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Grateful Patients Share Their Stories

Every day we receive letters, emails, and calls from patients and their family members telling us about their experiences wanting to "say thank you." With their permission, we are honored to be able to share some of these wonderful, heartwarming patient stories with you.

Grateful Patient Stories

Lacks Story: No Slowing Down

Pulmonary Story: Center Stage

Saint Mary's HealthLink Story: Changing Her Family's Destiny

Neuroscience Story: "I Can See"

Birthing Center Story: Friends From Birth?

To submit a story, please email Courtney Wakefield at

Lacks Story: No Slowing Down

The ovarian cancer awareness motto: "It whispers, so listen," rings especially true for Sally Hitsman, patient of the Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center. With 14 grandchildren, a routine of walking ten miles a day and her twice-a-week volunteerism at the Ronald McDonald House, ovarian cancer would have had to yell at Hitsman to get her attention.

Leading an active life, she had disregarded her symptoms as "simply being a woman and getting older," until a minor surgery revealed that she had ovarian cancer.

Even the diagnosis of ovarian cancer in January 2005 did not slow her down. As Hitsman immediately began her chemotherapy treatments and Kevin Brader, MD, surgical oncologist, performed surgery six weeks later to remove the cancer, she discovered the renewed strengths in her life.

"I follow the practice of the three ‘Fs:' Family, Friends and Faith. Without these, my treatment and outcomes would have been very different."

While undergoing chemotherapy, Hitsman frequented The Personal Care Area at the Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center. "I bought my wig there, and they showed me how to reapply my eyebrows with make-up, which chemo took from me." Hitsman found especial joy in the health care providers at the Lacks Cancer Center. "I just love Dr. Brader, who sits and explains everything to my family and me," she says. "Michelle Weller, my nurse every time I came for treatment, is simply wonderful. I feel like I've known her my whole life. She is one of my best friends."

The cancer shows no signs of coming back, but Hitsman still takes it one day at a time. She comes to the center every few months for blood work and check-ups. "The people here are amazing. I can't imagine having gone anywhere else for my treatment."

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Pulmonary Story: Center Stage

Not long ago, simply walking a block down the street was unthinkable for Bob Gray. A victim of congestive heart failure and asthma, Gray could hardly breathe. Panic permeated his body whenever he became short of breath. His life had come to a standstill.

Compare this to his life eight months later, when Gray was center stage as the lead in a local production of Tuesdays With Morrie. What is the story behind this transformation?

In September 2007, Gray was prescribed a visit to Mercy Health Saint Mary's Pulmonary Rehabilitation. He began training with MaryAnn Masterton, RN, who works with people whose lungs operate at less than 65 percent "normal" capacity.

Masterton's exuberance and dedication to wellness created a sense of empowerment for Gray.

"My mind and attitude got better after my circulation improved. I no longer felt depressed," recalls Gray. This self-empowerment drove him to work even harder to alleviate his symptoms.

For Gray and others in Pulmonary Rehabilitation, working toward wellness is no easy task. Many must use oxygen tanks during their "rehab" sessions and stop to take breaks when needed. Gray worked hard to improve his breathing.

After completing the initial pulmonary sessions, Gray advanced to maintenance classes at Mercy Health Saint Mary's. His health improved so much that by the summer of 2008, he auditioned and was cast as the lead for Tuesdays With Morrie. As the play is largely a monologue, Gray relied on his recently achieved stamina and voice projection for the part.

"I'm so deeply indebted to this program and especially to MaryAnn," says Gray. "We performed 14 shows in three weeks. This was an intense experience; something that I never could have done without Saint Mary's."

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Saint Mary's HealthLink Story: Changing Her Family's Destiny

Having worked at Mercy Health Saint Mary's HealthLink, Sparta Family Health Center for more than ten years, Cynthia Jaimes, CLC (Certified Lactation Consultant), relates well to the people she serves. Many of her patients are members of the migrant community, and her fluency in Spanish helps her relationship with patients, but not nearly as much as the fact that she used to be a migrant worker.

"My family and I lived in the Sparta area during the summer and in Florida during the winter," explains Jaimes.

Fourteen years ago, Jaimes started working as a lay health worker within the migrant community, where she received stipends to further her education.

"They trained me to talk to people about diabetes, prenatal and infant care," she states. "As migrant workers, my family struggled. We never had a place to live when we came back to Michigan."

