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.
Feb. 3, 2017 | Glenna Love enjoyed spending time in her garden, writing as a member of the writers’ guild and traveling the world.
“We’ve had a great life,” said the 74-year-old from Mena.
Love and her husband of 34 years, Robert Tomlinson, enjoy the memories they have of traveling across the sea to countries all over Europe and Asia. But for the past three years, they haven’t been able to go very far.
“All of a sudden, I got sick,” Love said. “I knew something was wrong but I went undiagnosed for some time.”
Love says the symptoms she experienced caused even small tasks to seem enormous.
“It became so bad, I couldn’t even drive to the grocery store,” Love said. “I couldn’t walk from my car to inside the grocery store.”
Love’s symptoms began in 2013. When she’d experience an episode, she couldn’t breathe. Her heart was racing and felt irregular. When she sought medical attention, Love was told she was having panic attacks triggered by a low heart rate.
At her worst point, Love says she would feel the debilitating discomfort nearly every day and a severe attack could last from 15 minutes to two hours.
“I was miserable. It was hard to breathe or think,” Love said. “I could hear when someone talked to me, but it was very difficult to respond coherently.”
She stopped working in her flower garden and attending her writing class. Traveling was put on hold.
“Basically, my life stopped. You go from day to day – but you can’t really plan anything. I couldn’t plan to have visitors or go see friends. My condition was that bad.”
Love was diagnosed 12 months later with atrial fibrillation, often known as AFib. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat or quivering that affects more than 2 million Americans. It can lead to other problems like blood clots, stroke or heart failure.
For patients with AFib, medication is often the first step of treatment. If it doesn’t work, like in Love’s case, the doctor will consider a cardiac ablation, a procedure that will destroy tissue in the heart that signals incorrect electrical signals causing the irregular heartbeat.
Love’s mother had AFib and died from a stroke. Love wanted to make sure she did everything she could to treat her condition. She decided to go to UAMS.
“I called and said, ‘I don’t know who I need to see, but I have AFib.’ The woman on the phone told me, ‘You need to see Dr. Paydak.”’
Hakan Paydak, M.D., is a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine. He specializes in heart rhythm disorders. Love says her first appointment with him lasted two hours.
“They really took the time to learn everything about my history. They were taking every kind of note. I was interviewed extensively. It was not just a quick in and out.”
Paydak recommended that Love first have an ablation at another hospital, because the lab at UAMS was being upgraded and not available. This particular type is known as pulmonary vein ablation isolation. During the procedure, the doctor inserted a thin tube with an electrode in the groin and guided it through the vein into her heart. The catheter was directed to the location in the heart that caused the arrhythmia.
Love’s AFib did not go away after the pulmonary vein ablation isolation. She was still feeling week and fatigued months later.
“Based off the things she was telling me and her quality of life, I thought we should do a second ablation procedure,” Paydak said.
“I was confident this ablation would help her symptoms and quality of life,” Maskoun said. “There was no question she needed a second procedure.”
This procedure would be much more involved. Maskoun removed the re-connections (applied during her first ablation) between her pulmonary veins and the left atrium. These re-connections, Paydak believed, were the reason for the recurrence. Maskoun then separated the superior vena cava, a large vein in the heart, from the right atrium, one of the heart’s four chambers, to help ensure a regular heartbeat.
“People underestimate what it is like,” Love said. “It’s basically the equivalent to overhauling a jet engine while it’s in flight. Your heart is beating when he does this!”
Love says the difference in her energy level and ability to breathe was like night and day. She can now walk long distances and has been back in her garden and writing classes. She and Tomlinson are hoping to plan a trip soon.
“What they did for me is incredible,” Love said. “These two gentlemen gave me my life back.”
For information on UAMS Cardiac Services, visit https://uamshealth.com/medicalservices/heart/cardiology/.
Jan. 23, 2017 | When Hot Springs musician Raymond Lovelace starting having migraine headaches in 2012, he set out to find the cause.
“It raised a red flag,” he said, adding that he hadn’t experienced migraines for several years.
After visiting his doctor in Hot Springs, he decided to seek a second opinion at UAMS. Tests revealed the cause of his migraines to be a malignant tumor in his brain. Neurosurgeon J.D. Day, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery in the UAMS College of Medicine, along with radiation oncologist Jose Penagaricano, M.D., led Lovelace through an aggressive and highly precise procedure known as Gamma Knife to treat the brain tumor. Penagaricano is a professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine.
Contrary to its name, Gamma Knife does not include any blood loss or incision. It is a noninvasive procedure offered by the UAMS Radiation Oncology Center that delivers 192 precisely focused beams of gamma radiation to small targets inside the brain. Treatments typically last 15 minutes to one hour.
“They placed a helmet on my head and slid me inside the machine. It was quick and painless. Since then, I’ve had Gamma Knife performed another three times due to the spot continuing to pop back up,” Lovelace said. UAMS is the only facility in Arkansas to offer the Gamma Knife procedure.
Unfortunately, the treatment of his brain tumor was only the beginning for Lovelace, an accomplished singer and musician who plays saxophone, guitar, harmonica and banjo. A CT scan conducted at UAMS also revealed a tumor in his lung.
“Even though my symptoms were caused by the tumor in my brain, the cancer actually started in my lungs and spread from there,” he said.
