Oct. 18, 2017 | Most patients find out they have chronic lymphocytic leukemia after a regular visit to their primary care provider. This blood cancer, commonly called CLL, is most often diagnosed in older patients.
It happened this way for Bill Wrentz, 67, of Cabot. Wrentz was scheduled for a visit with his primary care physician in 2013 when his doctor asked him if he’d recently had the flu.
“He noticed my white blood cell count was a lot higher than it should have been,” Wrentz said.
Wrentz’s doctor scheduled a follow-up appointment for three weeks later saying, if the illness had run its course, his numbers should be back in normal range.
“At the next visit, they were higher than before,” Wrentz said. “Since I wasn’t showing any other symptoms, he suspected CLL and referred me to an oncologist, who confirmed that diagnosis in January 2014.”
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is different from other cancers in that it’s often not treated right away. Leukemia specialist Peter Emanuel, M.D., director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, says CLL progresses very slowly. The only way to cure it is with a bone marrow transplant. Since most CLL patients are elderly, a transplant would be too toxic and not worth the risk.
“So we control the disease,” Emanuel said. “The first several years after diagnosis, patients typically don’t have any symptoms.”
Wrentz started seeing Emanuel because he wanted a second opinion. About eight months after his diagnosis, Wrentz’s original oncologist wanted him to start chemotherapy.
“I was not comfortable with the idea of starting treatment,” Wrentz said. “I felt fine.”
Wrentz says a friend of his, a physician in San Antonio, listened to his concerns and agreed based on Wrentz’ numbers that it could be too soon to start treatment. He suggested Wrentz go to an academic health institution like UAMS.
“I was fortunate to get an appointment with Dr. Emanuel, considering his busy schedule. It was September 2014.” Wrentz said. “He looked at my numbers and agreed I wasn’t ready for treatment.”
Since then, Wrentz has been going to the Cancer Institute quarterly to have his blood drawn for monitoring. His cancer is progressing, but Emanuel says he hasn’t yet reached the point where he needs treatment. Beginning treatment earlier, Emanuel says, will not cause him to live longer.
“It’s to his advantage to wait,” Emanuel said. “He’s a competitive golfer. Not having chemotherapy has allowed him over the last couple of summers to compete at a high level without having to worry about treatment or its side effects.” Wrentz was named 2016 and 2017 Super-Senior Player of the Year by the Arkansas State Golf Association.
“I’m very happy and comfortable with Dr. Emanuel,” Wrentz said. “He’s up on the latest research with treatment of disease and that give me a lot of confidence. He never makes me feel like he’s in a rush and takes the time to answer all my questions.”
Emanuel says in the past three or four years, there have been new therapies for treating CLL that are FDA approved and others that are nearing FDA approval.
“The outlook is better. We’re not quite curing it yet. But there are lots of different options available to us.”
Oct. 12, 2017 | The past year and a half has included many challenges for Josephine Guiden — being diagnosed with cancer, then chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatments— but none of them have snatched her passion for life.
“There’s power in knowing you have to be positive about life,” said the 70-year-old Little Rock resident. “You only come this way once and you have to make the best of it while you’re here.”
Guiden’s taxing journey began in May of 2016 when she discovered a knot in her breast under her right arm. She recognized immediately it could be cancer.
“It was shocking, but through years of mammograms and exams, physicians tell you what the knot will feel like,” she said. “You don’t quite get it then, but when I felt that knot, I knew it was malignant. I knew it was cancer.”
She called her doctor and had a previously scheduled mammogram moved up, but in the meantime, went on a bus trip to New York with the Patrick Henry Hays Senior Center in North Little Rock.
“I had lots of fun,” she said, “but my energy level was low.”
When she returned, her mammogram and biopsy confirmed what she already suspected: breast cancer. However, at stage 3 it was more advanced than she expected.
“There was anxiety and fear when it was confirmed and it was so advanced that I was upset with myself,” she said. “Even though I expected the diagnosis, I came home afterwards and had a good cry. But I knew I had to stay positive, I had to pray about the situation and that’s what I did. I told God, ‘I choose life. I want to live.’”
She was shepherded through the next several months of treatment by Daniela Ochoa, M.D., breast surgeon in the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Breast Surgical Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine; Issam Makhoul, M.D., director of the UAMS Division of Hematology/Oncology and associate professor in the College of Medicine; and Loverd Peacock, M.D., radiation oncologist in the Cancer Institute and faculty member in the Department of Radiation Oncology in the College of Medicine.
