Moving Marie, and Helping Marie Move

Marie KozelMarie Kozel is no stranger to hospital rooms. Car accidents, cancer, broken bones, hip replacements, blood transfusions. She’s seen more than her fair share of hospital walls in her 79 years.

On March 25, Marie was one of 13 rehabilitation patients who moved from Altru Rehabilitation Center to Altru Specialty Center. This time, with a broken leg.

Thirty-eight years prior, in 1976, Marie was also a patient at United Hospital, moving from United to Medical Center Rehabilitation Hospital. She got to experience history in the making not once but twice.

“Everything is different today,” Marie explains. “The staff does so many more things for a person nowadays. We felt like celebrities riding in the van and wearing special corsages. I was even on the news!”

Everything Changes, Nothing Changes
From new technologies to facilities, medicine has clearly advanced since 1976. However, one thing that remains the same is the genuine care for the patient.

“The therapists are so smart and helpful,” Marie marveled. “The new space is beautiful. And the people here—they’re just wonderful.” 

After three weeks of recovery, Marie will soon return home to East Grand Forks, where she’ll continue with at-home therapy to continue building strength. She smirked, “And, I’ll keep my medical alert system nearby.”

Learn more about how we’re making history for Marie and other patients at Altru Specialty Center.

Anonymous Gift Delivered in the (St.) Nick of Time

Beth Altru MomentBeth Monson wasn’t sure what Christmas would look like this year. The last few weeks had been tough. She had recently become a single mom to her three-year-old son. On November 12, she suffered a miscarriage at twelve weeks.

Then a little Christmas miracle happened.

Going about her Environmental Services duties one day in Altru’s Family Birthing Center, Beth went into the staff lunch room. On the table was an envelope with her name on it. Inside, a note explained the writer had been a single mom and knew how hard Christmas could be. Along with the note, Beth found $100.

“I was speechless at first,” said Beth. “I looked at my co-worker and told her what was in the envelope.”

Tears filled Beth’s eyes, and those of almost everyone else in the room.

“Now I can get Christmas presents for my son,” she told them.

A few nights later, Beth and her son had “date night,” complete with dinner and shopping for toys.

“He wouldn’t have had presents if it wasn’t for this person’s kindness,” said Beth. “Thank you, whoever you are, for making my son’s Christmas so special.”

Were you the recipient of an act of kindness this holiday season? Share in the comments below.

Rejoicing Life while Welcoming Death

“Five months ago, to the day and hour, Ben and I were in the hospital lobby, planning our son’s baptism,” said Janelle Gergen. “Today, we’re sitting next to the baptism font in church talking about his birth and death. It’s a reminder to us of the Lord telling us when and where we need to be.”

18 Weeks, Trisomy 18
Janelle’s second pregnancy was progressing well. She saw family physician Dr. Andrew Gasparini at Altru Family Medicine Residency for regular prenatal care. She and Ben had been married eight years and already had a son, Peter, seven.

18 week ultrasoundAt their 18-week appointment in November 2012, Dr. Gasparini noticed something suspicious on an ultrasound. He sent Janelle to Altru Main Clinic for what turned out to be an almost three-hour ultrasound. The next day, Dr. Gasparini asked Ben and Janelle to come in for a meeting.

“He was so kind, patient and gentle in speaking with us,” said Janelle. “He shared that our child had problems. At the time, he knew our baby had cysts on the brain, spina bifida and intestinal problems. Our world stopped.”

Dr. Gasparini referred the Gergen’s to a maternal fetal medical specialist in Fargo for a more extensive ultrasound and testing. During amniocentesis, they learned they were expecting a boy. They also found out he had trisomy 18, a condition caused by an error in cell division. Trisomy 18 affects many major organ systems, causing a high mortality rate before or shortly after birth.

“This second pregnancy went from preparing for and welcoming life, to preparing for life and then preparing for death,” said Janelle. “Ending the pregnancy was not an option. We wanted to uphold the dignity of our son and celebrate his life, no matter how short that may be.”

Birth Plan
Ben and Janelle began working on their birth plan, knowing they would have limited time with their son once he was born. Dr. Gasparini assembled a team of doctors for their care, including obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Michael Brown and neonatologist Dr. Durga Panda. He also put them in touch with Toni Betting, coordinator of Altru’s Infant Bereavement Program.

