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Infusion care at Virginia Mason Memorial is a lifesaver for Baby Mason
Mason is adorable. He’s got thick spiky hair and a smile that creeps across his face when you say his name. He likes to kick his chubby little legs.
The 9-month old is a happy boy, lying on a bed in the Pediatrics Unit at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital as he receives the IV infusion that is saving his life. His mother, Susie Del Viento, sits close by his side.
The fact that he’s here at all is a miracle. Two miracles, actually.
A routine newborn health screening found that Mason has Pompe disease. The genetic disorder causes sugars to build up in the body’s cells, and the body lacks the enzyme that usually breaks them down. He will need regular infusions of a special medication or he could get very sick — and possibly die.
Pompe affects 1 in 40,000 people. In fact, the Health Department mandated that providers begin testing for it only two months before Mason was born. “He had an angel watching over him,” says VMM Pediatric Nurse Teresa Breitenfeldt, as she adjusts Mason’s IV line. Susie nods. “It felt like a miracle that the test was available, but I was in shock,” she says. “I asked them — ‘Are you guys sure you have the right baby?’ ” They were sure.
The diagnosis meant that Mason would need infusion care every two weeks for his entire life. But because the nearest pediatric infusion center is at Seattle Children’s Hospital, that meant Mason and his family, who live in Sunnyside, would have to travel three hours each way for his care.
“The next six months were a blur,” Susie says. Her sister, Jasmin Sanchez, would drive over Snoqualmie Pass while Susie sat in the back with Mason. “We had one time where we almost didn’t make it because the weather was really bad. We also had to pull over all the time to make sure he was OK.”
Mason’s pediatrician, Dr. Catherine Koozer, thought there just had to be an easier way, but VMM’s Infusion Care Department was not set up to treat infants. Dr. Koozer exchanged scores of emails and spent hours on Zoom calls with doctors at Children’s Hospital. She worked with VMM’s Infusion Care team and pharmacists until they all figured out a way for Mason to be treated here in Yakima.
“Once I got that phone call I was so excited! I said ‘Yes, I’m ready!” Susie says, smiling. The process of infusing the medication, Lumizyme, takes five hours.
“It works out perfect that we’re coming to Virginia Mason Memorial now. It’s so much better — less overwhelming and not so far from home,” says Susie, who has six other children at home.
VMM’s Infusion Care team administers medications intravenously in an outpatient setting. The Infusion Care team provides everything from nutrition and hydration therapy to blood transfusions, chemotherapy and pain management.
Mason remains calm throughout his treatment and he seems fascinated with the process, looking intently at Infusion Care Nurse Neil Creasy as he checks Mason’s temperature.
Susie is incredibly grateful to the team at Virginia Mason Memorial. “They are so awesome. I am so blessed, thanks to this team of people who are helping him.”
Diagnosed with breast cancer in Peru — treated at North Star Lodge in Yakima
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Janel Mattix and her husband, Jesse, were running a Bible school in the Peruvian jungle when she found a lump in her right breast. Usually, missionaries devote their lives to helping others, but first, Janel, 43, had to save herself.
And she did just that — not in Peru or even anywhere close to the equator — but in Yakima at North Star Lodge Cancer Care Center.
In December of 2019, Janel and Jesse flew to see a doctor in Lima, Peru’s capital.
He ordered a mammogram, which showed several lumps and calcifications, and he determined that she needed to have a surgical biopsy so that the tissue could be thoroughly examined.
Six hours after the procedure began, Janel woke up. “When I saw the clock, I knew I had cancer. I moved my arm over to where my right breast was and said, ‘Oh. It’s not there anymore.’”
The biopsy revealed cancer had spread throughout her breast, and the doctor told Jesse it would be best to remove the breast immediately. Because Janel was still under sedation, Jesse made the tough call. “I wasn’t mad. I thought — great! They got it all out,” Janel says.
But Janel’s cancer journey was far from over.
Her cancer was HER2-positive, a type that tends to grow and spread aggressively. Janel would now need chemotherapy and long-term targeted therapy to prevent spread of the disease.
Right then Janel decided to bring Jesse and their two kids home to Yakima, where her dad lives. The family rented a house and started investigating her options for treatment. Janel is originally from Seattle, and the rest of her family still lives there. They all recommended Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
But then she started getting emails from friends in Yakima. Lots of them. “I didn’t even know Yakima had a cancer clinic, but friends and fellow church members started emailing us saying we have a great cancer clinic here called North Star Lodge.” NSL sees more than 5,000 patients a year. They treat all types of cancer and follow numerous clinical trials — to provide cutting-edge options. They offer complete oncology care, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and medical oncology, as well as physical therapy, counseling and education. Patients come from all across the Northwest to receive treatment there. Janel decided that’s where she would go.
“It’s been amazing,” she says. But it wasn’t easy. The first chemo drug, nicknamed ‘Red Devil,’ caused severe side effects. But North Star Oncology Nurse Navigator Beth Palmer was right by her side to help Janel deal with both the physical and emotional effects. “I can just call her up and say I’ve got this going on or that going on, and she gets me help right away from the doctors and nurses.”
When the pandemic began, Beth and Janel quickly adapted by using video calls in addition to in-person visits.
Janel says everyone at North Star, including the pharmacists who helped with medication for her terrible nausea, was fighting for her. “Everybody I talked to just really wants to help you get through it.”
Chemo treatments have ended, Janel is currently being treated with targeted therapy using Herceptin and Perjeta, which have very few side effects. “I’m regaining strength,” she says. “Every day I can walk two miles, which is really exciting.” Janel and Jesse have even started thinking about working at a new Bible school — this time, in Wyoming — closer to home. But she says North Star Lodge will always be her home for cancer care.
Diagnosticado con cáncer de mama en Perú — tratado en North Star Lodge en Yakima
Janel Mattix y su esposo, Jesse, dirigían una escuela bíblica en la selva Peruana cuando encontró un bulto en su pecho derecho. Por lo general, los misioneros dedican su vida a ayudar a los demás, pero primero, Janel, de 43 años, tuvo que salvarse a sí misma. Y ella hizo precisamente eso, no en Perú o incluso en cualquier lugar cerca del ecuador, sino aquí en Yakima en North Star Lodge Cancer Care Center.
En Diciembre de 2019, Janel y Jesse volaron para ver a un médico en Lima, la capital de Perú. Ordenó una mamografía, que mostraba varios bultos y calcificaciones, y determinó que necesitaba una biopsia quirúrgica para que el tejido pudiera ser examinado a fondo.
Seis horas después de que comenzó el procedimiento, Janel se despertó. "Cuando vi el reloj, supe que tenía cáncer. Moví mi brazo a donde estaba mi pecho derecho y le dije-'Oh. Ya no está ahí."
La biopsia reveló que el cáncer se había diseminado por toda su mama, y el médico le dijo a Jesse que sería mejor extirpar la mama inmediatamente. Debido a que Janel todavía estaba bajo sedación, Jesse hizo la difícil llamada. "Yo no estaba enojada. Pensé, ¡genial! Lo sacaron todo," dice Janel.
Pero el viaje contra el cáncer de Janel estaba lejos de terminar.
Su cáncer era HER2 positivo, un tipo que tiende a crecer y propagarse agresivamente. Janel ahora necesitaría quimioterapia y terapia dirigida a largo plazo para prevenir la propagación de la enfermedad.
En ese momento Janel decidió llevar a Jesse y sus dos hijos a Yakima, donde vive su padre. La familia alquiló una casa y comenzó a investigar sus opciones de tratamiento. Janel es originaria de Seattle, y el resto de su familia todavía vive allí. Todos recomendaron Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Pero luego empezó a recibir muchos correos electrónicos de amigos en Yakima.
"Ni siquiera sabía que Yakima tenía una clínica de cáncer
“Pero mis amigos y compañeros de la iglesia comenzaron a enviarnos un correo electrónico diciendo que tenemos una gran clínica de cáncer aquí llamada North Star Lodge." NSL ve a más de 5,000 pacientes al año. Tratan todos los tipos de cáncer y siguen numerosos ensayos clínicos, para proporcionar opciones de vanguardia. Ofrecen atención oncológica completa, incluyendo radioterapia, quimioterapia y oncología médica, así como fisioterapia, consejería y educación. Los pacientes vienen de todo el noroeste para recibir tratamiento allí. Janel decidió que ahí iría.
"Ha sido increíble," dice. Pero no fue fácil. El primer fármaco quimio, apodado 'Diablo Rojo,' causó efectos secundarios graves. Pero la enfermera de North Star, la navegante Beth Palmer, estaba a su lado para ayudar a Janel a lidiar con los efectos físicos y emocionales. "Puedo llamarla y decir que tengo esto en marcha o que está pasando, y ella me pide ayuda de inmediato de los médicos y enfermeras."
Cuando comenzó la pandemia,
Beth y Janel se adaptaron rápidamente mediante el uso de videollamadas además de las visitas en persona. Janel dice que todos en North Star, incluyendo los farmacéuticos que ayudaron con medicamentos para sus terribles náuseas, estaban luchando por ella. "Todos con los que hablé realmente quieren ayudarte a superarlo."
Los tratamientos de quimioterapia han terminado, Janel está siendo tratado con terapia dirigida usando Herceptin y Perjeta, que tienen muy pocos efectos secundarios. "Estoy recuperando fuerzas," dice. "Todos los días puedo caminar dos millas, lo cual es realmente emocionante." Janel y Jesse incluso han empezado a pensar en trabajar en una nueva escuela bíblica, esta vez, en Wyoming, más cerca de casa. Pero ella dice que North Star Lodge siempre será su hogar para el cuidado del cáncer.
Quick diagnosis and comprehensive care earn North Star Lodge a fan for life
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“I went into North Star Lodge on July 31, 2019, and Dr. Vicky Jones looked at me and said, ‘You know you’re here because you have breast cancer, right?’”
It might sound strange, but Cheryl McLean says hearing those words was a huge relief. The 61-year-old had been fighting a mysterious illness for nearly four months and was so sick her husband, Tim, had to use a wheelchair to take her to her appointment with Dr. Jones.
Earlier that year Cheryl noticed her left hand and arm were swollen after a day of gardening. She and Tim live in Mossyrock, WA, but were staying in Utah at the time to help take care of their grandkids. Cheryl thought she was having an allergic reaction. Then she found a big knot near her shoulder. She went to the emergency room, where doctors prescribed antibiotics.
Then her left breast started to swell, but it was so full of fluid she couldn’t get a mammogram. A series of doctors each diagnosed something different. Blood clot. Collapsed vein. Frozen shoulder. With each treatment, the pain increased. Cheryl became bedridden.
Late in July, Tim told her, “That’s it. We’re putting you in the RV and taking you back to Washington.” The couple had intended to first visit their son Josh and his wife Sandie in Moxee. But 12 hours later, Cheryl was in the Emergency Department at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital instead. “The doctor saw my breast and immediately knew something was wrong,” she says. “He told my husband it could be cancer and ordered a biopsy.
“Here I’d been in Utah from April to July and they said it was everything but cancer. I was in Yakima for two hours and they diagnosed it!”
When she heard that, Sandie knew just what to do. She recommended North Star Lodge. It’s where her own mother was treated for breast cancer, and Sandie credits North Star with saving her life.
NSL sees more than 5,000 patients a year. They treat all types of cancer and follow numerous clinical trials — to provide cutting-edge options. They offer complete oncology care, as well as physical therapy, counseling and education. A team of providers is assigned to each patient for treatment and support. It’s no wonder people come from near and far to receive treatment there.
Cheryl is especially grateful for her doctor, Vicky Jones, and Beth Palmer, the Nurse Navigator who was by her side during chemotherapy and radiation. “I want to hug her every time I see her. I can’t say enough about her. She’s busy, but she takes time. She wants to know what’s going on in my life, if I’m eating my spinach. I feel like they’re family.”
Cheryl is now finished with chemo and radiation. But because her cancer was HER-2 positive, she will need infusions of a drug called Herceptin every three weeks for the rest of her life. “When I walk into North Star now,” she says, “people are shocked. I have makeup on, I’m not in a wheelchair, my hair’s coming in. They remember me hunched over, watching the floor in case I fell down. They’re just amazed!”
