Sharing Faith – ‘The Lord has been looking after me for a long time’
It was a spectacular and unseasonably warm fall morning on October 9, 2017, and harvest was underway on the Sass’ farming operation in rural Streator, Illinois.
Darla Sass was doing dishes in the kitchen that morning when she heard ambulance sirens and the thwap, thwap, thwap of the OSF Life Flight helicopter blades cutting through the air.
“I said, ‘man, that sounds close.’ But I didn’t go look outside. I figured God had it in his hands,” Darla said.
But when a strange pickup truck pulled up to her home in a hurry, she knew something had happened to her husband, Dale.
“At first I thought he’d fallen off the top of one of the grain bins,” she said. “I’m always telling him to let the younger guys get on top of the grain bins.”
The Sass’ son, Darrin, came into the house. “He fell off a grain bin, didn’t he,” Darla asked.
Darrin said, “No, he didn’t fall off a grain bin, but you need to get some clothes and come on. We need to get to Peoria.”
It was on the ride to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria that Darrin told his mother what had happened to his father, her husband.
“I just started praying,” Darla said.
Routine farm work
The Sass family runs a 2,500-acre corn and soybean operation that has been in the family since 1864. Dale Sass, 66, is the fifth generation, and his son, Darrin, and nephew, Eric, are the sixth generation.
With employees in the fields that morning, it was a good time to do some maintenance in the empty grain bins before seed from the harvest filled them again.
“A couple times a year, you need to go in and grease the gear box of the sweep auger,” Dale said.
The sweep auger rotates along the floor inside the grain bin moving grain toward the center auger where the grain can be moved vertically upward and out of the bin. Sweep augers travel around the grain bin at a faster rate when there is no grain present, as was the case that morning with Dale.
“I had just laid on the floor and got the grease gun run ready when the auger motor came on unexpectedly and got the auger moving,” Dale said. “I was just in front of the auger and it immediately pulled my left leg in.”
Everything happened so quickly.
“As soon as it grabbed my left leg, I couldn’t get out of it. I was laying down and was holding the auger to stop it from going over the top of me,” Dale said. “After a few seconds, the auger was working its way up my left leg and then it grabbed my right leg and pulled it in. When it pulled the right leg in, it snapped my femur above the knee.”
Dale’s nephew, Eric, rushed outside to shut down power to the grain bin. Another employee called 9-1-1.
Daniel Beutke, an employee of the Sass’ and chief of the Long Point Volunteer Fire Department, was just down the road at another farm site when his fire department pager went off.
“I got right over there and called dispatch to tell them I was there and to just get a truck rolling,” Daniel said. “I ran into the bin to assess things and Dale said, ‘Get me a helicopter.’”
Conscious through the entire ordeal, Dale said he saw the damage the auger had done on his legs and knew he needed to get trauma care at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center.
Within 10 minutes, first responders and an ambulance were on site and within 20 minutes, OSF Life Flight was landing in a tight grassy patch right behind the grain bin.
“I prayed all the way to Peoria. It helped me to remain conscious,” Dale said.
The damage done
The auger had badly mangled Dale’s legs – breaking bones in both legs and his left ankle, shredding skin, tendons and cartilage and completely destroying his left knee and most of his right.
Arriving at OSF Saint Francis, Dale underwent trauma surgery with orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Maxey, who cleaned out the wounds and affixed external fixators to both legs to stabilize tissue until further surgical repair could be completed.
Dr. Rob Kinzinger picked up Dale’s case following that initial surgery.
“I’m a farm boy, so I actually understand these injuries Dale sustained,” Dr. Kinzinger said. “This was a very severe trauma. The biggest concern we always have is achieving the skin closure. A fracture is a soft tissue injury with a broken bone inside. Whenever you have as much skin at risk that Dale did, the concern is getting that closed. Once you get that closed, you can deal with what’s broken inside. This is part of what it means to a Level I Trauma Center.”
Dale remained at OSF Saint Francis for 21 days. He underwent six surgeries.
Dr. Kinzinger put rods in to repair Dale’s right femur and left tibia. He fixed the left ankle and repaired both of Dale’s patellar tendons – the tendon that goes from the knee cap to the shin bone – as both of those were cut off.
“Dale’s feet were not damaged, that’s rather remarkable and very fortunate for him because that would have dramatically affected his recovery,” Dr. Kinzinger said.
Following his first couple surgeries, Dale asked if he’d ever walk again. “They told me, ‘yes,’ so we knew it was just a matter of time and put our faith in God.”
