Few people would ever want to remember a months-long hospital stay and a brush with death. But you’d believe Laurie Shipley when she says her battle with Legionnaires’ Disease was “the best thing that ever happened” to her. And it has forever changed her life.
Not the flu Laurie came to St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor on a November day in 2013, with what she thought were flu symptoms. When she collapsed in the hospital elevator, it became clear her illness was much more serious and potentially deadly. A chest x-ray showed she had Legionnaires’ Disease. Laurie was admitted immediately to the MICU on 6 North for treatment. She was in a coma and on a ventilator.
Bedside prayers In the days and nights that followed, Laurie’s room was a revolving door of doctors, respiratory therapists and nurses. Laurie’s daughters, Tammy and Dana, remember two people in particular who provided comfort in all the chaos – a respiratory therapist, Christy Alexander, and a MICU nurse, Youngmi Fazio.
Christy spent 16-hour nights at Laurie’s bedside, checking for the slightest signs of improvement, making it her daily duty to report to family members.
Youngmi provided not only physical but also spiritual care. She prayed and talked to Laurie every time she entered the room, hoping Laurie could hear, even in slumber.
“I felt very close to her,” Youngmi said.
One night, when nurses thought Laurie was taking a turn for the worse, Youngmi repeated over and over, “You don’t do this to your friends, Laurie.” Laurie said she heard those words, and they encouraged her to hang on.
Laurie finally regained consciousness after more than two weeks. By then her family had celebrated Thanksgiving in the hospital, and were eager to have Laurie back home.
Laurie knew her recovery was nothing short of a miracle. Before getting discharged, she got to meet many of the staff who took care of her, but not the woman whose prayers she had heard every day. Though she remembered Youngmi’s voice, she had never seen her face. Every time Laurie came back to St. Joe’s she hoped to meet her. Their paths never crossed, until nearly three years later.
“I heard you every day.”
It took a long-lost friend to help Laurie find that missing puzzle piece.
In early August 2016, Laurie found herself back at St. Joe’s for a procedure. Her daughters Tammy and Dana accompanied her, and they were spotted and instantly recognized by Wendy Wagner, a family friend they hadn’t seen in more than 20 years.
During the impromptu reunion, Laurie’s family learned Wendy was now the manager of respiratory care at St. Joe’s, and Wendy learned about Laurie’s bout with Legionnaires’ and the great care she received in her department.
“Laurie couldn’t say enough wonderful things about Christy and Youngmi and the rest of the staff that cared for her then and now,” Wendy wrote in an email to St. Joe’s patient engagement team. “I’m not sure if Youngmi ever knew just how much her daily prayers, encouragement and singing meant to Laurie, even when she was sedated and on the ventilator,” she added.
A few weeks later, Wendy helped coordinate a reunion for Laurie, Christy and Youngmi on the same floor Laurie had spent weeks fighting for her life.
Hugging and gripping their hands, Laurie thanked her caretakers for their dedication.
“I had the best care ever,” Laurie said. “I heard you every day,” she told Youngmi.
Youngmi said Laurie confirmed what she always knew – that even the unconscious can hear and listen, and that words of encouragement and prayer are sometimes just as effective as medicine.
“There’s a whole person in there. As medical staff, we all need to be careful what we’re saying,” Youngmi said.
Laurie said Youngmi’s words and prayers had a profound impact on her and the way she wants to live the rest of her life.
Beyond physical recovery Laurie is fully recovered and back at her job as manager at Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers, where for more than 30 years she has served people recovering from brain and spinal cord injuries. She said the compassionate care she received as a patient gave her new empathy for others recovering from injury and disease.
“Time is precious and life is precious,” Laurie said. And she credits the team at St. Joe’s for helping her realize that.
What can you do today to help lower your risk for breast cancer? What can you do to make those chemotherapy visits less stressful? Is surgery the right option? In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Tara M. Breslin, MD, FACS, director of the Comprehensive Breast Program at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Livingston, addresses important questions about breast health, reducing your risk of breast cancer, and navigating cancer treatment in this helpful Q&A. Her answers were recently featured in a Sharecare article about boosting breast health.