Even though she and Tim live two and a half hours away from Yakima, Cheryl is a devoted North Star fan. “That’s how much I love that place. There are cancer centers an hour from my home, but I’m going to North Star.” She has always gotten regular mammograms, and will continue to get them.
Cheryl walks two or three miles every day now. “Sometimes it just feels like a really bad dream,” she says. “I was close to death, but I never believed it because of the people at North Star Lodge.”
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Infusion Care team ‘keeps going’ and patient couldn’t be more grateful
Gregory White has been coming to the Outpatient Infusion Care clinic at Virginia Mason Memorial for the past 10 years.
“This team is like my family,” he says. “I know most of them, and know about their kids, and they know everything about me!”
Greg was diagnosed at birth with a rare, hereditary blood disorder called Diamond-Blackfan Anemia, which affects the ability of bone marrow to produce red blood cells. The disease is often treated with blood transfusions. In fact, to manage his symptoms Greg used to have blood transfusions every three weeks. But, as he recalls, “my quality of life was almost non-existent. I was homebound and in bed 75% of the time.”
Greg is a huge baseball fan and loves anything sports-related. Anyone who knows him will tell you that Alabama is Greg’s No. 1 favorite college team. Once an avid golfer, he had a 30-year career ranging from caddy to golf pro, and everything in between until his disease forced him to stop working.
The turning point in Greg’s life came when he was getting ready for his last transfusion. Greg went in for a routine check of his blood work and discovered was dehydrated. The nurse gave him IV fluids and sent him home. A week later, when Greg returned for another check, remarkably his red blood-cell count had “gone up on its own for the first time ever!”
The Infusion Care team put Greg on the IV fluids for the next three weeks — with similar results. When the team finally told the doctor what they had learned, he said, “Keep going!” That began Greg’s current treatment – IV fluids three to four times each week at Virginia Mason Memorial’s Infusion Care. Greg describes his treatment at VMM as “a burst of energy” every time he gets it.
It’s been years since Greg’s last blood transfusion. He works out five days a week and has a 2.5-year-old miniature pinscher named “Mocha” to keep him busy. “I’m able to live a somewhat normal life because of this treatment,” he says. “This is a huge change.”
Greg is grateful for his friends in Infusion Care who have been there for him every step of the way. “I’m very lucky and thankful for this team.”
El equipo de infusiones "sigue adelante" y el paciente
no podría estar más agradecido
Gregory White ha estado viniendo a la clínica de atención de infusión para pacientes ambulatorios en Virginia Mason Memorial durante los últimos 10 años. “Este equipo es como mi familia," dice. "Conozco a la mayoría de ellos, y sé acerca de sus hijos, ¡y ellos saben todo sobre mí!" Greg fue diagnosticado al nacer con un raro trastorno sanguíneo hereditario llamado Diamond-Blackfan Anemia, que afecta la capacidad de la médula ósea para producir glóbulos rojos. La enfermedad a menudo se trata con transfusiones de sangre. De hecho, para controlar sus síntomas Greg solía hacerse transfusiones de sangre cada tres semanas. Pero, como él recuerda, "mi calidad de vida era casi inexistente. Estaba en casa y en la cama el 75% del tiempo."
Greg es un gran fanático del béisbol y le encanta cualquier cosa relacionada con los deportes. Cualquiera que lo conozca te dirá que Alabama es el equipo universitario favorito No. 1 de Greg. Una vez un ávido golfista, tuvo una carrera de 30 años que va desde caddy a golf pro, y todo lo demás hasta que su enfermedad lo obligó a dejar de trabajar.
El punto de inflexión en la vida de Greg llegó cuando se estaba preparando para su última transfusión.
Greg fue a un examen rutinario de su análisis de sangre y descubrió que estaba deshidratado. La enfermera le dio líquidos intravenosos y lo envió a casa. Una semana más tarde, cuando Greg regresó para otro cheque, notablemente su conteo de células de sangre rojas había "subido por sí solo por primera vez!"
El equipo de Infusion Care puso a Greg en los fluidos intravenosos durante las próximas tres semanas, con resultados similares. Cuando el equipo finalmente le dijo al doctor lo que habían aprendido, dijo: "¡Sigue adelante!" Eso comenzó el tratamiento actual de Greg: fluidos intravenosos de tres a cuatro veces por semana en Virginia Mason Memorial's Infusion Care. Greg describe su tratamiento en VMM como "una ráfaga de energía" cada vez que lo recibe.
Han pasado años desde la última transfusión de sangre de Greg. El hace ejercicios cinco días a la semana y tiene un pequeño perro de 2.5 años llamado "Mocha" para mantenerlo ocupado. "Soy capaz de llevar una vida un tanto normal debido a este tratamiento,” dice. "Este es un gran cambio." Greg está agradecido por sus amigos en Infusion Care que han estado allí para él en cada paso del camino. "Tengo mucha suerte y estoy agradecido por este equipo."
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Hip-replacement surgery and home the same day
Curtis Johnstone of Yakima waited a long time for his hip-replacement surgery — 10 years, as a matter of fact. By 2018 his doctor told him the cartilage in his right hip was gone. It was bone on bone. “It would ache, and I couldn’t sleep at night,” he says. “I’d have to take ibuprofen or ice it to try to calm it down.” But Curtis’s job didn’t offer health insurance. So he literally limped along until he turned 65 and could sign up for Medicare.
In early 2020 and fully insured, Curtis, 65, was thrilled to finally book his full hip replacement surgery at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As a safety precaution, all elective surgeries at Virginia Mason Memorial were halted, and Curtis’s surgery was cancelled.
So when schedulers called him in late May to rebook his hip replacement, Curtis had no reservations. “They asked me if I’d be willing to come in, and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ I figured the hospital was one of the safest places I could be,” he says. “All the precautions were in place.” Those precautions include a three-day quarantine before surgery, COVID testing and, on the day of surgery, a Memorial employee greets patients at their car, provides a mask, checks their temperature, rules out any new COVID symptoms, and helps them fill out paperwork.
Curtis was finally ready for his surgeon, Dr. Robert Greene of Orthopedics Northwest, to go to work. In addition to surgical procedures within the hospital, VMM operates two ambulatory surgery centers, the Surgi-Center at Memorial and the Memorial Surgery Center at Ridgeview. In 2019, VMM performed more than 14,000 surgical procedures.
These days, a full hip replacement takes only about two hours. Patients are up and moving shortly after they come out of sedation. “When I woke up, the physical therapist was there and had me walking up and down a stair platform,” says Curtis. That same day, “they discharged me and I walked into my house with my walker!”
Curtis was one of the first hip-replacement patients in Virginia Mason Memorial history who didn’t have to spend the night in the hospital after surgery, which is a growing trend. “Everyone is going to be more comfortable recovering at home,” says Kristi Conner, Clinical Director of Surgical Services.
Today, VMM surgeons are safely and successfully performing all types of surgeries, from tonsillectomies, hernia repairs and gallbladder removals, to hysterectomies. “All surgery patients are in a clean environment, far from the COVID ward,” says Conner.
A physical therapist visited Curtis at his home the day after surgery, “and showed me seven different exercises, which I did three times a day.”
Now, five weeks later, he feels like his old self. “I feel excellent,” he says. “I can do anything I want: mow the lawn, go to the store . . . I’m cautious — but it’s going really well!”
What would Curtis tell anyone who’s thinking about having surgery at the hospital? “I would totally recommend it. It was a good experience. I don’t know why people would have an issue with it. They have taken every safety precaution possible. Don’t put something off because of COVID.”
What’s his greatest challenge now? “The biggest thing,” he says, laughing, “is having to learn not to limp! I’ve been limping for 10 years, and now I don’t have to!”
¡Cirugía de reemplazo de cadera y hogar el mismo día!
Curtis Johnstone de Yakima esperó mucho tiempo para su cirugía de reemplazo de cadera, 10 años, de hecho. En 2018, su médico le dijo que el cartílago de su cadera derecha había desaparecido. Era hueso en hueso. "Sentía dolor, y no podía dormir por la noche," dice. "Tendría que tomar ibuprofeno o aplicar le hielo para tratar de calmarlo." Pero el trabajo de Curtis no ofreciera seguro médico. Así que literalmente cojeó hasta que cumplió 65 años y pudo inscribirse en Medicare. A principios de 2020 y totalmente asegurado, Curtis, de 65 años, estaba encantado de finalmente reservar su cirugía de reemplazo de cadera completa en el hospital Virginia Mason Memorial.
Luego llego la pandemia COVID-19.
Como medida de seguridad, todas las cirugías electivas en Virginia Mason Memorial fueron detenidas, y la cirugía de Curtis fue cancelada.
Así que cuando los programadores lo llamaron a finales de Mayo para volver a reservar su reemplazo de cadera, Curtis no tenía reservas. "Me preguntaron si estaría dispuesto a entrar, y le dije: '¡Absolutamente!' Pensé que el hospital era uno de los lugares más seguros que podía estar," dice. "Todas las precauciones estaban en su lugar." Esas precauciones incluyen una cuarentena de tres días antes de la cirugía, pruebas COVID y, el día de la cirugía, un empleado de Memorial saluda a los pacientes en su automóvil, proporciona una máscara, comprueba su temperatura, descarta cualquier nuevo síntoma COVID y les ayuda a llenar el papeleo.
Curtis finalmente estaba listo para que su cirugía.
Su cirujano, el Dr. Robert Greene de Orthopedics Northwest, comenzó la cirugía. Además de los procedimientos quirúrgicos dentro del hospital, VMM opera dos centros de cirugía ambulatoria, el Surgi-Center en Memorial y el Memorial Surgery Center en Ridgeview. En 2019, VMM realizó más de 14,000 procedimientos quirúrgicos.
En estos días, un reemplazo completo de cadera toma sólo unas dos horas. Los pacientes se levantan y se mueven poco después de salir de la sedación. "Cuando desperté, el fisioterapeuta estaba allí y me hizo caminar arriba y abajo de una plataforma de escalera,” dice Curtis.
¡Ese mismo día, “me dieron de alta y entré en mi casa con mi andador!"
Curtis fue uno de los primeros pacientes de reemplazo de cadera en la historia de Virginia Mason Memorial que no tenía que pasar la noche en el hospital después de la cirugía, lo que es una tendencia creciente. "Todo el mundo se va a sentir más cómodo recuperándose en casa," dice Kristi Conner, Directora Clínica de Servicios Quirúrgicos. Hoy en día, los cirujanos de VMM están realizando con seguridad y éxito todo tipo de cirugías, desde amigdalotomías, reparaciones de hernias y extirpaciones de vesícula biliar, hasta histerectomías. "Todos los pacientes de cirugía están en un ambiente limpio, lejos de la sala de COVID," dice Conner.
Un fisioterapeuta visitó a Curtis en su casa el día después de la cirugía, "y me mostró siete ejercicios diferentes, que hice tres veces al día." Ahora, cinco semanas después, se siente como si fuera su antiguo yo. "Me siento excelente," dice. "Puedo hacer lo que quiera: cortar el césped, ir a la tienda . . . Soy cauteloso, ¡pero me va muy bien!"
¿Qué le diría Curtis a alguien que esté pensando en operarse en el hospital?
"Lo recomendaría totalmente. Fue una buena experiencia. No sé por qué la gente tendría un problema con eso. Han tomado todas las precauciones de seguridad posibles. No pospone algo debido a COVID."
¿Cuál es su mayor desafío ahora?
"Lo más grande,” el dice, riendo, “¡ es tener que aprender a no cojear! ¡He estado cojeando durante 10 años, y ahora no tengo que hacerlo!”
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Dan Soriano's feet give him fits. They have for a long time now. But Dan Soriano is not one for sitting around. "I'm a go-getter," he says. "I like to get up in the morning and go-go-go."
"But I had like a corn that grew inward on the bottom of my right foot, and it hurt. Some people call it an ulcer, but I call it a corn. This had been going on for years. I went to my primary care doctor and he was shaving it down once a month. Then he told me I could shave it down myself. So for a while my wife and I did that.
"Then it got infected."
