In March, Kassie Sheffer was anxiously awaiting the day of her scheduled thyroidectomy. Experiencing difficulty swallowing, Kassie was ready for the relief the removal of her thyroid would bring. Unfortunately, in late March, Kassie received a call that her surgery would be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was frustrated but understood,” Kassie said. Her surgeon, Beth Kimball, MD, kept in touch and assured Kassie that if swallowing became even more difficult, she could go to the Emergency Department and the surgery could take place. Kassie waited, and had a successful thyroidectomy in mid-May when surgeries resumed at St. Joe’s.
“I’m typically a very cautious person,” Kassie said. “Going into a hospital with COVID-19 patients should have been nerve-wracking. But it was the opposite. I was ready to reschedule my surgery.”
Kassie received clear instructions from Dr. Kimball and St. Joe’s on what to expect and how to prepare for surgery. She went two days before surgery for a COVID-19 test, which was negative, and knew that visitor restrictions would mean she’d be alone during surgery and her overnight stay.
“Although I was alone, I never felt alone,” Kassie said. “Everyone went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable and were very helpful. Dr. Kimball called my husband immediately after surgery to let him know everything went well and, later, I was able to speak to him myself.”
Kassie also witnessed St. Joe’s safety processes first hand.
“It’s very clear patient safety is a top priority,” Kassie said. “Everyone is screened before entering; you can tell all of the staff are screened too because they have a sticker with a date on their badge. The clinicians are also always explaining what they are doing and how the surgery area is separate from areas where they care for COVID-19 patients. I would tell everyone 1,000 times over that they don’t have to be nervous to receive care at St. Joe’s – it’s safe.”
Kassie is now home, recovering well and conducting follow-up visits with her physicians virtually. Kassie, her husband and the four children she had at St. Joe’s are healthy and glad Kassie’s difficulties are gone for good.
On June 6, 2019, “Life is Remarkable” Campaign lead donors and volunteers celebrated and toured the renewed and re-opened Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center with Health System leaders and hospital president Bill Manns.
“When we talk about the impact of your gifts for the Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center, the real measurement is the lives you are saving, extending and making better. ‘Life is Remarkable’ is more than a campaign, it’s a belief we practice every day, because patients are fighting cancer every day,” said Bill Manns, President, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Livingston.
Each day, approximately 200 patients receive care at St. Joe’s transformed Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center, re-opened December 2018 with thanks to 1,024 donors to St. Joe’s “Life is Remarkable” campaign.
“This project was built upon a legacy of support from donors who gave to the original cancer center more than 25 years ago, and have continued to serve as partners in our healing mission. We are grateful for the ongoing support, and to the generous community members, physicians and staff who are making an incredible impact today through their inspirational giving to the “Life is Remarkable” Campaign,” said David Ripple, SJMHS Vice President for Development.
Your support is still needed. Because every patient has a life that is remarkable.
To date, gifts for the Campaign have reached $9.5 million toward the $10 million philanthropy goal. And, the first two phases of our campaign are complete – renewing and re-opening our Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center and transforming our services.
Additional gifts through December 2019 will help complete the campaign, supporting the Cancer Care Innovation Endowment and the future of cancer care for our patients.
To learn more or make your gift, please contact the Office of Development:
Katie Elliott, Director of Major and Planned Gifts, at 734-712-3919 or Katie.Elliott@stjoeshealth.org Karen Campbell, Gift Officer, at 734-712-2890
Karen Campbell, Gift Officer, at 734-712-2890 Karen.Campbell@stjoeshealth.org
Melissa Sheppard, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, at 734-712-4079 or Melissa.Sheppard@stjoeshealth.org
“Recently I came across the definition of the word
Courage. It is the quality of mind or
spirit that enables a person to face difficulty or pain. You have to have courage just to walk through
these doors and hear your diagnosis,” said Sandra Lymburner, 58-year-old
Ann Arbor resident, of her experience facing breast cancer. “Cancer can
make you feel overwhelmed and alone. But together with your cancer team here at
St. Joe’s you find the courage. There is
strength in knowing you will receive the best cancer care possible.”
