With the many advances in cancer treatment, today’s cancer patients have more and more reasons for hope. Portraits of Hope are the incredible stories of our patients and their journeys of hope and survival. Click on a thumbnail and scroll down to view each story.
Cheraw resident Kim Williamson has dealt with excruciating, unpredictable menstrual cycles for decades.
“Over time, the pain grew in intensity, to the point that I could barely tolerate it,” recalled Kim. “However, I perceived this as a normal ‘part of life’ for women and disregarded the pain.”
In Spring 2017, the Rotary Club of Cheraw invited Dr. Sutton Boyd with McLeod OB/GYN Cheraw to discuss women’s pelvic health issues as a guest speaker. A Rotary Club member, Kim’s timely encounter with Dr. Boyd would significantly change her life.
“Dr. Boyd’s presentation opened my eyes,” said Kim. “For many years, I neglected important annual screenings, including my pap smear and mammogram, but when doctors diagnosed my sorority sister with breast cancer, I suddenly realized the dangers of delaying these screenings.”
With a nagging sense that she needed to take control of her health, Kim decided to make an appointment with Dr. Boyd.
“I immediately felt drawn to her professional, caring demeanor during the presentation,” continued Kim. “I knew she would provide the quality, compassionate care I needed.”
Kim’s first appointment occurred in June 2017. Dr. Boyd performed a routine breast exam and pap smear. During the physical exam, Dr. Boyd felt an abnormality in Kim’s left breast, so she ordered a diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound of the breast. The results proved benign. However, the laboratory results from the pap smear showed the presence of atypical cells in Kim’s cervix.
“When we discover atypical cells in a post-menopausal woman, we immediately proceed with further testing to rule out any possibilities of cancer,” said Dr. Boyd.
Dr. Boyd attempted two minor procedures to examine the cervix and uterus more closely; however, the size of Kim’s cervix did not allow for the instruments to pass through.
Dr. Boyd offered Kim two options -- repeat one of the procedures or undergo a hysterectomy.
“I opted for the hysterectomy,” said Kim. “Though I do not have a family history of ovarian cancer, I wanted to eliminate any risk. I also wanted to enjoy life again without constant pain.”
Dr. Boyd then prepared Kim for life after the surgery -- from the downtime and what to expect during recovery to life without hormones and other changes that she would experience.
“When discussing treatment options with my patients, I communicate both the pros and cons and explain that the benefits must outweigh potential risks,” said Dr. Boyd. “I have seen a correlation between ownership in the treatment process, both before and after surgery, and improved communication, patient satisfaction and outcomes.”
On December 7, what began as a routine hysterectomy quickly turned into a more extensive operation when Dr. Boyd discovered an extreme case of endometriosis that had spread to tissues and organs surrounding Kim’s pelvic region. Due to the complicated nature of removing the endometriosis from other non-reproductive organs, Dr. Boyd called in Dr. Salim Ghorra, General Surgeon with McLeod Surgery Cheraw, to assist. The surgery proved successful.
“In Kim’s case, our search for cancer led to an incidental finding of endometriosis, which explained a lifelong list of issues from which she silently suffered,” explained Dr. Boyd.
“Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, grows in a different place. When this type of tissue begins to grow outside the uterus, we call this endometriosis. Tissue might grow in the fallopian tubes, bladder, ureters, ovaries or rectum.”
These tissue implants can grow and bleed, much like the lining of the uterus during the menstrual cycle, causing swelling, inflammation and irritation. When the tissue breaks down, scar tissue forms.
While symptoms vary from person to person -- such as discomfort and even infertility -- most patients identify pain and cramping with menstrual cycles as the primary symptom. In addition, properly diagnosing endometriosis often presents a challenge since pelvic pain can have many causes and even mimic other conditions.
“I cannot overstress the importance of making the diagnosis as quickly as possible so we can begin discussing treatment options to eliminate this very real pain,” said Dr. Boyd.“Many women have suffered this painful condition for years and have learned to live with the pain. In some cases, the people around them disregard their pain altogether.
“Unfortunately, only treatment can provide relief, but I always walk through the process with my patients and give them a choice in their personalized treatment plan,” she continued.
In the weeks following her surgery, Kim noticed such a drastic improvement in her quality of life. As she reflects on the past year, Kim expresses deep gratitude for crossing paths with Dr. Boyd at the Rotary Club of Cheraw meeting.
“Because of Dr. Boyd’s excellent care, I now have the answer to the years of pain I suffered and can move forward,” recalled Kim.
Kim has undergone several successful follow-up appointments with Dr. Boyd since her hysterectomy and continues to enjoy life pain-free with her husband, Jimmie. She hopes that her story will encourage other women to seek treatment for their pelvic health issues so they too can experience a better quality of life.
When Rachelle Lynch first started experiencing abdominal pain on her right side during a Girl Scouts trip with her daughter, she thought the pain stemmed from a kidney stone. The symptoms mimicked those she had previously experienced with kidney stones. Since she was out of town she wanted to wait and see if the pain subsided before seeking medical care.
The next day Rachelle Lynch, a resident of Sumter, went to work as usual but as the day wore on her pain intensified. She finally asked her husband, David, to take her to McLeod Health Clarendon. Upon arrival to the Emergency Department, the medical team performed a CT Scan on Rachelle and drew labs which indicated she had appendicitis.
McLeod General Surgeon Dr. Devonne Barrineau explained the risks and benefits of laparoscopic appendectomy to Rachelle, which involves accessing the appendix through a few small incisions in the abdomen to remove it. However, the unusual location of Rachelle’s appendix also increased the risk of complications, according to Dr. Barrineau.
Although the surgery began laparoscopically, the positioning of Rachelle’s infected appendix, intertwined within the large bowel or sigmoid colon, required Dr. Barrineau to convert the surgery to an open procedure.
“Dr. Barrineau saved my life by removing my appendix,” said Rachelle. After surgery, she spent the next five days in the hospital recovering from the complexity of the operation. Upon discharge the medical team informed Rachelle she needed to follow up with Dr. Barrineau in a week.
During her follow-up appointment, Dr. Barrineau determined that Rachelle had developed a post-operative intraabdominal abscess, a pocket of infected fluid surrounded by inflamed tissue in the abdomen. The diagnosis is not uncommon after the spread of infection or inflammation caused by a condition such as appendicitis.
Dr. Barrineau admitted Rachelle to McLeod Health Clarendon for intravenous antibiotics. In addition to the medication, the hospital transported Rachelle to McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence where an Interventional Radiologist inserted a tube into her abdomen to facilitate drainage of the infection.
Following this procedure, the team transported Rachelle back to McLeod Health Clarendon where she spent the next 15 days being monitored for removal of the infection and cared for by nurses that she says, “became extended family members during my hospitalization.”
Rachelle also spent Christmas and New Year’s Day at McLeod Health Clarendon. “The nursing staff went above and beyond to make sure my children enjoyed Christmas. They printed paper targets and placed them in my hospital room for the children to shoot with the Nerf guns they got for Christmas.
“My experience with McLeod has been amazing, and I highly recommend McLeod Health to everyone. The nurses at McLeod Health Clarendon even lined the hall on my day of discharge to tell me goodbye,” added Rachelle.