And that meant Dan Soriano needed specialty care. He needed the physicians at Yakima Podiatry.
"Dr. (Silas) Klaver is one awesome doctor," Dan reports. "He's honest, and he explains it so you can understand it. He even took my foot and drew on it with a Sharpie to show me what he was going to do.
"What he did was, I went to Virginia Mason Memorial hospital and on Nov. 14, 2018, Dr. Klaver went in and dug out all that stuff from both the bottom and top of my foot. The hole was about the size of a 50-cent piece! He was really happy with the way the surgery went. After that I was on home care from November until February."
But Dan and Dr. Klaver weren't finished yet. There was more work to be done. Dan had developed a callous on the bottom of his foot, near the recent surgical wound, so Dr. Klaver fitted him with orthotics to correct his stance.
"I've got what they call hammer toes, and my foot doesn't face forward when I walk. It faces a little bit right," says Dan. "That's where Dr. Klaver thinks the callouses were coming from. Dr. Klaver shaved that callous down for a couple of months, but he was disappointed because the orthotics weren't working like they should.
"Dr. Klaver is not a surgery-type doctor. He wanted to try other things first. He told me we could keep going with the shaving or, he said he could go in and clip and pin the fourth metatarsal bone, which is next to the baby toe. So he did that (on Sept. 18, 2019) with out-patient surgery at Virginia Mason Memorial.
"I saw him just today, and he took the stitches out. I have no pain down there. He also took the first knuckle off the toe next to my big toe: Because of the hammertoe I was walking on the nail and I was developing a blister."
"Dr. Klaver said I could put pressure on it, but nothing stupid. So I was out in the yard with my wife just this morning. She was cutting stuff down and I was helping her. Everything's going well. I feel good. I haven't had any pain. "Dr. Klaver is an awesome, awesome guy. He explains things so that a person who doesn't know about medical things can understand."
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Todd Newhouse has to think a minute when asked about his experience at Orthopedics Northwest. There have been so many.
“Dr. (Todd) Orvald did my back surgery 18 years ago,” he begins. “It’s funny, because he also did my grandma’s knee surgery. Oh yeah! In 2007 I got a super-bad infection in my hand and it was going up my arm — the antibiotics weren’t working. I was going to Sunnyside at the time and I asked to go up to Yakima — to ONW. Dr. Hwang heard about my case, and he called me and said, “You’ve got to get up here now! He said I was a few hours from losing my hand. They said I’d be lucky to get back 75 percent use of my hand, but with physical therapy I got it all back.”
And, we’re off. The active members of the Newhouse family of Sunnyside are repeat customers at Orthopedics Northwest, and for recovery and care at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital. It is no easy feat for Todd Newhouse, a tree fruit and grape farmer, to recall his family’s rich history of care at ONW. That’s probably because he has four generations of Newhouses to consider — from his youngest, Chase, age 9, to his grandma, who’s 92.
“My younger daughter, Chase, was born with a trigger thumb . . . annnnnd something else in there needed fixed. Dr. (John) Hwang fixed that when she was a baby. Then she broke her elbow real bad when she was 3. She broke collar bone, and he fixed that, too. He did my brother’s shoulder surgery, and my dad’s, too.”
We haven’t even talked about Brielle yet. She’s Todd’s oldest. Brielle is very athletic. Very. Basketball, swimming, track, volleyball. And athletes get injured.
“Dr. (Richard) Roux did a knee surgery on her. Dr. Hwang treated her for a shoulder injury. Her finger was a big one — that was a four-year deal starting in eighth grade. She just had surgery on it this spring after the sports seasons were over.”
Brielle now attends Washington State University, on an academic scholarship. “I asked her if she was going to do something there and she said, ‘Naw, I’m done with sports, Dad.” But Brielle does want to get into a good nursing program, and while in high school she shadowed Dr. Hwang at work a couple of times.
So, really, the folks at Orthopedics Northwest have become like family to the Newhouse clan. “Yeah, it’s true. We don’t think about going anywhere else. If you can’t get in, if it’s bad or uncomfortable, you can always get in to the after-hours clinic. We’ve used that a couple of times.
“I’ve dealt with at least four doctors there over the years, and I’ve always been happy with any of them. Dr. Hwang, though, he’s definitely our go-to guy. I refer everyone I can to him. We’re right here between Yakima and the Tri-Cities, and I’m always trying to get everyone to make the shorter drive to Yakima to get better care.”
One almost hesitates to ask, but how’s it going for Newhouse family lately?
“Everybody’s good,” Todd reports. “But I’ve got three boys in football right now: 8th grade, 10th grade and 12th grade.”
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Pregnant with twins and diagnosed with breast cancer. Watch Austyn's story.
Austyn Hutton had her first child, son Lyon, at Virginia Mason Memorial in 2011.
A little over a year later, she had son Blaise there, too. 2013.
Three years later, Austyn Hutton was back at VMM’s Family Birthplace to deliver twins, Lola Jane and Easton Shepherd.
And from there? North Star Lodge, Virginia Mason Memorial’s cancer care center. Austyn Hutton, 27 years old and nine months pregnant with twins, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Virginia Mason Memorial is my team for everything,” she says. It’s a busy weekday afternoon at the Hutton house. The living room looks like rush hour for kids: They’re everywhere. “I was diagnosed right before the twins were born.”
That would be Feb. 2, 2016, what she calls “The Worst Day of My Life” in her blog about her journey as a “wife, mom, coffee lover and cancer thriver.” It is a no-holds-barred look at Austyn’s life as she works through it, including her struggle with anxiety, depression, anger, lack of energy, her decision to seek therapy and more.
“I was 30-weeks pregnant with our twins when I found the lump. The following day I was sent in for an ultrasound on my breast. Then I was sent in for a biopsy and mammogram.
“I actually found it the same day I was told that our daughter wasn’t growing the way she should be and I would need to lay low. My doctor had me lying on the couch all day, every day, so more blood would go to Lola’s placenta, giving her a better chance to grow. So I was basically on bed rest and laid on the couch with my 4-year-old and 2-year-old and watched TV . . . for literally hours and hours.
“It would be totally insane to have breast cancer,” I thought. I have NO FAMILY HISTORY. And I had never heard of someone in their 20s getting breast cancer. I thought what was really happening was related to the fact that I was in my third trimester with two babies. Lots of weird stuff can happen to your body, especially your breasts. I figured the results would come back as no big deal and life would go on
“Trevor met me at `Ohana and we sat together, waiting. Our nurse navigator, the woman who had the horrible job of delivering the news (and would later become so important to me) came and took us back to a private room. We sat down and tried to act like life-changing news wasn’t going to happen.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Your results came back positive.’ I stared at her for a second. Even though I sensed that this was the truth, I thought she was joking.
“She made it clear that this was no laughing matter, but not in a cold way. She was loving and incredibly sympathetic. She later told me she cried when she read my results and that this was only the second time she’d had to deliver this news to a pregnant woman in the 20+ years she’d worked there.”
Ten days before the twins were born Austyn was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. Seven weeks after they were born, she started six months of chemotherapy. Then came a lumpectomy, where cancer was also found in nearby lymph nodes. Stage 2 became Stage 3 and she had a second surgery to remove more lymph nodes, also an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) followed by seven weeks of radiation.
She tells her readers, “In January of 2017, almost a full year after I began treatment, I finished. I then began my life as a cancer survivor.”
And how did Austyn Hutton, cancer thriver, feel about her care at North Star Lodge and 'Ohana Breast Health Center? Like this:
“Because I go five days a week to the cancer center, I have been really getting to know everyone who works there! I feel like I’m visiting with my friends instead of going to a treatment appointment. I always leave with a smile on my face. The staff at North Star Lodge does an amazing job at treating their patients like friends.
“At the beginning of treatment we decided that at the end of it all we would throw a giant party and invite anyone and everyone who wants to come. So if you are on our medical team, come! If you babysat our kids, cooked us meals, ran errands for us, come! If you prayed for us, sent us encouraging messages, or have just been following our story, COME! Seriously, we would love to see all of you, even if we haven’t seen you in 10 years! Guys! I don’t have cancer anymore!”
Most recently she wrote: “Since treatment has ended I get mammograms every six months as part of my routine check-ups. They are a fairly quick and painless scan, and I can be in and out of `Ohana in about 20 minutes. It seems like it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but sometimes it kind of is.
“`Ohana is where I went in when I first found my lump. It’s where I had my ultrasound, mammogram, biopsy and later on met with my nurse navigator to hear my diagnosis.”
If Austyn had to choose one takeaway from her experience it would be this: “Don’t wait until you’re 40. Self-exams should start now!”
To follow Austyn Hutton’s blog go to austynswellnessjourney.com.
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Many people get kidney stones once in their life. It’s something they never forget — the searing, intense pain.
Other folks, like Stephen Stokesberry for instance, get them again. And again. And again. It seems to Stephen that they usually strike at night or on the weekend, and often when he and his wife are traveling far from home.
“That tube between the kidney and the bladder is really tiny,” he says, “and when the stones are in there it hurts like hell. It’s like a red hot knife jabbed into your nether regions.
“I end up in the emergency room because they always happen on the weekends. Or I’m in Winthrop at 9 o’clock at night. (That time it meant a 90-minute ambulance ride to Omak.)”
Kidney stones are no joke. Stephen is particularly susceptible to calcium oxalate stones. It is the most common type of kidney stone and is linked to foods high in oxalate, a naturally occurring substance found in plants and animals. These foods include beets, black tea, chocolate, nuts, potatoes, spinach and more.
Or as Stephen puts it, “Everything I kinda like is not good for me: peanut butter, broccoli, fruit with small seeds, almonds . . .
“I think the first kidney stone I had I was probably 40,” he says, thinking back. “I’ve probably had at least seven instances in my life.
“My most recent episode was in March 2019. It started hurting and I thought, ‘Ohhh, shoot another kidney stone.’ How do I know it was kidney stones? Oh, you know! I went to the ER. They did an MRI, and once they knew what it was they gave me painkillers.
“The pain can last half an hour or up to two hours. Once the stone passes into the bladder, the exit tube is much bigger. The stone must have passed into the bladder while I was there, because the pain went away. I went home.”
Emergency room care is great for, well, emergencies. But for Stephen’s continued care for kidney stones and other issues, he has long relied on Dr. Mark Uhlman at Yakima Urology Associates.
“He’s my primary doctor as far I’m concerned,” says Stephen. “I also have prostate problems, so I see him regularly.
“About a month after I had that latest round of kidney stones, it was time for my six-month prostate checkup. Dr. Uhlman was looking at my records, and he saw from the MRI that I had many stones, about 16 of them. He said to me, ‘You know, I should blast these all out.’
Stephen made an appointment. Dr. Uhlman took aim at Stephen’s kidney stones right in the office (using a process called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy). The whole deal, in and out, took about two hours.
“They blasted them all apart, but they’re still in me,” Stephen says, matter of factly. “They’re sand now. Tiny, tiny, tiny. And they’re telling me I’m not supposed to eat certain foods so that they might pass through, and so the bits that don’t do that don’t grow as fast. They also tell me to drink almost a gallon of water every day.”
Stephen takes his reoccurring kidney stones in stride, being the veteran that he is. But if he could give younger men a bit of advice it would be this:
“If you don’t want to be surprised, you should go to a urologist to find out if you’re conducive to kidney stones. The other thing you should do is interview your father and your uncles. My grandfather had a history of kidney stones. Nobody went to the hospital then. You know what my grandfather did? He paced the floor. I found this out from my mother only after my first bout of kidney stones.
“Find out if people in your family have suffered from kidney stones... or diabetes, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Find out.”
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Shelly Smith has been overweight for as long as she can remember. “I had a German grandmother who loved to feed her granddaughter. And I loved everything Grandma and Grandpa made. Oh, yes, I did. I’ve always had a sweet tooth.”
But 30 pounds from now that will no longer be true. Ever again.
“I’ve done Weight Watchers, HMR (a medically supervised fasting diet), you name it. I’ve done them all, like everybody else,” she says. “I thought it was going to be my life for the rest of my life, and I was just going to have to live with it.”
