Bloomington man has new outlook on life after GI diagnosis

“I had given up,” said Michael Gordon, 50, of Bloomington.

Michael had been dealing with constant pain for nearly five years. After many frustrating appointments with various doctors and no answers, Michael was not seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

“I frequently asked myself, ‘Why am I sick?’ … Wondering if I was going to have to live in pain for the remainder of my life,” Michael said.

Michael finally got the hope he was looking for when he was referred to Dr. Omar Khokhar, a gastrointestinal specialist at OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center.

Being heard

Michael and gastrointestinal specialist Dr. Omar Khokhar

“I had seen so many doctors all over the country with no answers,” Michael said. “So I went into my appointment with Dr. Khokhar expecting it to be no different, but my attitude quickly changed.”

For once, Michael felt his voice was being heard, and his symptoms were being understood.

“It was so refreshing,” Michael said. “Dr. Khokhar instantly made me feel comfortable, and asked questions that other doctors had never taken the time to ask me before.”

Upon examination and multiple tests, Dr. Khokhar diagnosed Michael with systemic sclerosis. It is an autoimmune disorder of the connective tissue that can affect a number of areas of the body including muscles, heart, digestive system, kidneys and blood vessels.

“One visit with Dr. Khokhar changed everything,” Michael said. “He nailed down the issue I had been dealing with for nearly five years. It was a wonderful feeling.”

A better life

Since seeing Dr. Khokhar, Michael’s life has drastically changed for the better. Although his condition is not curable, he finally feels that his disease is being managed and treated.

“Dr. Khokhar has the ability to make you feel like you are his only patient,” Michael said. “The care he gives feels as though he is taking all of his spare time to help you feel better.

He doesn’t just care about you medically, he cares how you are doing emotionally – like you are one of his friends. I’ve never had a doctor treat me like that.”

Michael has undergone procedures at OSF St. Joseph for his systemic sclerosis. He believes the treatment he has received from the entire staff has lived up to his standards of exceptional patient care.

“Dr. Khokhar and the entire staff at OSF St. Joseph have helped me find comfort in an uncomfortable time,” Michael said. “I have never felt like just a name on a file. People treat me like I’m family there; like they actually care.”

Michael feels the relief he is experiencing is just the beginning. For once, he no longer sees hopelessness in his future – he sees longevity, raising his children and finally having a normal life again.

“Dr. Khokhar has given me a new outlook on life,” Michael said. “He assures me that he is not done, not quitting, and not giving up on treating my disease. Because of this, I no longer want to give up either.”

Heart attack survivor shatters all stereotypes

Julie Bowald is not your typical heart attack survivor. Active, health-conscious and an overachiever, the vibrant mother of two shatters all stereotypes. Always on the go, Julie regularly worked long hours to build her successful real estate business while raising two teenage daughters with her husband Robert. Then, in May 2016, Julie’s world changed forever.

After a busy Memorial Day weekend, she woke up expecting it to be a normal day. But from the moment her feet touched the floor, she knew something wasn’t quite right. As the day went on, Julie found herself stumbling over words, feeling dizzy and struggling with overwhelming fatigue.

Convinced some rest was all she needed, Julie drove to her parents’ home nearby in Germantown Hills to rest.

“I called my dad and told him something was wrong with me,” Julie said.

Critical response

The minutes that followed were critical. Julie’s mother, Diane, was only minutes away, and the first to find Julie sitting alone in her car. Confused and in pain Julie said, “Mom, I think I might be having a heart attack.”

Diane called 9-1-1. Minutes later the Germantown Hills emergency medical team and the fire department loaded Julie into the ambulance.

“I remember feeling like a water hose had been turned on inside of me,” Julie said. “Now I know that it was because my arteries had burst.”

Within minutes of arriving at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Dr. John Rashid and his team began surgery. They worked to repair Julie’s coronary arteries that were virtually destroyed during the spontaneous coronary artery dissection heart attack she suffered.

‘God’s way of telling me to slow down’

Today, Julie is doing well. She continues to see Dr. Rashid and his team for follow-up care and learn more about this rare form of a heart attack.

Shaken by the experience, Julie’s family remains grateful for the experts that continue to watch over Julie’s health. She is a testament to the miracles performed each day by the OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute. With a hopeful recovery on the horizon, Julie says her life will never be the same.

“Our whole family has a completely different outlook on life now,” Julie said. “It sounds cliché, but we take nothing for granted. It was God’s way of telling me to slow down, and I got a second chance because of Dr. Rashid. I can’t say thank you enough.”

Going the distance for exceptional pediatric care

Mason ParkerAt 19 1/2 weeks pregnant, Niki Parker and her husband, Cory, of Salem, Illinois, were about to find out the gender of their baby at their scheduled ultrasound.