Rachelle’s experience reflects what other patients are saying as well. Recent data collected from patients utilizing Same Day Surgery Services at McLeod Health Clarendon rank the hospital above the 75th percentile on the question “Would You Recommend” according to Professional Research Consultants, Inc.
The desire of those who cherish innovation and improvement is about to come true. After a $110 million investment and nearly four years, the transformation of McLeod Seacoast nears completion.
The pinnacle of the transformation at McLeod Seacoast occurs when the doors of the new patient tower open in late Summer 2018. With visually impressive architecture and operationally effective design, benefitting both patients and staff in their new medical home.
The first floor greets visitors with an expanded patient registration area and includes renovated outpatient testing areas and rehabilitation services as well as business offices, a gift shop and a convenient concourse to access the new Emergency Department and Cafeteria. The second and third floors offer spacious accommodations for 36 patient rooms on each floor with clinical services strategically located nearby.
Additionally, other construction projects within the interior of the hospital are scheduled to be completed in 2019.
“This new tower is so much more than just bricks and mortar,” said Monica Vehige, Administrator of McLeod Seacoast. “These walls house a place where lives are touched and healing begins. Our staff make a difference in people’s lives every day and this gives us the opportunity to do even more.”
In 2014, the McLeod Health Board of Trustees approved expansion plans for McLeod Seacoast which enlarges this 50-bed community hospital into a 100-bed state-of-the-art medical facility to serve the residents of Horry and Brunswick Counties.
“Our vision has been to grow McLeod Seacoast into a medical destination that is better equipped to provide complex, high-quality care for residents along the Grand Strand,” said Frank Boulineau, Trustee of the McLeod Health Board. “The McLeod Health commitment to Horry County is one of the largest financial investments this area has seen in a long time.”
Committed to providing the services that these communities want and need, McLeod expects to add more than 23 physicians within the McLeod Health system by the Fall of 2018.
As the infrastructure to meet those needs is built, McLeod continues to expand its physician network and services.
“Healthcare is at a critical cross-road. Technology, governmental regulations and changing demographics are altering the way hospitals provide care. We are committed to tackling those challenges head-on,” said Vehige. “This expansion demonstrates our commitment by investing in the quality of life for our local community.”
Phase one of the construction at McLeod Seacoast started in 2016 when the Emergency Department expanded by approximately 9,600 square feet -- more than doubling the original capacity. It now includes 24 private exam rooms, three trauma bays, and a dedicated fast track unit to treat less emergent cases.
In the Fall of 2017, a new cafeteria became operational, serving as both a place of respite for visitors and staff as well as the delivery of nutrition to patients.
The opening of four new operating rooms in March of 2018 increased surgical capabilities and decreased patient wait times for outpatient, non-emergent surgeries.
In these new operating rooms, experienced McLeod Surgeons perform cases -- from inserting tubes in a small child’s ears to reduce ear infection complications to complex vascular surgeries that save the limbs of a diabetic patient.
Since 2017, surgical cases increased 42 percent and the number continues to rise. McLeod Seacoast stands ready to meet that growing demand.
The mission of McLeod Health is to improve the health and well-being of people living within South Carolina and eastern North Carolina by providing excellence in healthcare. For McLeod Health, this mission is more than a plaque that will hang on these new walls.
Driven by this mission every day, the staff of McLeod Health live out this work in the compassionate service and care they provide.
In the Fall of 2018, McLeod Health Dillon will celebrate its 75th anniversary serving the community and 20th year since the hospital joined the McLeod Health system.
In the midst of World War II, Dillon, South Carolina, was a remote rural area with only a handful of physicians serving a county population of nearly 30,000 people.
One of these physicians, Surgeon Dr. William Victor “Vic”Branford, had the vision and determination to establish a state-of-the-art hospital on the border of South and North Carolina.
Dr. Branford began his Dillon practice in 1934. His wife, Lucille, was his office nurse. Soon after his arrival, discussions resurfaced on the need for a local hospital.
At the time, the people in Dillon who needed to be hospitalized traveled long distances. Two failed attempts to build a hospital preceded Dr. Branford’s involvement.
Knowing the community could not undertake the task of building a hospital on its own, Dr. Branford, a Roman Catholic, contacted the Reverend Emmet M. Walsh, Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, with an urgent plea for the Catholic Church to consider helping to build his dream hospital.
Bishop Walsh corresponded with the Order of the Sisters of St. Mary, requesting support for the proposed hospital in Dillon. Their mission involved establishing hospitals in areas of great need. Led by the insight and compassion of Mother Mary Concordia, Mother General of the Sisters of St. Mary, the Sisters traveled half way across the country from St. Louis, Missouri to South Carolina to begin this healing ministry.
In addition to the support of the Sisters of St. Mary, Dillon County donated the land for the hospital on Highway 301. The Sisters of St. Mary financed building of the new hospital, and a planning committee held fundraisers in order to furnish it with modern and up-to-date equipment.
Completed in 1943, the new four-story hospital cost $175,000. Catholic healthcare publications hailed it as one of the “most scientifically equipped and most efficiently operated hospitals in the United States.”
Dedicated as Saint Eugene Hospital, the facility opened on November 16, 1943. Pope Pius XII proposed the name when the Sisters told him they planned to name it St. Pius Hospital. Years before, when he was known as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the Sisters promised to establish a new hospital in his name. He suggested that since they made the promise when he served as cardinal the name should reflect that fact.
Fourteen Sisters of St. Mary staffed the hospital under Dr. Branford, the Chief of Staff. This original building would serve the community until 1972.
The Need for a New Hospital
During the late 1960s, everyone involved with the upkeep of the aging Saint Eugene Hospital realized that serious renovations needed to take place for the hospital to meet the growing health care needs of the community. The new hospital administrator, Sister Florence Weinel, hospital physicians, and community leaders announced optimistic plans for a new hospital facility.
The $3 million facility hinged on the ability of the citizens of Dillon County to raise $400,000 in 14 days.
The late Alan Schafer, a local businessman, led the fund drive for a new hospital. “When Saint Eugene Hospital was established in 1943, it didn’t cost the County a dime. The Sisters came here at their expense and took care of our sick people. Now the facilities are not adequate and it is time for us to show our appreciation by helping the Sisters build a better hospital,” Schafer said.
Schafer’s fundraising campaign included an all-night telethon with University of South Carolina Football Coach Paul Dietzel. The successful telethon raised more than $100,000. The citizens and businesses of Dillon rallied to the cause and collected more than needed. As a result, those involved in the plans for the new hospital decided to rename it Saint Eugene Community Hospital in honor of the people of Dillon County.
Since Dr. Branford owned all of the land adjacent to the old hospital, his widow, Lucille, sold the 2.5 acres to the Sisters for a fraction of the appraised value. Ground was broken for the new hospital on July 15, 1970.
The late W. J. McLeod, a state representative, addressed members of the community at the groundbreaking ceremony. “The people of Dillon County today see the coming true of a dream. A dream of countless Sisters of the Order of St. Mary who have worked in the present Saint Eugene Hospital, the first and only hospital in our county. To say we as a community, a county, as individuals are grateful for the presence of the Sisters is a masterpiece of understatement. Only by our actions can we let them know that their errand to Dillon County as Sisters of mercy has been successful. We hope and pray that their future will be long and bright.”