While Sandy celebrates
five years cancer-free this past September, her journey of braving a new treatment
path will have an ongoing impact on others.
She’s quick to credit the cancer care and research team at St. Joe’s
Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center.
Weeks after being diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma
in the right breast and lobular cancer in the left, Sandy underwent a double
mastectomy in September 2014. Her chemotherapy port was placed the next month,
fully expecting it was the next course of treatment.
But on the day of Sandy’s first scheduled chemotherapy
session, Dr. Philip Stella, medical director of oncology at Saint Joseph Mercy
Health System, suggested she might be able to bypass chemotherapy altogether.
“He came into the room with a big
smile on his face,” Sandy described. Dr. Stella
had sent in her breast tumor samples for molecular testing. Sandy had some of the lowest cancer
recurrence risk scores he had seen, making her a good candidate for the
groundbreaking Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment (Rx), or
TAILORx trial. Sandy received a score of
10 and 7 (on a scale of 100), and was randomly selected to receive hormone
Rather than receiving infusion chemo treatments, Sandy chose
to participate in the clinical trial, which includes a treatment regimen of
medications to block the production of hormones and reduce her risks of the
breast cancer recurring.
She also followed her cancer team’s recommendations for
radiation therapy – to tackle the microscopic cells. But avoiding chemotherapy and its drastic
side effects was a huge morale booster for Sandy, who began journaling and
running every day.
In 2016, Sandy completed a half-marathon, and, in 2018, to mark
four years of being cancer-free, she ran her third half-marathon in Chicago on
At the Robert H. and Judy Dow Alexander Cancer Center
Dedication and Blessing in December 2018, Sandy shared her experience with our
community and donors as a speaker at the event, “The clinical trial
allowed me to walk out of the cancer center that day without requiring
chemo. Every time I tell the story, I
recall the moment I looked back at the chairs in the infusion clinic. I was on the other side. I got to go home. My good fortune was due to the outstanding
staff in the Oncology and Research Departments at St. Joe’s and Dr.
At that time I didn’t realize St. Joe’s is recognized as one
of the nation’s best National Cancer Institute funded community research
programs. They have 100 trials open to enrollment at any given time. These studies offer investigational
treatments for a wide variety of cancers, symptom management, and cancer
Sandy went on to explain, “The exceptional care I
received at St. Joe’s has been incredible and is the main reason I decided to
become an Experience Advisor.” As such,
Sandy was closely involved in the Cancer Center redesign and renovation project
and found it enlightening and gratifying to have another unique opportunity to
shape the care of those following a similar path.
Closing her remarks at the Dedication, Sandy shared these
powerful words, “Society has labeled me a cancer survivor. That term doesn’t really resonate with
me. I like to think of myself as a
resilient fighter… Someone that didn’t know how strong she was until being strong
was the only choice she had. Thanks to
my family and the staff at St. Joe’s we embraced the unknown together and I
have celebrated almost five years of being cancer free.”
trial shows no need for chemotherapy for most women with early breast cancer
TAILORx trial, launched in 2006 and supported by the National Cancer Institute,
analyzed breast tumors using the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score and
assigned a cancer recurrence risk score to each individual. Based on those scores, the trial randomly
assigned participants to hormone therapy alone, or a combination of hormone
therapy and chemotherapy.
Forty St. Joe’s patients participated
in the trial.
the National Cancer Institute said new findings from the TAILORx trial show no
benefit from chemotherapy for most women with early breast cancer. Researchers
hope the new data will help inform treatment decisions for many women with
early-stage breast cancer, especially for those deemed to have an intermediate
risk of recurrence.
To learn more about St. Joe’s Cancer Care and National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program, visit: stjoesannarbor.org/cancer
ANN ARBOR – Brady, a happy, energetic five-year-old boy, does not fit the image of a stereotypical physical therapy patient. However, physical therapy is helping Brady attain a life with less pain, less obstacles, and more mobility.
Brady has Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, a condition that leads to avascular necrosis of the proximal femoral head. In layman’s terms, the top of Brady’s femur is not receiving an adequate blood supply, causing that portion of his bone to slowly die. While most people affected only have the disease in one hip, both of Brady’s femurs are deteriorating.
