Justin Plank had imagined what the first moments of fatherhood might be like. His wife Brenda would give birth, their newborn son would wail upon gulping his first breath of air, and Justin would cut the umbilical cord, as if to celebrate the grand opening of a new life.
But when Waylon Plank was born Sept. 29 at a Delaware hospital, his father heard no crying. His newborn son looked purple. The doctor immediately knew something was wrong.
A yellow button was pressed, and within 60 seconds a group of nurses was in the room, providing Waylon with oxygen, and letting the new parents kiss their ailing son as they rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Baby Waylon was suffering hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which means his brain was not receiving enough oxygen. Five minutes of such deprivation can begin killing brain cells. The long-term effects can include intellectual disability, seizures, delayed development and cerebral palsy.
Reducing the brain and body’s temperatures can slow damage. Though it may seem counter-intuitive to those accustomed to seeing newborns placed in incubators beneath warm lamps, the doctors and nurses tending to Waylon in his earliest moments told the Planks their son was a candidate for a cooling technology that could be applied even as they transported him by ambulance to Christiana Hospital, where the most qualified personnel and equipment would give him a fighting chance.
Justin and Brenda agreed. Waylon was wrapped in a CritiCool blanket, which circulates cold water regulated by a microprocessor that responds to the baby’s temperature.
The cooling process must occur within the child’s first six hours of life, says Michael Antunes, M.D., medical director of Christiana Care’s neonatal hypothermia program.
“Those inflammatory cascades that can be initiated need to be stopped early-on,” Dr. Antunes said. The temperature reduction must be sustained for 72 hours. The choice to do so resides with the parents, but it is the job of doctors such as Antunes – he didn’t work directly with the Planks – to explain the harrowing scenario and the most hopeful medical response, all while cautioning that for at least the next few years, the parents monitor their child closely for signs of lasting damage.
At about 24 inches tall with a footprint of about 15-by-15 inches and weighing 30 pounds, the CritiCool is a mobile version of larger, stationary devices that serve the same purpose. Christiana Care has two CritiCool units and is the only delivery hospital in Delaware that has the equipment.
“Internationally,” Dr. Antunes says, “this has become the standard of care.”
Justin Plank, whose family lives in Greenwood, spent that first night of his son’s life at his wife’s side at the hospital where he was born. The next morning, while his wife continued to recover, Justin went to Christiana Hospital to see Waylon, who would remain hospitalized there for nearly two weeks. (Upon his body’s return to its normal temperature, Waylon’s blood sugar would have to stabilize.)
“One of the hardest things was to see him lying there, cold,” Justin said. “You know it had to be hurting, even though they had him on morphine to reduce the pain of the cooling process.
“You expect your baby to cry and to be overwhelmed with joy when they’re born, and we didn’t get that. When I got up there, he was on the cooling pad, and when he heard me talk, he opened his eyes. The nurse said that was the first time he had opened his eyes. I’m sure he heard lots of other people’s voices, but to me, it seemed he recognized my voice.”
That night, Justin again stayed with Brenda at the hospital where their baby was delivered. The next evening they stayed at the Christiana Hospital NICU.
Every morning, as doctors checked in on the Planks’ child, Justin would ask questions about the process. It eased his concerns to know that he or his wife could call the staff at any time, day or night, for updates on their son’s progress.
“That was really helpful,” he says. “It gives you peace of mind.”
Waylon has met his milestones in the time since his stay at Christiana Hospital. His parents say the respect and care they felt from the Christiana Care staff went beyond access to information.
“I think that we got the best care that we could’ve gotten,” Justin says.
Sally Cratty fights aging and the joint deterioration caused by osteoarthritis with all the tools medical technology has to offer. So when she had to make a choice about how to deal with the deteriorating condition of her right ankle, she didn’t take long to decide to add a total replacement to her collection of artificial joints that already included two hips and two knees.
“I am bound and determined to remain as mobile as I possibly can through my aging process,” Cratty said. “That’s very important to me. I realize that I’m in my 70s, but I don’t think that way. I want to live an active life.”
Thanks to the artificial ankle implanted by Dr. Paul Kupcha at Christiana Care Health System’s Wilmington Hospital, Cratty has once again defied the mobility limitations imposed on her by osteoarthritis.
Nearly a year after her ankle replacement, Cratty maintains her own household, cooks for herself and spends time out on the town with friends and family. Most days, she can do all of that without the use of a cane or walker.
“I do all of the things for myself that I’ve done all my life,” Cratty said.
Cratty first began to feel pain and notice swelling in her right ankle in early 2011. After seeing Dr. Kupcha for the first time in May 2011, she knew that having the total ankle replacement was one option to fix the problem and an ankle fusion was another.
“I came home, and I thought about it and I thought about it. It got worse. Physically, I was really limping. My back was hurting. Everything was happening because my posture was terrible,” Cratty said.
After more than a month of considering her options, while the pain in her ankle worsened and her gait deteriorated to the point that falls were a serious problem, Cratty decided on the total ankle replacement and underwent surgery July 14, 2011, at Wilmington Hospital.