Dr. Kinzinger said with trauma, “we can’t guarantee outcomes. If this was a case 50 years ago, he would have been looking at amputation of both legs above the knee.
“We’re given a broken and damaged package and asked to do the best we can to try and maximize the potential. I told Dale there was a chance none of what we did would work and he never walks again, or even one leg is lost to the injuries,” he said. “I was very morose and upfront with him. He maintained a very upbeat attitude. He’s a very strong, positive individual and has worked very, very hard for his recovery. He has strong family support.”
Darla remained at Dale’s side throughout his hospital stay.
“Prayers do lift you in the hospital – that is what kept us going. So many people were praying for us,” Darla said. “You can feel the prayers giving you strength and lifting you and giving you the courage to move forward.”
Faith in recovery
Dale’s recovery is still under way. He went through extensive rehabilitation after coming home in a wheelchair, and still undergoes weekly therapy along with a home exercise routine. He uses a cane to get around, and he still has weakness in his legs preventing him from driving large farm equipment. His right femur hasn’t healed completely and Dr. Kinzinger said Dale likely will need a knee replacement due to significant damage to the cartilage.
“I’m tickled for every little bit of function we get,” Dr. Kinzinger said. “It’s a really gratifying portion of this job when you see something like that and then you see him walk back into your office. It’s the Good Lord’s work.”
Dale and Darla agree, saying their Faith was their biggest support.
A sign in their home reads:
love it, live it,
walk it, talk it,
own it, loan it,
grow it, show it.”
“I don’t know how the care I received could have been any better than what I received at OSF Saint Francis,” Dale said. “Everyone there was so helpful, so compassionate.
“The Lord has been looking after me for a long time.”
'I didn't miss a beat'
Since he was a young child, Ken Beever of Waterman, Ill., longed to be a farmer like his grandfather. Beever would follow his grandfather around, baling hay and other chores to help out on the family farm. "I love being outdoors and working with animals," he said.
That's exactly what Beever was doing on March 10, 2017, when he was busy at the cattle feed and crop farm where he works in Maple Park, Ill. It was a typical Friday; most of the work was finished for the week. All that was left to do was unload and weigh a load of 60 steer and heifers that had just arrived. That is, until a frisky 600-pound steer jumped over the scale door and managed to sneak past the farm's perimeter fence. "He wasn't acting unusual," Beever recalled. "We were shocked."
As the steer rumbled away, the crew gave chase with Beever trailing on a utility vehicle. As he approached the fast-moving animal, Beever's vehicle hit a steep part in the waterway, located in the field. As the vehicle went airborne, he braced for impact, jamming his foot onto the brake, before tumbling into the grass. "I didn't think anything was broken," said Beever, who scrambled to his knees. "It just felt like I got kicked in the hip. But as I tried to stand up I knew it was worse than I thought."
Rushed to the hospital
Beever's co-workers rushed him to a local hospital where he was stabilized before being transported by ambulance to the Level I trauma center at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center. OSF is verified for trauma by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Committee on Trauma, and is the only verified trauma center in Rockford, and one of only two in Illinois. This verification ensures delivery of optimal care for injured patients.
Upon his arrival, Beever was greeted by Edward Pyun MD, trauma medical director, and the rest of the team. "The concern coming from a farm or a smaller hospital is you don't know what other injuries the patient has sustained," Dr. Pyun said. "At a Level I trauma center like we have here at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center, we can marshal all the resources we need to take care of the complex trauma patient. We have the right ancillary staff, and subspecialty surgeons that we need for these cases. A level I trauma center means better outcomes."
Tests revealed that Beever suffered an acetabulum (hip socket) fracture. Two days later, Jeffrey Earhart, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at OrthoIllinois who specializes in orthopedic trauma, and his team performed a five-hour surgery at Saint Anthony Medical Center to repair Beever's hip.
"Anytime you have a high trauma injury that involves a joint in a young healthy worker or laborer it's a concern," Dr. Earhart said. "The primary injury was to the back of the hip socket. We performed a modified version of the approach used in hip replacement surgery to preserve blood flow to the bone, while allowing the broken bones to be fixed with stainless steel plates and screws. It meant a bigger incision, a bigger scar and more time needed to heal."
The prognosis for the hip was guarded and the prevailing thought was Beever would miss about six to nine months of work – a devastating thought to Beever. He is married to wife Sara and the couple has two young children, Max, 5, and Avery, 1. "I felt like I was letting my wife and family down," he said. "I thought I'd have to find another line of work and that my hip would never be the same."