Saint Eugene Community Hospital opened in 1972 and included new monitoring equipment, donated by Mr. Schafer.
Highlighted by tremendous growth and expansions, the hospital developed depth and specialties. In 1987, a construction project added a new Emergency Department and larger Intensive Care Unit, as well as a Physical Therapy and a Pediatrics Unit to the facility. Less than ten years later, the campus grew with the addition of the three-story Professional Building housing physician offices and a rehabilitation center.
McLeod Health Acquires the Hospital
In 1998, McLeod Health recognized the importance of the facility to the community and acquired the hospital, bringing to the community an established quality program and even more services. One of the first projects undertaken by McLeod, a $3.8 million Operating Room expansion, accommodated the advancement in technologies and medical equipment used daily with four larger operating rooms, private patient care areas, a family waiting room and equipment storage. In addition, approximately 2,900 square feet were added to the Professional Building for future expansion of physician offices.
In 2004, the name of the hospital, Saint Eugene, officially changed to McLeod Medical Center Dillon. The new identity for the hospital was part of an ongoing effort by McLeod Health to identify and distinguish the quality of care offered to the people of Dillon County as well as the surrounding service areas.
Two years later, McLeod Dillon opened the Women’s Center offering four birthing suites, 12 rooms for recovery from birth or gynecological surgery, a suite for caesarean delivery, fetal monitoring for high-risk pregnancies, a Level-I skilled newborn nursery, a breastfeeding center and advanced nurse monitoring systems.
To make emergency care more accessible and timely for patients in Dillon County and the surrounding areas, a $6.3 million Emergency Department expansion added approximately 9,365 square feet to the hospital in 2010. The project focused on efficiency and flexibility -- providing for future growth and changes based upon population and technology.
The Emergency Department included 17 new exam and treatment rooms, a decontamination area, staff support spaces, a new entrance for walk-in patients, a family waiting area, and a dedicated site for a helicopter pad to allow transport of trauma patients. In 2017, the Emergency Department cared for more than 35,000 patients.
In January of 2018, a new medical office building for McLeod OB/GYN Dillon opened on the McLeod Dillon campus. “This year, marks the 75th year the hospital has served this community, and the 20th year since Dillon joined the McLeod family. What a special time to open the doors to this beautiful new facility,” said Joan Ervin, Administrator of McLeod Dillon.
A life-long resident of Dillon County, Johnnie Luehrs, President of the Dillon County Chamber of Commerce, added, “The McLeod commitment to and investment in the residents of Dillon has not gone unnoticed. Thank you McLeod for your vision and for caring for our community.”
Today, McLeod Dillon looks toward the future while honoring its past. Without the vision and determination of many, the hospital would not have become a reality for the people of Dillon.
In times of crisis, people often turn to the McLeod Emergency Department team of critical care professionals for urgent medical needs. From the middle of the night for a toddler with a high fever to the person suffering chest pains, or those involved in a multi-car accident, the Emergency Department staff stands ready to provide lifesaving care.
“Emergency care is essential to a community, especially to a growing community like Florence,” explained Marie Saleeby, Senior Vice President and Administrator of McLeod Regional Medical Center. “Approximately half of the patients admitted at McLeod on any given day come through the Emergency Department.
“At McLeod, we continue to fulfill our mission by providing the highest level of emergency and trauma services to those living from the Midlands to the Coast. As the regional Level II Trauma Center, we care for our neighbors and friends as well as those travelers who pass through our area and experience a traumatic event,” said Saleeby.
The Emergency Department at McLeod Regional Medical Center has also experienced rapid growth in the number of patients cared for annually.
“Since 2011, our Emergency Department volume has grown almost 50 percent,” explained Dr. Jeremy Robertson, Medical Director of the McLeod Emergency Department.
In order to meet the growing emergency medical needs of the region, McLeod Regional Medical Center has broken ground on an enhanced and expanded Emergency Department that will relocate from the west entrance of the campus on Ravenel Street to the east side of the campus between the Pavilion Tower and McLeod Medical Park East.
“The current location does not allow for expansion to accommodate this volume of patients. The new Emergency Department will provide an increase in capacity, allow for improvement in the flow of patient care and efficiency, as well as support easier access for patients and families,” said Dr. Robertson.
The scope of the facility will also dramatically improve the timeliness of care available to emergency and trauma patients who seek lifesaving treatment at McLeod.
Dr. Robertson added, “The McLeod Emergency Department currently has 40 acute treatment rooms which accommodates 50,000 patients a year. However, we care for in excess of 77,000 patients a year in the Emergency Department, and this number continues to grow.”
The new Emergency Department will include 73 rooms designed to serve 109,500 patients a year.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to expand and serve our patients with quality, safety and service at the core of our work,” said Dr. Robertson.
“The relocation, adjacent to the Pavilion Tower, aligns the patients with nearby operating suites and surgeons, diagnostics and imaging services. This will save time and lives. We consider this a unique opportunity for our staff and physicians to be involved in the development of such a great medical asset to our community,” stated McLeod Emergency Physician Dr. Thomas Lewis.
Additional features of the new Emergency Department, according to Dr. Lewis, will include:
“We are looking forward to the future and continuing to provide the region with quality, lifesaving emergency care,” said Leander Crawford, a Trustee of the McLeod Health Board, and Chairman of the McLeod Planning Committee.
“This project must not be viewed as simply additional bricks and mortar to an ever growing medical system. This new Emergency Department will offer superlative care, ease of access and delivery of the highest level of treatment.”
“To the visionaries, Dr. F. H. McLeod, Givens Young, Bruce Barragan, Lawrence McIntosh, Rob Colones, John Braddy, Ben Ziegler, Kaye Floyd Parris, and many others, thank you for stirring the hearts and minds of the people in our communities to establish and support this great institution, recognizing that our mission is one of hope and healing,” said Dale Locklair, Senior Vice President of Planning and Facilities Management.
“McLeod Health is committed to providing excellent quality care in our region and improving healthcare to those it serves. This new Emergency Department will clearly execute the vision of McLeod in Florence County and beyond.”
The new Emergency Department is scheduled to open to the public in December 2020.
Lawrence McQueen chose to retire where he once enjoyed the quiet country life in his youth.
Currently residing in North Myrtle Beach, Lawrence and his wife, Rosetta, own a small farm in Loris where they plan to build a new home soon. Lawrence spends time on his tractor manicuring the landscape and taking photographs of his beautiful property and wildlife.
In late 2016, the diagnosis of kidney failure interrupted Lawrence’s peaceful retirement. He never imagined his weekly activities would involve making multiple doctor’s appointments and scheduling dialysis sessions, which intrude on his newfound free time.
Lawrence’s condition requires dialysis three times a week. Patients with renal or kidney failure receive dialysis treatments through a process using a hemodialyzer (artificial kidney). Dialysis removes waste, salt and extra water to prevent them from building up in the body. Dialysis also helps keep a safe level of certain chemicals in the blood, such as potassium, sodium and bicarbonate, and assists in controlling blood pressure.
