'Get Your Annual Screenings'
Excuses. That's what Frank Hill says stopped him from getting a colonoscopy after turning 50, as recommended by the American Cancer Society and other advocacy groups.
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.
"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 than 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."