“They were my guardian angels,” said Guiden. “I was placed in the midst of three great doctors who made me feel so special that no one could have ever convinced me that I wasn’t their favorite patient.”
Ochoa said the whole-team approach is one of the benefits to breast cancer treatment at UAMS.
“We have specialists who practice only in breast cancer — from radiologists and oncologists to geneticists, pathologists and behavioral health specialists,” said Ochoa. “We have team members who work closely in managing breast cancer patients and are able to provide a consensus opinion, and our patients benefit from that.”
A few days after her diagnosis, Guiden received her port for chemotherapy treatment. The first series of treatment lasted 12 weeks. In the three-week hiatus between her first and second rounds of chemotherapy, she took another cross-country bus trip. This time to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
She began her second round of chemotherapy the day after she returned and completed it just before Thanksgiving. On Dec. 27, she had a lumpectomy, a surgery to remove the tumor, performed by Ochoa. Then she received radiation treatment for five weeks from Peacock.
Throughout her treatment regimen, Guiden says she relied on her faith, family, friends and fellow church members at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Little Rock for support.
There was her Sunday School teacher who gave her a scripture after her diagnosis, Psalms 117:17-18, that she carried with her daily; countless prayers with her Sunday School class; her two sisters and a close friend who stopped by often to help with household chores and cooking; her son who did yard work; and her brothers who helped make sure she didn’t miss a family reunion gathering.
“I was surrounded by a wonderful group of people that supported me,” she said.
In May, one year after her diagnosis, Guiden had another mammogram performed. She was cancer free. Guiden could barely contain herself when she saw Ochoa following the exam.
“I just grabbed her and almost picked her up off the floor,” she said. “I was so happy to have the relief. There was quite a bit of anxiety prior to the mammogram because you don’t know what to expect or what will be there.”
Ochoa said Guiden’s story conveys the importance of monthly self-examinations.
“I’ll often hear patients say they don’t know what they’re feeling for, but the idea is to be familiar so something new will stand out and feel different. The monthly interval is important because it’s enough of a timeframe that you’ll notice a difference if it occurs.”
Looking back, Guiden sees that importance, too.
“It’s so important to do self-exams,” she said. “If I had done that, I would have found this sooner, but I stopped. That was the culprit, me not taking stock in myself and my well-being.”
Oct. 11, 2017 | The bright lights of New York City shone on Little Rock on Sept. 15 when the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute hosted its 22nd annual Gala for Life.
The black-tie event, held at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center, brought together 740 supporters from throughout Arkansas and raised about $942,000 for the fight against cancer. A portion of the net proceeds will directly benefit the UAMS Cancer Genetics Program, which includes Arkansas’ only board-certified geneticists who diagnose, manage and treat complex cancer syndromes.
Arkansas native and three-time Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Remmel T. Dickinson served as event chair. KTHV news anchor Craig O’Neill was master of ceremonies.
“We are so thankful for the leadership of Remmel Dickinson and for our generous sponsors who make this event possible. All of the money raised by the Gala of Life stays in Arkansas and is used to help us advance our ability to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer,” said Peter Emanuel, M.D., Cancer Institute director and professor in the UAMS College of Medicine.
Gala for Life presenting sponsors were the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation Inc. and Highlands Oncology Group.
Donations made by guests that evening were matched by Nan Ellen and Jack M. East; Peggy and Haskell Dickinson; and Mary Kay and Dr. F.E. Joyce and family. View a complete list of sponsors here.
Dinner entertainment included performances by Michael Buble tribute artist Scott Keo; a musical revue by Broadway performers Dan’yelle Williamson and Kevin Massey; and a special performance by “America’s Got Talent” finalist and sand story artist Joe Castillo.
Guests also enjoyed a cocktail reception featuring the sights and sounds of New York City’s Rockefeller Center and Times Square, complete with ice skaters, food carts, street performers, digital caricature artists and a virtual graffiti wall.
Oct. 10, 2017 | Since it opened in April, UAMS’ walk-in, after-hours clinic OrthoNow has been a welcome answer for many Arkansans, including UAMS employees.
William Fuller, UAMS client services director for technical operations, tore his bicep tendon away from the bone in May. He went to the OrthoNow clinic on Autumn Road and saw Mark Tait, M.D.