“A way of life for many, especially in the Carolinas, kidney failure necessitates this lifealtering process for patients,” explained McLeod Vascular Surgeon Dr. David Bjerken.
Patients who undergo dialysis weekly require a vascular access, a way to remove blood from the body then return it. Vascular access options include either an arteriovenous (AV) fistula, AV graft or catheter. An AV fistula, the preferred type of vascular access, offers fewer problems with infection and clotting. Catheters pose the most problems with infection.
Experiencing issues with his dialysis access, Lawrence’s Nephrologist Dr. Sivanthan Balachandran referred him to Dr. Bjerken in March of 2017. Lawrence’s dialysis access involved a neck catheter, which led to an elevated temperature, swelling and risk of more systemic complications due to chronic infection. He needed an alternative access option for his dialysis.
Dr. Bjerken suggested Lawrence undergo a procedure to remove the catheter, and he would create an arteriovenous fistula in his forearm. This offered convenient and safe access for dialysis moving forward as well as alleviated the elevated risk of infection.
“Dr. Bjerken and the McLeod Loris staff stayed very attentive and concerned with my well-being,” said Lawrence. “They kept me informed and remained efficient, like a well-oiled machine.” Nearly a year after Lawrence’s procedure, he experienced stenosis or narrowing of his fistula vein, a major cause of dysfunction and a common occurrence with a fistula.
“This past February, when I suspected my fistula was clotted, I contacted Dr. Bjerken,” said Lawrence. “He told me to come to the hospital so he could look at my arm. He made time to see me between surgery cases because he wanted to take care of me. This impressed me greatly and gave me comfort.”
Dr. Bjerken performed a fistulagram imaging test to diagnose Lawrence’s problem and an angioplasty procedure to repair it. Angioplasty involves inserting a catheter through a blockage in an artery and inflating a special balloon on the catheter to open up the blockage and allow more blood to flow through it.
Patients with a graft, catheter or fistula require immediate attention if the vascular access becomes damaged or inoperable. However, few healthcare centers provide prompt dialysis access care which produces a significant problem for dialysis patients.
“The number of patients with kidney failure continues to increase rapidly, up 600 percent since 35 years ago,” said Dr. Bjerken. “We knew a response to this growing problem needed to be addressed.”
Because of the critical need for this specialized area of vascular care, McLeod Loris recently established a Dialysis Access Center for the region. Dr. Bjerken, the lead physician of the center, and the staff provide treatment for patients with access complications in a timely manner.
“Changes in health care continue to occur, and at McLeod we strive to respond to these needs while emphasizing quality and service,” Dr. Bjerken said. “A complex process involving multiple facets of our system, dialysis access challenges me to perform at my best for our patients.”
McLeod Loris Administrator Scott Montgomery added, “McLeod Loris remains committed to meeting the needs of our community. Working with Dr. Bjerken, we identified a deficit in serving patients with vascular access needs. By establishing the Dialysis Access Center at McLeod Loris, we are expanding our ability to provide the highest quality of service to these patients.”
“Kidney failure patients like Lawrence need these life preserving dialysis treatments,” said Dr. Bjerken. “However, creating and maintaining effective access for dialysis is a constant challenge. A priority for Lawrence involves a kidney transplant because it offers him a significant longevity benefit.”
“Dr. Bjerken is fantastic and magnificent in every way,” said Lawrence. “He’s the best.”
Now a kidney transplant candidate, Lawrence looks forward to ending his need for dialysis and further improve his quality of life.
McLeod Digestive Health Centers Offer Innovative Diagnostics and Specialized Care.
Of the many health concerns facing the people of northeastern South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina, gastrointestinal (GI) conditions are some of the most common. Gastroenterologists are specially trained physicians who treat patients with these diagnoses. To bring quality physicians, collaborative approaches and the most innovative tools to combat these concerns, McLeod Health and McLeod Physician Associates have established the McLeod Digestive Health Center in Florence and the McLeod Digestive Health Center Seacoast in Little River.
The McLeod Digestive Health Center in Florence follows the merger of two existing physician practices and the arrival of newly recruited interventional physicians to the area. The six physician team is comprised of Dr. Deepak Chowdhary, Dr. Jeffrey J. Dorociak, Dr. Veeral Oza, Dr. Davinderbir Pannu, Dr. Timothy Spurling, and Dr. John Wolford. Dr. Khaled Elraie serves patients in Little River at McLeod Digestive Health Center Seacoast.
“McLeod Physician Associates is committed to providing physicians to meet the healthcare needs of the people in the communities we serve,” said Dane Ficco, Senior Vice President for McLeod Physician Associates. “We know that the treatment of gastrointestinal conditions is a great need in the region, and our McLeod Digestive Health Centers ensure that physicians are available to care for these patients.”
As board certified gastroenterologists, these physicians treat conditions affecting the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. The conditions treated include Hepatitis, Reflux, Peptic Ulcer Disease, Colitis, Gallbladder and Biliary Tract Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and pancreatitis. These gastroenterologists are also leaders of teams fighting cancer of the colon, intestine, and GI tract.
The most common procedures performed to diagnose and treat these conditions are called endoscopy -- tests that allow the physician to look inside the body by inserting instruments through the mouth or anus without making incisions. For many patients these procedures, especially a colonoscopy, means staving off cancer before it strikes.
“The gold standard for diagnosis of colon cancer is colonoscopy. There are other tests available but they are not as reliable or effective as colonoscopy,” said Dr. Chowdhary. “I know that it is not on anyone’s list of things to do for fun, but it does save lives. In fact, it is one of the few diagnostic procedures known to save lives. During the procedure polyps may be removed. Usually by looking at the polyps at the time of the test, we can tell how advanced they are and how likely they are to be cancerous. Most of the time, the polyps are small and can be removed during the colonoscopy before they can become cancerous.”
McLeod Surgeons Work As One
On Monday, January 16, 2017, after enjoying an Atlanta Falcons playoff football game with his sons the day before, Bennettsville resident Sully Blair began experiencing severe abdominal pain during the drive back home. Sully powered through the six-hour trip and upon arriving home that afternoon greeted his wife, Erin, and then went to lie down in hopes the pain would subside.
Around 8:00 that evening, Erin grew concerned over her husband’s pain and insisted that he go to the Emergency Department. However, Sully preferred to stay home and “sleep it off.” He assured Erin that he would see his primary care physician if he had no relief by morning. At 11:30 p.m., Sully woke in agony and asked his wife to take him to the Emergency Department.
“As usual, I should have listened to my wife from the beginning,” said Sully. Sully and Erin arrived at the McLeod Health Cheraw Emergency Department (ED) around midnight, and Sully was admitted within minutes.
Upon admission, Sully underwent a CT scan and received pain medication.
“Things moved so quickly,” recalled Sully, who had never been hospitalized due to an illness. “Erin and I felt overwhelmed and anxious, but we knew we were in good hands.”
Mike Hutson, a registered nurse in the ED, played an instrumental role in easing Sully’s anxiety. With a kind and empathetic demeanor, Mike consistently communicated with Sully as the team of clinicians worked to determine the cause of his pain.