“We had specific requests, and our medical team was instrumental in carrying them out,” said Janelle. “Dr. Panda and Dr. Gasparini were helpful in giving us options in a nonjudgmental way. It was a relief knowing they respected and supported our wishes.”

Ben and Janelle elected to have a cesarean section so their son could avoid the stress of labor. They also requested no mechanical ventilation and looked to Dr. Panda for help understanding the “Do Not Resuscitate” form.

Surgery

“Anticipating something as serious as this is difficult, for parents and physicians,” said Dr. Panda. “My job as a physician is to listen to what the parents want and to advocate for their child. It was important that we discussed things in understandable terms and that Ben and Janelle’s wishes were respected.”

They requested, and were granted, permission to have their spiritual director, Father David Baumgartner, as well as Leigh Schrage, a photographer from the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation, in the delivery room.

“It meant a lot to us that Altru was willing to let that happen,” said Janelle.

Meeting JohnPaul
On April 12, 2013, the Gergens arrived at Altru’s Family Birthing Center to deliver their full-term son.

“From the moment we checked in until the moment we left, everything went smoothly,” said Janelle. “Life is something to celebrate, and the OB floor is filled with reminders of how exciting it is to have a baby. Everyone we interacted with was very respectful of our situation.”

At 12:18 p.m., JohnPaul Robert Gergen was born. He weighed 4 pounds, 15.8 ounces and was 16 inches long, a good size for a trisomy 18 baby. Dr. Panda and a team of nurses began their assessments.

Baptism

“Right before surgery, JohnPaul’s heartbeat was in the 140s,” said Ben. “Within seconds of his umbilical cord being clamped, it fell between 10-20. Dr. Panda told us, as compassionately as one could, that he wasn’t going to be alive long. He reassured us that JohnPaul wasn’t suffering, nor was he in any pain.”

“Nurse Mary Adkins gave JohnPaul a bath shortly after he was born,” said Janelle. “It was the only one he ever had. When I look at that picture, I know it’s Mary’s hand washing him.”

A few minutes after birth, Fr. David administered baptism.

“JohnPaul opened his eyes and make a few sounds at that moment,” said Ben. “He spoke to us.”

Once in recovery, Ben brought Peter in to meet his brother.

Peter meeting brother

“We had told him earlier that the baby wouldn’t live at our house, but in heaven instead,” said Janelle.

JohnPaul

After Peter went back to the waiting room, a nurse listened again for JohnPaul’s heartbeat. He was gone.

“JohnPaul lived about an hour,” said Janelle. “We know suffering is part of the human condition. Amidst suffering, we look to find joy. We found that joy in the hour we had with our son. We rest easy knowing it was easy for him.”

Sharing Life and Death
Initially, Ben and Janelle didn’t want to share the details of their pregnancy with anyone. When they found an outpouring of love and support, they’re glad they did.

“It was the people surrounding us that allowed us, and still allow us, to get up every day,” said Janelle. “Opening up lets us share our son with other people. We feel blessed to be chosen as his parents.”

“As difficult as it was to hear the news in advance, it helped us process through our emotions,” said Ben. “We were able to lean on each other as a couple. We go day by day, the best we can.”

After JohnPaul died, Janelle took the outfit he had worn and placed it on the teddy bear she received from Toni Betting.

Infant Bereavement Bear“I didn’t understand ‘empty arms syndrome’ until I experienced it myself,” said Janelle. “When I’d encounter families and newborns in the community, it was difficult. Having the bear helps. It gets squeezed at night when I fall asleep.”

The bear, along with other support items, is one way Altru’s Infant Bereavement Program helps grieving families.

“Grief is not a process of forgetting, but rather a process of remembering,” said Toni. “The memories of pregnancy and the short time he was with them will be remembered forever. JohnPaul will always be their second child.”

The Gergen’s do not regret taking their pregnancy to full-term. They’re glad they researched their options for infant palliative care and advocated for their desires.

“Altru helped us fulfill our birth plan,” said Ben. “We appreciate how delicately our situation was handled. Without our doctors and nurses, our experience and what we remember of the experience would be drastically different. Their love and care was above and beyond.”

“It was all the little things,” said Janelle. “Dr. Gasparini knew how much joy it brought us to hear the heartbeat during appointments. The nurses made extra foot molds for our family and friends. They made accommodations on the OB floor so our family and friends could be with us. The decisions we made as parents in how to support our son’s short life were respected by Altru, especially during birth. It made all the difference.”