“Dr. Tait worked me in as quickly as possible,” Fuller said. “He was helpful in explaining what happened to me, great bedside manner.”
Fuller was in a brace for six weeks, followed by physical therapy. He was released from therapy in mid-August.
“It all went very smoothly,” Fuller said. “The staff was kind and easy to work with.”
Renee Raines hurt her foot in the middle of budget season, a very busy time for the UAMS professional, who works both in finance and in the College of Medicine.
“I hit my right foot on a nightstand in the middle of the night,” Raines said. “It was purple for three weeks, but I waited until after budget season to get it looked at.”
Raines was advised by a co-worker to call OrthoNow. She got an appointment with Robert Martin, M.D., the very next day and was scheduled for surgery within a we
“One of the things that impressed me about Dr. Martin is the fact that he is hands-on and concerned about me as a patient,” Raines said. “That was soothing to me after my surgery. Dr. Martin himself changed my bandages. It made me feel better to know that he’s really invested in making sure my outcome is the best it can be.”
Raines now advises others to not hesitate in contacting the clinic. She’s recommended OrthoNow to other UAMS employees who were able to schedule appointments quickly and get the help they needed.
OrthoNow, located at 600 Autumn Road, is open 5-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays for general orthopaedics issues. Therapy appointments can also be scheduled during the extended hours. To schedule therapy, or for more information, call 501- 320-7772 or click here.
Oct. 6, 2017 | Carolyn Barber, of El Dorado, waited as six of her loved ones – two daughters, a son, two granddaughters and a great-grandson – each rode 10 miles in the recent UAMS Myeloma Institute’s inaugural Ride for Research across central Arkansas in honor of the 75-year-old’s battle against myeloma.
“It was wonderful,” said Barber. “I just couldn’t believe they all wanted to do this.”
The relatives, hailing from south Arkansas, made the trek to Little Rock to take part in the event in her honor. Barber’s husband, Don, 81, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease nine years ago and died in July of complications from an infection. Her family hoped participating in the Ride for Research on Sept. 23 would lift her spirits.
The ride, held in conjunction with the Big Dam Bridge 100 cycling tour, included 81 members on the UAMS Myeloma Institute’s team ranging in age from 9 to 80. The riders included patients and family members, sponsors, supporters, and 24 UAMS employees — 13 of them from the UAMS Myeloma Institute. The goal was to bring awareness to and raise money for research of the rare blood and bone disease.
The institute’s director Gareth Morgan, M.D., Ph.D., and deputy director Faith Davies, M.D., led the charge in taking their fight against myeloma out of the clinics and research labs and onto the roadways of central Arkansas on this warm fall day. The institute’s team, riding varying courses ranging from 10 to 100 miles, joined more than 3,200 other riders from 32 states who were participating in the Big Dam Bridge 100. Morgan, Davies and three others from the UAMS Myeloma Institute rode the full 100 miles.
“We heard about the race through my daughter, Casey Wilson, who’s been a registered nurse for the last 10 years and is in her fourth semester of the Family Nurse Practitioner program at UAMS,” said Barber’s eldest daughter, Renee Crawford of El Dorado. “She thought it would be a great way for the family to show support for her grandmother, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in the summer of 2016.”
Wilson and her 9-year-old son, Hank, had been looking for a race they could enter together.
“I read him the email stating that the race would be held in September and how it would benefit research for the type of cancer that Mamaw Carolyn has,” said Wilson of the third-grader. “He was eager for us to sign up for our first bike race and glad it would benefit our precious Mamaw.”
The grateful matriarch was at the finish line greeting each one as they came through. In addition to Crawford, they included daughter Pam Wilson and son Bobby “Eddie” Bryan, both of Junction City; granddaughters Miranda Bryan of Jackson City and Casey Wilson of El Dorado; and Hank, Barber’s great-grandson. Barber and Sandra Bryan, her daughter-in-law and caregiver, served as honorary team members.
“She loved having us be ‘Team Mom,’” said Pam Wilson. “And we loved mom being able to be at the finish line for us because we were there for her.”
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to go, but I was,” said Barber of attending the ride. “This was such an excitement and such a thrill.”
Barber has responded well to treatment from her physician Frits van Rhee, M.D., Ph.D. She receives weekly shots close to her home and visits the institute in Little Rock monthly.