1. What’s one thing readers can do to improve their breast health today?
Readers should become informed about their personal risk for breast cancer by discussing their family history with their primary care provider or at the time of their routine screening mammogram.
2. What do you wish more patients knew before starting chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is an important part of breast cancer treatment for some, but not all, women with breast cancer. The side effects are preventable and treatable in most instances. Patients should take the time to learn about the treatment and be proactive with their providers about managing side effects and symptoms.
3. What are some things people can start doing today to lower their risk of cancer?
After learning about breast cancer risk, they should determine an appropriate screening program with their primary care provider. Women should exercise regularly and eat a healthy, low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables. This lifestyle promotes heart health and reduces breast cancer risk.
4. What are some things people can do to make chemotherapy infusion days less stressful and intimidating?
Bring a friend for the first treatment.
Bring something to do such as a book to read, a portable hobby, crossword puzzles.
Wear comfortable clothing.
Get to know the people in the waiting room. Many people undergo chemotherapy on a regular schedule and can become an important source of social support for each other.
5. What’s one unexpected habit you wish your patients would drop?
Tobacco cessation is an important part of improving outcome after a breast cancer diagnosis. Many doctors and nurses are hesitant to discuss the negative effects of tobacco on overall health and cancer outcomes with patients who already have a diagnosis of breast cancer, but this is an important part of their overall health care and oncology care.
6. What’s the most common question your patients ask you?
“Is this cancer going to kill me?” The truth is, most breast cancer in the United States is diagnosed with screening mammography at an early stage when it is very treatable. Five-year survival is excellent for women who are diagnosed and treated early
7. What’s the most common myth or misconception that you regularly have to debunk among your patients?
Many women think that more aggressive surgery will translate into improved survival. The truth is that for appropriately selected women, survival after breast conserving surgery is equivalent to survival after mastectomy.
8. What do you do to stay healthy?
Regular exercise, healthy diet, and I spent time with my family and my horse.
9. How do you fit in time for exercise every day?
I exercise on the way home from work or while waiting for my kids to finish their athletic practices.
10. What’s the biggest mistake you see your patients make?
Rushing into treatment can lead to regret about treatment decisions. Most breast cancers grow very slowly, and there is time to learn about treatment options and seek a second opinion, if desired.
“Carrie can you hear me?” I bellow in to my walkie-talkie. “Carrie it’s Lila, can you hear me?” I had just finished the most strenuous and longest hike of my life across the Grand Canyon and back again. While I have crossed this canyon before, this time I had taken the longer trail, the Bright Angel Trail, which added several miles to an already lengthy and grueling hike. The moment I reached the rim I radioed for Carrie to find out how she was doing. “Carrie can you hear me?” I practically screamed.
Carrie is a 57-year-old mother of two. She’s an avid hiker who, like me, has traversed this canyon numerous times. She knows the challenge of starting in the middle of the night when it’s just 35 degrees and pitch black outside. This is the 17th time she’s loaded a backpack with 50 ounces of water, enough electrolytes and protein bars to make the crossing and headed down the narrow trail with only the light of a tiny headlamp to guide her down the serpentine switchbacks before the sunrise. She’s well acquainted with the change in altitude, the heat, the dehydration risks, the 10,000-foot elevation change and the 50-degree temperature change. She knows the endurance required to make it from one side to the other and the superhuman motivation necessary to climb back again. The majority of those who hike rim to rim will get a ride or take the shuttle back. Rim to rim is challenging enough. Rim to rim to rim takes a certain amount of insanity.
The Grand Canyon leaves no room for sissies. There’s no opportunity to quit. You can’t call 9-1-1. The moment you hike in, you have to count on your own ability to get yourself out. In truth, the park rangers don’t recommend this hike, especially for those who haven’t trained properly. There are warning signs along the trail reminding those who think this might be fun that the distance, extreme heat and elevation change make it a serious life or death decision.