To watch JohnPaul’s full story from beginning to end, see this video by Janelle.

On December 6, Altru Health System will hold its annual Christmas Box Angel Memorial Service, sponsored by Wings of Hope Infant and Child Bereavement program and Altru Alliance. The memorial service is dedicated to all babies who have died before or shortly after birth, or in early childhood. Ornaments will be placed on a tree in Altru Hospital’s lobby. Those wishing to have their child’s name inscribed on an ornament may call 701.780.5250. You may also have an ornament inscribed before the service between 5:30-6:30 p.m. Inscribed ornaments from previous services are also welcome for placement on the tree. Please call 701.780.5250 if you wish to bring an ornament from a previous service.

Friends of the Foundation | Rohinee Damle

Rohinee“I had a feeling we would reach our goal this year because we seemed so close,” said Rohinee Damle, chairperson of Altru’s Harvest Gala. “It was incredibly emotional to actually hit the $1 million mark this year.”

Nine years ago, Rohinee approached Jon Green, executive director of Altru Health Foundation, with an idea to create a formal fund raiser to support patient care at Altru.

“I don’t think he was too excited about it at first,” said Rohinee with a smile. “He didn’t have the budget or the staff to pull off such a large event. I was able to convince him it wouldn’t be a problem, and he warmed up to the idea. It’s been a pleasure to work with Jon over the years.”

Jon and Rohinee

Rohinee was inspired to give back after the tremendous care her daughter received at Altru. “It’s important for our community to come together to support our nonprofit health care system. There are many wonderful programs and services provided to the community that insurance doesn’t cover. Without everyone’s support, things won’t improve and we won’t have services available to those in need,” explained Rohinee.

The first event was held in 2005. Around 130 people attended the event, raising $34,000 to aid in creating Altru’s Breast Center. This brought together necessary diagnostic components for women’s breast health to one centralized location, reducing wait time for patients between initial detection and diagnosis.

Other patient care areas within Altru that have benefitted from the Gala include the Breast Cancer Coalition, Diabetes Center, Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (Giraffe OmniBeds), Emergency Outpatient Department, Hospice – Sentimental Journey, and HARP (Help and Assist our Renal Patients).

Gala

Harvest Gala 2013, which was held at the Alerus Center and sold over 650 tickets, raised a record $224,000 for patients of Altru’s Pediatric Therapy Services.

“It’s amazing to see how much the event has grown over the years,” said Rohinee. “None of this would have been possible without the generosity of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks citizens and the tremendous group of volunteers we’ve been lucky to have.”

The next Harvest Gala will be held September 27, 2014 at the Alerus Center. For the latest information on Altru’s Harvest Gala, “like” them on Facebook or go to altru.org/foundation.

Have you attended a  Harvest Gala? Tell us about your experience.

Friends of the Foundation is a series of stories shared by the supporters of Altru Health Foundation. Whether through monetary gifts, giving of their time or sharing their talents, our donors help us provide outstanding programs, technology and education for Altru patients and their families. Altru Health Foundation thanks these generous individuals for their passion and commitment to high quality, nonprofit health care. 

Feeling Every Fabric: Sensory Processing Disorder

Happy ZoeSoft. Scratchy. Tight. Loose. Bumpy. Smooth.

Think about all you touch throughout the day. How something feels doesn’t affect most people. You touch something, understand what it feels like, and move on with your task.

For others, how something feels can set the tone for their day.

“Too” much
When Zoelle Kempenich was younger, her parents, Aaron and Hillary, noticed she would have difficulties in different situations.

“We were given a lot of advice from friends, most who said Zoe had behavioral issues,” said Hillary. “As parents, we were at a loss. We went to parenting classes and read books and nothing got us on the right track. We talked with our pediatrician, but nothing seemed to work.”

Once Zoe was three, Hillary enrolled her in Head Start. She thought “maybe it was a social issue.” Zoe still struggled.

By first grade, something dawned on Hillary.

“Zoe was getting dressed in the morning, a basic task many people take for granted, when she kept saying, ‘It’s too itchy, it’s too tight, it’s too much,’” said Hillary. “I keyed into the word ‘too’ and thought it meant something. That’s when I called Altru’s Pediatric Therapy Services for an evaluation.”