The surgery and physical therapy went well. A subsequent stress fracture in her right foot required another surgery to stabilize the fractured bone. Cratty completed more physical therapy after that surgery.
“From the beginning, I had a special feeling with Dr. Kupcha,” Cratty said. “I felt very confident. His approach is just so comforting and extremely knowledgeable.”
Now, nearly a year after the ankle replacement surgery, Cratty is back at home and living her life the way she wants to live it.
“I’m very happy that I went through the process,” she said. “Dr. Kupcha did beautiful work. He got me up on this ankle. I’m walking. … The happiest day of my life was when I stood up on this foot. I was just so thrilled I could do it. I have no regrets. I made the right decision.”
Each day on Pat Miccio’s calendar lists a number, with a running total for the month on the top of the page – usually somewhere in the hundreds. It’s Miccio’s way of marking how many recyclables she has picked up on the daily walks she takes around her Pennsville, N.J., neighborhood, all carefully tabulated on the wall calendar.
In more than four years, Miccio has collected 18,000 recyclable items others dropped on the ground – soda cans, beer bottles, milk jugs, sports drink containers. But for nearly a year, from December 2010 until September 2011, those days on Miccio’s calendar were empty of anything except doctor’s appointments as she battled breast cancer with the help of the staff at Christiana Care’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center.
Miccio’s odyssey from environmental steward to cancer patient to cancer survivor began with her daily walks more than 10 years ago. While she initially walked for the exercise benefits, Miccio quickly discovered another reason to get out of the house every day.
“I just needed to get out, and then it got to the point where I was walking and I’d see all this mess on the ground,” Miccio said. “It starts getting to you.”
Miccio saw an Oprah Winfrey special about the environment, and it inspired her to start carrying a plastic bag with her to collect some of the mess she would see.
“It started out, I brought one bag with me … and then after a couple of weeks, it would be two bags. Then, another couple of weeks, especially after Septemberfest, it jumped up to four bags,” she said. “It’s amazing what you find. It adds up.”
But the collecting was put on hold after Miccio went to her doctor for a routine mammogram in 2010. Miccio was diagnosed with stage 1 cancer in her left breast. She was sent to the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center to begin a treatment regimen. In October 2010, Miccio underwent a lumpectomy. Chemotherapy and radiation followed, lasting for nine months.
For a year, the fight against breast cancer took precedence over the mission to clean up the environment. Even after the treatment ended, she found that she didn’t have the energy to walk every day – because of the lingering effects of her cancer treatments and an ongoing battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
“I’m realizing what a friend of mine had told me: It takes a while to get back into the full swing of life again,” Miccio said.
As the counts on Miccio’s calendar show, she is getting back. By the end of April, she had collected just 270 pieces for the year.
“I’m usually well over a thousand by that point,” she said.
By the end of August, Miccio’s count had climbed to 1,685 for the year.
“Maybe, by the end of the year, I might break 3,000 pieces,” Miccio said. That number would also put her running total at more than 20,000 recyclable items picked up.
Miccio found another cause to help her get back into the swing of life. She has donated the cans painstakingly collected, sorted, washed and crushed after her daily walk to a friend with a relative on dialysis. The money raised from the recycling effort helps to pay for the machine.
While she never expected to become so well acquainted with the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center and its services, Miccio is grateful that they were able to get her back to her daily walking and her ongoing fight against the mess others leave behind.
“It was one of those wonderful experiences I hope I never have to do again,” Miccio said.
Dear Dr. Laskowski,
I wanted to take this opportunity to share a very positive experience I had at Wilmington Hospital. I have not visited Wilmington Hospital for many years and had the opportunity on Friday to meet with Carol Briody, Infection Control, and Tyesha Rodriguez-Gist, RN in ICU for preparation for a statewide educational program in November.
I was impressed with the general cleanliness of the building, especially considering your current construction project. All areas were spotlessly clean and well marked for the visitor. As importantly, I must tell you about my encounters with your staff. Every staff member I encountered, whether just walking in the halls, at the information desk, or at nurses stations, was pleasant, smiling and greeted me with a smile and hello. I also observed staff interacting with patients in a very positive and caring manner. These behaviors seemed second nature to the staff.
My take-away was that staff at Wilmington Hospital are proud of the work they do and are well versed in the importance of customer satisfaction. In my opinion, the staff reflect a corporate culture of kindness, competency and personal responsibility.
You must be very proud of you employees.
Sally Jennings, RN
Quality Insights of Delaware
At the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, Ken Sharp learned to become a cancer survivor.
“I feel like they’ve given me my life back. I really do,” Sharp said. “I can’t say enough about them.”
Specialists at Christiana Care have tackled every aspect of Sharp’s effort to survive the treatment he needed to beat Stage II lung cancer, originally diagnosed in December of 2008: pain management, nutrition services, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
In the first two years after his release from a Pennsylvania hospital in 2009, he couldn’t function, according to his wife Jo Ann. “He could barely drive. He could barely walk. He could barely move his arm,” she said.Thanks to efforts by pain management specialists, physical and occupational therapist and nutritionists, Sharp can now do the simple things he used to enjoy.
