March 19, 2018 | In the summer of 2016, Stuttgart native Blake Pond, 36, moved back to his home state after living in Dallas for 16 years. He, his wife, Ann, with their infant daughter, Caroline, wanted to be closer to family. So Pond accepted a position as chief of staff at the UAMS Myeloma Institute.
On Oct. 5, 2017 a day before Caroline’s first birthday, Pond scheduled an appointment with Chuck Smith, M.D., at the UAMS Rahling Road clinic to establish primary care.
“I told him I’d been having some symptoms over the past couple of years,” Pond said. “I just thought to mention it. But that piece of information along with my family history concerned Dr. Smith, who recommended to get it checked out just to be on the safe side.”
Smith referred Pond to get a diagnostic colonoscopy which revealed a polyp about the size of a golf ball. He was diagnosed with invasive adenocarcinoma of the colon, the most common type of colorectal cancer.
The news came as a surprise to Pond.
“I’d been in oncology research for 10 years, so all these thoughts were going through my head. The worst part was the unknown,” he said.
Board-certified colon and rectal surgeon Conan Mustain, M.D. talked through the next steps with Pond.
“First we got a CT scan to look at his lungs and liver,” Mustain said. “Those are the two sites most common for colon cancer to spread.”
Blake’s scan came back clear. There was no evidence that the cancer had spread.
“The decision then was whether removing just the polyp was adequate treatment or if we needed to also remove part of the colon,” Mustain said.
Mustain said there were two things to consider when it came to deciding whether to remove a part of Pond’s colon: the polyp site itself and whether cancer had spread to the regional lymph nodes. For some early cancers the risk of lymph node spread is sufficiently low that complete removal by colonoscopy is considered adequate treatment. In Pond’s case pathologists had not been able to confirm if the base of the polyp’s stalk (a piece of tissue that attaches the polyp to the intestinal wall) was completely clear of cancer. Additionally, some enlarged lymph nodes were visible on his CT. Given his young age, uncertainly about these nodes could mean years of costly surveillance and worry. Pond and Mustain ultimately decided they’d remove part of the colon and the lymph nodes.
The surgery was scheduled for Oct. 30. Mustain laparoscopically removed 10 inches of Pond’s colon containing the polyp site and 16 regional lymph nodes. The minimally invasive approach included three small incisions around the abdomen. Mustain says doing the procedure this way leads to less pain, lower narcotic use and a faster return to normal bowel function after surgery. Pond was discharged from the hospital after two days and back to work in two weeks.
“I’m grateful for the whole health care team at UAMS,” Pond said. “From Dr. Smith for having the wherewithal to refer me for a colonoscopy to my follow-ups after surgery. I really think this is a good example of the system working. My original primary care appointment was Oct. 5. By Nov. 5, I was back on my feet and on the road to the recovery.”
Pond went on a ski trip in January and performed at a level he would have prior to his diagnosis and surgery.
“No one is eager to get a colonoscopy,” Pond said. “But you have to know your body and if there are any symptoms, don’t wait to get it checked out.”
Mustain says colon cancer screening should begin at age 50 for most people. Those tests should come sooner if a patient shows symptoms or has a parent, sibling or child who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
March 12, 2018 | Trenton Williams, 24, a graduate of Lamar High School in 2006, had big, blue eyes and a warm smile. His mother, Jeri’ Williams, remembers him being trustworthy and loyal.
The youngest of four siblings, he was a smart and meticulous planner who worked hard, she said. He was successful at his job at XTO Energy; he bought a house when he was 18. By 24, he had built a new one with his own hands in Hagarville, a community in Johnson County.
Trenton Williams had been living there for nine months when he went to a pool party Aug. 11, 2012.
Jeri’ Williams was in Tulsa that day visiting grandchildren and preparing for a trip to the zoo. A phone call from Arkansas had just enough details for her to immediately change plans and head back home.
“They said there had been an accident and that they were doing CPR on Trenton. That’s all they told us.”