Kempenich2Diagnosis
Therapists discovered Zoe dealt with sensory processing disorder, which results when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. In addition to touch, Zoe also has sensitivities to sounds, taste, light and some social interactions.

“It explains Zoe to a tee,” said Hillary. “Everything we read and learned about sensory processing described what Zoe was going through. When one of her senses is overstimulated or reacts a certain way, Zoe fixates on it and can’t get past the struggle.”

Jeans were tough for Zoe to accept. Once on, she would get distracted by the feel of the fabric. Even after changing, she’d still be worried about it.

“Getting dressed and putting on socks shouldn’t be a big deal, but it was to Zoe,” said Hillary. “Her self-confidence has grown because she’s learned ways to overcome the challenge. We no longer have to buy stock in a certain pant or shirt because she’s learned to accept different textures.”

“She’s the princess who can feel that pea under the mattress,” said Aaron, a medical physicist at Altru Cancer Center. “That’s how keyed in her senses are.”

Making Sense of it All
Zoe began therapy once or twice a week with Diane Solberg, and now continues with occupational therapist Kayla Wood and physical therapist Liz Olson once every six weeks.

“We talk and play games to help me get used to different textures,” said Zoe. “Other times, we’d ride bikes and use the climbing wall.”

Now nine, Zoe attends Ben Franklin Elementary School, where paraprofessional Amy Spicer helps with therapy throughout the day.

“We discovered brushing is one preventive technique to use with Zoe before her senses escalate too high,” said Hillary. A sensory brush is moved in the same direction over Zoe’s arms and legs. This repeated, calming action is done a few times throughout the day to reduce sensory defensiveness. Zoe also does joint compression during her daily therapy routine.

Hillary says brushing helps Zoe get through her days. She’s overcome may texture obstacles, and is a much happier child.

“I like spending time with my sister (Niska, 6), and doing music and art classes,” said Zoe. Her dog, Peri, is also a good friend.

Art Therapy
It’s through art that the Kempenich family has been able to connect even more.

Girls Painting

“There was a time when kids would say some negative things to Zoe, and it hurt all of us,” said Hillary. “We used art to help us express how those words made us feel.”

Glass Girl Hillary Kempenich

“Glass Girl” or “Omoodayaabik Ikwe” in Ojibwe, a Native American language.

An artist herself, Hillary has donated pieces to TAG – The Art of Giving, an annual art benefit held since 2007 that supports patients and patient care at Altru Health System. In 2012, funds raised went to areas of pediatric therapy services.

“It’s very overwhelming to see community support,” said Hillary. “By supporting TAG, it’s as if people are saying, ‘We care. We might not understand, but we care.’ There’s still so much to be done to educate about sensory processing disorder.”

“I can’t imagine our lives without pediatric therapy services,” she continued. “We knew something could be done to help Zoe, and we found it at Altru.”

Have you benefitted from pediatric therapy services at Altru? Share your experience with others below.

Working Toward a Healthy ‘n Fit Life

Corbett figure skatingWhile kids may not agree, parents usually know what they’re talking about. Sometimes, though, it helps to have reinforcement from outside sources.

Curious Mom
When Shanna Corbett saw an ad in the Grand Forks Herald for Healthy ‘n Fit Kids, she decided to call the number listed and learn more. She spoke with Rachel Aure, a health and wellness coach at the Sanny and Jerry Ryan Center for Prevention and Genetics and one of the facilitators of Healthy ‘n Fit Kids, to learn more about the program.

“I’m all about eating healthy and being fit,” she said. “Our daughter, McKenna, is at the age where even though mom and dad might make suggestions about healthy eating, it can be helpful to have outside influences suggest things, too.”

“Healthy ‘n Fit Kids is a 12-week weight management program designed to teach kids and their families healthy eating strategies and to promote physical activity,” said Rachel. “We cover everything from portion control and healthy snacking to how to make exercise fun. Our hope is that they will take what they learn, adapt it to their everyday lives and as a result, get on track, get fit and get healthy.”

“Rachel was just as excited about the program as we were,” said Shanna. “We talked with McKenna and decided to give it a try.”

Healthy Kids…
In the spring of 2013, McKenna, now 11, and seven other kids ages 9-11 attended class one night a week for 12 weeks.