Medical oncologist Konstantinos Arnatoutakis, M.D., took over Lovelace’s treatment as he began a chemotherapy regime at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. After experiencing significant weight loss, Lovelace’s outlook improved when he was prescribed an immunotherapy drug named Opdivo. Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that either boosts a person’s immune system to fight cancer or marks cancer cells so it easier for the immune system to find and destroy them.
“I started on Opdivo in 2015 and continue to have treatments every two weeks. As long as it’s working, that will probably continue for the rest of my life,” he said.
As Arkansas’ only academic cancer center, the UAMS Cancer Institute offers therapies and treatment options unavailable elsewhere in Arkansas. This includes an average of about 80 clinical trials open to enrollment based on a patient’s specific needs and qualifications. Clinical trials not only provide patients with access to the most current treatments available, they also help determine new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer in the future.
In addition to his Gamma Knife procedure and chemotherapy, Lovelace also underwent a series of radiation treatments at the UAMS Radiation Oncology Center with radiation oncologist Penagaricano.
“When I started radiation therapy, they explained everything that would happen and how many treatments I would have. The entire staff was great and really eager to take care of me,” he said.
Although it’s been a long road, Lovelace is thankful for the life-extending care that has allowed him to get back to his life and music.
“If I hadn’t come to UAMS, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I was able to get all of these treatments in the same location with doctors who could talk to each other and share information about my condition. I would recommend UAMS to anyone,” he said.
Jan. 5, 2017 | Kathy Thomas remembers a booming noise, then, immediately questioning what caused it.
Following a Sunday church service in December 2015, Thomas and her husband spent the afternoon moving items into their new home in Oxford in north central Arkansas. Thomas was in tow with one of her husband’s handguns when the firearm fell out of its holster, hit a nearby trailer and discharged.
“It was deafening,” Thomas recalled of the gunshot. “I did not feel instant pain.”
Thomas looked down to see a gaping wound to her left elbow. The bullet entered through the back of her arm and exited the front, leaving a fist-sized hole in its wake.
“I felt the pain,” she said. “It was intense pain like I’ve never had before.”
Being a nurse, Thomas was afraid the bullet hit an artery in her arm because of the location of the wound.
“We live in rural Arkansas and are about 50 miles from the nearest hospital with trauma capabilities, so I had my husband find a tourniquet and call 911,” said Thomas. “When the ambulance arrived, I guess the nurse in me kicked in and I said, ‘I need 1,000 CCs of normal saline in the right AC as fast as you can get it.’”
Thomas was transported to White River Medical Center in Batesville, where she works as director of risk management and the hospital’s corporate compliance officer. There, she was assessed and referred to UAMS and Shahryar Ahmadi, M.D., an assistant professor in the College of Medicine and director of the Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Center at UAMS.
“There was significant damage to the soft tissue and bone in the elbow, as well as nerve damage,” said Ahmadi. “Both the end of her upper arm bone and the top of both her forearm bones were shattered.”
In the next few weeks, Ahmadi completed three preliminary procedures to clean out tissue and stabilize the area. Ahmadi reconstructed Thomas’ elbow by repairing her ligaments, forearm bones and using a donor elbow. Ahmadi used a CT scan of Thomas’ left elbow to aid him in the process.
“It was a major procedure to be able to put everything back together,” said Ahmadi. “We tried to recreate the whole elbow back to its original shape.”
Now, a year after the accident and with months of physical therapy, Thomas has almost the same function in her elbow as she did before the accident. She is still regaining function in her left hand as nerves from her elbow continue to regenerate.
“I had lots of folks say I was lucky,” said Thomas. “But I’m not lucky, that was simply a miracle. God got me through the entire process.”
Thomas said she was thankful for everyone who played a part in her journey.
“This was a team effort that started with the ambulance that picked me up, all the way to Dr. Ahmadi at UAMS knowing what to do and how to put me back together,” she said.
Dec. 27, 2016 | Spending the holiday season in the hospital can be difficult, which is why Erin Brewer was inspired to act.
Armed with a bag full of teddy bears and a box full of “Cuddle Bear” books, Brewer and her two sons, Evan, 4, and Owen, 1, visited the UAMS neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) on Tuesday to brighten the spirits of a few families.
Now a stay-at-home mom and independent consultant for Usborne Books & More, Brewer, of Little Rock, said she was motivated to donate because of friends who previously had children in the UAMS NICU. Also, Brewer and her husband, Michael, have close UAMS ties — she is a former radiology student and he graduated from the College of Pharmacy.
“I just hope this brings a little joy to these families during a difficult time,” she said.
Becky Sartini, clinic services manager of the NICU, said the entire NICU staff is thankful for continued support from the community.
“We are so appreciative of compassionate, caring individuals like Erin,” said Sartini. “Thoughtful gifts like these help remind our families they have tremendous support from kind-hearted families during the holiday season.”
The NICU at UAMS combines advanced technology with trained health care professionals to provide specialized treatment in a patient- and family-centered environment. The NICU also utilizes the ANGEL Eye program, an online system allowing family members to view babies through a secure website. The monitors also allow parents to meet with doctors and nurses face to face over video calls.
The NICU has 58 private rooms, encompassing the entire fifth floor of the UAMS Medical Center.