You Can 'Expect the Best' from Lakeland HealthCare
Our promise to our patients, visitors, and community members.
No Time to Spare
Feeling tired with no energy, a persistent cough brought Bill Cox, 66, to a routine appointment with his family doctor. He never imagined that Benjamin Stockton, MD, would find a tumor and need to remove one of his kidneys. Read Bill's story.
Trust Your Instincts
Kim Wasserman's instincts told her to turn her car around – she thought she saw someone lying face down in the garage of a house. She found an elderly woman bleeding profusely. Kim’s concern for the woman’s SAFETY led to swift action that may have saved her life. Read Kim's story.
Lakeland as Good as the Best
Lew Burchard, 70, has been to Mayo Clinic. It’s generally regarded as one of the best health systems in the nation. His wife, Lynnette, was treated there in 2004, and they left impressed.
When Lew was rushed to the Emergency Department at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph in July 2011, he wasn’t sure what to expect. He never imagined that the care could compare to the renowned Mayo Clinic. So much for expectations.
Lew had just finished 27 holes of golf and noticed he had a headache. He decided to head home and rest, but the symptoms persisted.
“I rarely get headaches,” said Lew, a resident of Stevensville. “After 30 minutes, the pain grew so intense that I became physically ill. Lynnette told me that we were going to the emergency room.”
By the time they arrived, Lew could barely stand. He stumbled from the car, dizzy with pain. That’s when a Lakeland associate rushed to his aid with a wheel chair and hurried him inside. The eventual diagnosis came from Lew’s family physician, Matthew Campbell, MD.
Lew needed emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma. This occurs when blood collects outside of the brain following a hemorrhage. Dennis Szymanski, MD, performed the surgery, removing a four-by-six inch section of Lew’s skull to stop the bleeding. Four devices were placed in the area that was removed to hold his skull in place.
“The effects of a subdural hematoma are similar to those of a stroke,” Lew said. “My right side was extremely weak, and I was wheelchair bound after surgery.”
To regain the ability to walk and speak, Lew spent the next two weeks working with Lakeland Rehabilitation Services.
“Dr. Szymanski did a wonderful job coordinating my care with Dr. Campbell and made sure that Lynnette was aware of everything that was taking place,” Lew said. “The staff was marvelous. They worked together as a Team and were extremely caring. I experienced care at Lakeland every bit as good as the care my wife received at Mayo Clinic.”
Today, Lew is feeling great. He’s playing golf again and enjoying time with his family.
“I will forever be indebted to the excellent care that I received at Lakeland,” Lew said. “What a truly outstanding group of people!”
Leaving Pain in the Dust
Jason Griffiths of Berrien Springs enjoys living life to the fullest. Whether he’s mountain biking, jet skiing, or coaching his daughter’s softball team, it’s clear he’s not interested in sitting on the sidelines.
In the spring of 2013, at age 40, Jason wasn’t willing to let a degenerative spinal disc condition take him out of the game for good. He was ready to get rid of the back pain, numbness in his leg, and an inability to sleep, symptoms that physical rehabilitation, stretches, cortisone injections, and pain medications were not helping.
In May 2013, he underwent a third microdiscectomy to ease the pain of a bulging disc in his lower back. He again chose Christian Sikorski, MD, FAANS, FACS, Neurosurgeon at Lakeland Neurosurgery in St. Joseph, to perform the minimally invasive surgery. Dr. Sikorski had also performed Jason’s first spinal surgery in 2004.
Jason learned about Dr. Sikorski through friends and Ronald Baker, MD, his primary care provider at Southwestern Medical Clinic in Stevensville. Dr. Baker referred Jason to Dr. Sikorski. Until then, he had never had a surgery of any kind before.
“I was apprehensive,” Jason said. “But the office visit with Dr. Sikorski – seeing his attitude and professionalism – put me at ease.”
Jason also appreciated the coordination and compassion of Dr. Sikorski’s team during his care, especially Renee Shafran, Practice Coordinator, and Amy Gibson, RN, Senior Specialty Practice Nurse. “They understand what kind of pain you’re in, and they’re very accommodating,” Jason said. “They connect with you on a personal level, above and beyond a professional level. They know me.”