But in June 2018 Shelly’s life began to change. On a doctor’s advice, Shelly and her mother signed up for Virginia Mason Memorial’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Memorial’s DPP program is a year-long series of classes that helps people in the Yakima Valley lose weight and, thus, improve their health.
“The first week I lost two or three pounds. That got me a little bit excited,” she says. “The next week I lost 2 or 3 pounds and that was it, I was in.”
“This is going to be a place where I can successfully manage my weight for the rest of my life,” Shelly says with new confidence. “I’m working on my last 30 pounds. My goal is 250. I’m not planning on being skinny or thin: I will just weigh a lot less. My knees don’t hurt, I’m mobile. I feel better physically and mentally. I feel more happy and positive.”
Over the past year, Shelly Smith has become a woman in control, losing 105 pounds and dropping from 383 pounds to 278.5. “105 pounds,” she says mostly to herself. “Woo-hoo! I am thrilled to death. I have to tell you, even that .5 is important. Every point counts. I might not remember any other numbers, but come tomorrow morning or anytime during the day I know that number.”
Shelly, 58, is a secretary for the Department of Ecology. She works early, gets off at 3 p.m. “That way I can go straight to the gym. I try to go every day for an hour.”
Much has changed about how Shelly and her mom eat. “We read labels. I saw Johnsonville brats in Safeway. Ohhhh, how I love Johnsonville brats. I flipped over the package and the calories weren’t too bad, but 27 grams of fat is out of this world! That’s half my grams for the whole day.
“We’re big on fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. Protein is huge for me. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m a carnivore and I have to have protein.”
But Shelly is no saint, she just knows her limits.
“I rarely eat potato chips,” she says. “If I do, I’ll grab one out of the bag and enjoy that. If we have a hamburger, we’ve switched to the smaller buns. I stick as close as possible to my 3 ounces of meat or chicken on the bun. With Halloween and Easter candy, I read the bag. I do my math, because I can have one piece and it’ll be just fine.
“Even weighing myself has been kind of a journey. At first it was disappointing: I’m not losing weight fast enough. I was beating myself up. But the scale is not my enemy. The scale is my tool. It tells me where I’m at today, and it helps me get to where I want to be, figure out what I’m going do to get back to where I want to be. It’s my management tool. It informs me.”
She pauses and then adds, “The funny thing is, until you have a conversation like the one we’re having now, you have no idea you were pulling it together. Oh, my goodness, I really have a clue!”
Shelly is finally losing the weight just for Shelly. No one else.
“If you think I’m too heavy or you don’t think I look the way you want me to, there’s the door,” she says. “Do what the heck you want and leave me alone. I don’t need your grief.
“I think I can be content now and happy with my goal choice. I think it’s very doable and very livable.”
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Candie Turner’s business card tells you a lot about her: “Jim’s Wife * Brian’s Mother * Voracious Reader * Volunteer.”
But it doesn’t tell you everything. Like that she worked with Jim in the insurance business for 33 years. Or that she got breast cancer: Invasive ductal carcinoma.
“I was retired for a year, then I got cancer,” she says, mildly amused and greatly annoyed by the irony.
Candie, 67, found out in the usual way. “I went to `Ohana (Virginia Mason Memorial’s breast health center) for my mammogram in May 2018. It showed an ultra-bright tiny dot. They told me to come back in six months, and I did. They called me back for an ultrasound, then called me back and told me they would like me to have a biopsy.
“Courtney Lombardi, the nurse navigator at `Ohana, she’s wonderful. She sat me down and said simply, ‘You’ve got cancer. This is a rough week. It’s only Wednesday and you’re the fourth positive this week.”
Candie got right in for surgery. She had a lumpectomy and three lymph nodes removed. Then it was on to chemotherapy and radiation treatment at VMM’s North Star Lodge Cancer Care Center. She will also have Herceptin treatments every three weeks for a year. It will decrease the overexpression of a gene Candie carries that increases her risk that her cancer might reappear.
“I never knew anyone who had cancer until I got it,” she says. “I told the person who cuts my hair and she said, ‘Oh yeah. I had it three times.’
“I’m a coward about this,” she says humbly. “But at North Star I’m constantly bumping up against very brave women. Going to North Star becomes the new normal when you’re in treatment, but everybody’s so nice you kind of look forward to it. My nurse navigator, Beth Palmer, is fabulous. You’d think she was always having a good day. I don’t know if she is or not, but she never shows it.
“So what happens when I finish radiation? Ugh, I’ll have to clean my house, I guess.”
Chemotherapy was quite an eye-opener for Candie. And she would like to share her experience for others who might follow in her footsteps.
“The farther out I get from chemo the better I feel,” she says. “I didn’t even know I was feeling crappy!
“I had a real stew of side effects. My hair fell out in buckets, and I had no idea about chemo rash. It started in the web between my thumb and forefinger and ran up my arm. I lost my toenails. I looked at them and thought, those look weird. I bent over and pulled on one, and it just came out. The inside of my nose was raw, my mouth was raw, and I’ve got lymphedema in my left arm.
“I look so weird. I look so weird,” says Candie. She is prone to repeating herself to drive home a point. She removes her blue bandana. “Look, fuzz! I look like an ostrich!” Jim bought her two wigs, but Candie says they’re too hot. “Way too hot,” she repeats.
“When I lost my hair, I looked in the mirror and I thought I know that head! I know that head. And when my son, who’s bald, came up from the Bay Area for Easter, I looked at his head and I told him, “Yep, we’re related. I know that head!”
If there is more to report, Candie can’t recall it right now. “I blame it on chemo brain. I have chemo brain really bad. My husband is the most solid human being in history, and he is my memory. If I don’t remember somebody’s name, he does. If I don’t remember a number or a date, he does.”
Candie’s easy humor gets her through. Her determination keeps her going. Between Herceptin treatments she and Jim plan head to their son’s home in California for a visit. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I call it ‘the Drive the Kids Crazy Trip!’ ” And once more for emphasis she says, “I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
*Editor’s note: Candie Turner has finished both chemotherapy and radiation, and says she feels really good. The trip to see her son and daughter-in-law? “It was great. It was great!” she reports.
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If Barb Gulley, 57, could tell women just one thing it would be this: “Get. Your. Mammogram.” She says it just like that, too.
“I had a friend a long time ago who was almost 10 years younger than me. Her name was Juanita, but I called her Jenny. She was 29, and very close to me and my family. She came to me one day and said, ‘I have a lump on my breast,’ but she didn’t have any insurance and didn’t know what to do. She and I went to a doctor, and the doctor ordered a mammogram. When it came back it was Stage 4 breast cancer. She died at 29.
“That’s why I always get my mammogram.
“You saved my life, Jen,” says Barb, more to herself than to anyone else in the room.
“One day, years after Jenny died, I went in for my mammogram and they called me back. I had a biopsy. It was cancer. I was shocked as hell. I was like, WHAT?” Barb says. “After my experience with Jen I thought I was on my death bed. But you know what? It was one-half point before Stage 1. I had a lumpectomy, and they removed one of my lymph nodes to check it, but it was clean. I had a month of radiation, and it was gone.
“I know it went down like this because I get my mammogram every year,” Barb says. “I know. Being called back is frightening. But the nurse navigator told me, ‘You are so lucky because you caught it. You are your own best advocate.”
Barb Gulley does not fool around when it comes to her health. About 10 years ago she was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For that care she travels to Seattle to see neurologist Dr. Mariko Kita, chief of medicine at Virginia Mason Medical Center.
Barb is a few years out from her breast cancer diagnosis now. She is cancer free and a survivor. She continues to be a regular at `Ohana, Virginia Mason Memorial’s Breast Health Center. And she still drives over to North Star Lodge, but these days it’s for hormone therapy to prevent her form of cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, from returning. Barb Gulley will have this therapy for five years as the medicine blocks hormone receptors and keeps her cancer free.
“Dr. (Steven) Register was my radiologist. I loooooove him. He was just so nice,” she says. “Now I see Dr. (Sri) Obulareddy – I call her Dr. O.”
Barb Gulley can’t say this enough to anyone with breasts who will listen: “Get. A. Mammogram. My God, so you don’t like having your boob crushed. Who cares?”
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Brenda Hubert has two things to thank for her status as a breast cancer survivor: that little voice in her head and a mammogram.
“I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to do it. I’ll just put it off.’ But I’ve had it done every year since I was 40, so I thought, ‘Oh, just get it done!’
“And the mammogram found it.” Infiltrative lobular carcinoma, Stage 1, and in two lymph nodes.
Brenda, an 8th grade history teacher at Granger Middle School, was diagnosed May 1, 2018. “They caught it early enough that I just had radiation — four weeks and that was it. If I had put it off until fall it probably would have been Stage 2.”
Brenda, 57, had a lumpectomy and 2 lymph nodes removed in July 2018. “I thought, oh crap, I’ll have to stay in the hospital, but I didn’t. My surgeon Dr. (John) Kisala was great. So was my oncologist at North Star Lodge, Dr. (Siva) Mannem, my radiologist, Dr. (Cheryl) Davison, and my nurse, Brandy (Stevens).
“When I first met Dr. Davison, she sat down and looked straight at me. She drew a picture of my breast, where my tumor was, where the lymph nodes were and where they were going to do the radiation. I was really impressed.”
Brenda finished radiation treatments in September 2018. Two months later, though, her left side felt hot. It was red. Brenda called Dr. Davison, who told her, “Get up here right away.” Brenda took two courses of antibiotics: The infection was stubborn. In January, she saw Dr. Davison again and she determined that Brenda had lymphedema (Swelling that generally occurs in one of the arms or legs. It is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to the lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment.) Brenda was referred to the Lymphedema Clinic right inside North Star Lodge. She now wears a compression vest to encourage the fluid that has built up inside her chest to move (imagine wearing Spanx all the time!).
“I nag people at work to get to `Ohana (Virginia Mason Memorial’s Breast Health Center). I wouldn’t go anywhere else, seriously. I tell my friends, ‘They have coffee. They have tea. There’s water in the lounge.’ I’ve always had good care there.”
Brenda is struck by the what-ifs.
“I feel blessed by God,” she says. “And I had great support from my family and my school. You know, I’ve been teaching there so long some of my former students are now teachers there!
“On the day of our 8th grade recognition assembly, I noticed a lot of the kids were wearing pink. That’s odd, I thought. Then I went into the gym and there were all these pink balloons. I asked one of the students, ‘What’s all the pink for?’ She said, ‘Dur, Miss. Hubert!’ I broke down and cried.
“Then, on the last day of school, I got called down to the gym. The whole staff was in there wearing pink T-shirts that said, ‘Nobody in this family fights alone.’ They really are my family.
“In the end, I feel so lucky. It was all because I was like, ‘You. Gotta. Go. Get. That. Mammogram.’ ”
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“I hate you. I don’t want to be here. And I’m not going to show you what I eat. Period.”
That’s what he said. That’s what Eddie Gulley told Lori Gibbons on his very first day of class at Virginia Mason Memorial’s Diabetes Prevention Program. Lori is the program’s facilitator and she’s heard a lot over the years. Folks beginning their journey out of obesity, being out of shape and dangerously close to becoming diabetic are often fearful and intimidated. But she had never heard “I hate you.”
“Yeah,” says Eddie, 61. “I did say that, but it was in a loving way!” It’s been eight months since Eddie met Lori on that first day of class. And in all that time, Eddie Gulley, who has weighed as much as 315 pounds in his life, never missed one class in the year-long series. Not one.
Why? Because Virginia Mason Memorial’s Diabetes Prevention Program is a lot like group therapy. And group therapy works for Eddie.
“I lost my job 5 years ago at Longview Fiber (after 35 years) and I lost my insurance. I didn’t go to doctors for quite some time. I weighed 315 when I left work. We lived out in the hills, though, and I walked those hills and got down to 252. But my wife has multiple sclerosis and then was diagnosed with breast cancer, so we moved into town to be closer to doctors. Then I got really depressed because we weren’t out in the country anymore.
“I was an emotional eater. There are so many things in life that can throw you off: The first time I blew my back out at work, that screwed my head up. While waiting for surgery I blew up to 270 pounds just sittin’ around drinkin’ beer.
