On July 23, Melissa Masse celebrated her 34th birthday in the operating room of Penn State Hershey, watching Dr. Riaz Shah hold up a kidney while the medical team sang “Happy Birthday.”
Earlier that morning, doctors had harvested a kidney from her husband, Chris, and sent it to a major metropolitan area where it would be given to someone as unknown to the Masses as the donor whose organ became a birthday present for Melissa.
The surgeries were just two links in a complex transplant chain that allowed four people to receive healthy kidneys despite not having compatible live donors. Known as a “kidney swap,” Penn State Hershey offers the program as an alternative to dialysis and years of waiting for a deceased donor organ.
Melissa had been diagnosed with diabetes at age 11, but it wasn’t until stomach trouble and vomiting sent her to an emergency department in August 2012 and doctors noted her poor kidney function that she was sent to a specialist. By the end of the year, the South Williamsport woman was added to the list of people waiting for a healthy kidney.
Because the average person waits more than six years for a kidney, and because the mortality rate for those on dialysis is 50 percent after five years, Melissa’s husband offered to be a live donor. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a match. Nor was her boss. Or her best friend.
“I was devastated,” Chris said. He knew his wife was hoping for a live donor so there would be less chance her body would reject the new kidney. So he told transplant coordinator Vicky Reilly that he would donate his kidney to someone he had never met so that his wife could receive a healthy kidney from someone she had never met. (more…)
Kurt Holtzer never had a problem racing up multiple flights of stairs to respond to code calls for his job at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. But when he couldn’t climb a single flight without doubling over to catch his breath in May 2012, he knew something was wrong.
After an initial diagnosis of asthma, and a battery of tests that lasted several weeks, he was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia and myelofibrosis, as well as a genetic mutation putting him in a high-risk category for survival. Without treatment, doctors gave him three months to live.
“I had recently lost my mother to lung cancer,” he says. “Having seen how my mother dealt with the chemo regimen, I didn’t want to go through that.” Because of his wife, Julie, and two children, he decided to do it: “I wasn’t ready to let go of her and the kids.”
So, on Memorial Day of last year, the life he had known ceased to exist. He fought fear, worry, and trepidation during nine rounds of chemotherapy, nine bone marrow biopsies and a stem cell transplant.
Holtzer’s cancer went into remission this spring, and he is back at work as a supervisor for the medical center’s biomedical team.
Each Friday, he takes his lunch break at 11 a.m. so he can take part in a weekly music and physical therapy program in the new inpatient adult cancer unit on the seventh floor. He shares his story, talks with others, and assures them he does understand what they are going through. (more…)
When doctors in Uganda told Shamim Nanukose that her 4-year-old son, Edwin Mugerwa, had a hole in his heart they couldn’t fix, she was horrified. She cried, asked questions the doctors couldn’t answer, and refused to leave without a promise that they would look for help.
Not far away, in another district of eastern Uganda, Jannat Mukwana was likewise terrified when she got a similar diagnosis for her son, Nuashad Muwaya, not yet a year old.
Because there are so few doctors and so many who need care in her home country, the attention given to each patient is minimal, Shamim said, through an interpreter. She knew her son had a heart condition, but she didn’t understand exactly what was going on or what the options were: “It leaves you much more confused.”
Eventually, both mothers got help from Children’s Heart Project, a program of international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which has brought more than 960 children to North America to receive life-saving heart surgery and treatment since 1997.
At the end of August, Children’s Heart Project paid for the boys and their mothers to travel to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital with an interpreter and identified a volunteer host family with the help of the First United Methodist Church in Hershey. (more…)
Several events focusing on veterans and military medicine will take place on the Penn State Hershey campus to celebrate Joining Forces Wellness Week, in partnership with the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC).
The College of Medicine is part of the AAMC’s Joining Forces Initiative, which works to train future physicians to better understand, diagnose and treat the health care needs of veterans, service members and their families.
Second-year medical student Eric Jung is part of the AAMC’s Organization of Student Representatives, making military issues a priority on campus.
Working together with the Office of Diversity, Jung received a $500 grant from the AAMC to pay for events and activities celebrating veterans and educating the campus community on issues that veterans and active-duty military often face.
“We have a traditional medical school curriculum here, but there are topics that we don’t get a lot of exposure to, so this is a good way to include some of that,” he said. (more…)
More than 30 years ago, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Kurt Holtzer and fellow Navy sailors played cat-and-mouse with enemy Russian ships.
Sometimes, the ships passed so close they could see Russian sailors on deck. At times, they exchanged waves of greeting. In other instances, the gestures were less pleasant. Always, they prepared for battle – ready to take aggressive measures against each other if given the order.
Fast forward to 2012.
Holtzer, a supervisor for the Penn State Hershey biomedical team, has just been diagnosed with leukemia and is being cared for by oncology nurse Andrey Chuprin. As the two become close and swap stories, Holtzer discovers that Chuprin had served in the Russian Navy in the same part of the Pacific Ocean at the same time he was there.
“On that water, we were mortal enemies,” Holtzer said. “But as I lay in my oncology bed, Andrey (was) fighting to save my life. Today, we are like brothers. What a tremendous turn of events.”