For years, Carrie has been my rock in this canyon. She has bandaged my blistered feet, made sure I had enough water and nutrition, the right amount of layers, and the right attitude to make it both in and out in one piece. She walks the entire way but knows how I love to run. And as I dash away from her, she’s always warning me to keep my eyes on the trail — one false step and it’s all over.
But so much has happened since the last time she and I made the trek 24 miles across the canyon and back again. In the few years since I climbed this 7th wonder of the world, Carrie’s wonderful world has been turned upside down. She received the diagnosis one in 8 women will hear in their lifetime: Breast cancer.
Carrie’s been through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair, her breast, several lymph nodes but not an inch of her grit and none of her grace. The moment she was able to bend over and lace up her hiking boots, Carrie was back on the trail. Less than a year after chemo, she was back. Her way of fighting breast cancer was the same method she has always used to cross the canyon: One step at a time. Hiking is Carrie’s passion and she wasn’t letting a diagnosis of breast cancer take that away from her. She remained active which she says helped both physically and emotionally.
She started slow with easier hikes but in short order found her way back in the canyon. Yes there were modifications. She had to find a backpack that wouldn’t irritate any of the muscles impacted by the mastectomy and reconstruction. She gives herself more time than she used to. There’s no hurry. In fact, Carrie says she now is able to stop and savor any given moment in a way she never did before.
And if you ask Carrie, she’ll tell you that hiking has really been key to her recovery. I hike because hiking improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk for osteoporosis. It improves circulation, energy levels and just makes you feel better. And for Carrie, hiking has been an antidote to the depression and anxiety that come with a cancer diagnosis. And plenty of studies show hiking during and after treatment benefits cancer patients in a multitude of ways from improved fitness to reduced rates of recurrence and a longer life. Cancer patients who exercise have been found to experience less nausea and fatigue. While the chemo may have worked on Carrie’s cancer, it was clear that hiking helped her mind and soul.
But now I was getting worried. She hadn’t responded. Just when I really thought I needed to hike back down and find Carrie, I heard her voice crackle through the walkie-talkie. “I’m just passed Three-Mile Resthouse,” she said. “I’m right behind you.”
Thrilled to hear her voice, I waited impatiently for her to make it up the final and most difficult 3 miles of the hike. I can’t even begin to describe her smile when she finally emerged at the trailhead atop the South Rim. This was more than just another hike. This was a major victory and we both knew it. “I’m not going to lie,” she said breathily. “It wasn’t easy.”
Carrie’s life has changed forever and spending this time with her has changed mine, too. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff anymore. She places a much higher value on experiences than possessions. She doesn’t care if she’s slower, she’s just thrilled to be hiking, at all. The fear of recurrence is always lurking, but Carrie decided early on that she was going to get busy living, not dying Now she worries less and chooses happiness more. Breast cancer gave Carrie that all important lesson: There’s no time like the present. And there’s no way to feel more alive than hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim.
By Rob Casalou Regional President and CEO Saint Joseph Mercy Health System
When that alarm clock goes off at 4:15 a.m. on the third and final day of riding, I am sure I’m not alone of the thought that came to mind… “No way”!
First, that is early on any day but after logging 210 miles of riding over the previous two days, the muscles are a bit more sore and the body needs a little more encouragement to get out of bed. But we all did get up, put on the last day riding clothes and make our way to breakfast at Dewitt High School. It is dark, a little cool but as the school starts to come to life and as we all realize this is our last day and the great celebration and accomplishment that awaits us at the end, the blood starts pumping again.
Day three is the shortest ride of the three days at just over 95 miles to the finish line at MIS. It is also our flattest course so that is welcome as well. The weather forecast was variable with the famous weather prediction of a 50% chance of storms anywhere. I joked with many of my teammates that the most secure job in America is a weather forecaster because what other profession can you make a 50% prediction of something and keep your job?! Well, the 50% chance of no rain was what we experienced and we were grateful for that!