“I could only describe Mike as compassionate, kind, and intentional,” said Sully. “His constant reassurance helped calm our fears.”
Moments later, Dr. Timothy Holdredge, a McLeod Health Cheraw Emergency Department Physician, greeted the couple and examined Sully. He then reviewed the results of the CT scan.
“Dr. Holdredge diagnosed me with appendicitis and explained that I would need emergency surgery,” said Sully. “He verbally walked me through the entire process so I knew exactly what to expect.”
As the surgical team prepped Sully for surgery, Dr. Henry Jordan, a General Surgeon with McLeod Surgery Bennettsville, spoke with him about the procedure as well as the recovery process. “Dr. Jordan was knowledgeable and understanding with a wonderful bedside manner,” recalled Sully. “His approach not only helped quell my anxiety, but also helped my wife.”
During Sully’s surgery, Dr. Jordan realized that what would typically be a routine appendectomy would prove to be more challenging. Due to the positioning of Sully’s appendix, Dr. Jordan called in General Surgeon Dr. Salim Ghorra, McLeod Surgery Cheraw, to assist with the surgery. Both surgeons worked in concert to successfully remove Sully’s appendix.
“My first recollection after the operation was Dr. Ghorra giving me a thumbs up in the recovery room,” chuckles Sully. “I immediately felt relieved, knowing that everything would be okay.” From recovery, Sully moved to an inpatient room, where the nursing staff continued to monitor his progress for the remainder of his hospital stay. He recalls their timely rounding to check on his pain tolerance, comfort levels and what he considers the “necessary things.”
“The nurses and clinical staff I encountered at McLeod Health Cheraw were some of the most compassionate, friendliest and attentive professionals I could have ever asked for,” said Sully. Prior to his discharge from the hospital, Sully received concise instructions from Dr. Ghorra regarding the benchmarks he must meet to go home.
“I followed every word of direction from Dr. Ghorra and Dr. Jordan, and especially worked through any discomfort to get up and walk around every few hours,” recalled Sully. “I focused solely on returning home to my family.” Two days later, Dr. Ghorra discharged Sully.
Sully attributes a surprisingly quick recovery to rigorously adhering to the guidelines given by Dr. Ghorra and Dr. Jordan. Within four weeks, Sully returned to all his normal activities.
“I chose McLeod Health Cheraw for its convenient location and quality care, and looking back on my experience at the hospital, I cannot say enough about the care and special attention I received as a patient,” said Sully. “I also find comfort in knowing that McLeod Health Cheraw is part of a healthcare system -- McLeod Health -- which has a tremendous reputation for quality and safety.”
All McLeod Health hospitals share the same mission -- to improve the overall health and well-being of people living within South Carolina and eastern North Carolina by providing excellence in health care.
“A simple thank you cannot adequately describe our appreciation for Dr. Ghorra, Dr. Jordan, Dr. Holdredge, Mike Hutson, RN, and all of the nursing staff on the Medical Surgical floor,” said Sully. “I also appreciate how McLeod Health continues to invest in both of our communities -- Cheraw and Bennettsville -- with the addition of physicians, services and enhanced facilities.”
Today, Sully has a clean bill of health and enjoys the same activities as before his emergency appendectomy -- traveling, boating, and most importantly, spending time with his wife Erin and his sons, Kyle, 19, and Grey, 11.
ROBOTIC-ASSISTED SURGERY PROVIDES OPTIONS FOR PATIENTS
Healing comes in many forms. It can be physical. It can be emotional. It can be spiritual. Surgeons are healers of the body. Their minds are sharp and incisive and their hands are strong and steady. They use instruments and techniques to restore the body and reduce pain.
McLeod Surgeons utilize the latest surgical advances and techniques and have access to the finest in technology and surgical equipment. Their abilities evolve with the development of new instruments, procedures and processes.
Surgery, like all fields of medicine, is forever changing. There are choices for patients: traditional open surgery, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery or robotic-assisted surgery. Today, surgeons are performing procedures that offer shorter hospital stays, smaller scars, less pain and a quicker return to normal activities.
In minimally invasive surgery, the surgeon performs the procedure through tiny incisions with the use of minimally invasive instruments. The instruments function as the surgeon’s hands and a laparoscopic camera allows the surgeon to view the inside of the body. The camera’s image is projected onto a monitor in the operating room for the surgeon to view while performing the surgery.
Robotic-assisted surgery is a form of minimally invasive surgery. It allows the surgeon to perform many types of complex procedures with more precision, flexibility and control than is possible with traditional techniques.
Like minimally invasive surgery, robotic-assisted surgery is performed through a few small incisions. During surgery, the surgeon controls the robot’s every move while seated at a console in the operating room. The surgeon’s hand, wrist and finger movements guide the robot manipulating the surgical instruments inside the patient. The robot becomes an extension of the surgeon’s hands. The surgeon views the surgical site through a high-definition 3-D camera. This magnified imagery provides enhanced visibility and improved precision for exact treatment and greater dexterity for the surgeon.
At McLeod, robotic-assisted surgery is a team approach with a designated team of operating room staff specially trained to work with each surgeon and surgical specialty. The robotic-assisted surgical team consists of a physician assistant, operating room nurses, and surgical technologists in addition to the surgeon.
According to many surgeons, roboticassisted surgery has taken minimally invasive surgery to the next level. This technology is exciting for both physicians and patients when this type of procedure meets the appropriate criteria for that standard of care. In all surgical cases, superlative outcomes are based on the skills and expertise through the hands of a great surgeon.
Robotic-assisted surgery provides many benefits to the patient including:
Conditions treated include:
Performing robotic-assisted surgery requires the expertise of a highly skilled operating room team. These well-trained teams at McLeod Regional Medical Center and McLeod Seacoast support all robotic-assisted trained surgeons during each robotic procedure. The members of the McLeod teams underwent extensive training with other robotic surgical teams. Each member worked with their respective counterparts to learn their role. Once trained individually, the group trained together to unify their expertise and work as one unit. The team supports the surgeon and the surgeon relies on the team and trusts in their knowledge and skill. Each person is valuable and essential to ensuring quality of care and safety for the patient.
Born 13 weeks premature weighing just one pound, Christina Feistel has been beating the odds since day one. “I couldn’t believe someone so tiny could survive. Her faint cry sounded like a kitten,” recalls her mother, Abby. Christina was born with severely under-developed and damaged lungs. As Christina entered the world, the expert McLeod Neonatal Intensive Care team went to work facing every challenge head on without ever giving up. Under the skilled care of Neonatologist Dr. Douglas Moeckel, Christina was given the life-saving care and support she needed to survive. Now a thriving three-year-old, Christina has an incredible story to tell and her parents have a bundle of joy to love and cherish.
Fred Kristensen had a passion for flying planes until he began having difficulty breathing. He was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and was put on oxygen. Fred was told that his only long-term hope was to receive a lung transplant. Before being eligible for a lung transplant, he was referred to McLeod Health Cheraw for pulmonary rehabilitation to improve his lung function and condition him for the transplant. Under the skilled care of Sonny Usher, Director of McLeod Pulmonary Rehabilitation in Cheraw, a customized exercise and training program was designed to help Fred achieve the best results.