Corbett siblings“We went into the class with an open mind in hopes to expose McKenna to healthy eating and exercise options, in addition to what we teach at home,” said Shanna. “What we found was that our whole family learned things. Parents even participated in some of the classes right alongside the kids.”

“The program was really fun,” said McKenna. “I liked the exercise balls the best. We also would do relay races with nutrition and exercise questions.”

While Rachel worked with the group on exercise, dietitian Danika Warner-Noreen taught about nutritious eating. The class talked about portion control and healthy substitutions that can be made in some of the kids’ favorite meals.

“Danika showed us how to make yogurt parfaits, pita pizzas and dips with healthy ingredients,” said McKenna. “She also talked with us about the importance of drinking water and to realize that when you feel full, you should stop eating.”

…Healthy Future
Since the class ended, Shanna said McKenna has been more conscious about what she eats.

“They emphasized that you don’t have to eliminate all treats from your diet, but to enjoy them truly as a treat, not an everyday item,” said Shanna. “When given choices, McKenna now tends to choose the healthier option.”

McKenna stays active throughout the year with figure skating and softball.

“We’ve talked that exercise and healthy eating isn’t something you do for just 12 weeks,” said Shanna. “You have to do it your whole life. Healthy ‘n Fit Kids helped McKenna, and really our whole family, refocus our food and exercise choices. If everyone participates as a family, we’ll all be healthier.”

What healthy food and exercise choices does your family make? Let us know. 

For more information on Healthy ‘n Fit Kids, please call the Sanny and Jerry Ryan Center for Prevention and Genetics at 701.732.7620.

Pink is Powerful

NolteThere’s a history of breast cancer on Annette Nolte’s father’s side of the family.

“The chances were high that I could have breast cancer at some point in my life,” said Annette. “I never thought the diagnosis would come when I was 28 and pregnant.”

Surgery, ASAP
On May 16, 2013, Annette was diagnosed with Stage 2, Grade 2 breast cancer.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to choose between continuing the pregnancy and receiving treatment,” she said. “It was a big shock that I could do chemotherapy while pregnant. There is a risk of lower birth weight, but that’s something we can address.”

Annette chose to have a full mastectomy of her right breast with general surgeon Dr. Robin Hape. Surgery was five days later.

“Besides previous cesarean sections, this was my first surgery,” said Annette. “I was more terrified of the surgery than I was of my diagnosis. I had nothing to worry about. I was so well taken care of.”

“I knew Dr. Hape previously, and had all the confidence in the world in him,” said Annette’s mother, Diane Shervold. “His skill, compassion and the way he cares for people is tremendous.”

Annette, her boyfriend, Wally Walseth, and her boys, Parker, six, and Ayden, four, moved in with her parents for a bit following surgery. Her mom, a registered nurse, was able to lend a hand caring for her.

“It’s been a journey,” said Diane. “It’s a journey a mother never thinks she’s going to walk with her daughter. Annette has been the one to keep us positive through all this.”

Chemo Thursdays
On June 20, Dr. Hape placed Annette’s chemotherapy port and she received her first treatment. Annette will receive 16 treatments over 20 weeks.

Before beginning treatment at Altru Cancer Center, Annette’s oncologist, Dr. Daniel Walsh, ordered an eConsult with Mayo Clinic.

“What Dr. Walsh recommended for my treatment plan was exactly what came back in the eConsult,” said Annette. “It gave us a lot of peace, knowing we were doing the right thing here at home. It was priceless.”

Thankful to have avoided travel costs by staying in Grand Forks, Annette is doing well with treatment.

“My family and I joke that the nurses give me Gatorade instead of chemo,” she said. “I look forward to Thursdays, because the staff treat me so well. I’ve brought the boys to a few treatments and they get spoiled. Parker and Ayden see it’s not a scary place and that the doctors and nurses are working to help mommy get better. I think it’s helped filter worry and answer questions.”

Pink Connections
While neither Annette nor Diane was a huge fan of the color pink prior to Annette’s diagnosis, they now love it.

“Having breast cancer connects you worldwide with other women,” said Annette. “It’s powerful to see pink everywhere during October and to know others are behind you. It keeps me going.”

“There was a community benefit for Annette in August, and the outpouring of support from the community was incredible,” said Diane. “We gave out pink ‘Team Annette’ bracelets. It is so heartwarming to see people wearing them.”