Beever went home six days later to begin the long road to recovery. He started working with therapists from OSF HealthCare Home Care to regain the strength and motion in his hip. He started using a walker before moving to crutches. In early July, Beever returned to work without any restrictions and just 110 days after his accident. "It felt good to be back," he said. "I haven't missed a beat."
"He was a good candidate to get back early," Dr. Earhart said. "At the end of the day, the patient with an orthopedic trauma injury will do better if they're active in their care, have strong family support and who are positive and motivated to get back to where they were in life."
"I can't thank OSF HealthCare enough for the excellent care I received," Beever said. "They treated me more like a family member than a patient. The doctors, nurses and staff helped me return to doing what I love to do the most."
"It only takes one life-threatening event to get my attention," he said.
Pleased with his care and outcome, Kevin Harlan advises others to not put off preventive check-ups.
Kevin Harlan always thought he was relatively healthy. He never smoked, he didn't have a family history of cardiovascular disease or stroke, he ate a fairly healthy diet and wasn't reliant on any regular medication.
At age 63, Kevin didn't regularly see a primary care provider. Instead, every five years or so, Kevin would undergo screenings that detect early risks for cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
An Emergency Situation
He had one of those screenings earlier this year, and "the results suggested I might have a problem with my carotid artery, and that I should follow-up with someone," said Kevin, who is active on numerous civic boards in Peoria, including that of OSF HealthCare Children's Hospital of Illinois. He is also the vice president and general manager of WMBD/WYZZ in Peoria.
Kevin arranged for an appointment with OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute, where he underwent a carotid ultrasound on his left and right carotid arteries.
"The technician studied the right side and said, 'Oh, that looks great.' Then the technician looked at the left side and said, 'I'll be right back.' … Three people came back into the room," he said.
Kevin, who was just beginning to grasp the severity of his situation, was told to go to the emergency room immediately, and not to drive himself.
"My wife, Mary Kaye, picked me up and we went to the emergency room" at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center.
This was February 3, 2017.
The following day, James Munns, MD, of OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute told Kevin he had 95 percent blockage in his left carotid artery. He explained that his risk for stroke was high as the carotid arteries are the main blood vessels that carry oxygen to the brain. When these arteries become narrowed due to a buildup of plaque – also called hardening of the arteries – it reduces blood flow to the brain and increases the risk of a stroke.
"Dr. Munns said they'd make an incision and clean it out," Kevin said.
The next day, Dr. Munns performed a carotid endarterectomy, making an incision on the side of Kevin's neck and surgically removing the plaque that had built up inside the artery.
"It's about opening up the artery, shelling out the obstructing plaque and sewing a patch on so the artery stays open," Dr. Munns said.
The recovery time in the hospital is about 24 hours.
"And then you go home and pretty much go back to your routine activities," Dr. Munns said.
Kevin went home the next day.
A Positive Outcome
As for the prognosis, Dr. Munns said there needs to be follow-ups to monitor for any redevelopment.
"As for prevention, it's the usual things — have control of your blood pressure, don't smoke and exercise regularly," he said.
Kevin and his wife now eat predominantly salads with some fish and chicken, except for an occasional hamburger on Saturday date nights. He's lost weight and is on medicine to keep his blood pressure down.
"It only takes one life-threatening event to get my attention," he said.
Pleased with his care and his outcome, Kevin advises others to not put off preventive check-ups "so you're not rushed to the hospital like I was."
Today he's back to his regular, active life, working about 65 hours a week operating the two television stations, in addition to his side job of designing and creating percussion instruments for use by symphonies around the world.
His tambourine, the Harlan Tambourine, is made with a strong, yet light hardwood frame, goat skin head and generously sized brass, bronze or German silver jingles for greater control of tone and volume. It is used by groups such as the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony, The Joffrey Ballet and the Singapore Symphony to name a few.
The tambourines occupy Kevin in his workshop on Saturday mornings and those times when he doesn't have to think about television.
"It's my golf," he said.
Kirstie Lock believes she owes her life to the advanced training given to staff at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center.
Training for high-risk situations such as a code blue – a cardiac arrest – in the hospital setting keeps staff ready to respond at any time.
Jennifer Hopwood, vice president and chief nursing officer at OSF Saint Francis, said code blue training is done in a controlled environment using simulation.
