations.

“With this outreach event, we hope to reach the kids before school starts so that more children are able to attend school without interruption,” said Synan. “My favorite part of my job here at UMMC is being able to make a difference in reducing unhealthy behaviors in the lives of West Baltimore residents.”

For more information on UMMC’s community outreach programs, please visit: http://www.umm.edu/about/community

High Blood Pressure Has No Minimum

How tall is your child? How much does he or she weigh? Most parents can answer those questions easily. But here’s a tougher question: what is your child’s blood pressure?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often considered an adult health problem. But this serious condition is no longer adults-only.

“The number of children with high blood pressure is rising,” says Susan Mendley, MD, head of the Division of Pediatric Nephrology at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Left unchecked, high blood pressure can result in lifelong health complications including heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Fortunately, small changes now can turn this trend around.”

What’s Normal?

For adults, 120/80 or lower is normal blood pressure and 140/90 or greater is high blood pressure. But for children, high blood pressure is determined differently.

“Children are not little adults,” says Dr. Mendley. “High blood pressure for children is defined as a blood pressure reading greater than the 95th percentile for their age, height and gender.”

It’s estimated that about 2 million kids in the U.S. have high blood pressure, and many of those children-and their parents- don’t know it.* That’s because high blood pressure, also known as the “silent killer,” has no symptoms. However, childhood high blood pressure often has a common clue: obesity.

Predicting hypertensions

A growing number of children are eating more, exercising less and weight in above their ideal weight range. As a result, obesity rates have been rising in the U.S. for the past two decades.**

“Obesity is one of the highest predictors of high blood pressure in children,” says Dr. Mendley. “It’s difficult for parents to tell on their own if their child has health risks related to weight.”

The American Academy for Pediatrics recommends screening children for high blood pressure annually starting at age 3. “It’s really important to keep up with your child’s annual checkup,” Dr. Mendley says. “Don’t wait until there is a problem. There are many small things that parents can do to prevent big problems later.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Mendley or the Nephrology team call 410-328-6749 or visit umm.edu/PediatricNephrology

*Source: The Journal of the American Medical Association

**Source: Centers for Disease control and Prevention

 

 

Joint Replacement Q&A with Dr. Theodore Manson

Theodore Manson, MD is an Orthopaedic Surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center and an Associate Professor of Orthopaedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Dr. Manson specializes in hip and knee replacements and orthopaedic trauma. Below he answers the most common questions about joint replacement.

 

Q. What advances have there been in joint replacements including new technologies, changes in patient-management and rehabilitation?

A. One significant advancement in the last 10 years has been around pain management and early recovery protocols. The goal is to minimize the amount of narcotics patients require after surgery. Today, we manage pain through many different types of medicines in addition to narcotics. There’s been a lot of success recently with joint (intra-articular) injections of anesthetic around the hip or knee joint at the time of surgery. This injection limits the amount of pain patients have when they first wake up from surgery. We know that if you limit that first pain sensation, it helps with the whole pain management process going forward.

Another significant advancement is infection prevention. Patients’ skin is now pre-operatively prepped with the antiseptic and disinfectant chlorhexidine both at home prior to surgery and at the hospital as well. In addition, we optimize patients’ nutrition and health pre-operatively. These two things have drastically cut down on infection rates. We did not use to address patient nutrition. Now, we assess patients’ nutritional status before surgery. If a patient is at a higher risk for nutritional deficiencies – those with chronic illness, diabetes or poor appetite, we then work in conjunction with a nutritionist so their infection rates are lower.

Borrowing from the aviation industry, there have been substantial improvements to patient safety in the hospital postoperatively as well.  Standardized protocols, safety checklists and quality control monitoring have dramatically reduced untoward events in joint replacement patients.

Q. What new innovations in joint replacement surgery (hardware and techniques) are noteworthy and why?

A. There is a lot of marketing material on the internet regarding various joint replacement approaches, minimally invasive surgery, robotic surgery and use of custom hip and knee replacement parts.  It is important to realize that none of these things has been shown to be of any benefit. When considering joint replacement, choose a surgeon who performs a high volume of hip and knee replacement surgeries and who you get along with well on a personal level.

While there haven’t been any substantial innovations with implants in the last five years, we do have long-term data on our current implants and techniques that shows them to be functioning extremely well.

