March 21, 2017 | It was not uncommon for a seasoned sawmill operator like Mauro Santiago to remove a lodged piece of wood from his machine, but what happened the morning of Aug. 15 was anything but routine.
As he reached to free a piece of lumber, Santiago, 29, accidentally bumped a lever that activated his saw and severed his left hand across the palm.
Santiago didn’t realize what occurred until a co-worker said something, then, he noticed the detached piece of his hand on the floor.
His co-workers, including his brother, quickly responded by placing the severed hand on ice and driving Santiago from the sawmill in Atlanta, Texas, to a hospital about 30 minutes away in Texarkana, Arkansas.
“For them to have reacted that fast, I’m thankful,” said Santiago through his wife, who translated the Spanish to English. “They were the ones who did the most important part of what needed to be done at that moment. Without them, I might not have my hand.”
Upon seeing the severity of the injury, doctors at the Texarkana hospital decided to transport Santiago by ambulance to UAMS where three hand trauma surgeons — John Bracey, M.D.; Mark Tait, M.D.; and John Stephenson, M.D. — were waiting.
UAMS is the only hospital in Arkansas to offer round-the-clock service by hand trauma surgeons.
“It’s a unique instance at UAMS where we’ve recruited a core group of hand surgeons specifically trained in replantations and complex nerve cases,” said Tait. “We’re able to cover these type of injuries 24 hours a day, seven days a week for Arkansas and the region.”
About six hours after the accident, Santiago was in an operating room where the trio of UAMS surgeons worked for nearly 12 hours to reattach his hand. They reattached bones and tendons, microscopically repaired vessels to return blood flow, and completed nerve grafts to restore feeling.
“Working at a level 1 trauma center, it’s not uncommon to see the amputation of one or two fingers, but this case, in which the entire hand was amputated, is very rare,” said Bracey. “It was a detail-oriented, tedious procedure; however, Mauro’s hand was amputated in such a way that the detached part was still in good condition. It was the perfect circumstance for replantation.”
Seven months after his surgery, Santiago is able to move his fingers, grasp a pen and scribble on a piece of paper. He’s still regaining sensitivity and feeling and continues working on strength and movement in physical therapy.
“Our goal is to help him regain finger motion, so he’ll be able to grasp objects and be able to discern hot and cold sensations,” said Stephenson. “It likely won’t be fully functional again, but we want him to be as functional and independent with it as possible.”
Santiago said he understands his hand may never be the same, but whatever the outcome, he’s happy.
“I’m just thankful to have found surgeons who could reattach my hand,” he said. “Now, I’ll do whatever I have to do to make it work.”
March 13, 2017 | When Nikhil Meena, M.D., crossed the finish line of his first half marathon March 5, his patient, the late Joe Cook, symbolically crossed it with him.
Cook, who died of lung cancer July 2, 2016, had taken up long-distance running about a year earlier after watching several friends enjoy the sport.
“Joe was always an active person and did some running when he was younger, but he didn’t start running half marathons until he was in his 60s,” said his wife, Marilyn Cook.
Cook had recently completed Conway’s Soaring Wings Half Marathon in October 2016 when he started to experience shortness of breath. A diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer soon followed, and he began treatment at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. Meena, an interventional pulmonologist, was a member of Cook’s treatment team.
A 26-year employee of UAMS, Cook embarked on his second career at the academic health sciences center following 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. While at UAMS, he held positions in the College of Nursing, the College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, where he served as administrator at the time of his death.
“When Mr. Cook came to his appointments, our topic of conversation would always turn to his love of running. He was hoping to run in the 2016 Little Rock Half Marathon but had to postpone that due to his cancer diagnosis,” said Meena, assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine.
During one of their visits, Cook asked Meena if he would consider joining him in running the 2017 half marathon. Although he had never attempted long-distance running, Meena accepted Cook’s challenge and promised to run with him in the upcoming race. As his treatment progressed throughout the spring, Cook appeared to show improvement and their race plans progressed. In early summer, however, Cook’s cancer stopped responding to treatment. He was admitted to the ICU at UAMS Medical Center, where he died a short time later.
“Dr. Meena made it a point to visit Joe when he was in the ICU. They had such a good relationship. He tried so hard to help Joe fight the cancer,” said Marilyn Cook.
After Cook’s passing, Meena was determined to live up to his promise. He contacted Little Rock Marathon officials about the possibility of running the half marathon in Cook’s memory. It was decided that he could wear two runners’ bibs, one for himself and one for Cook. He also would receive two medals, one of which he presented to Marilyn Cook at the finish line.
“After they told me I could run the half marathon for Mr. Cook, I started training in December. This may be my first and last half marathon, but I’m happy to honor my promise and earn one last medal for him,” Meena said.
March 2, 2017 | Ambassador Ruth A. Davis traveled the world as a U.S. diplomat during her 40 years with the U.S. Foreign Service.