Like any large employer, Penn State Hershey has its share of veterans – men and women who served their country before coming to serve on campus. They aren’t always easy to spot, but they are all over campus, putting the skills and experiences they gained during their time in the service to work for patients and their families. (more…)
Moving discoveries to market: How investments in commercialization support can lead to better health
Just as musicians get pleasure from playing in a symphony, researchers at Penn State Hershey enjoy working in an environment of regular discoveries, developments and technological advances.
But just as music doesn’t reach its full potential without an audience to hear it, the discoveries of Penn State Hershey’s faculty, students and staff benefit few if the ideas developed on campus don’t reach the marketplace.
As federal funding for research has decreased in recent years, the College of Medicine has increased its commercialization efforts through the Office of Technology Development to ensure that its most promising work reaches those it is intended to benefit. Penn State Hershey Dean and CEO Dr. Harold L. Paz, wrote in March 2012 that innovation in biotechnology provides the regional economy with ideas, investment and jobs that can drive economic growth and vitality.
In 2011, the College of Medicine named Keith Marmer director of an office that previously managed some contracts with licensing mostly handled by staff in State College.
“There really wasn’t the hands-on support we can now offer,” Marmer said.
Now, he leads a team that evaluates campus research and protects the intellectual property developed there. His office works to commercialize what is known as translational medicine – looking for ways to take drugs, discoveries and techniques from the lab or clinic to market. (more…)
It was just after 10 a.m. and Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital was abuzz with excited shrieks and giggles as children of all ages were celebrating “Superhero Monday.” They waited on the edge of their seats, looking out the window, anxiously asking, “What time is it now, Mommy?” Finally, the much-anticipated superheroes rappelled down the side of the building.
“They’re real! They’re real!” exclaimed one little boy from the lawn below.
“Did you see that?! That’s crazy!” another said with a giggle.
Up on the fourth floor of the Children’s Hospital, children and their families crowded the windows, giving high-fives and fist-bumps to Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and Captain America through the glass. The room was filled with shouts of “I see him…! “Spiderman!” “Batman!” “Whoa!”
For Chloe, a Hershey resident visiting her brother, Batman was her favorite. “I gave him a fist-bump!” she said with a grin.
Jackson, from Fairfield, Pa., was ecstatic to fist-bump all four of the superheroes. “Fist-bumps are better than high-fives,” he explained. “I gave Spiderman, Batman, Captain America, and Superman all fist-bumps!” As the four superheroes descended to the floors below, Jackson rushed outside with his mom to meet them on the lawn. He even made it back inside in time to see the four rappel down the side of the building for a second time. This time he was ready to snap a picture. (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.”
When you walk into a room filled with smiles, laughter, toys, games, and an over-all atmosphere of fun, it’s easy to forget you’re in a hospital.
That is exactly the goal of the Child Life Program at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Child Life offers patients support through its programming, including a fall visit from Olympic gold medalist Jamie Gray. Originally from nearby Lebanon, Pa., Gray was inspired to visit Hershey by the young patients she met at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Baton Rouge, La.
Much to the delight of the Hershey children and their families, Gray recently participated in their weekly BINGO game, spending time with families and answering questions about the Olympics. Sharing her gold medal in 50-meter rifle three position, she didn’t even mind when one little friend got chocolate from his hands on it.
Gray was touched by the children’s resiliency, especially after watching her mother, Karen Beyerle, battle and defeat breast cancer.
“I think it’s amazing to see how happy they are going through so much adversity,” she said. “I think they’re inspiring, honestly.”
It isn’t hard to see the difference Child Life makes with while watching 8 year-old Izaiah Robinson from Boalsburg, Pa., nearly running to the prize table, with a huge smile across his face. (more…)
Before August 2012, if you had asked Bob Phillips of Palmyra, Pa. about his health, he would have told you he’s been nothing but healthy during his 73 years on this earth. No serious health concerns meant he had not been to a doctor in 25 years.
So he never expected to turn 74 amid a five-month stay at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center or that he would become a milestone in medical history.
Phillips has become the oldest in the United States and first person in Pennsylvania who has received a total artificial heart (TAH) to be discharged to live at home with a portable driver, the external power source for the heart, while awaiting a donor heart.
He never saw it coming.
“I was never sick,” Phillips said. “I was 73 years old and I thought if I had gotten that far I’d be cruising down the main stretch.”
Just a few short months ago, Phillips was returning from a Sunday afternoon trapshoot when he noticed an odd pain in his shoulders and chest. During his 30-minute drive home alone, the pain subsided and he thought nothing more of it. The next morning, he mowed the lawn and took his daily walk. His week continued as normal until Thursday afternoon, when the symptoms returned.
His wife Norma insisted he call a doctor immediately. He did so–reluctantly–and was told to go straight to the emergency room.
The couple learned that Phillips had suffered a massive heart attack. He was initially treated with two stents in his heart. He remained in cardiogenic shock and required therapy designed to give his heart time to rest. This therapy, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), uses a machine to do the work of the heart. An ultrasound later revealed a hole in the center of his heart and a heart rupture that was beyond repair.
His only option for survival was a total artificial heart connected to an external power source at all times.
Phillips was in a state of disbelief. How could his heart be damaged beyond repair?
“I always felt good; always exercised,” Phillips said. “I never dreamed that anything like this was happening to me. I was never doubled-over or short of breath or anything like the classic stuff you see.”
What he did not realize is he had coronary artery disease, and that led to advanced cardiogenic shock. On the spectrum of severity, his heart attack was the highest. (more…)