After his first surgery, Jason said he walked out of the hospital and was back to work in two weeks. He also walked out of the hospital pain-free after his most recent surgery by Dr. Sikorski – and has kept going ever since. “I was pitching at my daughter’s softball practice the next day,” Jason said. “A week after my surgery, I went for a 22-mile bike ride. But I took it easy – I knew my limitations.”
Jason admitted that even Dr. Sikorski has told him to “tone it down a little” when it comes to his very active lifestyle.
“Dr. Sikorski tells you like it is – he connects with you and talks to you like you’re more than a patient,” Jason said. “You can tell it’s more than a job for him. He cares about what he’s doing. He understands he’s making a diff erence in a lot of people’s lives.”
Innovative Surgery Helps Octogenarian Resume His Busy Life
Robert Barnes, 80, is often considered the busiest man in his Buchanan neighborhood. He helps his elderly neighbors with their trash, gardening, and anything else that they need. Earlier this year, however, he was unable to lift or move much, let alone walk.
In February, Robert slipped on some ice as he was walking to his car after a day of helping renovate his granddaughter’s home.
“I was done for the evening and was ready to go home. It was icy and I fell right on my back,” said Robert. His son-in-law, who was inside, saw his fall and helped him up and into his car. Robert thought he would be alright and drove the several blocks to his home.
“I figured I had pulled a muscle,” explained Robert. His pain became worse and, according to Robert, on a scale of one to 10, it was a 12. Unable to sleep in his own bed, he sat in his chair with a heating pad, which provided little relief.
Several days later he went to his family physician in Buchanan who diagnosed Robert with a broken back and several broken ribs. His doctor referred him to the Interventional Radiology Clinic at Lakeland HealthCare in St. Joseph.
A CAT scan revealed that Robert had a compression fracture in his lower spine. Because of the fracture, a disc had collapsed.
According to Joel VanderLugt, MD, Interventional Radiologist at Lakeland HealthCare, “Compression fractures in the spine can cause pain in the middle or lower back, lack of mobility, and -- if left untreated -- a curving of the spine that causes a loss of height.”
Dr. VanderLugt performed a balloon kyphoplasty on Robert at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph. During a kyphoplasty, the doctor uses real-time imaging to guide a hollow needle into the collapsed vertebra. A device similar to a balloon is inserted into the vertebra and can restore some of the height loss. Special bone cement is used to fill the vertebral cavity, preserving the improved vertebral body shape and height.
“The whole thing lasted less than an hour,” said Robert. “My pain went from a 12 to a two. I couldn’t believe the difference. The procedure itself was miraculous. Everyone at Lakeland was wonderful. They were concerned about my comfort and talked to me as a person, not a number.”
After his kyphoplasty, Robert was able to sleep in his own bed. Four days later he was able to walk a lot easier. Today, Robert is pain-free.
“I cannot thank the staff at Lakeland HealthCare enough,” said Robert. “They were able to give me my life back through the surgery. I am amazed at how quickly I’ve recovered. It’s as if my fall never happened.”
A Moving Story of Compassion
Associates Doing More than just Saving Lives
Everything felt off balance. Nikki Jones, 60, couldn’t see straight or think clearly.
“I felt dizzy and completely off,” Nikki said. “I had just woken up, and I knew something was terribly wrong. I went to the hospital right away.”
Nikki had spent the night before packing and preparing to move from her apartment in Niles to a new place in Dowagiac. She was exhausted by the time she laid down. If it had just been a little stiffness and grogginess, she might have chalked it up to the packing. This was much more serious.
“The doctors told me I’d had another stroke,” Nikki said.
That was in July 2012. Just three months earlier, Nikki had suffered her first stroke. She walked out of the hospital under her own power eight days later. This time would be different.
“I was paralyzed and had to learn how to use my hands and feet again,” Nikki said. “I did my rehab at Lakeland Community Hospital, Watervliet, and it was three weeks this time before I could go home.”
That presented a bit of a dilemma for Nikki. She needed to move out of her apartment and time was running out. If she didn’t move soon, she’d be stuck with having to pay rent at two places – a cost she couldn’t afford.