“We’re trying to prepare for the unexpected and knowing a situation like a code blue can happen at any time … I think that’s one piece that helped this patient have the outcome she had,” she said.
Kirstie, 36, of Hamilton, Illinois, was past the mid-point of her second pregnancy when she was diagnosed with placenta accreta, a condition where parts of the placenta grow too deeply into the uterine wall. Having placenta accreta meant Lock would have a C-section followed by a hysterectomy.
She was admitted to the hospital on March 14, 2017, just days short of being full-term at 40 weeks. On March 21, she delivered baby Warren by C-section. She also had a hysterectomy.
Four days after Warren’s birth, Kirstie was preparing to go home.
“I had just taken a shower and was sitting down to put my shoes on to leave when I told my mom that I felt very dizzy,” she said.
Kirstie passed out and recalls nothing of the following four days.
A blood clot had traveled to her lungs, causing cardiac arrest.
According to Dr. Michael Leonardi of OSF Perinatal Associates, the condition occurs in approximately 1 in every 1,000 pregnancies and is one of the top three causes of maternal death – 1.1 in every 100,000 women.
Kirstie credits the nurses for reacting immediately.
“The nurses were right there on top of the situation. I was told that within 30 seconds I was getting chest compressions,” she said.
Medical staff continued working on Kirstie until they put her on ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation life support. ECMO works by pumping blood from the body through a membrane oxygenator to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen to sustain life.
“If they hadn’t been on top of it, I wouldn’t be here,” Kirstie said. “A nurse who handled the ECMO machine was alerted there was a possibility I might need it. She went ahead and got her team together and as soon as the doctor gave the go – all of her people were ready to move ahead.
“I thrived because the staff was so fluid, and so professional, had all their training, and all of that was in place. It was a miracle,” she said. “The chances of surviving an event like that … I firmly believe that there were far too many coincidences for it to be by chance that I survived. All of the right doctors and nurses were in the right place at the right time to save my life.”
Kirstie spent three more weeks in the hospital, where she continued to recover.
But the Lock family story doesn’t end there.
It was April 14, and Kirstie was finally going home.
“I was being wheeled out to the car when my husband called to say Warren was on the way to Children’s Hospital of Illinois in an ambulance,” Kirstie said.
While Kirstie was in the hospital, her mother-in-law had cared for Warren, and she noticed he wasn't gaining weight, seemed to be hungry all the time and was vomiting. Concerned, Kirstie’s mother-in-law quickly got Warren in to see his pediatrician to determine what was wrong.
Warren was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, a problem that causes forceful vomiting and affects babies from birth to 6 months of age. Essentially, a valve between the stomach and intestines needed repaired with laparoscopic surgery.
“I was a wreck,” Kirstie said. “I felt like I never knew my own baby, and here he was going in for surgery.”
Warren was at OSF Children’s Hospital for three days. He was taking a bottle within two hours of the surgery and is perfectly healthy today.
As for Kirstie, it took about another month to heal and get her energy level back up.
She returned to work part-time in mid-June as the bookkeeper/treasurer for the Hamilton School District, and resumed full-time duties in August.
"I have a strong faith. I accepted Christ into my life at a very young age," Kirstie said. "There was some really hard and painful things I went through in the process of my recovery that still keep me up at night, but I just look at my babies and know God made that choice for me to live. I count each day and each poopy diaper as a blessing. Nothing said I had to be here for this. My faith is stronger now than it was."
'Get Your Annual Screenings'
Excuses. That's what Frank Hill says stopped him from getting a colonoscopy after turning 50, as was recommended by the American Cancer Society and other advocacy groups at the time.
The El Paso, Illinois, man says there was confusion over whether insurance would cover a colonoscopy "so I didn't have the early screening. I didn't have a history of cancer in the family, so I just said I'll wait.
"I shouldn't have," Frank said.
The now 68-year-old was diagnosed with colorectal cancer three years ago.
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men and women combined. In 2017, it is estimated there will be 135,430 new cases and 50,260 deaths from colon and rectal cancers in the U.S., according to Fight Colorectal Cancer, an advocacy group focused on research and finding a cure for the disease.
The American Cancer Society now recommends regular screening starting at age 45 for those with average risk of colorectal cancer.
"I started noticing blood in my stools and it stayed pretty consistent, so I thought I better have it checked out," he said.
Frank saw Dr. Jessica White, his primary care provider at OSF HealthCare Medical Group – Minonk, in February 2014.