“After the first surgery, they gave me a job as a janitor. It was a physical job, and I lost weight until another slip, trip or fall, and then it was surgery again.
“Then our first-born son died of SIDS in March 1990.”
After the death, the Gulleys were referred to Memorial’s SIDS support group. Eddie found comfort, a way to live on. The couple became group facilitators.
“Also, couple of years ago I went to a psychologist who had a group for men who have had bad accidents and couldn’t work. We would meet once a week and talk about losing our jobs, our lifeline and our families. It helped me very much: Group therapy has really helped me. First, the SIDS group, then the men’s group and now Diabetes Prevention.
“I got into the Diabetes Prevention Program when I went to see Dr. (Nicola) Bocek (at Family Medicine of Yakima). She said, ‘You know, you’ve had a second round of blood work and your A1C is out there. You need to change your way of eating and so forth.’ This wasn’t my first rodeo. I had doctors tell me stuff over the years. Dr. Bocek hooked me up with the DPP classes. I’m thankful for that. Support groups have worked for me. At 57 I was like, I really don’t care. But at 61 I suddenly care!
“After I filled out the paperwork for class, though, I became diabetic. I thought, I don’t want to die. It would take eight people to pack me into the casket! You get so big that you think, who are you?
And now? Eddie eagerly shows Lori his food log.
“What turned me around was after I started with the My Fitness Pal thing. I couldn’t write stuff down in little books: What I wrote down, I didn’t want Lori to read, too personal. But the My Fitness Pal app took the personal away. A month later, you look at what you ate and you think: Wow, why did I eat that? 89 fat grams? Why did I do that? It’s teaching me a different way to eat. And it’s tracking my footsteps: I don’t even have to put that in.
“I feel much better mentally. The weight weighs on your brain massively: Am I going to have a heart attack, something else? When the weight began to fall off I thought, this is a much better way to live. I don’t groan getting up in my truck. And sleeping? The first day we went camping I slept 12 hours! And I can breathe easier.
“I have the food basically under control, but I need to walk more; every day at least 2 miles so my body is in a daily rhythm. The type of pain I have is horrific, but I can still walk.”
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Ashley Wilson is one of those women who sailed through her pregnancy. Except for two things: 1.) Tiny toes poking her in the ribcage at nine months. And . . .
2.) “I was six months pregnant in October, and it was deer season. I wasn’t going to miss deer season! Dustin and I love to go hunting. I had little trouble, but I kept up with him. So, really, our son Jackson has already gone hunting. Oh yeah, he’s also gone fishing!
“We both like the outdoors.” Make that all three of them like the outdoors.
“He is an awesome first child,” says Ashley. “He’s happy and always smiling. He has his sounds for when he’s tired and hungry, but he is the happiest boy.”
Ashley Wilson is a medical assistant, so she was well aware of her good fortune when it came time to have her first child. “During delivery you go into it hoping there won’t be any complications, but being in the medical field, you know something could always pop up.”
Aside from a little early-pregnancy nausea, nothing did. “For the first child, it was a really good experience. Everything was smooth sailing, and Dr. (Kevin) Harrington (at Generations Ob-Gyn) was more than amazing. I was super comfortable with him: I could ask him anything and everything, and I knew I would get an honest answer.”
Ashley worked right up until the day before she was induced. Baby Jackson was expected on Jan. 24, 2019. He was born on the 29th, 9 pounds, 2 ounces, and 20 inches long.
“By the time I was all hooked up it was 7 a.m. Jackson was born at 7:32 p.m. It was an all-day thing.
“The nurses at Memorial were awesome. The breastfeeding team was very helpful because, honestly, we did not go to any of those parenting classes. They just never matched up to our schedules. I’m not saying I went into it blindfolded because my sister has kids but . . .
“When we were in the hospital, Jackson was crying and crying, and we didn’t know what to do. A nurse came in and I swear she was the baby whisperer. Late night and early morning — she helped us a ton.
“This is probably the most realistic parenting class we’re going through right now: Life. Sometimes, we joke though, ‘Dang we should have gone to one of those classes!’
Ashley and Dustin quickly figured out how best to care for their son. “When I was still on maternity leave and Jackson wanted to eat every other hour, Dustin and I took shifts so we could both get some rest. Now we have it down. We know his hungry sounds, his tired sounds. We still work on it together, we just do. He’s the right partner to do this with.
“I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I know how important family is. I had a great first experience. I would do it over again in a heartbeat, and I probably will! I just hope Dr. Harrington is still around.”
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Catie Valdez, 28, is a baby professional. She works at Generations OB/Gyn as a medical assistant. She sees mothers-to-be every day on the job, listens to their questions, helps them find the answers.
But still, when it was time for her to give birth to daughter Alessandra at Virginia Mason Memorial’s Family Birthplace, she had questions of her own. “Will I really know when I’m in labor?” she wondered. Dr. (Leslie) McLemore, who is both her boss and her doctor, told her “Oh, you’ll know. You’ll know!”
But she kind of didn’t know. “Turns out I was in labor all day, but it wasn’t that bad,” Catie says. “Then my water broke at 8:45 p.m., I got to the hospital at 9:30 p.m. and had Ale (Alessandra) at 10:15 p.m.
“With Bella (Isabella), I was going to get ready and go in to work and just ask one of the doctors there to check and tell me if I needed to go to the hospital, but I decided to just head there instead. I was admitted at 6 a.m. and had her at 10:30 p.m.”
Catie Valdez is one of those women who has no trouble being pregnant. Both times she worked right up until she delivered. (Her baby shower with her Generations workmates was one day before she gave birth to Ale.) Catie suffers no nausea, loses the weight easily and, while pregnant with Ale, she actually craved healthy food!
But that doesn’t mean the past two years have been easy. Not by a longshot.
“I had Ale on Dec. 2, 2017, and I took full maternity leave, three months. The day after I came back to work, my husband, Freddie, was so ill he was admitted to Swedish Hospital in Issaquah. He was there from the end of February until early April. They were trying to figure out what was wrong with him that whole time!”
Doctors removed 10 feet of Freddie’s large intestine, most unusual for a man 24 years old. He also had another surgery in August 2018 and again in December. “We thought he was done,” Catie says, “but he got sick, and in May 2019 he had surgery again. And he probably needs one more.” She sighs, looks worried, but is determined to continue her story.
“That’s the reason we had our second baby so soon — the doctors told us Freddy might not be able to have babies after the August surgery. I had a six-week window, and I got pregnant in July 2018. Isabella was born on March 19, 2019. Freddy adores the girls. He told me, ‘I feel God gave me girls to help me some day.’ ”
And this is where she explains why, in their case especially, it truly did take a village to make life manageable for this young couple. The family lives in Toppenish, where they were raised. Freddy has a barbershop there. Both their families live there.
“My mom helped me so much, she stayed with me. Freddy’s mom stayed with him in the hospital. Then my parents took the baby on the weekends so I could be with Freddy. Our babysitter takes care of all of my parents’ grandkids, so the cousins are together all day while we’re at work.
“Then, when I left for Freddie’s surgery, everybody at Generations pitched in. They helped us stay afloat. They brought me toilet paper, groceries, gift cards, diapers.
“I have my family at home, and I have my family at work. God has truly blessed me. I have amazing people in my life.
“I love my job, and, honestly, it’s because of the doctors. They’re so good to us. They are so generous to their patients and to all of us there. Anything we ask they don’t just tell us the answer, they teach us. And having babies myself has helped me in my job. Now, for instance, when patients call in with mastitis (inflammation of the breast tissue), I know how painful that is. I feel so bad for them, and I know I can help.”
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“I love it a lot,” Corynn Holmes says simply, a smile traveling across her face. Corynn is tall and slender and graceful. Take a good look at her and you will know she’s talking about ballet. She’s a natural.
Corynn, 13, is the youngest of three sisters. Her older sisters were track stars at Davis High School, but at age 11 Corynn went her own way.
“I saw Misty Copeland, who is a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre on TV. She’s the first African American to have that high of a title in two decades,” she says in awe. “I started watching her dance and I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. So I started doing some research and watching YouTube tutorials. Then I said to my mom, “I really want to try ballet.” And so I went to Miss Lisa (at Yakima School of Ballet), and that’s where it really started.”
By “it” Corynn is speaking both of her new-found passion for ballet and, not long after lacing up her first pair of pointe shoes, a chronic pain behind her right ankle. Corynn and her mom tried rest, ice, they saw a physical therapist. The pain would disappear, Corynn would dance, and the pain would return.
Corynn’s mom called Orthopedics Northwest.
“The doctors told me that a little bone was getting pinched between my heel and my ankle,” Corynn says. “It was causing a lot of swelling. I’d take a break and the swelling would go down. I’d go back and it would swell.
“I went to Dr. Snyder initially for X-rays and a diagnosis, and then he wanted me to see Dr. DeMill for a second opinion. They agreed. Taking a break was not working. They thought removing it was the best thing.
“That bone is just a little thing!” says Corynn. The pain, however, was a big deal.
Most people don’t even have an os trigonum, the bone that was the source of Corynn’s troubles. People are either born with it or they are not. It makes itself known during the teen-age years, when one area of the ankle bone does not fuse with the rest of the bone. Most people don’t even know they have an os trigonum. But others, like Corynn, develop a painful condition known as os trigonum syndrome. Not surprisingly, os trigonum syndrome is often caused by repeated downward pointing of the toes -- common among ballet dancers, soccer players and other athletes.
Corynn needed help. She very much wanted to get back to class, up on her toes and onward with ballet.
“Oct. 7, 2016, is when I went on pointe,” she says without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a big day in the life of a ballet dancer. “Me, Emma and Lizzy and our moms went to Seattle to get our first point shoes. I was so excited!
“Everything was going pretty well. And then almost nine months after I got on pointe, I was at a summer intensive near Seattle and we were dancing a lot. The second week I was having some pinching behind my right ankle. They said it would be OK if we iced it, taped it up and took it easy. But I got back home and it was still hurting and I couldn’t be in pointe shoes.
“Miss Lisa said to take a little break and come back. So I did. I got new pointe shoes cuz mine were dead. I was all excited and everything was going well. In the fall – November -- I was preparing for The Nutcracker with the Moscow Ballet at the Capitol Theatre (Corynn was one of the Arabians). I was still having a little bit of pain, but it wasn’t as bad and I was being careful.
“But then it started hurting again.”
On March 14, 2018, Corynn had outpatient surgery at Virginia Mason Memorial hospital. A month later? “I went back to ballet! We did physical therapy at Lakeview Physical Therapy and I was doing hot yoga. Both of those really helped.”
“I just love it so much,” says Corynn for what must be at least the 10th time in 20 minutes. “I’m going to ballet tonight and I’m so excited.
“I’m so excited!”
GLORIA and CHARLIE GILBERT, and baby Daisy
Born Nov. 10, 2017
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Gloria and Charlie Gilbert call their new daughter, Daisy Jeanne Gilbert, “our fun baby.”
“I don’t think any baby is easy – but she’s really funny and fun,” says Gloria, jiggling little Daisy in her arms. Daisy, for her part, seems pretty darned happy to be there. “She’s very curious and very determined and, at 8 months, she’s starting to become her own little person.”
Gloria and Charlie are busy professionals. She is the general manager of Gilbert Cellars, and Charlie heads up national sales for the Yakima winery, a family business in which they are also partners. Work consumes as much of their lives as they allow. Adding a child into the mix seemed daunting, but only until Daisy got here.
“I’m pleasantly surprised how much I’ve enjoyed it and how easily it’s fit into our lives, having a baby,” Gloria says. “It’s tough enough running and growing a business. I decided that I was just going to let happen what happens. It’s still been a challenge, though. Like this week I’m sick, Daisy’s sick, and Charlie’s on the road for a business trip.”
“I spent my entire pregnancy planning for my child and how my role would change,” says Gloria, a planner by necessity. “My pregnancy was really easy, actually. I was sick until 14 weeks but I could still work and exercise. I did Pilates until 38 weeks. Doing that was something I could control. I could tell how my body was changing: It was kind of a touchstone for me. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, and I wanted to be able to recover quickly.”