Williams later learned that Trenton had been thrown into the pool head first and had a severe neck injury. When she arrived at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, doctors told her to prepare herself. There was not a lot they could do. A scan showed there was no brain activity.
“I wasn’t willing to accept that first scan,” she said. “Of course, as a mother, you’re never going to accept something that horrible until you know for sure there is no other option.”
A second scan revealed the same results: no brain activity.
A representative from Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency (ARORA) met with Williams in the hospital and showed an enlarged copy of her son’s driver’s license. He had signed up to be an organ donor. It’s not something they’d ever talked about together.
“I know Trenton. He was the kind of person who made decisions based off every piece of information he could get,” Williams said. “He didn’t haphazardly decided to be an organ donor. I knew that if he’d signed up for that, it was truly his wishes.”
For the next several hours, Williams’ family said their goodbyes to Trenton and prayed for the recipients of his organs.
“I prayed they’d be grateful, that they’d realize they were getting a special gift from an amazing person,” Williams said. “I knew whoever received his organs were also hoping for a miracle just as we were.”
Williams left the hospital knowing three people had received organs from her son. One received his liver and a kidney, another his heart, and a third received his other kidney.
Ken Howard has been in law enforcement for more than 40 years. He’s now the Cedarville Police Chief. When he’s not working, he’s spending time with his wife, Linda, playing with his five grandchildren or sharpening his photography skills.
In 2009, the normally healthy Crawford County man says he hadn’t been feeling well for a while. An MRI showed him to have a liver disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and cancer on his kidney.
“They told me I would need a liver and kidney transplant. But I couldn’t be put on a waiting list until I’d been cancer free for a while,” Howard said.
After his cancer was successfully treated, Howard got on the list in May 2012. He received a call three months later.
When Trenton Williams’ family decided to donate his organs, the transplant team at UAMS got to work.
Joy Cope, UAMS Director of Transplant Services, says a large, multidisplinary team is necessary to make sure everything runs smoothly. Social workers, dieticians, pharmacists, psychiatrists, physicians and nurses all come together to communicate as one.
“We do everything we can to make sure the gift we’re given is received, honored and cared for in the best possible way,” Cope said.
Howard felt compelled to write a letter to his donor’s family. For Jeri’ Williams, that letter couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We had been going through the motions, trying to get ready and live life without Trenton,” Williams said. “The day I went back to work was particularly bad. I woke up crying. I cried all the way to the post office. Inside the box was a letter from ARORA.”
Howard had written about his family and how grateful he was to be able to spend more time with his two children and grandchildren.
“That was exactly what I’d prayed for. I feel like that letter put us on the path to healing.”
The families met and have been close friends ever since. Williams says it bring her joy to watch him live.
“We’re grateful that he’s enjoying his life to the fullest.”
“I cannot say enough about this family,” Howard said. “They have become an extended family to us.”
In 2017, the families were a part of the Donate Life Float in the Rose Bowl Parade. Howard was on the float as a recipient. Trenton Williams was one of 60 donors who had a featured floragraph, a portrait made of flowers, seeds and floral materials.
Cope says she hopes stories like Howard’s will make more people consider the impact of organ donation. There were 109 transplants in 2017, about 53 percent of those eligible.
“We get to see people like Mr. Howard every day,” Cope said. “It’s amazing to watch how much a new organ can change a life. We take the sickest people and get to make them better. There aren’t a lot of people who get to say they do that every day.”
Since her son’s death, Williams has become an advocate for organ donation. She developed an organization called Trenton’s Legacy.
“Through this organization, we have been able to help other people. Trenton’s Legacy steps in to help grieving families in a number of ways,” Williams said. “Even in our brokenness, we have been able to make other lives whole again. What more could you leave for someone? We don’t have Trenton, but his legacy will always be here.”
March 6, 2018 | Completing the Little Rock Half Marathon is more than an athletic feat for Nikhil Meena, M.D.; it is a symbolic gesture as well. For the second year in a row, the UAMS interventional pulmonologist wore two numbers on the 13.1-mile course: one for himself and one in memory of a patient.
