Penn State Hershey used to be a place of grief for Meagan Horst.
It was the place she went to say goodbye to her father when he died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 44. Fourteen years old, she was the oldest of four children, waiting her turn to go into his room and say her final goodbyes.
As she sat with her siblings, she saw a little boy walk by, clutching an IV pole. He seemed so happy, excited by the simplest of things. “I knew right then that I was going to be a doctor,” she said. “I knew I was going to grow up to take care of people like him. He was just so happy to be alive.”
After high school, Horst spent a summer between her sophomore and junior years of college in Honduras and the Dominican Republic, shadowing doctors and learning about the world of medicine. There, her experiences in the operating room convinced her she wanted to become an anesthesiologist. “I was always interested in the other side of the curtain, and it just felt right,” she said. “I love everything about it.”
The following summer she traveled to Peru, interpreting for a medical team that needed help with Spanish. “I’ve always been ambitious and had lots of goals,” she said.
Growing up in Togo, West Africa, Elom Amoussou-Kpeto was acutely aware of the barriers that kept people from accessing quality health care. Not only was there a lack of highly skilled providers, but transportation was a challenge.
He spent a lot of time with his grandfather, a nurse, who cared for the whole community “doing almost what a doctor would do,” he said.
Amoussou-Kpeto realized that by becoming a doctor, he could give so much back to the community: “That is my ultimate objective.”
So, upon graduating high school with good grades, he applied to Camden Community College near Philadelphia, where an uncle lived. Once accepted, he began the process of obtaining a Visa to come study in the United States, where he felt like he would get a better education.
After two years studying biology there, he transferred to Temple University to finish a degree in biochemistry. It was a rocky road though.
Language was a huge barrier. Amoussou-Kpeto grew up speaking Ewe and French. In school, he learned to read and write some English, but had difficulty expressing himself in the new language. “I felt like time was constantly working against me–especially with standardized tests,” he said. “I felt like I was fighting a combat on two fronts–between who I am and who I want to be.” (more…)
This is the metaphor at the heart of Dr. Dan Shapiro’s new book, And in Health: A Guide for Couples Facing Cancer Together, that was released today (May 14). Part lifejacket, part buoy, the book offers practical advice for spouses and partners whose lives have been upended by cancer.
Shapiro, a clinical psychologist, knows this landscape firsthand. For five years when he was in his 20s, he battled lymphatic cancer, undergoing chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant and relying upon his spouse Terry for support. A dozen years later, the roles were reversed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Despite living in the cancer world since the 1980s, I underestimated how intense, painful and difficult it is to be the spouse and how important it is to understand that both roles are challenging,” said Shapiro, also chairman of the Department of Humanities, Penn State College of Medicine.
“We’re talking about really practical things we can do to make the experience easier and strengthen our relationship.”
Those “practical things” range from how to interact with the medical team and deal with emotions to how to talk about sex, to name a few of the chapter topics. The chapters themselves contain a mix of personal anecdotes, research findings and specific recommendations such as working less to scheduling weekly date nights when talking about cancer is prohibited.
All are aimed at helping couples navigate this unfamiliar and scary terrain that can include radical body changes, job loss, and role shifts.
They came without warning and didn’t go away: uncontrollable muscle twitches, weakness in his arms and hands, slurring of speech.
Even before the diagnosis in August 2011, Don Farrell and his wife Joan Darrah had figured out what they were confronting: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease that is 100 percent fatal within two to five years after onset of symptoms.
“I can tell you that after the initial shock and grief, one makes a decision to move forward or not,” says Farrell in a documentary made by Penn State College of Medicine students Arissa Torrie and Brian Kinsman.
“It stimulated me to complete my life—not that I know what my life should be—but it stimulated me to finish it out strong, however that may be.”
Told through photographs and audio, “Don Farrell” is one of ten student documentaries that explore in searing and haunting detail the lives of patients facing debilitating diseases and terminal illnesses. Screened on May 1, the “Video Slam: Patient Project Documentary Films” is part of Penn State College of Medicine’s yearlong curriculum focused on giving first-year medical students insights into how patients live with illness.
Man and niece who share a liver now share their story to tout the benefits of living donor transplants
Bill Counsil will never forget that moment three years ago in April, sitting around his brother’s kitchen table in Mechanicsburg, talking about the kinds of things families talk about when they get together. Suddenly, during a pause in the conversation, his then 33-year-old niece Karen MacKay of Dillsburg said, “So, Uncle Bill, about this liver thing, when do you want to do it? I’ve been approved.”
In January 2010, doctors at Penn State Hershey had told the then 57-year-old man from Mill Hall, Pa., he would need a liver transplant. A throng of family members had come along to hear the options, his niece Karen among them. With such a large family and strong support, doctors said living donation might be the best option. If someone were willing—and could make it through the rigorous pre-donation testing—he could get a liver without becoming one of the 15,800 people nationwide trying not to get sicker while waiting for a liver from a deceased donor match.
MacKay went home from the meeting and told her husband she wanted to start the evaluation process. She wanted to find out if she could donate half of her liver to her uncle. “I couldn’t just sit around and wait for somebody else to come forward or hope someone else would be a match,” she said. “I had to at least try.”
Two Penn State College of Medicine professors have written a book that proposes solutions to bullying, bad attitudes, and turmoil in the nursing profession. It will be published Friday, April 12, by Sigma Theta Tau International, the nursing honor society.
The organization approached Cheryl Dellasega with the idea for the book as a follow up to her 2011 When Nurses Hurt Nurses, which presented the problem. “It hit a nerve of sorts, so they wanted another book that was more solutions focused,” she says.
Dellasega’s research centers on relational aggression, while colleague Rebecca Volpe studies organizational cynicism and ethics. When Volpe came to Penn State Hershey three years ago, she and Dellasega began talking about how both of their research interests fell into the category of toxic environments.
“Toxic environments are everywhere, but the stakes are uniquely high in healthcare – potentially life and death,” Volpe says. Toxic Nursing: Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil not only examines the roots of the problem, but discusses potential consequences and offers solutions. (more…)
On April 4, Zeke, the Harrisburg canine officer who was recently shot in the line of duty, and his handler, Cpl. Ty Meik, were reunited with the Penn State Hershey Life Lion Critical Care Transport team that treated Zeke in the moments after the shooting and flew him to an animal trauma center. It was at that center that Zeke received life-saving care.
Crew members say caring for Zeke was a first, but it was made easier by his demeanor. “He was never, ever nasty toward anybody,” said Steve Weihbrecht, flight paramedic. “Obviously, he was extremely frightened. Ty, his handler, did a great job of keeping him under control.”
“It looks like he’s doing well,” said Daniel Mease, a flight nurse who administered intravenous fluids to Zeke after the March 15 shooting. “It was fun watching him on the news, getting better each day.”