What they thought would be an exciting day, discovering if their first born would be a boy or girl, turned out to be a day of worry. Niki’s obstetrician thought the baby’s right kidney looked enlarged.

Niki’s doctor sent her to a specialist.

“The specialist ran a variety of tests and did an ultrasound,” Niki said. “Everything looked proportional to the baby’s growth except for the right kidney. They threw out all kinds of things that might be wrong, but most likely wouldn’t be able to provide an accurate diagnosis until the baby was born.”

To rule out any chromosomal conditions, like Down syndrome, they took a sample of Niki’s blood. The test was negative for any chromosomal abnormalities. The test also confirmed the Parkers would be welcoming a son.

For the next 20 weeks, the baby would be closely monitored.

Creating a care plan

While in Peoria for a follow-up visit for his kidney, Cory snapped this picture of Mason looking out at the city from the window of OSF HealthCare Children's Hospital of Illinois.

While in Peoria for a follow-up visit, Cory snapped this picture of Mason looking out at the city from the window of OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

On March 18, 2017, Cory and Niki Parker welcomed their son, Mason – who was born full-term – at a local hospital in Effingham, Illinois.

One week after Mason was born, the Parkers made the trip to OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria under the care of Dr. Churphena Reid, a pediatric urologist. The urology program is ranked in the Top 50 by U.S. News & World Report.

“Our specialist’s office referred us to Children’s Hospital in Peoria,” Niki said. “We also have family in East Peoria, who have said nothing but wonderful things about the hospital. Those two factors made our decision to go to Peoria for Mason’s care.”

Dr. Reid did an ultrasound and diagnosed Mason with hydronephrosis – which is when fluid surrounds the kidney. She also said his kidney and ureter – which is a small tube that connects the kidney to the bladder – were dilated. Additionally, Mason had a duplicating collection system – which meant Mason had two ureters from the right kidney and two from the left kidney.

“Dr. Reid thought either the hydronephrosis was from an infection in the kidney or the organ wasn’t functioning properly,” Niki said. “Dr. Reid put him on antibiotics to see if that would help the fluids surrounding the kidney and resolve the issue.”

The Parkers continued to follow up with Dr. Reid once or twice a month. At Mason’s 6-month appointment, Dr. Reid determined Mason’s kidney condition wasn’t related to an infection, and most likely had to do with his kidney’s functionality. Mason also started to develop a cyst on the top of his right kidney. He would require surgery the following the month.

A healthy kidney at last

On November 1, 2017, 7-month-old Mason underwent an intense four-hour surgery.

“I remember telling Mason when I handed him over to the nurses to be prepped for surgery, ‘You come back to mama,’” Niki said. “I lost it. That was the hardest part.”

Dr. Reid removed the cyst located on the top of Mason’s right kidney. The additional ureter on the right kidney was free floating and wrapped around Mason’s internal organs. Dr. Reid was able to detangle it and join it with his functioning ureter to make one.

After the surgery, Mason was transferred to the general pediatrics unit where he stayed for the next two nights.

“Everyone at Children’s Hospital from Dr. Reid to the nurses were absolutely amazing,” Cory said. “They are all really great people.”

Niki agreed.

“The nurses on the general pediatrics floor went above and beyond to make Mason and even Cory and I feel comfortable,” Niki said. “The nurses actually listen to your needs and wants for your child.”

Today, Mason is a happy-go-lucky 8-month-old, crawling-everywhere baby. He will continue to follow up with Dr. Reid indefinitely to make sure his kidney remains healthy.

“Yes, we drive to Peoria for one doctor’s appointment where I know we could have driven an hour to receive care in St. Louis,” Cory said. “But we wouldn’t change a thing. It’s worth the extra miles to have the peace of mind knowing that our baby is getting the absolute best care.”

Time is brain when it comes to stroke

Tim Dorr and his wife, Pat It was an aneurysm in a coiled carotid left artery that brought Tim Dorr to OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center. “I feel lucky – because the aneurysm was discovered by accident,” says Dorr. “It could have burst and I would have been a goner.”

When experiencing symptoms before the aneurysm was discovered – headache and a partially paralyzed tongue – Dorr says friends were trying to convince him to seek treatment out of town. “I had three OSF doctors standing here on most days talking about these issue with me,” Dorr says. “I am so pleased with my care and I can say OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center is equivalent, or better, than even the most prestigious hospitals.”

It’s a distinction that OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center has earned through investments in expertise, technology and experience as a Level 1 Trauma Center. Now, with the creation of its neurological intervention program, including a $3 million investment in a new surgical intervention procedure room, we have strengthened our capabilities, and have demonstrated our commitment to being the region’s number one hospital for stroke care.

OSF Saint Anthony sees the most number of stroke patients in the northern Illinois region and is the only hospital recognized with a Gold Plus award for Stroke Care by both the American Heart and American Stroke Associations. As a stroke care leader in the region, OSF Saint Anthony committed a significant investment to a surgical intervention program because the benefits to patients were too important to ignore.