“I want to let the families of my patients know that even though they are gone, they are not forgotten,” said Meena, assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine.
This year, Meena ran the March 4 race in memory of Grover West III, a lung cancer patient who died Nov. 20, 2016. Meena was part of the lung cancer team that treated West at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and remembers him as an upbeat person who always greeted him with a smile. “He knew he was very sick, but he had such a good spirit,” Meena said.
West’s wife, Peggy, said her husband and Meena hit it off immediately and developed a special bond. Because of their relationship, it does not surprise her that Meena would honor West in this way.
“Dr. Meena is a special doctor and a sweet person. He and Grover had a strong connection, so I think it’s very touching that he wants to run this half marathon for him,” said West, who served as an advanced practice registered nurse in the UAMS Myeloma Institute before her retirement three years ago.
Meena’s tradition of honoring his patients began with the 2017 Little Rock Half Marathon, which he ran in memory of former UAMS employee Joe Cook. He has since run the Soaring Wings Half Marathon in Conway and said he is “officially a runner now,” thanks in part to his desire to honor the memory of his patients. “I would run for all of them if I could,” he said.
March 1, 2018 | Beth Jacks, 56, of Lonoke was excited to begin her new job at UAMS in May 2017 as executive assistant to Maurice Rigsby, vice chancellor for Institutional Relations. But when she accepted the offer, she had no idea she would soon need UAMS for more than a job.
Jacks was previously an assistant to the director of the Administrative Offices of the Courts for three years where she supported state courts on behalf of the Arkansas Supreme Court. When her boss retired last year, she decided to look for a new job. Her background with the court system, legislators and elected officials made her a good fit for her position at UAMS.
Several months earlier, in September 2016, she and her husband were camping when Jacks began having severe diarrhea. It was her only symptom but left her weak. She began losing weight and saw numerous physicians, trying to determine what was wrong.
“I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and told I was going to have to figure out what I could eat,” said Jacks.
But in September 2017, she noticed her legs were swollen and went to her primary care doctor who ran blood tests.
“I had a biopsy on my kidneys and a week later they told me I had a form of amyloidosis called Amyloid Light Chain,” Jacks said of the disease that usually affects people between the ages of 50 and 80 and is more common in males than in females.
Amyloidosis occurs when plasma cells in the bone marrow overproduce an abnormal protein called amyloid. It can build up in any tissue or organ, including the kidneys, heart, liver or spleen and can be fatal.
Jacks was referred to the UAMS Myeloma Institute where the myeloma specialists also treat amyloidosis. “My doctor knew this was the best place for me to be.”
However, her insurance provider through her husband’s employer didn’t include UAMS, and Jacks was going to have to go out of state for treatment. Fortunately, UAMS worked with the insurance company to get medical tests and her first treatments covered until she could switch in January 2018 to the UAMS employee insurance provider, which of course covered the Myeloma Institute.
She was grateful that while facing this serious disease requiring months of treatment that she didn’t also need to contend with driving hundreds of miles or having to take leave from her job.
Jacks prepared herself to begin to learn more about the rare disease.
“Here I was about to go through three days of tests that I had no idea of what it was and I had no idea of what to expect,” Jacks said.
“Fortunately, I got to see the rock star of the myeloma world – Dr. Morgan,” she said, referring to Gareth Morgan, director of the institute. “I knew he was the guy that I needed to see.”
In October, Jacks began a chemotherapy regimen of Velcade, Revlimid and dexamethasone on a cycle of three weeks on and one week off. During the weeks of her treatment, she is able to go on her Friday lunch hours in the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, just a short walk from her office.
“I’m usually in and out in 30 to 45 minutes,” she said. “Working here gives me that advantage.”
“My boss has been great about my health. If I’m not feeling good and need to go home, he says ‘Just take care of yourself.’ Everyone in the office has pitched in to help anytime I have not been able to be here.”