Dr. White said colorectal cancer wasn't the first thing she thought about when she discussed Frank's problems during that first visit.
"At that visit it actually sounded more like irritable bowel syndrome," she said.
Dr. White referred Frank to Dr. David Rzepczynski, an OSF HealthCare gastroenterologist in Bloomington.
"We got the colonoscopy because we were discussing GI issues and I noted he was overdue for a colonoscopy," she said.
Frank said Dr. Rzepczynski "told me I had a tumor before I left the office and he began arranging a treatment plan and eventually surgery. It was an early stage. The tumor was about the size of a walnut. If I had had those early screenings, they could have caught it as a polyp."
Frank underwent 26 days of radiation and 42 rounds of chemotherapy. Surgery followed, leaving Frank with a permanent colostomy due to where the tumor had been located. More chemotherapy followed the surgery.
Dr. White said despite Frank's diagnosis and treatment, "He always remained in good spirits and focused on the positive."
Frank said it was the optimism of his doctors that helped him remain in such good spirits.
"If the doctors told me to do something, I did it to the best that I could. I followed their directions because I wanted the best chance," he said. "They were very optimistic from the start, saying, 'This is a very common form of cancer. It's very treatable, very curable.' I had a light at the end of the tunnel the whole time. I wouldn't wish that year on anybody, but I was lucky."
The support of his wife, Linda, children, grandchildren and his faith encouraged Frank during his journey.
"If the Lord wanted me, he'd have taken me," he said. "But he must have wanted me to stay around."
Today, Frank goes for check-ups every six months and is cancer-free. He also advocates for everyone to "get your annual screenings as often as you're told to do."
'I'm Glad They Do What They Do'
Luke Masterson wanted to share his appreciation with members of the OSF HealthCare Life Flight team who responded to his serious motorcycle accident.
"I don't know if I would have made it without you guys," he told them during a reunion at the OSF Aviation hangar in June 2017.
It was sunny and clear the morning of October 5, 2016. Luke set out for his job as a farmhand a little earlier than usual. He was looking forward to enjoying the morning ride on his new Kawasaki KLR650.
For about three weeks, the 27-year-old Bradford man had taken the route along Illinois Route 17, going past Midland High School in Varna to get to the cornfields, where harvest was underway.
"There was a 16-year-old girl stopped, waiting to turn. I don't know if I didn't see her or thought I saw her so far in advance that I thought she'd be turned already," Luke said. "I was sitting there looking left toward the school parking lot. A bus went by, I scanned back right and her truck was right there in front of me. There wasn't time to hit my brakes or anything."
Luke grew up riding. "I've been riding something with a motor since age 8 – go-carts, three-wheelers, motorcycles …" Having that experience growing up, Luke also knew what it meant to take precautions and be safe. That morning he had on the leather motorcycle jacket he got when he was 16, a full-face helmet, gloves and boots.
"I had everything on I was taught to wear to be safe," he said.
But that morning, he says, "was totally just an accident. I had plenty of training on motorcycle safety. I was just a little too complacent, a little too relaxed. And it cost me."
Luke fractured multiple bones – his right tibia, both arms and both wrists. Later, it was determined he also had a pelvic fracture and other internal injuries. He was given medication in the field and at the hospital that prevented him from bleeding out from a large laceration to the groin area.
Local EMTs transported Luke to the Marshall County Airport in Lacon, where OSF Life Flight met them to take Luke to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.
"The first thing I remember making out was the OSF Life Flight team telling me they had to put my shoulder back in place," Luke said. "I heard the muffle of the helicopter then felt the sense of being inside and hearing the motor start up and lifting off the ground."
The sound of the helicopter and the feeling of lifting off wasn't new to Luke. He served six years in the U.S. Navy with two tours in Bahrain. His primary mission was airborne mine counter measures. He was discharged as a Petty Officer, 2nd Class on June 3, 2016, just four months prior to his accident.
Today, Luke has undergone seven surgeries and knows there are at least two more ahead. His rehabilitation is ongoing. And while he's not sure when it will happen, Luke knows he'll ride a motorcycle again.
"I just wanted to tell the Life Flight crew – and all the caretakers – 'Thank you for everything,'" he said. "I'm not out of the game. I'm still here fighting."
Luke is attending Illinois Central College, where he's studying fire science technology. He has aspirations of becoming a firefighter, maybe even some day becoming a member of an OSF Life Flight crew.
"I'm going to use the opportunity you guys gave me by making the most of my life," he said. "I've always had this drive to make my life as full of new adventures as possible. The journey of trying to get there is something you'll always remember."