Sharp was diagnosed with lung cancer purely by accident after an MRI that was supposed to be examining a cyst on his neck inadvertently scanned the upper lobe of his lung.
“At the bottom of the scan, they saw the mass – a portion of the mass,” Jo Ann said. “It was totally by accident. There were no symptoms. He wasn’t being checked for anything other than the cyst he had on his neck.”
A new scan of Ken’s lungs was immediately conducted, and doctors quickly discovered a softball-sized tumor invading the upper lobe of his lung that was also attached to his chest wall.
“I had moderate pain in my arm that went down to my fingers,” Ken said. “I just figured it was another ache and pain that I had. But that’s actually one of the symptoms of the tumor.”
Sharp began radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before undergoing surgery to remove one lobe of his lung, four of his ribs and parts of the muscles on his chest wall that were all invaded by the tumor. Although the cancer was gone, Sharp found that returning to his life was going to be a much longer journey.
“He was in severe pain. He couldn’t move his right arm,” Jo Ann said. “We were actually told by the hospital that he’d never be able to move his right arm again because of the pain levels and the muscle damage and the nerve damage.”
“The pain was just unbelievable,” Ken said. “You didn’t want to do anything.”
That’s when the Sharps began to focus on survivorship, and the Delaware residents turned to the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center.
In November 2009, Ken started seeing pain management specialists at the cancer center. With their help, along with physical and occupational therapists, he can now use his right arm. His pain levels are well managed. He can drive. He can dispense with supplemental oxygen at various points throughout the day.
“I wish I could have gotten into this place when I first came out of the hospital,” Ken said, describing his experience at the Helen Graham Center as “fabulous.”
“They’re the ones prescribing his physical therapy, they’re the ones prescribing his medications, and it’s helping,” Jo Ann said. “They’re proactive with everything.”
Christiana Care’s nutrition services have helped Ken and Jo Ann plan meals to meet the 4,000-calorie-a-day diet he needs to consume, to help his body fight off the complications such as pneumonia and other lung-related problems that have persisted since his cancer treatment began.
“I have a hard enough time eating, [because] I have a low appetite,” Ken said. “I eat like a bird. They gave me recommendations on what to eat. It’s helpful.”
The staff at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center has tackled nearly every aspect of Ken Sharp’s life except his cancer.
“I can’t say enough about them … They’re outstanding,” he said.
In late summer of 2009, Jacques Apruzzese was a competitive martial arts fighter and instructor – weighing in at 192 pounds of solid muscle.
But a 12-pound weight loss over a span of two weeks and a bout of vomiting sent Apruzzese to see his doctor in August of that year. Within a week, he had a new fight to undertake – against an insidious esophageal cancer that had already spread to the upper part of his stomach and lymph nodes. What followed was a two-year odyssey to regain his health.
“It was a pretty dramatic change in lifestyle,” Apruzzese said. “From doing things where people, for lack of better words, looked up to me as a fighter to not being able to fight.”
Apruzzese sought help in his fight from the staff at Christiana Care Health System’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, where a multidisciplinary team approach was employed to tackle his disease.
Radiation and a round of chemotherapy were started immediately in an effort to shrink the cancer enough for other measures to be effective. A radical surgery followed, with the removal of Apruzzese’s esophagus, half of his stomach and several lymph nodes. Since that surgery and the subsequent recovery period, Apruzzese has gone through more chemotherapy and radiation to try to halt the disease, which has spread to his spine and two other areas in his back and is now classified as a stage IV cancer.
“I teach regularly, I drive my bike, go fishing. Is it all at the same level as before? Definitely not. Will it ever be? Definitely not. But you come to acceptance and a reality check that this is the cards you’ve been dealt and you deal with that,” Apruzzese said. “Some people have been dealt worse hands. Some people get up in the morning and they get killed. They don’t have a chance to plan activities, do their bucket list, live life to the extent that you can. Most people don’t get that chance. I’m fortunate. I got that chance and this place [the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center] has a lot to do with that.”
Apruzzese says without the support of the multidisciplinary team of doctors and nurses, as well as support services like nutrition, physical therapy and counseling, he’s not sure he would have survived.
“They’re not here because it’s a job. I get more of a sense that they care about being in a cancer center providing service and assistance,” he said.
Although he was not eligible for any clinical trials, there was never a sense that Apruzzese didn’t have options to fight cancer.
“It was very, very quick paced,” said Apruzzese, who was diagnosed and began treatment with days of the initial visit to his doctor. “There was no fooling around which is very comforting because you feel like you’re being taken care of.”
Nurse navigators assigned to patients like Apruzzese become their “lifelink,” he said.
“They’ve seen it all, done it all. You can call them for anything and they’ll help you, support you, sponsor you,” Apruzzese said. “They’re a different breed of people.”
Apruzzese said he never thought about going anywhere else once he saw the equipment, the technology and the people who would be involved with his care at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center.
“Once I came over here and saw how it was … why would I drag myself out there?” he said. “I felt very, very comfortable with the decision and I stand behind my decision to stay here. It’s very, very personalized care from dedicated people.”