Milestone Dates
On October 31, Annette will receive her last chemo treatment. Eleven days later, Dr. Tana Setness Hoefs will deliver her third son, Cade, via cesarean section.

“We’ll celebrate pretty loudly on Halloween, but even louder when Cade is born,” said Annette.

In December, Annette will begin steps to have her other breast removed, as well as reconstruction. By having a full mastectomy, the chance of her cancer returning is very low. Annette will also begin a year’s course of Herceptin to ward off cancer growth elsewhere in her body.

“This whole situation is really ironic,” she said. “I always wanted three children. After the third, I planned to have a prophylactic double mastectomy to prevent or reduce my risk of breast cancer. I didn’t think cancer would get to me first.”

“When Cade is older and realizes what he and I have been through together, I think it will be really powerful for him,” said Annette. “I’m not in denial that I have breast cancer. I’ve had such tremendous support from my family, friends and care team at Altru. I know I’m going to be okay. 

Diane wears pink in honor of Annette. Who do you wear pink for?

Friends of the Foundation: The Art of Giving

Katie and SallyWhen Katie Bergner and Sally (Opp) Miskavige found out a friend’s mom was struggling with breast cancer, they wanted to show support.

Katie, Sally and their friends, in college at the time, hosted their annual wine and cheese gathering. At the suggestion of Sally’s roommate, they asked college friends for donations in support of Altru’s Breast Center.

“Beforehand, I asked my dad if he would match the funds we hoped to raise,” said Sally. Her dad, Greg, and family own and operate Opp Construction. “He agreed, and was a little surprised when I told him we raised $1,000.”

TAG logoSince their small start seven years ago, The Art of Giving, or TAG, has raised over $50,000 to support patients and patient care at Altru Health System. What started as a simple wine and cheese party has evolved into a large art event. People around the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area look forward to the Annual Art Benefit each year.

“Many people we know, including Katie herself and Jason Restemayer who installs the show, are artists,” said Sally. “It’s important to us to support the local art community, and it’s a great way to support patients as well.”

Supported Areas
In addition to Altru’s Breast Center, TAG has donated funds to Altru Cancer Center, the Diabetes Center and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). That donation was one of which Katie herself saw the importance.

“I delivered my daughter, Ella five weeks early,” she said. “She slept in a Giraffe Omni-Bed. We had donated the TAG art benefit proceeds just the year before, and now here my child was benefitting from it.”

In 2012, TAG donated funds to Altru’s Rehab Autism Screening Clinic. The clinic is offered at no cost to families who are concerned about their child’s development. It brings together specialists from many different disciplines, saving parents time from having to make several different appointments. To date, 28 children have been screened with 32 percent being recommended for a full medical evaluation for autism.

Autism Art

Keeping It Local
Everyone involved decided early in the development of TAG that the money raised would stay local to the Grand Forks community.

“I plan on staying in Grand Forks my whole life and you never know when you may need care. We want the best in our community,” said Sally. “We have been happy to see the impact TAG’s donations make at Altru.”

“Most people don’t know that Altru is a nonprofit, community-owned health system,” said Katie. “I think it’s important to not only support our local health care provider, but also those who can’t afford health care on their own. TAG’s Annual Art Benefit has allowed us to do that.”

This year’s TAG Annual Art Benefit will be held October 25, 4 – 9:00 p.m. at 4220 5th Ave. N. (formerly Shangri La Restaurant.), and will benefit Altru’s Diabetes Center Preventive Medicine. For the latest information on TAG’s upcoming event, “like” them on Facebook or go to altru.org/foundation.

Have you attended a previous TAG event? Tell us what you experienced. 

Friends of the Foundation is a series of stories shared by the supporters of Altru Health Foundation. Whether through monetary gifts, giving of their time or sharing their talents, our donors help us provide outstanding programs, technology and education for Altru patients and their families. Altru Health Foundation thanks these generous individuals for their passion and commitment to high quality, nonprofit health care. 

Living with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease

MichaelaWhen Michaela Nettum was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2003 at the age of seven, the ten-year mark seemed forever away. Now 17, she has great perspective on how far she’s come.

“Type 1 diabetes is real. It does happen and it does get more manageable as time goes by,” she said. “I can live with this.”

“If it wasn’t for the doctors, diabetes educators and dietitians at Altru, Michaela wouldn’t be where she is today,” said Nancy, Michaela’s mother.