Jaimes received her first job offer when the Sparta Family Health Center had an opening with the WIC program. By accepting this job, Jaimes changed her family's destiny.

"It's such a transition from being on Medicaid to having insurance. You never really know how hard the migrant life is until you have been there. We took baby steps to get where we are today."

Now she works as a business office representative for Sparta. She is proud of her son who currently attends college, a feat that she largely attributes to their staying in one location year round.

Jaimes loves Mercy Health because of its high quality care for all. "I'm so grateful that I have the opportunity to do what I believe in every day. Now I help others who are in the same situation I used to be."

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Neuroscience Story: "I Can See"

"It's wonderful to have such high-quality specialists in Grand Rapids, and the way Mercy Health Saint Mary's took care of us was amazing," states Judy Key, mother of a recent Mercy Health Saint Mary's patient.

The Key family's story with Mercy Health begins around the first of October 2008, when son, Brian, a senior at Covenant Christian High School, started losing vision in his left eye. Within days, his right eye's vision deteriorated rapidly. A thorough eye exam by his ophthalmologist indicated nothing wrong with his eyes, but a vision field test revealed something behind his eye was obstructing his vision.

"We had no idea what we were facing," recalls Judy. "All we knew was that our son was rapidly losing his vision, and we were running out of time."

Brian saw glaucoma and retinal specialists before seeing his primary care physician, Brian Decker, MD, from Mercy Health Physician Partners, on Monday, November 3, to have an MRI ordered. Decker ordered it for the early hours of November 5 and referred the family to Christopher Glisson, DO, MS, neuro-ophthalmologist at the Mercy Health Hauenstein Neuroscience Center. Although Glisson had no openings until February, an unlikely cancellation provided Brian an appointment for Wednesday morning, November 5.

After reviewing Brian's MRI on November 5, Glisson quickly summoned Jürgen Lüders, MD, neurosurgeon, who miraculously had an opening that afternoon. "These are specialists and sub-specialists; you don't just walk into their offices, but that's exactly what we did," marvels Judy.

Lüders confirmed the family's fears: Brian had a fast-growing tumor on his pituitary gland, causing his blindness. The tumor's diameter was already three centimeters, the size of a half dollar. "They saw the great urgency of Brian's situation and recommended surgery for Brian the very next morning," says Judy.

On November 6, Lüders and Thomas Spooner, MD, otolaryngologist, removed the tumor on Brian's pituitary gland by going through his nasal cavity.

"I can see," said Brian when he awoke after surgery. With his vision back, he went home from the hospital that Monday, November 10, just a week after his MRI was ordered.

"The collaboration of the Mercy Health Hauenstein Neuroscience Center gave Brian a diagnosis and treatment within a couple days," states Judy. "They worked so diligently and quickly to give Brian his vision back."

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Birthing Center Story: Friends From Birth?

What sparks a true friendship? Anything can strike up an acquaintanceship, but Julie Veenstra and Staci Lamsma, BSN, became wholehearted friends through a remarkable ongoing patient experience at Mercy Health Saint Mary's.

A mother of two, Veenstra came to Saint Mary's for both deliveries. She gave birth to her older daughter, Lucy, in November 2003, during which Lamsma was present as a nurse. Her younger daughter, Mallory, was born two and a half years later.

Both Veenstra's daughters were born prematurely, requiring each of them to stay in Saint Mary's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for several weeks.

"Mercy Health Saint Mary's NICU is really intimate and friendly, and the staff provided excellent care for our babies," says Veenstra. "They supported us and taught us so much."

Lamsma, who has worked in Mercy Health Saint Mary's NICU since 1999, was the primary care nurse for Lucy and took expert care of the entire family during each baby's stay. Lamsma states: "We try to incorporate families into their baby's care as much as possible, and Julie touched me by saying, ‘You never make me feel like I'm visiting my own child.'"

"Staci was a great friend, which meant the world to me as a mother whose baby couldn't come home right away," says Veenstra.

Veenstra was so satisfied with Mercy Health Saint Mary's that she recommended the hospital to her pregnant sister. Her sister gave birth to twins who needed to stay in the NICU, and Lamsma was assigned as their primary care nurse. Lamsma and Veenstra were reunited once again in the NICU and developed an even closer bond.

"You don't expect to go to the hospital and make a best friend," laughs Veenstra. "We schedule playdates for our kids and e-mail each other pictures of their crazy escapades."

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