Before she became sick, Jacks and her husband Kerry, a machinist with Union Pacific Railroad, were enjoying their new phase of life as empty nesters after their daughter Kara, 27, recently moved out and their son, Preston, 21, was away at college.
“We have great friends we’d play cards with or have dinner with and we’d go camping every weekend,” Jacks said. “But that type of life has just kind of stopped. I have a hard time getting out much because of the diarrhea and I try to save my energy for work. I’m so ready to have a life again.”
Jacks is almost finished with this stage of her treatment and will meet with Morgan to restage and plan the next step, probably a stem cell transplant.
Jacks earlier had the chance to meet a fellow patient with amyloidosis at the UAMS Myeloma Institute who also experienced colon and renal problems with her disease and had a stem cell transplant.
“She is doing well now. She told me, ‘It wasn’t a walk in the park but I wouldn’t do anything differently.’”
Jacks takes comfort in knowing she is being treated where the latest treatment and research is taking place.
“I don’t believe anywhere else offers this quality of care from such a compassionate staff,” she said. “Every one of the people I’ve encountered have been so helpful and caring, and explained everything to me. Even though they deal with this daily, they have not lost that compassion.”
“I believe that Dr. Faith Davies and Dr. Gareth Morgan will discover a cure for this,” Jacks said of her disease, adding that she knows there are new medicines coming out soon to treat it. “They won’t be out soon enough to keep me from a stem cell transplant but that’s OK.”
And she’s prepared to lose her hair during treatment.
“I know it will come back,” she added, chuckling. “If that’s the worst thing that happens to me, then I’m good.”
Jacks has complete confidence in her physician and in the timing of the diagnosis of her disease.
“If Dr. Morgan says ‘You’re going to be OK,’ which he has told me, then I believe him,” Jacks said. “I feel very fortunate and believe it was God’s will that I come here. This is where I should be.”
Feb. 23, 2018 | UAMS breast cancer survivors were celebrated Feb. 22 as they joined the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) men’s and women’s basketball teams at their annual Pink Night.
Seven breast cancer survivors treated at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, along with hematologist oncologist Issam Makhoul, M.D., were introduced to the crowd and joined the Little Rock Trojans on the court for the national anthem prior to both games against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
Kathy Hall, a graduate of both UALR and the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law, was happy to be part of the event.
“Attending two UALR basketball games and showing off what survivorship looks like was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” she said.
Hall was first diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2007 and again in March 2009. Although the cancer has spread throughout her body, she is thankful for the care she continues to receive at UAMS.
“Dr. Makhoul is the reason I’m still here today. I am so grateful to him,” Hall said.
Donning a pink necktie in honor of his patients, Makhoul shared hugs and words of encouragement with each of his patients before the games started.
“These women are the embodiment of courage and the love of life. They have been through so much, but they have never lost their poise or spirit,” said Makhoul, professor and director of the Division of Medical Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine.
Three-year survivor Karen Thomas came to UAMS for a second opinion after being diagnosed with breast cancer at another hospital.
“My team of doctors at UAMS was amazing and completely focused on what I needed. It was night and day from what I previously experienced,” she said.
Each of the women were accompanied at the game by a family member or friend who offered them support during their diagnosis and treatment.
“It’s important to remember that each survivor had a husband, a parent or a friend who helped her all along. Nobody can go through this journey alone,” said Makhoul.
Additional survivors recognized at the games were Katherine Creasey, Agalia Baker, Michelle Nabholz, Suzanne Gatewood and Cindy Lewis.
Feb. 12, 2018 | Time seemed to have run out for Larry Guthrie, 49, on April 27, 2017.
But the statewide tele-stroke network and quick-responding emergency medical professionals in Bald Knob and Searcy all saved him precious time in stroke treatment and ensured that the saved time meant a saved life.
The tele-stroke network, the Arkansas Stroke Assistance through Virtual Emergency Support (AR SAVES), uses a high-speed video communications system to help provide immediate, life-saving treatments to stroke patients 24 hours a day. The real-time video communication enables a stroke neurologist to evaluate whether emergency room physicians should use a powerful blood-clot dissolving agent within the critical four-and-a-half-hour period following the first signs of stroke. That’s what it did for Guthrie, too.