Diagnosis #1
At a well-child check, Nancy mentioned to Dr. James VanLooy, Michaela’s pediatrician at the time, that Michaela was using the bathroom more frequently and was always thirsty. Dr. VanLooy ordered a blood test.

“When he came in with the results, I saw on his face it wasn’t great news,” said Nancy. “Michaela had type 1 diabetes.”

Michaela was admitted to Altru Hospital and worked with diabetes educator Marilyn Chandler to learn how to inject insulin and manage the disease. Michaela has since transitioned her care to pediatrician Dr. Lori Sondrol, diabetes nurse educator Arlene Hampton and dietitian Danika Warner-Noreen.

“Marilyn used oranges and a teddy bear to teach us how to do insulin,” said Michaela.

“It was like going back to school,” said Nancy. “We had to change our routine completely.”

Michaela and Nancy, along with dad Robyn, educated themselves on all things diabetes.

“We wanted to know everything we could,” said Nancy.

With family, friends and medical support, Michaela was able to learn a new daily routine. She monitors her blood sugar levels throughout the day with needle pokes and test strips. The results are logged in a notebook and then entered into her automatic insulin pump, which dispenses the appropriate amount of insulin.

Diagnosis #2
In 2006, during one of her three-month checks, Dr. Sondrol screened Michaela for celiac disease, something research was showing many diabetics could develop. Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. If not monitored, the small intestine’s lining can become damaged, preventing proper absorption of some nutrients.

Although she wasn’t exhibiting symptoms, test showed Michaela has celiac disease. Luckily, she doesn’t have much reaction to gluten, but is conscious to avoid it.

“I was already watching my carb intake,” said Michaela. “Now I watch for gluten-free food as well. More and more restaurants are offering gluten-free options, and there’s a whole section at the grocery store with gluten-free food and ingredients,” said Michaela. “Danika has been great in helping me learn what I can and can’t eat to feel my best.”

“When she was diagnosed, my first thought was, ‘Great, here’s a kid who loves cookies and muffins and now she can’t have them,’” said Nancy. “But, that’s not the case. We can make gluten-free options of her favorites. We also monitor how many treats she has and adjust her insulin accordingly.”

Manageable Diagnoses
As Michaela finishes her senior year at Central Valley Public School in Buxton, N.D., Nancy is excited for what Michaela’s future holds.

“We are so proud of her for turning a negative into a positive,” said Nancy. “Type 1 diabetes came; we overcame it. Celiac disease came; we overcame it. Hopefully she’s learned that anything life throws at her, she can overcome.”

While she’s had set-backs and struggles over the years, Michaela keeps a positive outlook.

“You have to keep going and get back on track,” she said. “That’s where everyone at Altru has been so great. Dr. Sondrol and Arlene don’t judge me if I have a bad blood sugar number. With diabetes, there’s a lot of trial and error. Even if I do one thing today and the exact same tomorrow, I could have a different outcome.  Instead, they’ll help me adjust my management to have more consistent days.”

“Michaela’s team at Altru has been by her side the whole way,” said Nancy. “When we hear of people who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, we tell them, ‘Go to Altru. You’ll have the best care.’”

Do you or someone you know deal with diabetes or celiac disease? Tell us your experience.

Taking Risks, Saving Lives

Brad Buck“They saved my life, twice. I can’t say enough for what they’ve done.”

When Brad Buck looks back at the events that happened between February 25 and April 8, 2013, he’s astonished at where he is today.

“I went from almost bleeding out and having a stroke, to back to work in six weeks,” he said. “My quality of life is no different now than it was before. Everyone took such good care of me that I have no lasting problems.”

Brad, 49, realizes numerous things had to fall into place for him to be able to say that. Maybe even a miracle or two.

Out of the Ordinary Monday
As a salesman for Heartland Paper Company, Brad has his weekly sales call schedule fairly set. While he’s usually out of town on Mondays, on February 25, he stopped at East Grand Forks Senior High for a quick visit.

“I started walking down the hall when I felt a sharp pain in the middle of my back,” he said. “It felt like I got punched. I couldn’t catch my breath. My left leg was burning, so I sat down. That brought on more shortness of breath and leg pain.”

He took aspirin when he got to his car and drove himself to Altru’s Emergency Room. He thought he was having a heart attack.

“The ER folks were great,” said Brad. “They were all very calm, which was key in not making me panic.”