We communicated to our 300-mile riders and our Team Joe’s 50-mile riders who would be riding in the vicinity of MIS on Sunday morning, that we would meet up in the MIS parking lot at 2 p.m. so that we could ride into the MIS as a team and cross the finish line together. With so many riders of different speeds, many of our 300-mile team left Dewitt right at 6 a.m. and some of our fast Tour de France types left a bit later so that we would all arrive at the same time.
It worked out beautifully as we all gathered at the last break-stop about 10 miles from MIS at the same time and we rode the last 10 miles together to our meeting spot and joined our Team Joe’s 50 milers who were waiting for us. It was awesome to come together and then I realized just how big our team had grown – 62 cyclists all n one place for the first time. We spent several minutes celebrating with a lot of hugs, high-fives and just pure joy.
Before I talk about the final mile into MIS and the Heroes Hurrah celebration, I want to quickly back up to a couple highlights of the day. First, this was a very safe ride over the three days because we are well-protected by our state trooper escorts, medics, firemen and American Red Cross staff in addition to hundreds of volunteers and some very courteous and helpful riders. Every so often, as you might expect, there is a rider who falls and we had a couple of those on Sunday. One rider from another team took a fall and to his good fortune, Team Joe’s riders were on the scene before the medics arrived and started to render care. I still don’t know who from our team came to the rescue as the story was relayed to me but having a team with so many medical professionals is quite comforting!
The lunch stop at the Stockbridge High School is also a highlight on the last day since it is when the staff serve the popular Chinese food and pizza meal. Now, there is no way yours truly can stomach that meal at that moment so I go with my staple on the ride – peanut butter and jelly. But you could see many Team Joe’s riders and all WAM riders enjoying the lunch before heading out for the final 47 miles.
Another special highlight was meeting Wish Kid Casey at one of the break-stops. We meet a lot of Wish Kids and Wish Families on the tour but Casey stood out for me. He is about 11 years old and is currently getting chemo treatment. He just got notice this past week that his wish was being granted to go to the Bahamas and swim with the pigs! Yes, you did read that correctly. I didn’t know you could do such a thing but that is what his dream is and that is what he will get to do. He is not well enough to travel right now but, once he gets his medical clearance, he and his family are off to the Bahamas… and the pigs. His eyes lit up as he told his story and he was overwhelmed by all the riders who came up to shake his hand and congratulate him on his upcoming wish. This young boy was surrounded by love and he and his Mom could feel it. This is why we ride. And the doctors will tell you that when a child like Casey is in treatment and they are told they are getting a wish, their attitude and demeanor changes dramatically and they are stronger mentally and feel much more positive about their future. A wish is not just a trip or an experience, it gives hope and strength to these young children and helps them with their treatment.
Back to the end….With our team gathered right outside the MIS track, we rode slowly around the outside of the track to what is known as the “Silent Mile”. Hundreds of riders ride in memory of loved ones lost too soon and there are stars with names and pictures all along a grassy area that riders stop at before they enter the track and pick up the star of the person they rode for the past three days. You can hear a pin drop as riders pause or ride by slowly because it is truly a scared part of our journey together. You can’t help but feel a lump in your throat as you pass this area and it reminds us all how fragile life is and that we must do all we can to help others during our time on this earth.
After the Silent Mile, our team rode onto the MIS track which is very cool. The track has a steep embankment so we stay low so not to have our tires slide out from underneath us and we slowly make our way around turns 3 and 4 on the MIS track to the finish line. As we approached the finish line, the track is lined with thousands of people cheering, singing, taking pictures and videos and celebrating our achievement in riding and making wishes come true. The feeling is hard to describe but it is a feeling I and our team members will never forget. After crossing the finish line, we gathered in the infield, took another team pic and just spent time talking and celebrating and already planning next year. This is the highlight of my summer and my year and my family was there, as were many families of our riders, to greet us with hugs and smiles.