Daisy is now working her way across the floor toward a little yellow duck. Or the fireplace. She’s fascinated by both of them. Like her parents, she’s very busy.
Gloria and Charlie had every intention of going to Virginia Mason Memorial’s Baby Basics class together, but, uh, they forgot. “We were busy with work and we missed our first class, so I went to the rest of them and Charlie went to Daddy Boot Camp,” Gloria says. “I’m kind of glad we went separately, though. I felt like we learned the same information but in different ways, and Charlie was really confident he knew what to do.”
“It was pretty comical though,” Charlie says of the hands-on class just for soon-to-be dads. “All the swaddles were terrible at the beginning!”
Gloria had a let’s-just-see-how-this-goes attitude about giving birth. Good thing.
“I pre checked in, which was great. I recommend that to anyone. I walked around the fourth floor for an hour because I wasn’t dilated enough, but by 3 a.m. I was 3 centimeters.
“I said, ‘Let’s see what happens,’ but I told them I definitely wanted an epidural (to lessen pain). They gave me a blood test – and I just have to say right now that my nurse Lori (Serl) was adorable and amazing. She was my nurse all the way through – and before it came back I was at 10. There was no time for an epidural. That really put a damper on my day!
“I thought there’d be more buildup, but it was eight hours start to finish. I was in the hospital about 24 hours.”
Charlie calls his wife’s quick delivery “the accidental natural childbirth.”
So, what has turned out to be the hardest part of adding a baby to the family? “Work,” Gloria says, no hesitation. “Feeling like I’m able to give her enough time. Luckily because we are business owners we have relatively flexible work schedules.”
Her advice for new parents? “Sleep training was really important for us: I still want to spend time with my husband. And at my six-week appointment they told us to start baby proofing the house, because once the baby’s here things start getting fun and you won’t want to do anything else.
“It’s funny, you wait so long for your baby to get here, and I thought the developments would come more slowly. But, boom!, her teeth were out; boom!, she was sleeping through the night. Now we’re looking for new things to do with our fun baby!”
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Sonny and Linda Salsbury are of a certain age. The age before anybody knew just how harmful the sun’s rays could be.
“We’re both from L.A.,” says Sonny. “We went to the beach constantly and covered ourselves with baby oil and got as dark as we could. And, you know what? When I told my dermatologist that he said that he did the same thing!”
If only we had known then what we know now.
“I’ve had one bad melanoma and three other lesser melanomas over the years,” says Sonny, who’s 80. “I’ve also had basal cell and squamous cell (carcinoma).”
After years of back-and-forth between Southern California and Yakima, Sonny, a youth minister, and Linda recently returned to Yakima for good. “We’re back here in our house, a big, old Victorian built in 1904, and it’s our favorite house of all the places we’ve ever lived.”
Sonny figures he has thousands of kids, two of their own and the rest from his years of ministering to young people, some of those years spent at Yakima’s First Presbyterian Church. “Some of my kids even showed up (from both Yakima and California) to help us settle back into our home!”
And he is grateful. Not just for the help settling in, but for the care he’s gotten from the team at Virginia Mason Memorial’s North Star Lodge. “Doctors found a small spot on my liver in fall 2017, and now I get an infusion of Keytruda every three weeks. It’s been great: I’ve had no side effects. In fact I’m going down to Emerald Cove Day Camp in San Juan Capistrano this summer to be the camp granddaddy: lead singing, take the kids on hikes, tell them stories.”
Washington ranks among the top 10 states for the highest rates of new cases of melanoma of the skin. So, what would Sonny like all of his kids and the rest of us to know about the sun and its effects on skin?
“Wear that sunscreen,” he says. “Get out of the tanning beds. And if you’ve ever had skin cancer, don’t miss your checkups: Get your moles checked.”
And finally, he says quietly, “It’s more important to be alive and be the color God made you.”
Roger and Marilyn Yockey
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It just didn’t make sense to Roger Yockey. How could he be so overweight when the people that he and his wife were meeting on volunteer missions around the world had so very little?
“Marilyn and I have done a lot of volunteer work in Central America, Portugal, the Caribbean, and the United States. We usually work with children who may have been abandoned or have special needs that cannot be met by families because they are very poor,” says Roger.
“I have photographs next to where I eat and next to where I watch TV of a child who has this look on his face like ‘What am I going to eat? Where am I going to sleep? Where am I going to live?’ I tell myself, ‘Roger, why should you be overweight, grossly so, when so many people are starving, especially children?”
Roger’s a little bit out of breath right about now. “We can talk while I ride the exercise bike,” he says into the phone. “I do at least 30 minutes a day.”
Roger Yockey, and his wife, Marilyn, both 78, moved to Yakima from Seattle when they retired. They wanted to be closer to the grandkids. Roger was a journalist and a journalism teacher at Seattle University. He also worked in communications for labor unions and in community organizing. Roger also ran a micro loan program for women, people of color and displaced workers.
As the Yockeys grew older, their waistlines grew larger. Roger went to the doctor. “Thanks to a wonderful physician at Virginia Mason Memorial, Dr. Silvia Labes (a primary care provider at Memorial Cornerstone Medicine) she saw indications that I was pre-diabetic and recommended the program.”
Roger is referring to Memorial’s Diabetes Prevention Program, a year-long series that teaches participants how to incorporate a healthy diet and exercise into their lives. The result is . . . well, as Roger says, “when I first went in I was what they call ‘morbidly obese.’ I weighed in at 295 pounds and I’m 5-feet, 9- inches tall.
“But somewhere along the way through the program I was told not only was I not diabetic, I was not even pre-diabetic. I weigh now about what I did when I was married and in the Marine Corps Reserve, 192. I went from a size 52 waist to a 40.”
For Roger, having his wife as his partner in the program made all the difference. “The two important things for us: It really helps if you have a partner. Marilyn and I tracked what we ate with a focus on calories and fat. That’s our guide. And the group sessions, you’re talking to other people and they’re telling you what their experiences have been. And then you weigh in.”
Marilyn, who’s lost about 65 pounds, walks at least 30 minutes a day, rides the bike for 30 and goes to aerobics class twice each week.
The Yockeys, who have shed about 168 pounds between them, are Diabetes Prevention Program graduates now. But they still show up to weigh in, because, like with everything, there are always challenges. “Eating out is a problem,” says Roger. “Red Robin and Red Lobster are great for working with you on dietary restrictions. The wonderful thing about the Café at Virginia Mason Memorial is they list the calories in the entrees, and I think the food there is just delicious.”
Temptation is everywhere. But the Yockeys are knowledgeable and prepared. “I love coffee and a cookie with it,” says Roger. “So I pick out a cookie that’s pretty low in fat and calories, and I just eat one.
“Last July we went to Guatemala for a week, and we’re already investigating where we’re going this year. Thanks to Marilyn, a cane and God, I make it. I just wish I had done this years ago.”
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As the longtime former CEO of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, Rick Linneweh is used to being a take-charge guy. As a young man he was an athlete, always has been really. At age 75 he skis, golfs, enjoys fly fishing, walking, Pilates and working out with weights.
So when his knees started talking to him, Rick talked back. And took charge.
“I was walking down the Great Wall of China after I had climbed all those steps — and they’re very uneven, I’ll tell you. I thought, “Oh, my goodness gracious, this is more than I can take. Without being morose, I figure I have 10 or 15 years left, and I wasn’t going to wait until my knees were really rotten to get them fixed.
“Coincidentally, I was getting into my SUV and I twisted myself around to get in. My foot stayed where it was, but my knee moved, and it crunched.”
The Great Wall of China challenge was in February 2017. The SUV twist-and-crunch occurred in February 2018. Rick called Orthopedics Northwest for a fix: surgeries for two total knee replacements by Dr. Richard Roux — the first in May 2018, the second in July of that year.
“As a young man, I participated in organized athletics and I was, needless to say, hard on my knees. So I previously had the meniscus removed on both of them.” (Each knee has two menisci — C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as a cushion between the shinbone and thighbone. A torn meniscus causes pain, swelling and stiffness. Patients also might feel a block to knee motion and have trouble extending the knee fully.)
But, over the long haul, Rick Linneweh was really more used to running a family of health care services than being a patient at one. This time, though, he was on the receiving end.
“At Orthopedics Northwest I’ve never been involved in something that was so well coordinated. The physicians, to the hospital, to the physical therapy service, it was a beautifully orchestrated dance. I was really taken by the education program the orthopedic surgeon had me attend so that I would know what was going to happen, about the medications I would be taking. There was incredible communication for all parts of the service.
“The hospital, with its pre-op preparation, was great. The day of the procedure was phenomenal. I intended to be one of the 50 percent who come home the same day. But my wife, Linda, was adamant that I stay the night.”
Rick did his part to prepare for the surgeries. “I made a three-prong decision: I made sure my legs were in good shape. I got my weight to a level it hadn’t been in several years. Then I took it from the perspective of an injured athlete who was going to get better and stronger.
“And, you know, I was among family. It actually was very pleasurable to be on the other side so I could be part of the family by being a patient.”
After each surgery, Rick was up and walking that night.
“The only pain medication I took was Tylenol Plus. I was gung-ho on physical therapy because of the perspective of being a recuperating athlete. I graduated out of the PT program six weeks earlier than normal because I was also working out at the Yakima Athletic Club.
“I was in good shape going into it, and I kept myself in high spirits during the whole thing, so I’m in good stead now.”
Next up for the Linnewehs? “We’re going to Germany in October. Going to be doing quite a bit of walking there, so I’m getting ready for that.”
No matter what else Rick Linneweh takes on this trip, you can bet he will be packing his can-do attitude, a natural curiosity for other cultures and his two new knees from Orthopedics Northwest.
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“You’ll know me,” says Rachel Boucher. “I’m 5 feet, 7 inches -- and I have no hair.”
And there she is, standing at the counter at Starbucks helping her son Andrew and daughter, Natalie, pick out a big, ice-cold, whipped-creamy, coffee-type drink. Rachel Boucher, wife, teacher, mom of three. And currently patient, in treatment for aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer.
“When we found out the diagnosis we had just put an offer on a house,” Rachel says, her hands gripping an iced mocha. “My husband’s in the military and we’ve been here for the past three years. The kids really like it here -- we all do -- and we decided that this is where we want to live.
“We thought maybe we shouldn’t buy the house, because we didn’t know what would happen, but Dr. (Nanette) Robinson at Virginia Mason, she’s amazing. She told us, “This is fixable. Why wouldn’t you buy the house?
“I was shell-shocked when I found out, but I thought, yeah, this took our family’s security away and we can’t let it take away one more thing.”
Rachel was 37 when she was diagnosed on Feb. 20, 2018, after a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy at 'Ohana, Virginia Mason Memorial’s Mammography Center. 'Ohana nurse navigator Betsy Medrano handed her a copy of ““The Comprehensive Patient Navigation Guide: Breast Cancer Treatment Handbook” with this advice: “Read it. Knowledge is your weapon.”
Within days Rachel was off to Virginia Mason in Seattle for surgery and then on to North Star Lodge for chemotherapy and radiation. As she speaks, Rachel has two more chemotherapy treatments before beginning radiation therapy.
“My husband found it,” Rachel says of the lumps in her right breast. “We didn’t think it was that big, but there were five tumors and it had spread to my lymph nodes.
“I had breast reduction surgery. They told me it was better to keep some of the tissue because you can’t get follow-ups (with mammograms and tomography) without it. I asked my surgeon, Dr. (Janie) Grumley, ‘What about my other breast?’ She told me, ‘Oh, we can make them match! We want everything to be pretty.’ And that’s what they did.”
A few weeks later, Rachel returned to Virginia Mason to have more tissue removed, ensuring there were no lingering cancer cells. “There’s been more science involved in all of this than I ever thought possible,” said Rachel.
Meanwhile, when able, Rachel was teaching fourth grade at Robertson Elementary, preparing to move and tending to her family -- husband Patrick, a master sergeant in the Army, daughter Hannah, 16, son Andrew, 14, and daughter Natalie, 7.