“I was getting really worried and had no one to help me,” Nikki said. “That was before I went and talked to Alyssa Judkins. She told me that she’d see if there was something she could do to help.”
Alyssa had an idea and sprang into action.
“Nikki was usually so positive and upbeat,” said Alyssa, Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant on the Acute Rehab Unit at LCHW. “When I saw her that day, I asked her what was wrong and she just started crying. She told me about the situation, and I knew I had to help.”
Alyssa spread the word and rounded up a volunteer moving crew. This included Kenny Ashley, Maintenance Mechanic; Marc Clauser, Manager of Facilities Construction; and Cindy Forrester, Physical Therapist.
“I cried when they came,” Nikki said. “My heart just melted. I couldn’t believe they actually cared that much.”
After they arrived, Kenny and Marc worked on loading the truck and headed off to Nikki’s new place. Meanwhile, Alyssa and Cindy finished packing the rest of her things. They stayed the entire day and moved everything.
“I’ve never been in a hospital where the staff cares so much,” Nikki said. “They are dedicated to their jobs and their patients and have found their true callings. I TRUST them without question, and I recommend Lakeland Community Hospital, Watervliet to everyone.”
It's a Family Affair: Three Siblings Have Knee Replacement Surgery at Lakeland HealthCare
It may run in the family, or that is how it appears with siblings Linda Fites, Dave Knuth, and Paul Knuth. All three had knee replacements at Lakeland HealthCare within about a year of each other, performed by board-certified orthopedic surgeons from Southwest Michigan Center for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.
Linda and Paul, both of St. Joseph, had knee replacements by orthopedic surgeon Kenneth Edwards, MD. The pain in Linda’s knee started interfering with her daily routine and it even started giving out. Following diagnostic imaging, Dr. Edwards suggested that she undergo a replacement.
“It was never even a consideration to seek care in another hospital because I know that we have very capable physicians and staff in our Lakeland system to provide the very best treatment and care possible,” Linda said.
“It is important to have friends and family close during the surgery and recovery, and when you have the very best right here there is no need to look further.”
Today, Linda is pain free and not worried that her knee will give out while playing with any of her 12 grandchildren.
Paul, Linda’s younger brother, had suffered from knee problems most of his life. As a child, his left knee was crooked, and it worsened over time. As a young athlete, Paul learned to live with the pain and overcompensated, which caused his tendons to stretch.
“I knew I needed to address this issue,” said Paul. “It was time for me to get my knees fixed. The pain was so intense that it took my breath away just to drive.” Dr. Edwards performed a bilateral – or double – knee replacement on Paul.
“Having both knees repaired after a lifetime of pain was a life-changing experience,.” Paul said. “I wish I had done this 10 years ago. I am walking with a normal set of legs and also added two inches to my height!”
Brother Dave had both of his knees replaced by Daniel Sohn, MD. Dave, a Stevensville resident and a service technician, had felt a dull ache in his knees for the last 15 years. He had a hard time standing all day at work and even struggled to get in and out of his truck.
Since his surgeries, Dave is able to go up and down stairs without any pain. Like Linda and Paul, Dave’s quality of life is much better and he is able to be more active.
“I was so pleased by the care and treatment that I received,” said Dave. “The entire staff at Lakeland was terrific. I was up and walking within days after each surgery.”
In a Child’s Imagination
Annabelle Holt is only four years old, but she likes to pretend that she’s a nurse. That might seem unremarkable, but it wasn’t always this way. Everything changed after she met Valarie White, RN.
Like most children, Annabelle detested trips to the hospital. It usually involved needles and “yucky” medicine. Her mother, Nicolina, or Nicky for short, could relate, but she suspected a trip might be inevitable when Annabelle developed respiratory troubles.
That was confirmed after a visit to pediatrician David Driscoll, MD.
“Dr. Driscoll is great,” said Nicky, 37, who lives in St. Joseph. “He said that Annabelle needed to go to the hospital and called for direct admission.”
Nicky and Annabelle quickly made the trip to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph. After completing some tests, she was diagnosed with pneumonitis (noo-moe-NIE-tis). It’s a frightening condition caused by inflammation of the lung tissue. This leads to breathing difficulties and often coughing. It’s the 15th leading cause of death in the United States.