We then made our way to the stage area where we meet our Wish Hero who would place our medals around our neck and thank us for riding. As I mentioned in my first update, our Wish Hero was Michael R. Michael had a wish to play catch with Miguel Cabrera last year. We arrived at the stage to learn that Michael was not well enough to be there with us on Sunday. We were sad but mostly because of the news he was not feeling well. In Michael’s place, we had three other wish children there to celebrate and give us our medals and one of them said to us, “I just can’t believe what you all did for us, thank you so much”. That says it all. After the ceremony, we all headed to get the bags, eat and head home to showers and beds.
A couple final thoughts….
First, I want to thank all 62 members of Team Joe’s for what they did this past weekend. What an awesome group of people that included St. Joe’s physicians and colleagues, Probility leaders and staff who were a huge reason our team almost doubled in size this year, to friends and families of our physicians and staff who joined as well as a couple UM colleagues who also joined us. New friendships were formed and I can see most of this team coming back next year for the 30th Wish-a-Mile that will be extra special celebrating that milestone.
I also had the fortune of crossing the finish line with my daughter, Julie, who rode for the first time. It is a wonderful opportunity for fathers, mothers, daughters and sons to do this ride together and I am so grateful that my spunky girl wanted to go from WAM volunteer to WAM rider this year. As we rode by riders all three days, she was always smiling and always giving encouragement to others even though she was feeling the burn in her legs. I was a lucky Dad and she and I never separated on the road. Thanks sweetie for making this WAM extra special.
Lastly, if you are reading this and are intrigued by this event and Team Joe’s, please consider joining us. Just let me know of your interest and I will fill you in on everything you need to know and then you can decide. I promise you that you will never regret climbing on board.
Until next year….
Regional President and CEO
Saint Joseph Mercy Health System
The ride from Big Rapids to Dewitt is long at 109 miles but is much flatter than our first day and we “usually” have a tailwind for much of the ride. The operative word is “usually.”
Instead, we faced a stiff northeast wind and made 109 feel a lot lot longer. Throw in a 30-minute rain that made it extra special and we felt firsthand to the perils of Michigan weather. But, as you might expect, the spirits of Team Joe’s and most WAM riders were not diminished at all. You see, this is a very special group of people helping some very special kids who endure far more than a bike ride. These are kids who endure surgery, chemo and medical conditions we can only hope we never encounter ourselves. So, a good headwind is the least of our worries. Raising enough funds to grant wishes to our kids – that is why we do this.
It is great to see new friendships form among the members of Team Joe’s. Many of us have not met before and this was a great opportunity to bond and take something away from this weekend that will last for years to come. We have some very fast riders who hit it hard every day. We have some mid-speed riders who pick each other up all the time and we have slower riders who are steady and inspiring.
Tonight was the infamous “WAMmy Award” ceremony that is hosted by two of our wish kid alumni and highlights wishes granted, many awards including highest fundraising by teams and individuals.
Team Joe’s is now the third largest team for fundraising and our number pushed above $112,000 by today. Wow. We also granted a wish at the award ceremony to a young boy named Isaac, who we sent off in a limo as he and his family are traveling tomorrow to New York for a wish that has them attending a baseball game and meeting famous NY Mets players. He is so excited.
But the highlight for all of us was the new record that WAM set for overall fundraising – $2.25 million!! That is incredible and humbling. Thanks to all our donors and supporters.
Sunday is our “short” day at 95 miles. It ends at the MIS Speedway and we will ride in as a team in the mid-afternoon. I couldn’t be more excited. Wish us well and maybe even a tailwind this time!
P.S. Sarah Bahnke got her new bike that her dad, Dave McNeil, brought up last night, so she was back in the saddle!
There is something about an alarm clock going off at 4:30am, looking outside into the dark and seeing rain coming down… but it can’t be repeated here! 🙂
That is what Team Joe’s woke up to this morning but you would not have known anything was wrong by the many smiles that arrived at the school this morning as Team Joe’s and all the WAM riders showed up to start Day One. Team Joe’s gathered at 6am for a team picture and then everyone got on the road.