'My Nurses Kept Me Going'
If Laci Todd gets pregnant again, she would gladly spend time at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. She would, however, prefer different circumstances.
Laci went into early labor and was taken by OSF Life Flight helicopter from Macomb to Peoria twice. The first time, she was kept six days and sent home. She went into labor again and this time stayed for three weeks as her unborn baby was closely monitored by her care team.
She was eventually sent home and on Dec. 9, 2016, gave birth to her son, Logan, at McDonough District Hospital in Macomb. Logan was born at 36 weeks and was perfectly healthy.
"He was called 'The Peanut' because he didn't have a name yet," said Laci of her time at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis. During her three-week stay, she and her husband were impressed by the sharing, care and compassion shown by her medical team.
"My nurse, Amy, shared her own story about her experiences as an antepartum nurse and her own birthing experiences," Laci said. "Her comforting advice really stuck with me. My nurses kept me going."
She immediately became a hit with the staff at OSF. She even taught herself how to crochet while hospitalized, and her care team encouraged her to continue learning after she went home.
"They said I was their favorite patient because I was upbeat and worked hard to take care of myself," she said. "We definitely shared positivity. I was just making friends, eating food and having fun."
She was reassured that, if her baby came early, there were plenty of resources available.
"I knew I was right down the hall from the best NICU in the area. I once asked the doctor, 'Can my husband push me into the nursery so I can see some of the babies?'" she said. "He said sure. It was a good reminder of what I was working for."
During their stay at OSF, her husband became a regular. "They knew him and they gave him the code to the snack closet for me," she said.
"In five years, I hope to have another baby," she said. "And it's reassuring to know I can count on these people again if I need them."
And Laci didn't forget the OSF nurses and doctors who cared so much for her and her unborn Peanut.
"We came back and gave everyone (on her care team) Peanut M&Ms."
'It Was a Real Wake-up Call'
Chris Brooks has been a loyal fan of OSF HealthCare since his first encounter back in 1996. It was an encounter that likely saved his life - and his music.
"I went to OSF with something I thought was appendicitis," said Chris, a resident of Monmouth, Illinois. "But it was actually a urinary tract infection, pre-diabetes and anemia."
The diagnosis and subsequent care he received has stayed with him over the years. "They did tremendous in helping me across the board," he said. "It was a real wake-up call."
Chris, a retired teacher, is heavily involved with his alma mater, Monmouth College. Eight family members attended Monmouth, with six graduating and the other two transferring to another university.
"I just love that school," he said. Chris and his family were nominated for the Monmouth College Family of the Year.
He also plays drums and loves both music and sports, especially the defending world champion Chicago Cubs. "Just seeing them win it all last year was so special," he said, laughing. "But I was a nervous wreck that last game."
His drumming days nearly ended when an old high school football injury worsened. "I had broken a bone in my hand and in those days, they basically just kicked dirt on it and I went back to playing," he said. But the bone degenerated over time, to the point he could barely play the drums. "It was pretty scary."
Extended physical therapy at OSF HealthCare has allowed him to play with minimal pain. "It's still a work in progress, but it's much better now."
Chris, who takes his faith seriously, said he values OSF for what it stands for. "I get what they are doing. There's a warm feeling you get when you help someone," he said. "That feeling comes from sharing. I like how OSF is made up of people who are one of us."
He even knew his doctor as "a friend of a friend before I even met him."
Trust is key to a good relationship in all things, and especially medical care, he said. "There's a trust factor there. It's about being in the hands of someone who shares my values. That's a very good feeling when you are anxious."
'God Showed Us His Power'
Phil and Barb Johnson were on their way to the airport to pick up their oldest daughter, who was coming in from New York to help celebrate the birth of the Johnsons' grandson from another daughter just three days earlier. But the couple never made it.
They were involved in a terrible car accident. Rescue workers found Barb seriously injured and Phil unconscious in the car. Both had to be extricated from the wreckage.
Phil was flown by helicopter to OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center in nearby Rockford, while Barb was taken to Kishwaukee Community Hospital in Sycamore before also being flown to OSF Saint Anthony.
"In hindsight, we realized our God had plans for us because, in many respects, we shouldn't have made it," Phil said. "God showed us his power and how he can take care of people," Barb said.
But it wasn't easy for the couple.
Phil had arrived at the emergency room with almost no blood pressure. He also required eight units of blood. Both Phil and Barb underwent multiple surgeries and rehabilitation therapy.