“Because of Sonny and the McLeod team, I was properly conditioned and ready to receive my new lung,” says Fred. After a successful lung transplant, Fred continues maintenance rehabilitation with McLeod and is able to breathe easy while in his pilot seat.
Michael and Amy Gaines of Darlington longed for a family. After five long years of struggling to conceive, the couple learned that they were pregnant.
Ecstatic and overjoyed, Michael and Amy spent the next nine months preparing to bring their daughter, Isabella, into the world.
Amy experienced a healthy pregnancy and underwent routine weekly appointments with her obstetrician as she neared the end of her pregnancy. She and Michael grew anxious with anticipation over meeting their daughter face-to-face.
“At 38 weeks, we went to my doctor’s appointment, and that was the moment our lives changed forever,” recalls Amy. “The doctor could not find a heartbeat. “We lost Isabella on January 22, 2014 due to an umbilical cord accident. She was stillborn.”
Completely devastated, Michael and Amy describe the next few hours, days, weeks and months as excruciatingly painful.
“I hope to never feel this kind of hurt again,” explains Michael. “It’s a hurt you never truly get over. It hurts still today.”
“In the days and months after we lost our sweet Isabella, just breathing was a struggle,” recalls Amy. “Every breath I took was one she never had a chance to take. My heart and arms ached for her, and still do.”
Several months later, Amy learned that she was pregnant again. Sadly, at seven weeks gestation, Amy began experiencing complications on Christmas Eve and miscarried on December 31, 2014.
“Amy and I discussed the possibility of another loss in an attempt to prepare ourselves, but the miscarriage still hurt a great deal,” says Michael.
“2014 was a terrible year for us, and I could not wait to get past it,” states Amy.
The couple tried to conceive for another year and ultimately decided to begin the adoption process in December 2015.
One month later, on January 16, 2016, Amy discovered she was pregnant.
“I felt like it was a sign from Isabella – her birthday gift to us,” says Amy.
Due on September 22, Amy and Michael decided to proceed with adoption since they were told an adoption match could take up to two years. They had also discussed this option while trying to conceive the first time.
“Over the next several months, Michael and I joked about adopting and having babies close together, and God gave us exactly what we asked for,” says Amy.
On August 16, they received a call confirming a match with a full-term mother, due on August 28, Amy’s birthday.
Initially, the couple could not make sense of adopting a baby within a few weeks of having their own. As they talked it over, however, they both felt an overwhelming sense of this being the right moment to adopt.
On September 1, 2016, they received a call to come to the hospital. Upon their arrival, they met the birth mother and their precious daughter, Kennedy Reid.
“Words cannot describe the moment I first held Kennedy,” recalls Michael. “I simply remember looking at her and thinking, ‘she is mine.’ It was love at first sight.”
The next three weeks stirred many emotions for Michael and Amy – from absolute delight over their newborn to concern over delivering a happy, healthy baby.
Amy recalls tender moments of comforting Kennedy when she would cry and feeling her unborn baby squirm inside her belly.
On September 14, just thirteen days after the birth of Kennedy, Michael and Amy arrived at McLeod Regional Medical Center to deliver their second daughter, Lillie Mae.
“Because of our previous losses, Michael and I tried to remain positive, but could not help feeling nervous and concerned,” says Amy.
“Several staff members who were involved in my care knew our story,” she continues. “They empathized with me and showed so much understanding and compassion throughout the entire process.”
Being away from Kennedy also added another element of anxiety for the couple. The week before, Michael learned that the hospital policy did not allow children to stay overnight, so he and Amy made arrangements for Kennedy to stay with Michael’s sister. However, the two did not want to be separated from her so soon after her birth.
Once they were at the hospital, Michael and Amy shared with a few staff members that they had just adopted a newborn thirteen days ago.
As they prepared to enter the operating room for the C-section, they learned that the Women’s Services department was granting special permission for Kennedy to stay with them during their hospital stay.
The news immediately eased their minds and allowed them to focus on the next few moments when they held Lillie in their arms for the first time.
“The first time I held her, an overwhelming peace came over me. We immediately fell in love with her,” says Amy. Soon after, the family of four were in a room together.
“It meant the world to us that the hospital staff allowed us to stay together,” explains Amy. “After all the struggle, worry, and loss, we finally made it. We were a family.”
Committed to family-centered care, McLeod Women’s Services emphasizes the importance of allowing families to stay together during the entire birthing experience – from birth to recovery – making patients feel more ‘at home’ and creating an environment in which the family can bond.
This practice, commonly referred to as rooming-in, enables families to be active participants in the care of their new baby and take part in every special moment from the beginning.
Bonding occurs in several ways, including skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.
During skin-to-skin, the baby (bare skin) is placed onto the mother’s – and father’s – bare chest. Skin-to-skin begins as soon after birth as possible and offers many benefits to both mother and baby, such as promoting a special and loving bond with the baby, calming the baby so she cries less, as well as controlling the baby’s body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and blood sugar levels.
Amy also received support from a Board Certified Lactation Consultant to breastfeed both Kennedy and Lillie together.
“The entire experience helped us bond as a family,” says Amy. “It was critical to me and Michael that we establish an early bond with both of our girls.
“We cannot thank the hospital staff enough for allowing us to stay together as a family,” she continues. “The compassionate, quality care made the difference for us.”
Three days later, Michael and Amy took their new family home.
“We finally felt complete,” says Michael. Since that day, the Gaines family has treasured every moment – big and small – creating memories to last a lifetime.
One of Michael’s favorite memories thus far was Halloween, when he and Amy dressed as farmers while Kennedy and Lillie were dressed as two “peas in a pod” for their church’s trunk-or-treat.
“This past Christmas also held special meaning for us,” recalled Amy. “We had such hopes when we lost both our daughter Isabella and our second pregnancy, and then to celebrate a few years later with two children filled us with overwhelming joy.”
As Kennedy and Lillie approach their first birthday, they spend their days laughing and playing together, enjoying a bond so few siblings have the opportunity to experience.
“We think back to how our story unfolded, and although there were many difficult moments, we could not be happier to have our two beautiful daughters,” adds Amy.
Imagine living with the constant worry of whether you might experience the loss of bladder control – the fear of an accident happening, or the embarrassment when it does.
Unfortunately, this is a real concern that millions of women face on a daily basis, often resulting in a diminished quality of life.
Yet most women suffer these symptoms in silence, believing the idea that “this is a normal part of aging.”
In fact, studies reveal that only ten percent of women with a bladder control problem seek help, and most wait an average of more than six years before doing so.
Poonkulali Suresh knew this statistic all too well. A 47-year-old mother of two, Poonkulali began experiencing bladder control problems about ten years after the birth of her second child.
“The leakage was minimal at first, occurring only when I laughed or coughed,” she said. “However, the symptoms gradually worsened to the point that I was leaking constantly, and it began to affect every part of my life, even my sleep. That was the moment I reached out to my doctor.”