“When we told the kids, Hannah completely broke down. Natalie was in shock; she yelled, “Don’t touch me!” Andrew was also in shock, but quiet. I realized Natalie thought it was contagious: I assured her it was not. Then I told Hannah, “It’s OK. Hannah, I’m a bad-ass mother!
“My parents dropped everything and flew right out to be with us. My mom made me a quilt with BAM on it and T-shirts for the kids and Patrick. So, now I really am a bad-ass mother.”
Rachel is comforted by the results of genetic testing at North Star Lodge: There are no genetic markers for breast cancer in her family. “That was a great experience. They drew a whole diagram of our family tree for me,” she says.
“North Star is amazing. The volunteers are amazing. I can’t believe people go there just to ask you, “Can I get you anything? And the women who make the hats and scarves (The North Star Knitters). I was looking online for a seatbelt cover because of the medication port in my chest, but they had them at North Star.
“You never know what’s going to happen. Patrick, though, has been my rock. It’s been crappy circumstances, but it’s made us even closer.”
The couple had previously planned an anniversary trip Las Vegas. Rachel shuffled chemotherapy appointments. They kept the date. “Since my hair started falling out and I shaved the rest of it, people keep complementing my hair. It’s the weirdest thing,” she says. “The Uber driver who picked us up said, ‘I love your hair.’ I said, ‘Thanks?’ It happened twice!
“It’s been really hard, but I feel I’ve been lucky through the chemo, I didn’t get sick. You really do never know what’s going to happen.”
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Terry Martin had just retired, on Sept. 24, 2016, and received her first retirement check after 30 years working as an English professor at Central Washington University. Two weeks later? A bad mammogram. But, considering the alternative, she says, “How lucky that I go in for my mammogram each year?”
Today, Terry has finished radiation treatments and five months of chemotherapy. “I’m going to hit the reset button and start over,” she says from the most comfortable chair in her living room of rolling hills and orchard views. “I’ve got plane tickets for Mexico and Costa Rica (a belated birthday trip).
Terry choses her words carefully. She is a writer. So during her treatment year that’s what she did. Friends and family got regular updates about her journey through cancer and life with her spouse, Jane (who, herself had breast cancer 15 years ago).
Here’s Terry’s most recent email:
When I met with my oncologist yesterday I asked her whether at this point I can say “I had cancer.” After all, I didn’t know I had it when all this began, so how can I believe I don’t have it now, right?
She said while they’ve gotten everything they could see, and zapped the hell out of any areas likely to have microscopic traces, using the past tense like this wouldn’t really be accurate. What I can say is that I have had cancer, and that I am now in remission.
So that’s where we are. And it feels good enough.
That said, I don’t have to go back to see her for three months. For now, I’ll have just one medical appointment a month or so (Oct: mammogram, Nov: surgeon, Dec: oncologist, Jan: radiologist, etc.) which feels like heaven to me.
From diagnosis at `Ohana Mammography Center to treatment at North Star Lodge, Terry knows that cancer doesn’t care one bit about anybody’s busy schedule.
“I went from a Day Timer in 15-minute slots to open, to then filled with medical appointments,” she says. “I’d never even had surgery before. It really changed the pace of my life. But I didn’t get real scared, and I was surprised about that. I really tried to stay in the moment, but it’s a pretty tough balancing act, taking it one day at a time and holding hope.”
Terry had invasive ductal carcinoma; late stage and in three sites. Her treatment included a lumpectomy, surgery to remove the tumor and some of the normal tissue that surrounds it.
And, yes, Terry lost her hair. Running her hand across her head she says, bemused, “I’m at the stage between dryer lint and dust bunny.”
Support came in many forms. Artist friends filled Terry’s life with their creativity. “But they also understood about my need to hole up and hunker down. Jane, though, walked every step of it with me. I’d done that for her. We know how to show up for each other in that way.
“My mom was diagnosed at 46 with breast cancer and she died at 54. I really felt Mom here with me, but I also had to remember that this is my story, not hers.
“I felt very held through the whole process, and it’s not just North Star; that kind of care started at `Ohana. I really trusted my doctors and the staff. I love Dr. (Vicky) Jones and Dr. (Cheryl) Davison; I like smart women who are good at what they do. And my surgeon, Peter Young (at Cascade Surgical Partners). I felt I was in such skilled hands.
“When I walked into North Star, I’d cross those healing waters (the water feature that cuts through the facility) – I felt it. And I felt very fortunate to get to stay home for my treatment.
“This has changed me in ways I don’t even understand yet. I find myself in a sorority I never meant to pledge. It’s great to have this year over.
“Hope. That’s my word. I just held hope for the whole thing.”
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Life can really beat you up sometimes. Especially when you are an adventuresome sort of person. Just ask René Rodríguez. He’s been through it. Even as he drinks his coffee you can tell. René sits up straight and tall, is tan and fit. But a long scar snakes its way up the center of his left knee. The right is trussed up in tape (tore a hamstring working out).
That, however, is nothing. Since 2015 René Rodríguez, 68, has been no stranger to the surgeons at Orthopedics Northwest, where he’s had both knees replaced, surgery on both wrists to repair the carpel tunnels, repair work for a crushed bone in his left hand, surgery on his rotator cuff and an operation to repair the ulna bone in his forearm.
Life’s tough, but René and the team at Orthopedics Northwest are tougher.
René is still in therapy after having his right foot repaired recently. In a few months he will have his left foot operated on. Here’s what he says about that: “My X-rays were up on the board in the hallway at ONW for a post-surgery check, and Dr. (Shyler) DeMill walked by and saw my foot up there. He stopped and said, ‘Who did that? I gotta redo this or you’re not going to be walking right. Your knees will hurt, then your hips.’ ”
What the heck happened to René Rodríguez, Navy veteran, registered nurse and all-around civic-minded person who spent many years heading up local efforts for the March of Dimes?
He begins cryptically: “There were several incidents in the service. I had a couple of ejections from aircraft, and I took a big fall rock climbing.”
René’s was a life of adventure and hard work at full throttle. His job in the Navy was to deliver F4 fighter jets to aircraft carriers, harrowing landings under the best circumstances. From there he went into the aerospace business. “I’m very hands on,” he says. “I was in there with the guys every day.” There was also a stint as a farmer with his then father-in-law and another fighting fires as a pilot in the forest service. René says, “really hard work.”
René doesn’t consider his luck to be bad. Not at all. The opposite in fact. “I feel really well cared for at ONW,” he says. “Dr. (John) Adkison gave me pills for the pain, but I didn’t even have to take them. Just ice and maybe a couple of shots of Wild Turkey. That’s how good those guys are.”
René is still in rehab for his right foot, and he’s doing his best to take it easy. “All my doctors say I need time for myself,” he says. “I’m finally getting six to seven hours of sleep. And I do a lot of walking and I work out at home.”
So, after the left foot, it’s all good, right? Anything else? “I finally started wearing contacts,” he says with a grin. “Oh yeah! I had surgery on my eye, I forgot about that . . .”
Andrea (Andy) Snyder
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Andy Snyder wasn’t feeling well. She tried working through the day as a pharmacy tech at Cornerstone Medicine, but she thought maybe she should see somebody. So she headed over to Inspire Health, Virginia Mason Memorial’s clinic for employees and their families.
“I was feeling off, but mostly nauseous and just dragging. I asked for something for the nauseousness. I got that and left,” says Andy. “I still wasn’t feeling good come Monday, so I went back in. The next day, Jennifer Martin (clinic physician assistant) called to check on me. She had a feeling and asked me to come back for blood work. I went in that day.
“I remember my dad was with me because I didn’t feel like driving. We went out for lunch, and while we were there Jennifer called and asked me to come back so she could talk to me.”
And there it was: acute myeloid leukemia.
“I was born in this hospital, I work at this hospital, and I spent my 40th birthday in this hospital,” Andy says of that time almost four years ago now.
“Shocked?” Andy says to a question not-yet asked. “Who wouldn’t be? I was stunned stupid at first. You don’t know what to think. She told me my white blood-cell count was astronomical, which is indicative of cancer. I didn’t know what kind of cancer, but she got me into North Star within a day or two. It was boom!
“Dr. Tony Ha did a bone marrow biopsy. Within the week I had another appointment, and he broke it to me. He admitted me to the hospital to start chemo that day. I was in and out of Virginia Mason Memorial for about two months. The staff at our hospital was just great. They saw to your every need. They all went above and beyond. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything.”
Andy then went to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the University of Washington to prepare for a stem cell transplant. Stem cell transplants are used to replace bone marrow that has been destroyed by cancer or the chemo and/or radiation used to treat the cancer. Transplant lets doctors use much higher doses of chemo to try to kill cancer cells.
Andy’s best shot for a stem cell match were her siblings. Four kids were born to the Snyder family of Toppenish. Andy’s younger brother, Chris, however, died of T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare form of the malignancy, in December 2005. That left one brother and a sister as her best possibilities.
“They tested my sister and my brother, and my sister was my perfect match,” Andy says.
Not only did Brooke, who also works at Virginia Mason Memorial (in patient access) give her older sister her stem cells, she went to Seattle and cared for Andy during chemotherapy, the transplant and until Andy’s immune system recovered.
“They took the stem cells from her, and within a couple days they came into the room and they showed me the bag. It looked like a bag of blood, and they hooked me up. It was not invasive at all. That was on March 20, 2015. They say that’s your birthday when you get your stem cell transplant, and my nurse came in and sang happy birthday to me.”
And then you wait. “They want to be sure it takes,” says Andy. “Because your immune system is so low they don’t want you to be out, so you just have to wait. I stayed in the hospital about a month,” Andy says.
And now? Cured. Every four months she heads to North Star for a checkup with Dr. Siva Mannem. “I feel good,” Andy says.
And her relationship with Brooke, now her blood sister in more ways than one? “She told me, ‘For the rest of my life whenever I put my hand out, you have to put a Pepsi in it.’ That’s the price for saving my life,” says Andy, smiling.
Brooke adds, “People say Andy’s ornerier now that she’s got my stem cells; I’m the ornery one! We’ve always been close. I do think we’re nicer to each other, but we still have fights -- we are siblings.”
“I’m grateful, you bet,” says Andy. “For all the people who looked after me. It wasn’t a one-man show. I think, overall, there were a few hundred people involved. From the nurses and aides and the doctors who were upfront in my face, to the techs who took my blood, the receptionists who greeted me at appointments. So many people.
“I can appreciate all the little things better now. In this age, everybody is touched by cancer somehow.”
Angel Perez and Macayla Smith
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Angel Perez and Macayla Smith work out at the gym. They try to eat a low-carb diet. They have two cars, a nice apartment and enjoy spending their weekends with the kids.
Just another typical Yakima Valley family, right? Not even close.
“It’s so awesome getting up and not chasing the dragon,” says Angel.
The dragon was heroin.
“We were very active in the drug scene,” Angel says. “I was in gangs. I’ve been in prison twice. Macayla and I were on the streets; We were homeless. We used everything from heroin to methamphetamines to alcohol, but heroin was our drug of choice.”
That was almost three years ago, when the couple began their long journey to get off the streets and out of addiction.
“We’d hit rock bottom; I was done,” Angel says. “Ever since they took my little boy it kinda woke me up and opened my eyes. I told Macayla, ‘No, the streets ain’t nothing for us. Our son is our little angel, and we’re going to get him back.”
Angel and Macayla got themselves into out-patient treatment; they go to classes, see counselors. As Angel says, “Whatever it takes, we did it and we did it as a couple. We set some goals and . . .”
“We met them one by one,” says Macayla, finishing Angel’s sentence, holding his hand.
One of those goals included dealing with Hepatitis C. Angel long knew he had Hep C, but “I was kinda scared, and when you’re using you don’t care.”
His doctor referred him to Virginia Mason Memorial’s Liver Clinic, and now the couple can add being Hep C free to their list of accomplishments.
“In the beginning it was hard,” says Macayla of their transformation from homelessness and addiction to being the parents of three with playdates and jobs.
How did they do it? “Well, we fell in love, that’s for sure!” she says, laughing. “We’ve had each other’s backs ever since.”
“We go to Planet Fitness,” says Angel. “I go five days a week. It gets your body back. I feel so good to be getting my health back, you know what I mean? Now, instead of smoking, I get ready for the gym.