The OSF care team was able to figure out that Phil was on blood thinners, which aided in his treatment plan and allowed them to avoid certain medications. "They all took a personal interest in us," Phil said. "They didn't see an impossible case. They saw us as people under a very challenging diagnosis, but you kind of got the impression that they thrived on this challenge."
Phil credits their team at OSF with providing them the courage to make it through the long and difficult recovery period.
"One word to describe my care? I'd say encouraging," Phil said. "And the more our caregivers were in awe at our recovery, the more inspired we got and that added to this momentum. You can actually grab onto that confidence. You really begin to think that you will persevere after all."
In the 10 months since the accident, both have returned to their active lives. They like to bake for local farmers markets, so they were excited to get back to that.
To celebrate their recovery, they held a party with friends that ended in them burning their rehab canes and walkers.
'I Got Back to Golfing'
When John Kuchta was thrown from tractor last year and severely damaged his elbow, he thought he would never again be able to indulge one of his true passions: Golf.
John, a retired insurance and safety executive, was taken to OSF HealthCare Saint Paul Medical Center in Mendota for emergency care. His injuries were so bad that one of the doctors told him they were among the worst he had ever seen. John was told that, at best, he could expect to have only a 20-degree movement in that arm.
That didn't sit well with John Kuchta.
"I was really determined," he said. "When I heard 20 degrees, I thought, 'No. I'm going to beat this.'"
He didn't realize how much work would be required. "All that tough talk was easy before the pain and the work."
John began a long rehabilitation with his OSF occupational therapist, Ashlee.
"I can't say enough about my therapist, Ashlee, and the rest of her team," he said. "Everyone at OSF was great across the board, but she really deserves a lot of the credit. I had a goal, which was to get back on the golf course, and she made it her goal, too. I mean, she took it personally. I can never thank her enough."
He started rehab on July 1, and was discharged Oct. 12.
"I really owe it all to Ashlee," he said. "She was highly engaged in every moment. The staff was encouraging and always educating me."
Ashlee told him that if he could take the pain, she would get him to his goal. "I started to see results," he said. "And I really started believe I could get on the green again."
After spending the winter "rehabbing" himself by lifting weights at his local health club, John was back on the course this spring. "I got back to golfing and my game was rusty, but I was just glad to be there."
Now, he thinks his golf game might be even better than it was before. "And when it isn't … it's a darn good excuse."
'I Know How Scared They Are'
Dylan Henricks was so impressed with the care he received at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center as a young child battling a congenital heart defect that he became a pediatric intensive care nurse there.
Dylan's mother was a nurse at another hospital, but later went to work for OSF HealthCare because the organization had become special to her based on her experience as a patient's mother, Dylan said.
Dylan, now 24, underwent a series of heart surgeries as a child and will have to have heart surgeries for the rest of his life.
Because of that, he appreciates that some surgical procedures, including the Melody Valve procedure, are now done with minimal invasion and often on an outpatient basis. That kind of innovation makes him proud to work there, he said, because he knows what it means in very real terms.
His childhood experiences at OSF also have helped equip him as a nurse.
"It's especially helpful with patient families facing surgery," he said. "I know how scared parents can be."
A handful of nurses and respiratory therapists still working in the pediatric intensive care unit have taken care of Dylan since he was born. "It's fun to work alongside those people, and to appreciate their skill and dedication to excellent care for so many years."
He really values how much OSF HealthCare emphasizes continuing education. "They give me all the tools to grow."
'They Also Saved My Wedding'
What should have been one of the best times of Mori Jo Meling's life became the scariest shortly before Thanksgiving 2016.
Mori Jo, a real estate agent, was preparing for her upcoming wedding to her fiancé, Patrick Conkrite, when she started to feel dizzy. With her wedding less than five months away, she assumed it was stress and fatigue.
The couple planned to travel with friends on what was supposed to be a group vacation. Once they arrived at their destination, Mori Jo and Patrick were going to surprise their friends and tell them they were instead attending a beach wedding on March 8.
But by February, Patrick grew concerned that she couldn't travel for their destination wedding. Mori Jo went to a walk-in clinic and got antibiotics for what was believed to be a sinus headache. A diagnosis of vertigo followed, and still she continued to feel worse.
Eventually, an MRI finally revealed a spot on her brain along with a large cyst. The spot was a benign brain tumor about the size of a pea. The cyst was the size of a lemon.
Mori Jo went to OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford and began treatment.