In 2007, Poonkulali discussed her symptoms with her gynecologist and was referred to a urologist, where she was diagnosed with stress urinary incontinence (SUI), or involuntary urine leakage during physical movement, such as coughing or sneezing.
The urologist recommended surgery as her best option; however she was reluctant to the idea of surgery and chose instead to try medication. The medication temporarily helped Poonkulali’s symptoms, but it wasn’t a long-term solution. Then, in 2011, she met Dr. Gary Emerson of McLeod OB/GYN Associates.
“Dr. Emerson was wonderful,” said Poonkulali. “During my first visit with him, Dr. Emerson brought attention to the SUI diagnosis in my medical record and explained more about the condition. Then, he said he could treat it.”
Treatment involved surgery, which still made Poonkulali nervous. However, over the next few years, Dr. Emerson continued to encourage the procedure.
“Poonkulali was the perfect candidate for the suburethral sling procedure,” said Dr. Emerson. “We performed urodynamic testing in our office, which is a simple test that measures how the bladder functions. During the test, Poonkulali experienced urinary leakage, which was a strong indication that surgery was in fact her best option.”
At her appointment earlier this year in January, Poonkulali decided it was time to have the surgery.
“I had complete confidence in Dr. Emerson,” said Poonkulali. “His gentle encouragement and in-depth explanation of what to expect before, during and after the surgery convinced me to go through with it.”
“During the suburethral sling procedure, a tape-like material is placed underneath the urethra, and then each end of the material is anchored to the pubic bone,” explained Dr. Emerson. “This ‘hammock’ effect provides the support necessary to eliminate urinary leakage.”
On February 5, Poonkulali underwent surgery, which proved to be successful.
“For me, the surgery worked fantastic,” she said. “My quality of life is so much higher now. I can jump, cough, laugh, and even sleep without fear or worry.
“Only those who have experienced bladder control problems can understand how enjoyable life is without leakage.”
Since her surgery, Poonkulali has been open about sharing her story with her friends, and to her amazement, discovered that many of them were suffering in silence with similar symptoms.
“Pelvic health is not a topic we may like to talk about, but it’s critical that we do,” she said. “Incontinence should not prevent us from leading active lives. Looking back, my only wish is that I had known Dr. Emerson ten years ago.”
In 2013, McLeod Women’s Services began an effort to raise awareness about women’s pelvic health issues. “Pelvic health” is a new phrase used among professionals in women’s health which refers to conditions such as urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, endometriosis, and more.
Research indicates that nearly half of all women will experience symptoms related to pelvic health issues at some point in their lifetime, making pelvic health conditions more common than most women realize.
“A new report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists shows that SUI affects nearly 16 percent of adult women. Among women with the condition, 77.5 percent report their symptoms to be bothersome, and of this group 28.8 percent report their symptoms to be moderately to extremely bothersome,” explained Dr. Emerson.
“The ultimate goal of McLeod Pelvic Health is to educate women on these conditions and help them see that they do not have to live with these symptoms forever,” added Dr. Emerson. “We want them to enjoy the quality of life they deserve.”
The day after Christmas in 2013, Marie Wolfe was not feeling like herself. As farfetched as it seemed to her, Marie purchased a home pregnancy test to satisfy her curiosity. The 43-year-old mother of two children, 14-year-old Jackson and 11-year-old Ruthie, was in shock as she held the positive test in her trembling hands.
Being pregnant seemed so unbelievable to me, especially since I had undergone fertility treatments with both of my other children,” she said.
Marie called her friend, Andi Atkins, a nurse practitioner with McLeod OB/GYN Dillon to relay the news. “I immediately burst into tears when she answered,” said Marie. “I was scared and nervous because of my age. Fortunately, Andi put my mind at ease and scheduled an appointment for me to come in the following Monday.”
This appointment was Marie’s first visit to McLeod OB/GYN Dillon. “I have friends who had positive experiences at McLeod OB/GYN Dillon and highly recommended the doctors there,” she said. “I really felt like I was in good hands as soon as I entered the offices.”
Throughout her pregnancy, Marie saw the four different providers within the practice. “It really did not matter which doctor I saw -- they all were great,” said Marie.
Several months into her pregnancy, Marie noticed a spot on her foot had started to change. She sought care from Katie Freel Smith, a physician assistant with Dillon Family Medicine.
“She immediately biopsied the spot, and when the results came back I learned it was melanoma, a type of skin cancer,” recalls Marie. The medical team explained to her that the hormones present due to her pregnancy caused the melanoma to grow rapidly. Surgery was required to remove the cancer, and Marie could not put weight on the affected foot during months six through eight of her pregnancy.
“It was a rough couple of months, but I lived through it with prayer and patience,” said Marie.
On August 6, 2014, Marie and her husband, Christian, welcomed their third child, Annabelle Rose Wolfe, to the family. Dr. Marla Hardenbergh delivered baby Annabelle at McLeod Dillon.
“Dr. Hardenbergh was great. Her compassionate bedside manner and confidence made us feel so at ease,” said Marie.
She added that her stay in the hospital was excellent. “All of the nurses were fantastic. They made an extra effort to make sure we were comfortable, offered assistance and always responded quickly when needed. It was also special to share our birth experience with nursing staff that we have known for years, like Tracey Campbell.”
The night before Marie was planning to take little Annabelle home, she developed a horrible headache. “After having an epidural or spinal injection, a patient has a small chance of developing a ‘post-dural puncture’ headache,” explained Dr. Hardenbergh.
Marie remained in the hospital for an additional day for monitoring. As with most post-dural puncture headaches, Marie’s pain subsided when she laid flat. For ten days after leaving the hospital, Marie was on bed rest to alleviate the pain.
“I was fortunate to have round the clock help from family and friends to help care for Annabelle,” she said.
Marie and her family also grew closer to Dr. Hardenbergh during her follow-up appointments. “We developed a friendship with her during this journey, and we are grateful to have found such a highly skilled physician right here in Dillon,” said Marie. “We had a memorable experience at McLeod Dillon and McLeod OB/GYN Dillon. The staff is very caring and took excellent care of Annabelle and me.”
Marie also relied on her strong Christian faith during her pregnancy -- from the shock of pregnancy at an advanced age to the discovery of the melanoma.
“This is a perfect example of how God has a plan for each of us. Annabelle has brought so much joy to our family, and we know He had a hand in this,” added Marie.
Eddie and Amy Powers of Effingham, South Carolina, were ecstatic to learn that they were expecting their first child, a baby boy. Amy experienced a normal pregnancy until Saturday, June 13, 2015, eleven weeks before her due date, when she began having contractions. Amy was admitted to McLeod Regional Medical Center on June 15 and developed a fever the next day, indicating a possible infection in the baby, so her physicians induced labor.
On June 16, Amy gave birth to Jackson Alan Powers. Nearly three months premature, Jackson weighed three and a half pounds and measured approximately 15 inches long.
He was immediately transferred to the McLeod Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“Everything was so unexpected,” recalls Amy. “Jackson had so many difficulties from the very beginning. He suffered from seizures, anemia, and an infection, among other things.”
Doctors then discovered that Jackson had an underdeveloped brain and brain stem as well as severe gastrointestinal complications that interfered with his ability to swallow and digest milk.