Annabelle’s oxygen levels in her body were dangerously low. She would have to stay at the hospital. She needed respiratory treatments and, worse still for her, an intravenous line (IV).
“She was scared, and sometimes children have to be immobilized for their safety when they get an IV,” Nicky said.
“Annabelle wanted to sit in my lap. Valarie came in and was as sweet as could be. She let Annabelle sit in my lap and immediately put her at ease. She didn’t even flinch when they put in the IV.”
Things were going great until she noticed the bed.
“It was a big metal crib with a cover over it,” Nicky said. “It looked like an oversized bird cage.”
Annabelle, still three years old at the time, didn’t sleep in a crib at home. Naturally, she wanted a regular bed. Valarie came to the rescue again.
“I just wanted to make her comfortable because I care about my patients and know how intimidating it can be for a child to be in the hospital,” Valarie said. “It was an easy decision. I arranged for Annabelle to get a different room without a crib and more space for the family.”
Valarie currently serves PRN, or as needed. At the time of Annabelle’s hospitalization, she cared for patients on the Medical/Oncology unit and floated to Pediatrics to provide extra help during a shift.
“Valarie was amazing,” Nicky said. “She transformed what could have been a scary experience into something positive that Annabelle will never forget. She respected Annabelle, talked to her like a real person instead of a kid, and explained everything.”
Annabelle made a full recovery. She’s back home enjoying time with her mom, dad, and her older brother. She never used to pretend that she was a nurse, but Valarie changed all that.
“It’s one of her favorites now, and one of the first things she did when she came home,” Nicky said. “We’re so grateful to Valarie for everything.”
Expertise and Compassion
In the fall of 2012, Ron Horton’s primary care physician, Daniel Hayward, MD, of Southwestern Medical Clinic in Bridgman, discovered a lump in Ron’s throat during an exam. Dr. Hayward referred the Benton Harbor man to Craig Kline, MD, General Surgeon at Southwestern Medical Clinic Surgical Specialties in St. Joseph.
Dr. Kline performed an endoscopy and biopsy on Ron. The tests revealed that Ron had cancer in both his esophagus and stomach. He would need a complex surgery to have a portion of his esophagus and half of his stomach removed.
Due to the scope of Ron’s surgery, Dr. Kline would need to operate at the same time as Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeon Samuel Durham, MD, of Lakeshore Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery.
“Dr. Durham told me exactly what to expect,” said Ron. “When he asked if I had any questions, I immediately said ‘no,’ and my wife and I left his office. We went out to dinner and that is when tons of questions came to us. I returned to Dr. Durham’s office after dinner and he spent a long time answering all of our questions.”
Prior to and after Ron’s surgery, a team of local doctors worked to treat his cancer.
In late February, Ron began chemotherapy and radiation treatments under the care of Sapna Patel, MD, of Lakeland Cancer Specialists, and Peter Lai, PhD, MD, Radiation Oncologist at Lakeland HealthCare.
Today, Ron is making strides to recuperate from his surgery, which could take up to a year for a full recovery.
“I am so grateful that I had the best surgeons,” explained Ron. “All of the Lakeland HealthCare staff – from the RNs, LPNs, aides, x-ray technicians, homecare nurses – were so considerate and professional. They all gave me comfort while I was in pain.”
“May God continue to bless Lakeland HealthCare system and all who work there,” said Ron. “I hope everyone who goes there will feel as blessed as I do.”
Nothing but Excellent Care
It was 3:00 a.m. somewhere in Ontario, Canada. Kelvin Thomas, 52, was barreling down the road in mid-August in his semi, heading toward his next delivery. Then the symptoms returned just as mysteriously as they had left.
The swaying and spinning sensations of vertigo. Paralysis in his left eye, and an odd tingling sensation traveling up and down his legs. It was the second time he had experienced these symptoms, which previously went undiagnosed.
Kelvin continued on his trip. He eventually lost vision in his eye, but he made the delivery. Then, incredibly, he picked up his next shipment and drove all the way home to Benton Harbor.