“The benefit to the family and the cost savings to our society are tremendous,” said Dr. Harneet Bath, Vice President Chief Medical Officer at OSF Saint Anthony. “

Reducing death risk

Treating stroke or brain aneurysm patients with surgical intervention reduces their chance of dying or being permanently impaired by about 35 percent, as compared to conventional therapy alone.

“The hallmark of treating vascular disease is treating them rapidly, especially ischemic stroke, says OSF neuro-interventionist physician,” Dr. Ayman Gheith. “OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center is on par with any major university or any major city medical program.”

Dr. Gheith and Dr. Akram Shhadeh lead the neurological intervention team at the medical center. With a combined 20 years of experience, the physicians use a state-of-the-art machine to perform minimally invasive surgeries to treat brain and neck vascular disorders.

Open 24/7/365, the neuro intervention procedure room can be a game changer for patients like Dorr. “Even 10 years ago most of these conditions were not able to be treated safely,” says Gheith. “We are light years ahead in respect to the technology now available and that has translated into significantly improved outcomes for our patients.”

Dr. Gheith, however, points out quick action by the patient when symptoms appear is a key factor for a more successful outcome. “If the face is droopy on one side, if one of the arms is weak, if their speech is garbled, slurred, or you can’t understand them – it’s time to call 9-1-1.”

It’s advice that’s not lost on Dorr. The 63-year old delayed getting fully checked out by several days. “Listen to your body, don’t give up on it because it’s macho to ignore it,” says Dorr. Especially at my age – you’ve got to get on top of this stuff.”

East Galesburg woman heals closer to home

Mary Knox In June, 62-year-old East Galesburg resident Mary Knox underwent spine surgery to repair damage caused by scoliosis. Her surgery was at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, with Daniel Fassett, MD, of OSF HealthCare Illinois Neurological Institute.

“It included surgery on my whole spine,” she said. “The scoliosis had gotten pretty bad, and it had gotten worse over the years from arthritis.” For years, Mary had pain in her lower back. Her legs were always tingly and numb, and she used a walker to help her along.

Following the surgery, she had no idea where she was going to go for rehabilitation. Last year, Mary’s doctor sent her to a nursing home for some rehab support. Mary had a fine experience at the nursing home, but knew she wanted something more.

Finding a better option

Before leaving OSF Saint Francis, Mary learned about the Closer to Home program at OSF HealthCare Holy Family Medical Center in Monmouth.

Dr. Fassett said some people go directly home following the kind of surgery I had, but thought the Closer to Home program would be a better option for me,” she said.

The Closer to Home program eliminates the inconvenience and worry of rehabilitating away from a patient’s support system, according to Frank Lasala, MD, chief medical officer at OSF Holy Family.

Closer to Home allows patients who aren’t in need of acute care in a hospital to move to another level of care before discharge. Patients can receive 24-hour skilled nursing care and individualized physical, occupational and speech therapy, in addition to other services.

Dr. Lasala said the program began about a year ago, after OSF Illinois Neurological Institute approached the hospitals that already had swing beds — a room that can be converted from acute care to skilled care — about beginning a program to provide postsurgical rehabilitation care for those patients who had complex spinal fusion surgery.

Dr. Lasala said OSF Holy Family has worked to establish a comprehensive team approach.

“We all work hard on this, and we are proud of our facility, our nurses, case manager and therapy department,” added Dr. Lasala. “We do interdepartmental rounding on patients Monday through Friday — that includes a pharmacist, physical therapist, case manager, nurse and physician.”

Building up strength

Shannon McVey, social worker/case manager at OSF Holy Family, said the high nurse-to-patient ratio and physical and occupational therapies — offered six days a week — as well as the amenities of a private room and restaurant-style dining are reasons the Closer to Home program is a better option.

But most important, patients are close to home and their personal support system. For Mary, this meant being able to have her sister, friends and stepchildren visit.

“Going to Monmouth was a good idea,” Mary said. “Having a private bathroom was important to me and being able to be by myself and just rest was important, too.”

During the week Mary was at OSF Holy Family, the caregivers helped build up her strength and confidence. “The nurses, aides, therapists — everyone was just wonderful,” she said. “They kind of catered to me — it was nice.”

Today, Mary’s recovery is going well. The pain is gone, as is the tingling and numbness in her legs. And with the aid of OSF outpatient therapists coming to her home, unassisted walking will be her next achievement.

Mary wishes she was recovering faster, but knows she needs to bide her time, as her type of rehabilitation can take several months. “I tend to be a little impatient,” she said. “I told Dr. Fassett, ‘I just want to dance with my son at his wedding reception’ — and I think I’ll get there.”