Q. Who should get a joint replacement? What factors should a person consider? How should a potential patient decide?

A. In general, joint replacement is an elective procedure. If the patient is falling due to their hip or knee arthritis, it can be a very dangerous situation, so falls are an indication they should go ahead with a joint replacement. If a person is no longer able to climb stairs, if the hip/knee pain keeps him/her up at night, or if s/he is constantly dependent on an assistive device like a cane, then I think they should strongly consider a joint replacement. For others with less severe symptoms, a joint replacement may still be of great benefit to them, but they should consider surgery when the time is right and shouldn’t feel pressured into a surgical option.

Q. What should a patient expect?

A. Once they have scheduled the surgery, most patients undergo pre-habilitation prior to the joint replacement. Many patients find it useful to go to a preoperative joint class at the hospital where they’re going to have the surgery. This helps to alleviate anxiety about the procedure and educate them on what is to come. For those who are substantially debilitated preoperatively, going to prehab (physical therapy) to strengthen the operative leg is helpful and helps us foresee any challenges that may arise postoperatively.

If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater, you should delay joint replacement until you can get below 40. This is because infection rates increase substantially for people who have a BMI of 40 or greater.

Q. Does the type of implant used depend on patient activity and age? How?

A. In the past, different implants were used based on age, but for the vast majority of surgeons we use the same type of implants no matter the age. Occasionally patient with poor bone quality will require different implants, but usually we use the same regardless of age or activity level.

Q. What is the target recovery period and regimen for various categories of patients?

A. Patients see the majority of their improvement six to 12 weeks after surgery. They reach their maximum improvement six to 12 months after hip/knee surgery.

Q. What is the lifespan of replacement joints and do you expect the lifespan to grow longer soon?

A. The lifespan of replacement joints have a 1-percent-per-year failure rate, so with 20 years, you have a 20 percent risk of needing the joint replacement redone. I expect this will grow longer as we get better at preventing infection rates. If you are over 60 years old, the odds are you’ll probably never need to have the joint redone.

Q. Have risk factors (infections, failures, etc.) declined or increased (and for whom)?

A. Risk factors have declined because of more critical evaluation and optimization of risk factors for infection around the time of surgery.

Q. Are revision surgeries more or less common these days and why? Do you expect that to change? How and why?

A. Revision surgeries are more common these days simply because of the number of people who have gotten a joint replacement is increasing, and the number of baby boomers having joint replacement is increasing. I expect the number to continue to go up just because the number of people having a joint replacement is going up.

To make an appointment with Dr. Manson or one of our other orthopaedic specialists, please call 410-448-6400.  For more information on joint replacement or other orthopaedic issues, check out the University of Maryland Orthopaedics’ website.

Building Better Breastfeeding Awareness at UMMC

breastfeeding2Breastfeeding is recognized as the best nutritional source for healthy infants. Unfortunately, breastfeeding rates in Baltimore city are well below the national average, so the University of Maryland Medical Center acknowledges the need to focus efforts on breastfeeding practices and do more to educate and support mothers within the community.

After a thorough evaluation, UMMC kicked off a commitment to embark on the journey to become a Baby Friendly designated hospital. UMMC follows the “10 Steps to Breastfeeding success” as outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).   The “10 Steps” involve all aspects of breastfeeding and include the efforts which begin in the pre-natal period and go beyond birth and delivery until breastfeeding is well established.

A mother’s choice to breastfeed is heavily influenced by education, cultural norms and how well the mother is supported in learning to breastfeed.  Although breastfeeding is a natural process, its success does take some practice and support.  UMMC saw the need to do more to support mothers from the prenatal phase through labor and delivery and beyond hospitalization in those early post-partum weeks.   In cohesive efforts to influence breastfeeding rates, UMMC nursing and medical staff have partnered with affiliated pre-natal clinics, called B’More Health Babies, as well as the Baltimore City Health Department and University of Maryland School of Nursing colleagues to approach breastfeeding education and support across the continuum of care.

UMMC nursing and provider staffs are in the process of completing specialty training on breastfeeding. This is an endeavor that includes all staff who works with nursing mothers with the highest level of training demanded of maternal/newborn nurses who all have completed 20 hours of didactic and practical training on breastfeeding.   Pediatric nurses, midwives, obstetricians, pediatricians, family practice providers, medical assistants and nursing assistants also receive additional training on how to support nursing mothers – a topic glossed over up to now in most nursing and medical school curricula.