But when she learned she had a relapse of multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in the blood, she headed to Arkansas and the UAMS Myeloma Institute.
“I’ve often had people ask me, ‘Why don’t you go somewhere in the area, closer to home.’ I tell them, ‘Listen. This is a question of my life and I will go where the best treatment is available,’” she said recently on a visit to UAMS.
Davis, who lives in Washington D.C., has been receiving treatment from UAMS for a decade now. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2000 and was told she would live three years. Davis decided to come to UAMS after a friend recommended it to her.
“My experience with UAMS has been wonderful,” Davis said. “It has exceeded my expectations. The staff is accommodating. There is a community that has been developed to assist the patients of UAMS. They’re welcoming and competent. It gives me the confidence I need to proceed with fighting this disease.”
A trailblazer throughout her 40 years with the Foreign Service, Davis says she enjoyed every minute of it. She was the first African-American director of the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, and the first African-American woman to be director general of the Foreign Service. In 2016 she became the first African-American to receive the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contribution to American Diplomacy Award.
Davis has led a colorful life and proudly adds, with a smile, that she is an official Arkansas Traveler – a designation bestowed upon her by the governor. She’s usually accompanied by her sister Eugenia Davis-Clements, her caregiver and a former physician. The two women love meeting new people and are rarely seen without a smile or encouraging word.
While Davis says having multiple myeloma and going through treatments has slowed her down some, she refuses to let it stop her. In November, she traveled to Europe twice: to Brussels to chair the conference of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge and then to Vienna for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Development Organization.
Davis is under the care of Frits van Rhee, M.D., Ph.D., director of developmental and translational medicine at the UAMS Myeloma Institute.
“I feel that I get the individual attention that I need. I’m not just a case study. I’m a patient with a real need and he is responsive to that. He’s one of the best in the business so I’m delighted to be a patient of Dr. van Rhee.”
Established in 1989, the Myeloma Institute was the first center in the world devoted exclusively to research and clinical care of multiple myeloma and related disorders. Patients have come to the Myeloma Institute from every state and more than 50 countries.
Feb. 24, 2017 | “Who’s going to take care of me when I can’t take care of myself?”
Donnia Cox a patient in the UAMS Weight Control Clinic says she asked herself that question as she struggled to lose weight and get in shape.
“I was at a point in my life where I realized I had let myself go,” Cox said.
Cox works as a clinical services manager in the medical oncology/transplant division at UAMS. As an RN, she’s familiar with health issues related to obesity.
Part of the weight gain, Cox says, came with changing to a sedentary job and dealing with stress in her personal life including the passing of her father. Her husband was severely hurt in an accident and left with a spinal cord injury.
“I tried to lose weight on my own a couple of times but was unsuccessful,” Cox said. “I was just at the point of giving up.”
One of her coworkers lost weight successfully by going through the Weight Control Program. It encouraged Cox to consider checking it out. She was hesitant at first because the program uses low-calorie meal replacements.
“I wasn’t sure if I could give up real food,” she said. “But I told myself it’s worth a try.”
The 16-week program consists of classes taught by registered dietitians and is medically supervised by endocrinologists. The first half called “Foundations,” focuses primarily on behavior modification, identifying goals, support and barriers. Weeks 9-16, the “Building Blocks” classes, are focused on nutrition, and equips patients with the tools they need to make healthier choices.
“We see patients all the time who can very quickly reduce the amount of insulin they need or decrease their blood pressure medication,” said Betsy Day, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., clinical manager for the UAMS Weight Control Clinic. “It’s great to see them not only get motivated and excited about the weight loss, but about the long-term improvement of their health.”
There is an additional 12 weeks of maintenance classes that offer a unique hands-on perspective into keeping weight off long term. Sometimes participants take field trips with the dietitian to a grocery store where they learn what to look for while shopping, or they’ll take a spin or yoga class. For many of them it’s a first, and the support of the group gives them the courage to explore new ways to be healthy and active.
“It gives me accountability,” Cox said. “I’ve learned to keep records of what I’m taking in and learning how many calories are necessary for me to function. I’m making smarter choices.”
Cox says she was encouraged by her instructor, Brooklyn Pyburn, a registered dietitian who teaches classes in the Weight Control Program.
“When she presented during class, she was very open about her road to becoming a more fit and active person,” Cox said. “It let me see I could do it, too.”
Cox lost 80 pounds through the program. And it’s more than the weight loss that’s changed her life. She now has more energy to keep up with her seven grandchildren. One of them noticed their newly active grandmother and said it made them happy.
Challenges that would have once been considered excuses now prove to be minor obstacle for Cox. Her home is in Hope but during the week she stays in an apartment in Little Rock. She is meticulous about planning her weekly meals, which she says helps cut out temptation.
“My family is proud of me. They’ve been supportive. For Christmas, I received exercise clothes and my husband is paying for yoga for a year. I also bought a bicycle. I look for opportunities at work to be more active by taking the stairs or walking farther.”