Before her illness, Barber was active and vivacious and loved to travel and dance.
“But she suddenly became very easily exhausted and one day passed out,” Crawford recalled. “During a visit to the emergency room, we discovered she had a hemoglobin of seven and after several tests, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.”
Crawford, who’s worked as a nurse for 20 years, and her daughter Casey Wilson immediately began researching myeloma.
“We discovered the UAMS Myeloma Institute was the place to go for cutting-edge treatment. We met Dr. van Rhee and Kristen Carter, A.P.R.N., and were truly amazed at their kindness and commitment to getting Mom back to dancing and traveling.”
She added that the family has met many more dedicated doctors, nurses and helpful staff along the way.
“We are still on this journey and hope to get to remission ultimately,” Crawford said. “We are thankful for all of the wonderful support from UAMS and for also allowing us to be part of this fun event.”
Crawford, her daughter and grandson Hank prepared for the ride by riding a five-mile loop near their homes since July. Crawford also talked her sister Pam, brother Bobby and niece Miranda into joining the ride.
“They all purchased bicycles in July and August and began training,” said Crawford, who received a new Trek bike in July as a birthday present. “We were all pleasantly surprised that we were able to complete the 10-mile course and found we loved the competition. We hope to come back next year and aim for a longer distance.”
If the race is held again next year, Barber feels certain her family will break out their bikes again.
“My great-grandson Hank said next year he wants to ride the 32-mile course.”
Oct. 3, 2017 | When Todd Maxson, M.D. worked to implement a trauma system for the state of Arkansas in 2009, he didn’t know that his own life would be among the many saved.
“It’s certainly different being on the opposite end of care,” Maxson said.
On Sept. 1, Maxson, a professor of surgery employed by the UAMS College of Medicine to practice at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH), left ACH on his motorcycle after a long day in the operating room. Maxson is chief of pediatric trauma surgery and was on call.
A car hit him on Woodrow Street, minutes away from Children’s Hospital. Maxson flew off the bike, breaking his helmet. The vehicle dragged his motorcycle 150 feet. Fortunately, two bystanders stopped to help. One of them called 911. The other, at Maxson’s request, called Children’s Hospital. His work and his patients remained a priority even as he lie in the street with life-threatening injuries.
“As a trauma surgeon on call, my responsibility is for emergencies at the hospital,” Maxson said. “We can’t leave that uncovered for even a second.”
Maxson said Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services were quick to the scene and some of the EMS professionals recognized him from training.
“I may have provided a couple of suggestions,” Maxson said with a chuckle. “It’s in my nature. But they smiled and took care of me. They did everything right.”
That included transporting him to UAMS — the state’s only adult level one trauma center. Anna Privratsky, D.O. in the UAMS Department of Surgery, was in the Emergency Department that night. She says it had been relatively quiet when the trauma call came in.
“I saw it was a motorcycle accident. Minutes later the chief resident told me it was Dr. Maxson,” Privratsky said. “As a trauma surgeon, there’s not a lot that can shake you. But when someone you know comes in for trauma, that’ll do it.”
Privratsky, a former UAMS resident who worked under Maxson, says her training prepared her for even the most stressful situations.
“We all know Dr. Maxson. But when something like this happens you must tuck aside everything except focusing on getting him better. We do that for everyone who rolls through the doors.”
As a level one trauma center, UAMS had access to interventional radiologists who worked to stop the bleeding within an hour. Orthopeadic surgeons were immediately available. Maxson had a shattered pelvis, a shattered right femur, lots of bruises and significant blood loss. He had four major operations in four days.
“Doing the major surgeries together prevents complications,” Maxson said.
Maxson left the hospital two weeks later. He’ll have to keep weight off his legs before a few more surgeries. Then he’ll begin physical and occupational therapy. He hopes to be back to work summer 2018.
“I’m coming back,” Maxson said. “I’m absolutely coming back. And I’ll be a better surgeon after this. I now have a level of empathy that I couldn’t have gained before this.”
Before 2009, Arkansas had the highest injury-related mortality rates in the country. After the trauma system was established, the state saw a 50 percent reduction in preventable deaths.
“The gift given by the Legislature in the form of a trauma system has paid unbelievable dividends,” Maxson said. “Had that system not been in place, I think I would’ve died. And if I lived, I wouldn’t be in the shape I am today. The investment has a positive return.”