Cardiovascular thoracic surgeon Dr. Barry Bjorgaard ordered a CT scan, which revealed something more serious than a heart attack. The scan showed an aortic dissection, or tear, from the top of Brad’s aorta all the way down to his left leg. Because of this, Brad’s left leg had been without blood flow for hours.

Dr. Bjorgaard, along with interventional cardiologist Dr. Jason Go, took Brad into surgery to repair the aortic dissection and place stents in his left leg artery.

To relieve building pressure, Dr. Bjorgaard made incisions on each side of Brad’s leg. Brad was then taken to the surgical critical care unit (SCCU) for observation and recovery.

“I remember my nurse, Casey Wangen, constantly asking, ‘What’s your name? What’s your birthday?’” said Brad. “It seemed like Casey never left. He was always there making sure I was alert.”

Turn of Events
Just after midnight Wednesday, Brad began showing symptoms of a stroke. He was confused, his speech was beginning to slur and his arms were losing feeling. Dr. Bjorgaard asked Dr. Go to check Brad’s stents with an angiogram. In the cath lab, Dr. Go discovered the stent in Brad’s aorta was partially obstructing blood flow to his left carotid artery to his brain.

In order to prevent lasting stroke symptoms, Dr. Go needed to take action, and fast. After discussing risks and possible outcomes with Brad’s family, Dr. Go stented Brad’s left carotid artery. While trained in the procedure, at the time he performed it, Dr. Go didn’t have privileges at Altru to do so.

“Dr. Go took his professional career into his own hands when he did this to save my life,” said Brad. “What he did was way above what I think a lot of doctors would have done. How do you thank someone for that?”

“You get into this field to save people’s lives,” said Dr. Go. “I knew he wasn’t going to have the same quality of life, or life at all, if he had to go somewhere else for the procedure.” Dr. Go has since gone through the credentialing steps to perform the procedure at Altru.

Minutes later, Brad was able to speak to Dr. Go, and his blood pressure returned to normal. His stroke symptoms disappeared. Brad was then transferred to the fifth floor.

“Kelly Grassel [fifth floor manager] and her crew were perfect,” he said. “Everyone took such good care of me.”

To combat swelling, Brad worked with occupational therapist and certified lymphedema therapist Jane Loscheider.

After almost two weeks in the hospital, Brad was discharged. He continues therapy with physical therapist Stephanie Barstad. Because of the time his left leg went without blood flow, he essentially had to learn to walk again.

Cause of Problems
Brad sees Dr. Bjorgaard, Dr. Go and physician assistant Jill Hankey every few months for check-ups, and works closely with family physician Dr. Andrew Gasparini at Altru Family Medicine Residency to keep his blood pressure in check. After all, his high blood pressure caused everything to happen.

“I knew I had high blood pressure and was on medication,” said Brad, “but the medication had a tendency to make me dizzy. I wouldn’t take it before I refereed high school hockey games. When this happened, I was refereeing four nights a week, which meant I only took my medication three days a week. It caught up with me in a very big way. I’m now religious about taking it.” In addition to medications, Brad monitors his blood pressure daily.

Communication, Cleanliness and Compliments
“Everyone was very upfront,” he said. “My wife, Jill, my daughters, Samantha and Emily, and my mother were told everything. Dr. Bjorgaard and Dr. Go briefed them constantly and explained things so they were fully aware of all possibilities regarding my treatment. There was never any guessing.”

Brad was hospitalized for almost two weeks with large open cuts on his leg. Never once did he develop an infection. It took 100 days for the cuts to heal.

“Pat Guthmiller, RN, in SCCU and nurse practitioner Estella Boger on fifth did a tremendous job keeping the wounds clean,” he said. “I watched every single person who came in and out of my room. They all used hand sanitizer every time.”

Brad credits Altru’s team for where he is today.

“Everyone was always respectful,” Brad continued. “All the ‘internal plumbing’ the doctors did is working just fine. So many things had to align for this to turn out the way it did. Had Dr. Bjorgaard and Dr. Go not been at Altru that day, I may not be here.”

“Critical cases take teamwork,” said Dr. Bjorgaard. “We’re glad to be able to produce outcomes such as Brad’s when we work together.”

“I was a lucky guy,” said Brad. “I have nothing but accolades for this place.”

Have you ever been in the right place at the right time when it came to medical care?