Many of Brady’s family members have this condition, including his father, Josh, a colleague at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System.
While Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is not life-threatening, it does cause severe pain and mobility issues. For Brady, he was in so much pain that it became a struggle for him to walk. His left foot was tilting in, and he couldn’t bear pressure on that leg.
He was referred for physical therapy, with a choice of going to the University of Michigan or to Probility’s pediatric clinic in Ypsilanti. His parents chose Probility because they had heard such positive things about pediatric physical therapist Dan Santioni, and because the clinic was closer to home.
Probility Physical Therapy has 15 locations throughout Washtenaw, Livingston, and Lenawee Counties. The pediatric clinic opened in June 2018, and added occupational therapy and speech therapy services in February 2019.
Brady was extremely anxious about physical therapy, which was scheduled for three times a week to start. This was heightened by Brady’s fear of new people, common for a child of his age. Thankfully though, Dan was able to form a deep connection with him. Brady’s mother Nicole shared, “Dan made physical therapy fun and interactive for him. He incorporated games, and Brady started to actually look forward to his sessions.”
Through the use of massage, stretches, and drills, Brady has made incredible strides forward. He is able to walk with ease again, and is learning how to manage his condition outside of physical therapy. When he is in pain, he’s able to use the stretches from physical therapy to help ease it.
Brady has grown attached to Dan, so his parents were worried when a new physical therapist assistant, Kathryn Perry, joined Brady’s care team. Fortunately, she too was able to bond with Brady. According to Nicole, “That office is filled with people who are there for the right reasons, and they all provide wonderful care.”
As Brady ages and the disease progresses, the pain will lessen. He will still require “Mr. Dan tune-ups” occasionally, to help him maintain his flexibility. It is also possible that he will need surgery in the future, but his parents hope that through physical therapy and the lifestyle changes Dan and Kathryn have taught Brady, he may be able to avoid it.
Nicole expressed her gratitude for Probility’s pediatric program, stating, “I really feel Probility was brought to St. Joe’s for a reason. It’s been a great help to our family.”
Looking for a Physical Therapist? Visit Probility Physical Therapy or call 734-712-1589 and we will guide you through the process.
Elliot Valenstein, PhD, glides through the water as he completes 50 laps at the neighborhood racquet club pool. Swimming is one of the many ways he’s remained fit and healthy for most of his remarkable 92 years.
He also walks, rides his bike and has even been seen working on the roof of his Ann Arbor home from time to time.
But he wasn’t always so active.
“As I got older my joints began to ache and my walking became limited,” Dr. Valenstein says.
The discomfort increased over the course of a few years until, by his 90th birthday, he decided to have hip replacement surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor to relieve the pain.
He scheduled the procedure with board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas O’Keefe. Within a few hours of the surgery, he was sitting in a chair reading a book. A few days later, he left the hospital and entered a sub-acute facility to start rehab. After two days, he felt so good that he was able to continue his exercises at home.
“The care was excellent,” he recalls. “After the recovery period, the pain was gone and my movement was re-established. I was fine.”
Dr. Valenstein resumed swimming and doing the things that bring him and his family joy.
It’s a life that seems to be getting better with age.
As a young G.I. in the World War II, Dr. Valenstein served in the jungles of Burma. Following the war, he earned his doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Kansas and became a distinguished researcher at Walter Reed Institute of Research in Washington D.C. He returned to Ann Arbor to teach at the University of Michigan until his retirement. He is a published author and noted authority on brain stimulation and psychosurgery.
Dr. Valenstein and his wife still reside in the home they bought together in 1970 and where they raised two sons – Dr. Paul Valenstein, a pathologist at St. Joe’s Ann Arbor, and Carl Valenstein, an international law attorney.
Later this year, Dr. Valenstein will travel to California to officiate the wedding of his granddaughter.
Thanks to the expertise of Dr. O’Keefe and the team at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, Dr. Valenstein’s new hip allows him to continue enjoying life to the fullest.
“The hip wasn’t a major life event in the grand scheme of things, and that’s a good thing,” he says.