Onsite Lactation Support

University of Maryland Medical Center has expanded lactation support to include six days a week of onsite coverage, a telephone hotline, and lacatationsupport@umm.edu email for questions and advice.  UMMC nursing and provider staffs are committed to extending this support to community mothers with the kick off of both inpatient breastfeeding support groups held weekly on the Mother Baby unit and a monthly community breastfeeding support group free to the public within the Family Medicine clinic.  UMMC is also committed to supporting our staff with the employee lactation lounge located on first floor of the Weinberg building where hospital grade breast pumps are available for our own UMMC community of nursing mothers.

Having health professionals, sudavis-and-boypport persons, peer mentors and others who can assist in teaching and reinforcing skills are critical to maternal success.   In partnering with providers, advocacy groups and agencies, UMMC staff are working to ensure patients are provided the education and resources needed for success.

For more information on UMMC’s lactation support programs, email us at lactationsupport@umm.edu .

Remembering Dr. R Adams Cowley: A Revolutionary & Pioneer of Trauma Medicine


Dr. Cowley in the old CCRU

Dr. Cowley (center) instructing in the old CCRU

Dr. R Adams Cowley passed away 25 years ago today, but his contributions will live on forever in the form of thousands of lives saved.

R Adams Cowley, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon, was the founder of United States’ first trauma center, University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, and the Maryland EMS System. He revolutionized trauma medicine and is responsible for the development of the “Golden Hour” concept. As Dr. Cowley explained in an interview: “There is a golden hour between life and death. If you are critically injured you have less than 60 minutes to survive. You might not die right then; it may be three days or two weeks later — but something has happened in your body that is irreparable.”


Drs. Gens and Cowley

Dr. Cowley (left) with fellow trauma surgeon Dr. Gens in 1983

“R Adams Cowley was a pioneer, a man of immense vision and the father of American trauma care systems,” Dr. Thomas Scalea, Shock Trauma Physician-in-Chief, said. “At a time when we take organized trauma care for granted, it is important to remember that none of this would have happened without him and a few others who refused to take no for an answer. They fought the political and medical battles to demonstrate that organized trauma care saves lives. I am privileged to continue his legacy.”


Open Heart Surgery

A Baltimore Sun photo shows Dr. Cowley performing open-heart surgery on a 2-year-old boy

After many years of research and discussion, in 1958, the Army awarded Dr. Cowley a contract for $100,000 to study shock in people. He developed the first clinical shock trauma unit in the nation; the unit consisted of two beds (later four beds). By 1960, staff was trained and equipment was in place.

In 1968, Dr. Cowley negotiated to have patients brought in by military helicopter to get them to the shock trauma unit more quickly. After much discussion with the Maryland State Police, the first med-evac transport occurred in 1969 after the opening of the five-story, 32-bed Center for the Study of Trauma.

In 1970, Dr. Cowley expanded his dream, feeling that not a single patient should be denied the state-of-the-art treatment available at his trauma center in Baltimore. He envisioned a statewide system of care funded by the state of Maryland available to anyone who needed it.

Airport Drill

Dr. Cowley leads a drill at the airport

His dream became a reality with the intervention of former Governor Marvin Mandel. Governor Mandel became interested in Dr. Cowley’s program when a close friend was severely injured in a car crash. In 1973, the Governor issued an executive order establishing the Center for the Study of Trauma as the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medicine. The order simultaneously created the Division of Emergency Medical Services. Dr. Cowley was appointed as director.

Maryland had the first statewide EMS system, and it, like the Shock Trauma Center, has become a model worldwide. Countless lives have been saved due to Dr. Cowley’s vision.

r-adams-cowley-studentsWe thank you, Dr. Cowley, and will always remember your legacy.

400-victims-in-2-years

 

a-better-chance-of-living-than-ever-before-1970s

a-better-chance-of-living-than-ever-before-1970shospitals-special-trauma-unit-has-saved-lives-of-400-accident-victims-in-2-years-1971

Signs of Bullying

This information is provided by University of Maryland Children’s Hospital, the Center for Infant and Child Loss and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

As a parent, there are many things you need to diligently watch for in your child. One of them is to look for signs of bullying.