“We did an awesome thing. We showed them. We tell other people, you got this, you can do this, too. We got rid of our old friends, but whenever they see us they say ‘Good job!’ ”
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Connie Polina’s heart was dying. But she didn’t know that.
The first time the pain came, you could understand. Connie was at her brother’s funeral. He had been shot dead, on March 7, 1993. It was a painful, stressful time.
“I got a really sharp pain in my chest,” she says. “But because I was the oldest, I had to be strong. The pain went away, and I didn’t pay any more attention to it.”
Life went on. Spring became summer, and summer became fall. Then it was Christmas. “I got another one on Dec. 24. I was at my mother-in-law’s making tamales, but I ignored it again.”
The next day, Christmas, she had another sharp pain. This one she could not ignore. “I didn’t know what was happening. We went to the hospital in Toppenish, but they didn’t know either. I don’t smoke or drink. I exercise; I took my boys walking every day.”
Women having a heart attack often do not present the same symptoms as men. But Connie was eventually diagnosed and on her way to Yakima for open-heart surgery -- on Dec. 27, 1993, with Dr. Duane Monick of the Yakima Heart Center. Shortly thereafter doctors determined she also needed a defibrillator to monitor and help regulate irregular life-threatening heart rhythms. For that surgery, in April 1994, she was off to Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
Her heart, however, was permanently damaged, so Dr. Monick, her cardiologist, sent her to see Dr. Daniel Fishbein at the University of Washington. Over the next six years he tried to help Connie using medication and another surgical procedure, but in January 2000 her name was added to the list of those waiting for a new heart – a transplant.
And here’s where her story gets really exciting:
“When they put you on the list they give you a pager so they can reach you when there’s a heart. Six months later I got the page. We had four hours to get to the UW, and we’re three hours away. I had been telling my husband all that time, ‘Make sure the car is gassed up. Make sure the car is running OK, but on the way over it overheated at the summit on I-90. We had to pull over.
“I called the UW and they said, ‘You have to call 911!’ I kept telling my husband, ‘This heart is mine! This heart is mine, we have to get there!’ The ambulance came and at some point they put me in a helicopter.
“When I got to the UW everybody already knew my story. They called me the Queen of Hearts! I even got there before my heart, which was from a woman in Yakima.”
On June 20, 2000, Connie Polina, who had just turned 40 years old, had her heart replaced thanks to a donation from a stranger.
“It was meant to be,” she says, her eyes full of tears.
Boy, was it. Connie, whose formal name is Consuelo, found out that her donor was also named Consuelo. Also, Connie has three children. So did her donor.
“What I prayed for was for God to just give me the strength to see my kids graduate. I’ve seen all three graduate, and my boys are now 38, 36 and 30. And I have three grandkids and one on the way.
“When I see my grandkids I think of Consuelo. I think of my donor. Her youngest was 11 months old when she died.”
Connie and Robert have been married almost 38 years now. Connie, who worked all her life except for the years when her heart didn’t allow it, is back at it, working part time as a secretary at Roy Farms.
“I feel really good now,” she says, her eyes bright. “Dr. Monick retired and now his son, Dr. Erik Monick is my cardiologist. I see him once a year at the Yakima Heart Center, and twice a year I go to the UW. That’s it.
“When I was having those chest pains it just felt like anxiety. Now I’m always telling my sisters and my daughters-in-law to get checkups.
“I’ve got stubborn sisters, but I keep telling them.”
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At first Dr. Ross Bethel, family physician, was losing weight because of a deal he made with a patient.
“My patient was diabetic and she told me, ‘I just can’t lay off sweets.’ So I told her that I would if she would for three months. I lost weight, and I kept losing it. I thought, this must be the secret!
“But then I lost too much weight, and I had pain radiating from my liver to my shoulder. I felt around and there was a huge lump – a big one, like a baseball.”
That’s the moment, on July 24, 2017, that Dr. Ross Bethel -- father, husband and family physician at Selah Family Medicine -- went from doctor to patient. “Two days later I had a colonoscopy and that confirmed it. It was colon cancer that had spread to my liver. And that made it Stage 4. That meant I had about three years.”
A few days later, Dr. Bethel began recording his cancer journey in a blog at caringbridge.org: “Heidi was with me when I found out. We told Zach and Kate that night. Matthew was at camp and just got home now, so had to break the news to him also. Those have been the hardest moments. Other things hit us along the way . . . future hopes that probably won't become reality. Then tears come. But the love and support of my family and friends is a marvelous blessing.”
Dr. Bethel left work to focus on his family and his treatment. “I figured, this is my retirement,” he says. “As much as I love my job, I didn’t want to lose that time with my family. I took the kids to school, went to all the games. We were just around.”
Everyone who sees me for the first time since this has happened tells me how good I look (because of the weight loss). No one used to tell me that, so cancer has made me better looking!
He started chemotherapy quickly, and then in October 2017 his colon became obstructed. Dr. Bethel had an emergency ileostomy at Virginia Mason Medical Center. (A procedure in which the lowest part of the small intestine is brought through an opening in the stomach. Digestive contents leave the body through the opening, and the drainage is collected in a pouch attached to the skin.)
Dr. Vicky Jones at North Star Lodge thought a second opinion would be a smart idea. She sent Dr. Bethel to Dr. Alan Venook at the University of California San Francisco. He thought that most of the tumors could be cut from the liver (which has the ability to regenerate). This increased Dr. Bethel’s chances of surviving to 40 percent at five years.
You may not be of the right generation to know the REM song “Losing my Religion.” Well, I’m not doing that, but on December 11 I will be losing part of my liver.
By the end of January 2018 Dr. Bethel felt well enough to return to work part time, doing administrative duties and working on leadership projects.
“On one hand you’re preparing wills, making sure life insurance is up to date. On the other hand you’re praying you won’t die, praying for a miracle,” he says. “Faith is the hope for things we don’t yet see. I have a new understanding of faith now. But my faith is not blind. I could still have a recurrence. I know that.”
In March, Dr. Bethel completed chemotherapy treatments: Great news! Tomorrow is my last round of chemo. All has been going well and I feel great. Going back to work has been fun but tiring. Heidi had surgery on her ankle this week and is non-weight bearing for a month, so I have had the privilege of caring for her instead of the other way around.
In April the left side of Dr. Bethel’s colon was removed and the ileostomy was reversed. He started seeing patients again in June.
“I love my patients and they love me. They were all crying when I left the practice, so now that I’m back at work all my patients are crying again.” He smiles.
“I’m amazed at the response, at people’s support. When I went to chemo education class they told me I had to flush the toilet twice. We have an old house with an old toilet, and we often have to do that anyway. So I called the plumber for a new toilet. He told the guy down at the store, ‘Did you hear about what happened to Dr. Bethel?’ Well, I had treated that guy’s mom and he looked at the plumber and said, ‘For Dr. Bethel? Pick one!’ Now, I can certainly afford a toilet, but for him to do that . . . so many kindnesses.”
In two to three months there will be another CT scan. “There’s still this ongoing waiting game, which is what most cancer patients deal with – will it come back?”
And life from here?
“My poor kids have to have their first colonoscopy at age 36. I told them,” Dr. Bethel says. “Also, I’m a pescatarian now, I eat fish.
“I want to raise my kids. I want to know my grandkids, and I want to grow old with Heidi. So that’s what I started praying for.”
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Linda Amendola, 61, is a runner. She eats healthy food and has never smoked. And, for work, she is a mammogram technician.
None of that mattered, though, when Linda Amendola got breast cancer.
“I do regular self-exams and I noticed a little dimpling,” she begins. “I never thought it would happen to me.”
And then, “I shouldn’t have skipped my mammogram.”
Yep. Cancer happens even to the professionals. When Linda skipped her mammogram, the Amendolas were in the process of moving to Yakima from Oregon. Her husband, Mark, was already here settling into his job. She was working full time and selling the house there.
“I think everybody thinks it won’t happen to them,” she says. “But I had a sister-in-law who died of breast cancer at 38 and another one who is a 10-year survivor.”
Linda’s breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, wasn’t discovered until she joined Mark here and began her new job at `Ohana, Virginia Mason Memorial’s Mammography Center. “I saw how large it was when I saw the mammogram images. I was very fortunate not to have involvement of my lymph nodes.”
Soon after discovering the cancer, April 2017, Linda began chemotherapy with Dr. Vicky Jones at North Star Lodge, had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and then started radiation with Dr. Steven Register. “North Star was wonderful. The nurses are so compassionate, even the front desk people. And I can’t forget how great the volunteers were. They brought me pillows and warm blankets, snacks, ice water and juice, almost even before I knew wanted it.
“If I didn’t have North Star I would have been driving to Seattle every three weeks for a year.“
“Linda’s tough,” says Mark. “But North Star Lodge is the real hero.”
Mark and their two daughters were there for Linda every step of the way. “They were very, very supportive. And Mark was awesome: he cooked, he cleaned, he went to every chemo and doctor’s appointment with me.
“I also had great co-workers who called to see if they could go to the grocery store or do any cooking for me.”
Today, though, Linda has completed her year of “exhaustion and everything tasting bad (even ice cream!).”
“I just had my (chemotherapy) port removed on Tuesday. I’m all finished!”
Now it’s back to life at full throttle. In fact, even before she had finished chemotherapy, Linda joined her family at the Wenatchee Marathon on April 20, 2018, running the half. “It wasn’t pretty,” she says. “It was my slowest half ever, 2:17.”
Perhaps. But her previous marathon times make Linda automatically eligible for the New York Marathon this November.
“I don’t know why I developed breast cancer, but because I did God has brought the most wonderful people into my life.
“Life is good,” she says over a cup of coffee, the sun making her smile even brighter. “I have a lot to look forward to. We like to travel. We have a trip planned to Tahiti. So that’s the goal.”
Has her own experience affected her work at `Ohana? You bet.
“I’m extra supportive now, especially about the fear factor. Now I know. ”
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A sense of humor. If you’ve just gotten married and then had a baby within months and then quit your job to start your own company, you will need to have a sense of humor about it all.
“It’s really important,” says Via Paxton, new wife and first-time mom to son Bodhi. “Throughout all of it -- with Bodhi and with Ty, with everything.”
“Oh yeah,” says Ty, a little bleary-eyed from early morning daddy watch. This after another late night at work, readying Single Hill Brewing in downtown Yakima for a summer opening.
Bodhi Topper Paxton is not even 3 months old on this sunny spring morning. But he has already schooled his parents.
“Ohhhhhh, it was . . . it was . . . I guess I was speechless,” says Ty thinking back to the moment he first saw his son. “It was absolutely incredible, this guy I’d been getting to know on the other side of the wall, and then there he was. I had a surge of deep love I’ve never had before. And, it has deepened my love for Via going through that.”
Via’s journey, from the first contraction to birth, was 40 hours. “It was a really great experience all along the way,” she says of her stay at Virginia Mason Memorial’s Mother/Baby unit and delivery with Dr. Anna Dufault of Generation OB/GYN. “We really liked our nurses, and they really liked us.” Her recommendation for other women about to give birth for the first time is “to really stay totally open-minded. You’re not in control anymore. You have to see how it goes; that allowed me the freedom to make choices.”
Ty learned this: “From a new-dad perspective, during active labor you need to be the gate-keeper in that room. Whatever Mom needs Mom gets. Also, never move more than an arm’s length away from Mom.”
The couple attended Virginia Mason Memorial’s Childbirth Education Classes and Ty is a Daddy Boot Camp graduate, so they had it down come delivery time. “I made it a priority to change the first diaper and to change all the diapers in the hospital,” says Ty. “That was one of the only things I could do to help.”
And the lessons keep coming. “Even at the hospital I was adamant about the three of us being in the room alone, having our time for our new family.”
The hardest part of being a new first-time parent? “For me right now it’s the lack of sleep,” says Ty.
And the best part? “It’s seeing him smile. He just started really tracking,” Ty says. “He recognizes us now, he’s becoming more playful. Seeing this human we brought into the world understanding communication. I talked to him in the womb and I made sort of a didgeridoo sound, and now he knows that sound. It’s amazing.”