Cox’s advice to anyone considering the program is to not wait. Waiting won’t get you any progress, she says. Make a plan. Get started.
Feb. 17, 2017 | A Valentine’s Day surprise brought smiles — and a few tears — to patients undergoing cancer treatment at UAMS.
Thanks to the nonprofit organization Compassion That Compels and local boutique Altar’d State, 20 women were treated to a free totebag filled with items to comfort and support them while they undergo treatment at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
After watching her sister and two sisters-in-law each experience a cancer diagnosis within four years, Kristianne Stewart decided to take action by founding Compassion that Compels. To date, the Louisiana-based organization has distributed more than 3,300 compassion bags to women worldwide, either in person or through its website.
UAMS patient Janna Laughlin received bag no. 3,320 during what she hoped would be her last infusion treatment for a while.
After being diagnosed in June 2016 with ovarian cancer, Laughlin first underwent weekly chemotherapy treatments, which later switched to monthly visits.
“What a wonderful Valentine surprise this was. You’ve made my day,” she said, opening the bag filled with items including a blanket, journal, devotional book, mug, organic tea, gift card, mints, notebook, Valentine card and pen.
Through her partnership with 37 Altar’d State boutiques nationwide and other organizations, Stewart is able to provide bags to any woman who requests one. Locally, Altar’d State, which is located in the Promenade at Chenal, donates a portion of the proceeds in September and October to help fill the bags. Manager Madison Bass and several of her employees were on hand with Stewart to hand deliver them in the UAMS Cancer Institute’s Infusion Clinic 1. They also were joined by Compassion That Compels board members Rosie and Leo Combe.
“I’ve never been in a chemo chair myself, but I have been a primary caregiver and understand the stresses and challenges that go along with that. You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely. That’s why we’re here — to remind these special women that they are beautiful, brave and never alone,” Stewart said.
Osteosarcoma survivor Linda Guillory was visiting the infusion clinic for a blood test when she was presented her compassion bag. “It means so much to have people you don’t even know show you that they care. You can feel the prayers every day, and it really matters,” she said.
This was the second year for Compassion That Compels to deliver bags to UAMS Cancer Institute patients. “There’s such a loving kindness here. You can just feel it,” Stewart said, adding that she hopes to return with more deliveries in the future.
Feb. 10, 2017 | Bailey McNeill of Raleigh, North Carolina, is a UAMS Myeloma Institute rock star.
McNeill’s father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at Duke University Hospital when she was in third grade. “He sat down with my sisters and me and explained that he would be traveling with my mom to a facility — apparently the best — in far-away Arkansas for more tests. It was the first time I ever saw him cry,” she said.
Now a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, McNeill remembers the anger and sadness she felt in that moment. “It was not until I was older in high school that I learned more about his disease and how special it is that he is still with us, thanks to the doctors at the Myeloma Institute,” she said.
It was also during her high school years that McNeill honed a hobby that would ultimately make a difference for others living with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in the blood.
“I got interested in making jewelry when I saw companies like Free People or Urban Outfitters selling raw crystal jewelry. I had hundreds of crystals just sitting around, and I knew I could make similar pieces,” said McNeill, who has always had an eye for crystals and sparkling rocks.
She started out making holiday gifts for family members. Then, inspired by her father’s myeloma journey, she developed her talent into an online business, Crystals4Cancer.com. Her one-of-a-kind necklaces and bracelets bring joy to the wearer while also supporting myeloma research – McNeill donates half of her proceeds to the Myeloma Institute to help further development of curative therapies.
McNeill knew that she wanted her hard work and time to amount to more than just a profit. “I pretty much built my business around donating to UAMS,” she said. To date, McNeill has donated $5,645.
McNeill’s exclusive source for her gems is Randall Glen, located about 15 minutes outside of Asheville, North Carolina. The mine offers “dig your own buckets” at various price points, depending on the size of the stones. A $10 bucket typically contains small stones like garnets and amethysts that are abundant in the North Carolina mountains. Larger buckets, that can cost as much as $150, contain larger, flashier gems.
While in high school, McNeill would often spend 40 or more hours each week on her jewelry business, producing 80 to 200 pieces each year. Now that she is in college, it’s more like 20 hours. With a major in global studies and a likely minor in entrepreneurship, her free time is limited.
“It has been hard to make and get out a bunch of orders since I’ve come to school. If I don’t have as much time to take photos of my pieces, then I promote them less on social media, resulting in less demand and orders. It’s a lot to keep up with,” she said.
McNeill continues to be encouraged and inspired by her dad. He comes to UAMS twice a year for check-ups and is on an active treatment regimen. “He handles it like a champ and is always upbeat,” she said, adding that he remains involved in his work, a wholesale produce business founded by McNeill’s great grandfather.
“Though my contribution is small, I hope my business is helping the program that has done so much to help my family and me; it's the least I can do,” she said.