There are health risks related to depression for the victim, bully, and those who witness bullying, which may include:

  • Irritability or angerdoctor-consoling-patient-126648704
  • Nightmares
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Multiple joint and muscle pains
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Depression
  • Difficulties in falling and/or staying asleep
  • Self-injury (i.e., cutting)
  • Impulsivity
  • Suicide attempts
  • Homicidal thoughts

If your child is experiencing any of the above, talk with them, and contact their pediatrician or teacher. For more information call 800-808-7437.

 

 

Kathy’s Story: Living Better with Mesothelioma – Possible with the Right Team of Experts

Kathy Ebright was enjoying life with her husband, 2 kids and 7 grandchildren in rural Pennsylvania, when everything changed suddenly.  This is true for thousands of people fighting cancer across the world, but hearing the word “mesothelioma” is not common.

“I went numb, I might have said a few words, but I couldn’t put words together to speak,” Kathy said.

Kathy and her husband, Doug

Almost everyone has been touched by cancer, but Kathy and her husband didn’t know anyone with mesothelioma in their small town of Richfield. They only heard of the disease from commercials for lawyers who specialize in asbestos lawsuits.

Kathy’s mesothelioma was discovered during a scan of her abdomen, which she has regularly to monitor a heart condition.  Her vascular doctor saw unusual spots on her scans, which her primary care doctor and oncologist reviewed, and they determined it was pleural mesothelioma.  This means the cancerous cells are located in the chest cavity, and sometimes the lung.  Usually, those with pleural mesothelioma experience shortness of breath, but Kathy was lucky enough to catch her mesothelioma before experiencing any symptoms.

Kathy’s daughter, Ally, who works with the tumor registry at the Geisinger Medical Center, sprang into action after the initial shock.  They attended tumor boards at Geisinger, where physicians from multiple disciplines (radiation, medical, and surgical oncology) meet to discuss cases.  Kathy’s medical oncologist, Dr. Rajiv Panikkar, suggested to Kathy that she go to the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, where she would see a team skilled and experienced in the most novel treatments for mesothelioma.

On December 20, 2015, about a month after her initial diagnosis, Kathy had her first appointment with Dr. Joseph Friedberg, a nationally known expert in mesothelioma and head of thoracic surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Kathy and her family were nervous, but mesothelioma nurse navigator Colleen Norton helped them navigate the unfamiliar and frightening process of a mesothelioma diagnosis.  She made sure they were prepared for their appointment beforehand, and Colleen even handled authorization with their health insurance company.

“We just felt we were along for the ride because Colleen always had everything taken care of,” said Kathy’s husband Doug.

And they were just as impressed with Dr. Friedberg, who was calm, reassuring and explained Kathy’s situation very clearly.

“On the back of his folder, he hand drew a lung to display what was going on with me, and it could’ve been taken right from a textbook it was so good,” Kathy said.

Kathy’s granddaughter, Carleigh, who serves as her main cancer-fighting motivator

They were also impressed with Dr. Friedberg’s tenacity and understanding.  Kathy wanted to spend Christmas with her family, but Dr. Friedberg didn’t want wait too long to perform the lung sparing surgery.

Her surgery was scheduled for January 5, 2016.

Throughout the surgery, Kathy’s family couldn’t have been more comfortable and informed.

“We camped out in the Healing Garden just about the entire time,” Doug said. “Melissa Culligan, Dr. Friedberg’s nurse, was in and out of the operating room, updating us every two hours.  We were never left wondering how Kathy was doing.  We also had the option to call into the operating room if we had any questions.”

During Kathy’s recovery in the hospital, she said the nurses were “phenomenal.”  Colleen also came to see her several times a day, and they added a La-Z-Boy to Kathy’s room so her husband could more comfortably spend the nights with her.

While there is no cure for mesothelioma, yet, Kathy and her family couldn’t be happier to have the UMGCCC team in their corner.  She now returns every 3 months for the next 2 years for check-ups, and Dr. Friedberg describes her scans as “pristine.”

“It’s very reassuring to know we have such caring people looking out for my health,” Kathy said.

Learn more about the Mesothelioma and Thoracic Oncology Treatment Center at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Center by clicking here, or calling 410-328-6366.