“I had no idea what was going on – if I’d had a stroke or something – I just wasn’t sure,” Kelvin said. “I didn’t want to burden the company that I worked for. They would have had to arrange to come get the truck, so I headed back. I took back roads because I could only see out of one eye.”
When he returned home, Kelvin went to see an eye doctor about his vision. The doctor told him he needed to go to the emergency room right away. He did.
Kelvin went to the Emergency Department at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph for an examination. After a battery of tests, he received the diagnosis. Kelvin was suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS).
MS is an immune disease that attacks a person’s nervous system, causing the nerves to slow or stop. This leads to a variety of symptoms, including those experienced by Kelvin. There is no cure. Treatment focuses on symptom control and maintaining quality of life.
Kelvin remained in the hospital over the next three weeks. He lost the ability to walk, and received several different forms of treatment, including steroids and low-dose chemotherapy. One of his doctors was neurologist Richard Frieden, MD.
“My father had been a patient of Dr. Frieden’s, and we liked him a lot,” Kelvin said. “He has a great attitude and personality. He put my family and me at ease with his openness and honesty. It wasn’t always good news, but he explained everything and laid out exactly what I would go through.”
An Unlikely Lifeline
Ericka Nykamp, 78, had no idea how severe her condition really was. Her blood sugar had spiked to a dangerously high level. She was experiencing symptoms, but had no way of reaching the hospital.
Her husband was sick. She couldn’t drive. Her only lifeline was a physician assistant from Stagg Medical Center in Hartford, Jean LaFever, PA-C. The two had just met a few days ago.
Ericka had become ill after suffering from food poisoning. She was dehydrated and on the verge of kidney failure. She was also a diabetic. Jean examined Ericka and immediately sent her to Lakeland Community Hospital, Watervliet for treatment.
“I stayed for three days in the hospital,” Ericka said. “They gave me some medications to help me get better and switched my insulin. After I was released, I got a call from a doctor but I couldn’t understand everything he was trying to tell me.”
You see, Ericka immigrated to the United States in 1953 from East Germany to Watervliet. She speaks English fairly well, but sometimes has difficulty understanding others.
The doctor was concerned about Ericka’s blood sugar levels. After failing to bridge the language barrier, he contacted Jean to see if she could help.
“Jean called me and told me that my sugar had spiked,” Ericka said. “She told me to go to the Emergency Room, but my husband was very sick and I can’t drive. There was no way for me to leave the house.”
Jean knew she had to do something. She knew that Ericka needed to have her blood sugar and vital signs checked regularly, so she called her every 30 minutes to monitor the situation.
This lasted throughout the afternoon and evening until Ericka’s blood sugar finally stabilized around 2:00 a.m. She went to sleep, but the phone rang once again at 8:00 a.m. It was Jean calling to check on her.
“I had no idea how serious this was,” Ericka said. “Jean never let on and always stayed calm. For that, I am very grateful. She wasn’t even my physician, but she took the extra time to make sure that I was alright.”
Ericka now sees Jean regularly at Stagg Medical Center. The two are working to ensure that Ericka’s blood sugar levels stay properly regulated.
“Jean loves her job and Respects her patients,” Ericka said. “She goes to great lengths to care for them well. I am so happy that I met her!”
Feeling Young Again
Still four years shy of her 50th birthday, Serita Mason felt so much older than she really was. The pain in her hip and knee was getting worse, and the carpal tunnel syndrome in her left wrist was a continued annoyance. The pain medication helped, sometimes.
Serita spent most days in bed. When she did walk, she required the assistance of a cane for stability.
To make matters worse, her financial situation was deteriorating and her primary care doctor had recently relocated from her hometown of Niles.
That was in 2008, before her first appointment with Orthopedic Surgeon, Kenneth Edwards, MD.
“I was in very bad shape, but I knew I was in good hands as soon as I met with Dr. Edwards,” Serita said. “He was such a good listener and very empathetic about my health issues and financial situation.”
The first step for Serita would be hip replacement surgery. However, before she could be a candidate, she needed to lose 50 pounds. That was a problem.