Despite early rain, the weather today was ideal. It was overcast and temps in the mid-70s most of the day. The headwinds kicked up later in the day so the last 20 miles were tough but, overall, no complaint on the weather. Day One is the full of hills and all the riders will tell you that the toughest hill is at mile 90 when, as you approach it, your mind says “Really”?
Our riders had a clean ride – almost. Kelly Poppaw had four flat tires!
Fortunately, members of Team Joe’s and the Make-a-Wish volunteer bike mechanics got her going again. And Sarah Bahnke had a major failure of her gear hardware that scrapped her bike for the tour. But not to be held back, Sarah’s Dad, Dave McNeil drove all the way down to Novi to pick her up a new bike and brought it all the way back up to Big Rapids tonight!
Dave McNeil continues to be an amazing man and a great Dad.
In this blog you can see many pictures from the road that show our team enjoying each other and making our team proud on the road.
We were able to meet wish kids and wish families at the lunch stop, break stops and dinner tonight. Just as my legs were starting to feel a little tired, I then met Wish Kid Chad and his entire family. After that conversation, my legs felts just fine!
Tomorrow is our long day with 109.4 miles from Big Rapids to Dewitt. We will thankfully have fewer hills but rain is in the forecast and 109 miles is LONG! 🙂
Tomorrow night is our WAMmmy Awards in Dewitt, which are truly a highlight of the weekend. We will be celebrating our riders, our wish kids and families and handing out recognition awards.
Team Joe’s will be standing tall at the awards with an all-time high in fundraising with our team collecting $111,235 that will go to our wish kids. This amount will pay for over 11 wishes for Michigan kids. How awesome. I am so thankful to our team members and all of friends, family and colleagues who supported them.
Okay, signing off because I have to go to bed! But before signing off, I just have to say, on a personal note, how wonderful it is to be riding with my daughter, Julie, on this WAM. She has been a volunteer on WAM the past three years but this year she is on a bike. The farthest she ever road before this weekend was 40 miles! She and I never separated all day and
Team Joe’s and all the WAM riders are settling in for the night in Traverse City. It was a smooth day of travel from the MIS Speedway to the Courtade Elementary School in Traverse City. This school serves as our home base for the start of our ride tomorrow morning.
Most of the riders take shuttles to nearby hotels for the evening but there are many, including a few from Team Joe’s, that pitch tents on the school grounds or sleep on air mattresses in the school. As you walk around the school grounds, all you see is a sea of bicycles – all ready for the morning.
Team Joe’s has grown significantly this year. With 46 riders on the 3-day, 300 mile route and 16 riders on the 1-day, 50 mile event that takes place on Sunday when we all roll into MIS and cross the finish line together. We have many first time riders in the Wish-A-Mile including several from Probility. Some of us met for the first time today and I can already see the new friendships forming.
Tomorrow starts early with breakfast beginning at 4:30a am and with the route opening at 6am. We will try and get a quick team picture in before we hit the road and then it’s all about getting through 100 miles of a lot of hills on the first day. The weather forecast is calling for possible rain in the early morning but the rest of the day is looking great and maybe a slight tailwind! Let’s hope.
I want to thank all of our St. Joe’s colleagues and friends who supported us this year. The St. Joe’s family spirit is alive and well up here and we promise to do you proud as we ride to create wishes for our Michigan wish kids.
Ride along with SJMHS President and CEO Rob Casalou and 59 other riders of Team Joe’s as they traverse 300 miles of Michigan countryside in the 2016 Wish a Mile. Rob and the team will be posting summaries, pics and live video during their three-day journey from July 28-30. Catch the action on this blog and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Rob’s first entry:
Our travel day up north for the WAM started this morning. We have 46 riders from Team Joe’s doing the 3-day, 300 mile your and 16 riders from Team Joe’s doing the 50 mile ride on Sunday.
It is extra special for me having my daughter Julie riding with me this year. Also, we have many new riders on Team Joe’s, including several from Probility that are in the large group shot. The other pics show the amount of organization needed to move 850 riders from MIS to Traverse City!