April 27 started out like any other for Guthrie. After finishing his lunch at home that day, he returned at 1 p.m. to work at his job as street superintendent for the city of Bald Knob. It was the last time for some time that he would remember feeling well. Minutes later, he lost his ability to speak, and co-workers called an ambulance and his daughter, Kayla Webb.
“I didn’t recognize the symptoms at first because I didn’t lose functions in my arms and legs,” Guthrie said later. “I was still walking and could move my arms. I lost my speech. I could not talk.”
Northstar EMS paramedic Jason Pugh and EMT Tim Wisinger on seeing Guthrie in his work place immediately suspected his loss of speech was due to a stroke. They called ahead to the Unity Health – White County Medical Center in Searcy so the Emergency Department there would be ready to treat him when they arrived.
- 1:20 p.m. — Pugh and Wisinger arrived at Unity with Guthrie, and Guthrie immediately received a CT scan. That scan revealed a blood clot on his brain stem in the basal artery. The brain stem controls vital functions like breathing. Unity Health nurse Deonna Wisler and Guthrie consulted via the AR SAVES live video network with Benedict Tan, M.D., a stroke and neurocritical care specialist with AR SAVES at UAMS.
- 1:40 p.m. — A clot-busting medication, alteplase, was given to Guthrie under Tan’s direction.
- 2:20 p.m. — Guthrie arrived by helicopter air ambulance at UAMS Medical Center and was transferred to surgery.
- 2:25 p.m. — Guthrie started to experience difficulty breathing, and UAMS physicians inserted a tube into his trachea so a ventilator machine could breathe for him.
- 2:46 p.m. — Sertac Akdol, M.D., a UAMS interventional radiologist, began surgery to remove the clot.
- 3:11 p.m. — Akdol extracted the clot.
- 3:18 p.m. — Blood flow was restored to Guthrie’s brain stem, and he was moved to a room in the medical center’s intensive care unit.
Within a day after treatment, Guthrie had recovered most of his motor functions and his breathing tube was removed. He was discharged from UAMS Medical Center four days later.
“The expectancy with basal artery occlusion and stroke is slim to none,” Akdol said. “You expect them to pass away following one. There’s almost no hope in this type of situation. His survival was due to the quick action, and I can tell you the gears were well oiled.”
Both Akdol and Tan credited the AR SAVES network and the speed with which all members of the care team responded, from Northstar to Unity Health Hospital to UAMS.
“In this case the credit goes to a combination of the patient’s family, rapid response, AR SAVES, Unity Health Hospital and UAMS,” Tan said. “If one of those links was missing, he probably wouldn’t have survived. AR SAVES played a crucial role in responding to him in Searcy and transferring him to UAMS in the fastest possible way.”
By May 2017, Guthrie returned to work and has since experienced no symptoms. He said he is now more diligent about taking his blood pressure medication and monitoring his diabetes.
In addition to Tan and Akdol and the personnel at Unity, Guthrie said Northstar ambulance personnel also were key to his timely treatment.
“Those guys never get noticed for what they do,” Guthrie said. “I’ve been there and worked as a volunteer in an ambulance service and was a volunteer firefighter for 30 years. I know what they go through.”
On Nov. 14 accompanied by his wife, Anita and daughter, Guthrie reunited in the trauma room of the White County Medical Center with Pugh, Wissinger, Wisler and other staff at the Searcy hospital. Tan and Akdol spoke to him through an AR SAVES video connection.
Both Tan and Akdol complimented him on his recovery and his return to an active life. Near the end of their conversation, Tan asked him if he was taking his medication.
After Guthrie confirmed that he was, Tan said with a smile, “Good, because I don’t want to see you again … not on an AR SAVES monitor. We’ll see you outside, not in an ICU, not in an Emergency Room.”
“I don’t want to be there either,” Guthrie said as everyone laughed.