“I had high iron levels in my body, which causes osteoarthritis and bone deterioration,” Serita said. “This made it hard for me to be active and lose weight, but I Trusted the advice and expertise of Dr. Edwards. He was so compassionate and took the time to explain everything to me.”
With the help of Dr. Edwards, Serita lost the weight. She had hip replacement surgery in 2008. Then, in 2009, she had her left knee replaced. In 2010, Serita underwent carpal tunnel surgery.
Now she feels years younger. Serita, 50, is pain-free, loving life, and enjoying time with her 14-year old twins. She couldn’t be happier with her outcome.
“It’s so nice to be able to do things that I couldn’t do before,” Serita said. “Thanks to Dr. Edwards, I am able to be active without any pain. He’s truly a wonderful doctor, and I couldn’t have asked for better care.”
Remarkable Experience, Remarkable Teamwork, Outstanding Outcome
“Good morning.” Those two words never sounded so sweet to the family of Dick Mellinger than on the morning of Sunday, December 18, 2011. Dick had used them to greet his nurse at Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph.
That might seem rather unremarkable except for the fact that Dick had suffered a massive stroke less than 12 hours earlier.
“I was driving to dinner and my wife and daughter and son-in-law were in the car,” said Dick, 63 years old, from Granger, Indiana. “I wasn’t feeling very well, and I started feeling a pressure in my head. Then my heart skipped a beat, and I felt a popping sensation.”
Dick and his family were on their way to dinner at Tosi’s restaurant in Stevensville. He pulled off the highway as his symptoms worsened, and halted at the intersection of Hollywood and John Beers Road.
“He just stopped right in the middle of the road and asked me to drive,” said Lindsay Mellinger, Dick’s wife. “I knew something was really, really wrong. At first, I thought he was having a heart attack.”
Lindsay immediately called 9-1-1, and in a matter of moments Dick’s face and eyes became paralyzed. As luck would have it, the family was going to dinner with friends – two doctors and their son, who’s studying to be a physician.
“They were driving ahead of us because they knew where we were all going,” Dick said. “When we stopped, they turned around to check on us. Of course, they had a pretty good idea of what was happening to me and took control of the situation until the ambulance got there.”
Emergency responders arrived within minutes to take Dick to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph. They phoned ahead to prepare the trauma team for his arrival.
“I was thrust into a world I knew absolutely nothing about, but the hospital was unbelievable,” Dick said. “There were probably 15 people waiting for me when I arrived, and I didn’t experience even a moment of hesitation. I couldn’t move, but I could hear and I was aware of what was happening. It was very frightening, but I immediately felt more comfortable in their hands.”
Christopher Trigger, MD, was Dick’s attending physician when he arrived. Dr. Trigger and his team determined that Dick had suffered an ischemic stroke, which is a brain attack that occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery and interrupts blood flow to the brain.
“Dick and his family did the right thing by immediately calling 9-1-1 for help,” Dr. Trigger said. “Because of this, we were able to provide treatment within three hours of the onset of his symptoms. This is critical, and it allowed him to receive the drug tPA.”
Tissue plasminogen activator, commonly referred to as tPA, is a protein that is involved in the breakdown of blood clots. It’s been called a wonder drug, but must be administered as early as possible after the onset of symptoms. Guidelines require its use within the first three hours of the event, after which its risks may outweigh its benefits.
Two thirds of stroke patients have lasting disability. Dick was talking in less than 12 hours.
“His nurse came in the room for her shift change, and, out of the blue, he said, ‘good morning’,” Lindsay said. “We all started to cry.”
Dick was walking again three days later. It was nothing short of a miracle when he went home on Christmas day fully recovered with no deficit.
“The team at Lakeland deserves 100% of the credit,” Dick said. “What a noble and wonderfully dedicated group of people. I owe a tremendous amount to them. Dr. Ward and Dr. Syzmanski were absolutely wonderful in aiding my recovery and explaining things to me. The Ortho/Neuro team and really everyone I encountered were exceptional. They started calling me the tPA poster child. I was a little disappointed. I always wanted to be a centerfold.”
Dick’s back to his normal routine these days. He’s retired after spending 40 years as an agent for Northwestern Mutual Life in South Bend and enjoys spending time with his wife and four children, Doug, Darcy, Cameron, and Kelley.