On July 5, three weeks after Jackson’s birth, physicians briefly removed his breathing tube and gave him oxygen through nasal prongs.
“This was the first, and only, time we heard Jackson cry,” says Amy. “It was a beautiful sound.
Forty-five minutes later, physicians re-intubated Jackson.
During Jackson’s entire stay in the McLeod NICU, Amy supplied breast milk for his feedings.“I had not intended to breastfeed, but because of Jackson’s critical condition, I knew that my milk was the best medicine for him,” says Amy. “Although I was never able to breastfeed Jackson because of his feeding tube, I pumped as much as I could because I knew that was the best thing I could do for him.”
In a hospital, premature infants are vulnerable and exposed -- through their skin, lungs, and digestive system -- to a very unnatural environment where complications can occur. However, a mother’s milk is a vital component for increasing the infant’s immunity to those potential infections or diseases. For this reason, many neonatologists today treat human milk as a “medication” instead of a source of nutrition.
Five weeks into his stay in the McLeod NICU, Jackson continued to experience complications. On July 22, he was transferred to another hospital, where he stayed for another five weeks.August 25 is a day that Amy and Eddie will hold dear forever. It was the first time they saw Jackson open both his eyes.
“I cried as I watched him look up at me like that,” recalls Amy. “I had been waiting for this moment for more than two months.”
However, shortly after this happy moment, Jackson developed Necrotizing Enterocolitis, a serious infection that primarily affects premature babies and babies with very low birth weights, for the third time.
Jackson could fight the infection no longer.
“We lost Jackson on Saturday, August 29, 2015, at 12:30 p.m.,” says Amy. “He was in my arms when he passed, and we have been heartbroken ever since.
“I wish my milk had worked the miracles I was counting on, but God had other plans,” she continues.
After Jackson’s passing, genetic tests revealed that he suffered from pontocerebellar hypoplasia, a rare genetic disorder which affects brain development and often leads to severe complications.
Because of Jackson’s gastrointestinal problems, he was unable to use much of the milk Amy pumped, so when she learned that McLeod Regional Medical Center was a depot site for the Mother’s Milk Bank of South Carolina, she decided to donate her extra milk.
“Eddie and I saw firsthand the importance of human milk, and we wanted to give other babies a fighting chance,” recalls Amy. “We hope that by donating this milk, Jackson’s milk, we can help other babies.”
On November 4, 2015, Amy became the first milk donor to the McLeod Regional Medical Center Depot Site. With Eddie by her side, Amy donated 322 ounces of human milk.
“This is a special moment for us,” says Eddie. “We do this in honor of Jackson.”
The journey to parenthood stirs a myriad of emotions -- joy, anticipation, wonder, and excitement. However, one Myrtle Beach couple, Bryan Hipkins and Jessica Usher, learned firsthand how quickly happiness can give way to fear and worry.
On December 2, 2015, at approximately 25 weeks into her pregnancy, Jessica arrived at a local hospital after her water broke. The examination indicated that Jessica suffered from Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes (PPROM), or a rupture of fetal membranes prior to 37 weeks.
Because PPROM can lead to serious complications for both the mother and baby, including an increased risk of intrauterine infection and preterm delivery, Jessica’s physician ordered her transfer to McLeod Regional Medical Center.
McLeod Regional Medical Center offers specialized women’s and newborn care, including the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the only NICU in this region.
PPROM occurs in three to 19 percent of pregnancies and accounts for nearly 30 percent of preterm deliveries, according to Dr. John Chapman of McLeod OB/GYN Associates. Risk factors of the condition include: history of preterm births, amniotic fluid infection, multiple fetuses and prior history of PPROM.
On December 7, at 26 weeks and four days, Jessica underwent a C-section, performed by Dr. Chapman, and gave birth to Bryana Renee, who weighed just two pounds and seven ounces.
McLeod Neonatologist Dr. Tommy Cox, along with several members of the NICU team, accompanied the labor and delivery team to prepare for Bryana’s immediate transition to the unit after birth.
Bryana required a ventilator for breathing support and then quickly progressed to needing oxygen only through nasal prongs.
“Seeing our daughter lying in an incubator brought us to tears,” recalled Bryan. “My 11-month tour in Afghanistan as a member of the Army did not even compare to our NICU journey.”
Shortly after Bryana’s birth, Bryan and Jessica held her for the first time.
“Bryan and I felt overwhelmed, and a bit nervous, holding this tiny baby in our arms,” said Jessica. “We will treasure that moment forever.”
They also experienced Kangaroo Care, or skin-to-skin contact, with their daughter. Kangaroo Care involves the nurses putting Bryana directly on her mother’s and father’s chests.
Kangaroo Care not only promotes bonding between the parents and their baby, but also regulates the baby’s body temperature and encourages a smoother transition to breastfeeding.
On December 21, at two weeks old, Bryana received her first echocardio gram. The exam revealed Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA), a congenital heart defect common in premature infants where the blood vessel connecting the heart’s two major arteries does not close after birth, allowing blood to flow into the lungs. This adds stress to the heart and if left untreated, can lead to congestive heart failure.
Dr. Cox consulted with McLeod Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Charles Trant , and the two physicians initiated multiple trials of medication to close the PDA, but Bryana continued to struggle.
Consequently, she underwent a PDA ligation, a surgical procedure which involves closing the open PDA with stitches or clips, at a facility where these types of specialized surgeries are performed.
“Besides the PDA, Bryana fared well compared to most babies born at 26 weeks,” explains Dr. Cox. “Fortunately, Bryana developed none of the other major complications associated with prematurity such as retinopathy of prematurity (visual disturbance), necrotizing enterocolitis (GI problems), or -- the most feared -- Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH), also known as a brain bleed.
“We avoided these complications, in part, due to the infection control initiative undertaken by McLeod approximately ten years ago,” continues Dr. Cox. “Anyone who comes into contact with an infant in the NICU -- staff, parents, family -- must wash their hands for three minutes. Other measures include using sterile alcohol before touching an infant, cleaning the infant’s space every day, and removing intravenous (IV) lines as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of a bloodstream infection.
“The combination of these efforts allows our infants a greater chance to thrive.”
On March 25, 2016, after 109 days in the hospital, Bryana went home.
“As first-time parents, we expected to take our baby home with us right after her birth,” said Bryan. “We did not expect her to remain in the hospital. However, the NICU staff treated us -- including Bryana -- as part of their family. We appreciate their care and support, and we feel incredibly blessed to have a happy, healthy daughter.”
Today, Bryana continues to thrive. Now attempting to sit up, she weighs 13 pounds and brings joy to everyone around her
For 12 years, Jessica has raised funds for McLeod Children’s Hospital and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMNH) as an Associate at Walmart Supercenter in Surfside (Store #574). Only now does she fully realize the impact of these funds in providing compassionate care to children
“In all the years of fundraising for McLeod Children’s Hospital and CMNH, I never understood how the money directly supported pediatric patients,” says Jessica. “However, after the birth of my daughter, I not only learned firsthand how our efforts impact the children treated at McLeod, but also gained a deeper appreciation for having a Children’s Hospital so close to home.”