"I was more annoyed than scared," she said. "Maybe it's me, but I was like, let's get through this. We've got five days until I am on a plane."
Her surgery was successful, but it was apparent she wouldn't be well enough to travel by her wedding date. "I was happy to have good news," she said, "but devastated to miss my wedding."
But her care team at OSF had other ideas. They arranged for a minister, cake, punch, a hairdresser, photographer and flowers.
And on March 8, 2017, Mori Jo and Patrick were married in a beautiful ceremony in the hospital's chapel. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
"I came to them with a pea and a lemon," she said. "But I left with a groom and a diamond."
Mori Jo and Patrick are even considering starting a scholarship fund for medical staffers based on her story.
"It was amazing," she said. "You hear about someone doing extra for people, but this was above and beyond. They saved my life … but they also saved my wedding."
'They Are My Saints and Angels'
Carol Biroschik woke up one morning with pain in her neck, jaw and down both of her sides.
"I had worked outside in my flower bed the day prior, so I thought it might have been aches and pains from doing that," the Streator native said.
But when Carol's pain persisted and worsened into the afternoon, her husband, Steve Biroschik, a retired General Electric emergency response coordinator, suggested she call her primary care doctor, Dr. Cynthia Cabalfin, an OSF HealthCare internal medicine provider.
Dr. Cabalfin suggested she go to the OSF HealthCare Center for Health – Streator Emergency Center to get checked out immediately. They were getting checked in when Carol started having intense, sharp pains.
Carol was quickly taken to a room where she listed her symptoms for Dr. Glenn Aldinger, emergency center physician. He immediately ordered an electrocardiogram (EKG).
"Dr. Aldinger came flying back in the room after reviewing my EKG results, and he said, 'You are having a full-blown heart attack.'"
Dr. Aldinger and the emergency room nurses stabilized Carol and immediately called OSF Life Flight to take her to OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. She was rushed to surgery, where she had two stents put in to restore blood flow to her blocked arteries. "I was out of surgery and in recovery before Steve even made it from Streator to OSF Saint Francis," Carol said.
"When they were wheeling me out to the helicopter, Dr. Aldinger was standing right there," said Carol. "I asked him, 'Can I come back and hug you?' He said, 'Yes, you can.'"
Three months later, thanks in part to the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at OSF HealthCare Center for Health – Streator, Carol was able to come back and get that hug.
The program includes a combination of exercise and educational sessions with a skilled cardiac nurse three days a week, following an individualized treatment plan for her specific condition and goals.
"I tell everyone I am OSF's biggest fan. The staff at OSF HealthCare Center for Health – Streator Emergency Center and OSF HealthCare Saint Francis saved my life – they are my saints and angels," Carol said. "I would recommend OSF to anyone."
The OSF HealthCare Center for Health – Streator, with its freestanding Emergency Center, is part of an innovative approach to rural health care that is showing promise as a model other rural communities may look to use.
'I Didn't Want To Chance It'
Chelsey Rodgers of Kewanee and her family were on their way back home from a fun trip to the Wisconsin Dells. Chelsey, her husband, Curtis, and their two girls, Carston, 4, and Charlee, 7 months, were visiting Chelsey's sister.
Over the last 24 hours, one of Charlee's eyes had started to get red, puffy and gunky – classic signs of pink eye. As they were driving, Chelsey noticed the eye getting worse.
"I thought we could make it back home to see a doctor, but didn't want to chance it being something pretty bad," explained Chelsey.
That's when she decided to use OSF OnCall – an online urgent care service. "Many of my coworkers have used it before and had nothing but wonderful things to say about it," Chelsey said. "I thought it would be worth the $35 to see if there was something we could do for her."
Chelsey and Curtis pulled over at a gas station, went to the OSF OnCall website and entered Charlee's symptoms. Within five minutes, the provider called back via FaceTime and asked Chelsey to send a few pictures of Charlee's eye by email. Then, the provider had Chelsey shine her cell phone light into Charlee's eye to take an even closer look.
The conclusion? It was pink eye. The provider called a prescription into the Rodgers' pharmacy for antibiotic drops. "When we pulled into Kewanee, our first stop was to our pharmacy where the drops were waiting for us."
Chelsey's biggest surprise about using OSF OnCall was how quickly everything went. "For us to be able to speak to a provider when we were on the road and have a prescription ready for pickup within such a short amount of time was so convenient," Chelsey said. "I'll definitely use OSF OnCall again."