“It was a haunting experience, but I’m busy getting back to living life,” Dick said. “Sometimes we think we’re bulletproof. You know, ‘this could never happen to me’ – but it can. Don’t just try to tough it out. By then, it could be too late. There’s a great group of people at Lakeland who have the expertise to give you the care you need. I’m living proof.”
Care You Can Trust
Sandy Reed, MD, could feel her world closing in around her. Osteoporosis and a pair of hip replacements had taken its toll. Still full of life at age 63, her body struggled to keep up.
It all started about 12 years ago. Sandy was working on her second master’s degree, this one in National Security Strategy, and she began noticing signs of osteoporosis. Then, in 2001, she had hip replacement surgery. Three years later, the other hip needed to be replaced.
“Weight-bearing exercise is very important for people with osteoporosis,” Sandy said. “After my hip replacements, that became much more difficult. You begin to feel even more fragile.”
Still, Sandy continued to work, serving as Director for Expeditionary Medicine at the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Falls Church, Virginia. It was a perfect fit for her skills. She had lived and breathed the military for most of her life – first through her father’s service and later herself as an officer in the Marine Corps. Sandy had also served as a pulmonary and critical-care physician in the Navy.
She used those experiences to find ways of improving access to care for soldiers serving at the front-lines of conflicts overseas, including developing the forward resuscitative surgery system. This is a highly mobile, lightweight unit which deploys to the farthest edges of the battlefield to provide immediate life- and limb-saving surgeries on wounded Marines.
In 2006, Sandy retired to Berrien Springs, the place where she was born.
“I have many fond memories of this place from my childhood,” Sandy said. “My grandparents lived here, and I loved coming to visit and being close to the lake. When I retired, I wanted small-town living and access to healthcare I could Trust. I did my research and was very impressed with the quality offered at Lakeland. That was one of the deciding factors in final my decision to come to this area.”
As it turned out, Sandy would soon put that Trust to the test. In 2009, she had a hip replacement revision done by Kenneth Edwards, MD. This is a common procedure that replaces worn out hip-replacement implants, but it proved to be yet another hurdle with her osteoporosis.
“I felt like my life was getting smaller and smaller,” Sandy said.
The Sandy heard about Bones in Balance through her primary care provider, Sigita Alimenti, MD. This is a four-week program offered by Lakeland Orthopedic Physical Therapy that teaches those diagnosed with osteoporosis and osteopenia how to successfully live with these conditions through self-management.
“It’s helped me increase my flexibility and strength through the different balance exercises, and I have a lot less pain,” said Sandy, who also has osteoarthritis. “That was a springboard. I’m doing other exercises now, and I feel like I have my life back. I can’t speak highly enough of this program and of my experiences and care providers at Lakeland. I would Trust them with my life.”
Head and Shoulders Above the Rest
At seven months old, Gerald Bushnell was diagnosed with polio. Polio is a viral infectious disease that causes muscle weakness and often paralysis in the legs. Even though Gerald was immunized twice, due to the strain of the vaccine his left leg muscles are considerably smaller than his right leg. He has worn a brace and walked with a cane since he can remember. Because Gerald does not have full use of his legs, he has relied on his arms to perform many daily activities.
Gerald, 57 and a resident of Dowagiac is unable to stand or walk for long periods of time and uses a scooter to get around. Because his legs are quite weak, if he is on his feet for a long time, he risks falling.
In 2009, after a particularly bad fall, Gerald started seeing Dr. Robert Schaefer, MD. X-rays showed that his right leg was broken in three places. “Dr. Schaefer put me back together again after that fall. I was having problems with my shoulders at that time but didn’t say anything because I was focused on my broken leg.”
While his right leg was healing, Gerald’s right shoulder pain was getting worse. He received cortisone injections to relieve the pain but it would always return. He went to another medical provider where he had an MRI and was told that nothing could be done. The news was quite discouraging to Gerald and his wife; since he was unable to move his right arm and was totally dependent upon her to perform simple daily tasks. And, Gerald was in excruciating pain.
Remembering what a great experience he had with Dr. Schaefer, Gerald made an appointment. “I trusted Dr. Schaefer. He had done such a great job on my leg; he would let me know if my shoulder could be fixed,” said Gerald. Dr. Schaefer reviewed Gerald’s medical records and told Gerald he was going to consult with his colleagues and find the best course of treatment.
In November of 2011 Gerald had a right shoulder replacement. The surgery and recovery was such a success that he had his left shoulder replaced in July, 2012 with one request-that he have the same rehabilitation team that he had worked with in 2011.
“The Watervliet rehabilitation facility at Lakeland Community Hospital is Southwest Michigan’s best kept secret,” according to Gerald. “Everyone was great. They are a mighty team that taught me how to get out of bed, dress myself, and shower and much more,” said Gerald.
“I have my life back,” said Gerald. “I am able to do normal daily activities like getting out of a chair, pain free! Dr. Schaefer has given me my life back.”
Simple Technique Changes Life of Vertigo Patient
Vicky Amodeo opened her eyes and remained still. She waited. It was the same every day. She knew what would happen next. As soon as she moved, the dizziness would come – the room spinning like some crazy county fair rollercoaster.
Next, the nausea and sickness came. This had been the morning routine for Vicky, 72, for more than 20 years. And it didn’t get much better after she got out of bed. She was suffering from a condition called vertigo.
Vertigo causes a person to feel like they are moving, swaying, and spinning even when standing still. It occurs when small crystals within the inner ear become dislodged, throwing off one’s equilibrium.
Symptoms can be chronic or sporadic, often triggered by certain movements and only for short durations. Vicky’s symptoms were chronic. She would experience vertigo when trying to complete even the simplest of tasks – like walking or just getting out of bed.
“It was terrible,” said Vicky, a resident of Coloma. “I had been to the hospital many times but nothing seemed to help. I just wanted to lock myself in a room and turn off the lights. I was so tired of feeling sick.”
It hadn’t always been that way. Vicky, the oldest of six children, immigrated with her family to the United States from the Italian island of Sicily in 1956. She was 17 years old and vertigo-free.
Vicky eventually settled in Chicago with her husband of 52 years, Domenico. They raised three children together and owned a successful restaurant, Amodeo’s. In their spare time, the family liked to vacation on the other side of the lake. They decided to retire here and built a home. Life was good.
Then everything changed.
“I felt like the vertigo took complete control of my life,” Vicky said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get it back. There were many days when I couldn’t even get out of bed.”
To make matters worse, Vicky began having problems with her shoulder, hip, and knee – the latter two requiring surgery. That’s when things changed again – only this time in a way she never expected.
Vicky completed her post-surgical rehabilitation at the Lakeland Community Hospital, Watervliet Outpatient Rehabilitation Center in Coloma. Over time, she developed a relationship with physical therapist Simi Jain, MSPT.
“Simi told me that she worked with vertigo patients and had seen some amazing results through physical therapy,” Vicky said. “Nobody had ever suggested anything like this to me before. She called my doctor and got a referral, and then I had my first treatment.”
Simi is one of two physical therapists at the rehabilitation center. She and her colleague Shannon Logsdon, MSPT, are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of different types of vertigo. They perform simple repositioning techniques that readjust the small crystals in the ear to restore equilibrium.
“We begin the process by asking patients a series of questions about the symptoms they are experiencing,” Simi said. “Treatment can often begin during the first visit, with some patients only needing two or three sessions to correct their symptoms.”
Vicky noticed an improvement almost immediately. In fact, her biggest hurdle to recovery wasn’t even the vertigo.
“I was scared to do some of the exercises,” Vicky said. “I didn’t want to get sick. It took a little while to build up my confidence.”
The exercises were simple enough – at least for someone who’s never experienced vertigo. She was asked to walk while looking up and down and side to side. She also practiced lying down flat and getting up fast. To her surprise, the symptoms were virtually nonexistent.
“The difference was night and day,” Vicky said. “I feel like I have my life back. I’m so thankful for the care I received. I would recommend Simi and Shannon to anyone.”
Now when Vicky wakes up in the morning, she can’t wait to get out of bed. She has nine grandchildren to spend time with, and she’s ready to catch up on some cooking.