Fair Trade: Kidney Donor Swap Strengthens Family Ties

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By Lisa Ballantine and Sebrenia Johnson

This is a shared story of a kidney donor and recipient told through the eyes of both participants who are related through the marriage of their children but were brought closer together because of a paired kidney exchange.  

Lisa

When I first met Sebrenia, I was impressed with this kind, godly yet fierce woman who was to be my son’s mother-in-law. I saw her ability for compassion and kindness toward others. We connected immediately, and she has since become a dear friend. In fact, we call each other sister-mom since there is no term for our relationship, and as we share our children now, and love each other as sisters, this seems fitting.

As I got to know Sebrenia, I learned that this amazing woman was being hindered by her lack of a functioning kidney.

Sebrenia

To manage my kidney disease for the past 13 years, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for three hours and 15 minutes I needed dialysis treatment. I also had to incorporate a renal diet into my lifestyle, which included many food restrictions. As a dialysis patient I had to adhere to no potatoes, cheese, milk, chocolate, dark-green leafy vegetables, beans, cornbread, bananas, tomatoes, orange juice, colas, ice cream, peanuts or products with nuts.

These foods are high in potassium and phosphorus and could be detrimental to the heart and bones of a person with limited or no renal function.

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Raising Awareness About Myelodysplastic Syndromes

shammo-cancer-centerBy Jamile Shammo, MD

This year, the Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation will host its first MDS Awareness Run/Walk in Chicago, raising critical funds and awareness for myelodysplastic syndromes.

I am excited to share that I will be receiving the Nobility in Science Award at this year’s event, being held on June 22, from 8 a.m. to noon, at Maggie Daley Park. This community fundraising event helps the MDS Foundation in its mission to support and educate patients and health care providers with innovative research into the fields of MDS and related myeloid neoplasms.

As an MDS specialist, I have witnessed firsthand the impact this disease has on my patients’ quality of life and longevity. I strongly believe that we should support research endeavors to translate science into therapeutic advances that will ease the burden of this disease and prolong patients’ lives. I have participated in trials that resulted in approval of several agents for the treatment of MDS, but we need to work harder to identify additional treatments for MDS patients. I urge to join me to further this cause.

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Beverly Huckman, Champion of Equal Opportunity

Beverly HuckmanBeverly Huckman, a champion for equality, affirmative action, diversity and inclusiveness who served for 38 years at Rush, died May 27 at her Chicago home. She was 77.

Huckman, who retired in 2012, was Rush’s associate vice president for equal opportunity and diversity.

“Beverly did some of the earliest work at Rush organizing our approach to diversity. She helped to found the ADA Task Force at Rush and did countless other things in support of equal rights for all. She touched many lives here and well beyond Rush,” said Larry Goodman, MD, the recently retired former CEO of Rush University Medical Center and the Rush University System for Health.

“Some people come into our lives for a season, but Beverly’s commitment to diversity, inclusiveness and equity has left a lasting impression on me and those of us who were blessed to know her,” says Terry Peterson, vice president of corporate and external affairs and chairperson of the Rush Diversity Leadership Council.

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Halting the Hepatitis C Epidemic

Vicki Shah, PA-CBy Vicki Shah, PA-C

Over the last 10 years, I have treated and helped cure more than 1,000 people with hepatitis C of all ages and backgrounds. It’s rewarding, to say the least, when my patients can move forward with one less health burden.

My patients usually struggle with the negative connotations of drug use associated with hepatitis, but this not the only way to contract hepatitis C. It can also be transmitted from blood transfusions, mother to child, or any blood-to-blood contact like needle sticks.

These patients are not alone. About 3.4 million people have hepatitis C in the U.S., and half of them don’t know they have the infection. Interestingly, three of every four people with hepatitis C are baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1965 and infected decades ago.

The main reason why a person might not know they have the infection is that they have not been screened for hepatitis C. Other reasons include that basic labs show normal liver enzymes and there can be no symptoms until there is progressive liver disease.

Cirrhosis can be the resulting condition of untreated hepatitis C, and it increases the risk of liver cancer, the need for a liver transplant and death.

Opioid-related surge

There is also a new surge of infected young people with the increase of opioid drug use. The blood-to-blood contact occurs with sharing of needles or other paraphernalia. Next door in Indiana, there was an outbreak of HIV with over 200 people infected, and 95 percent of those people also got hepatitis C.

The outbreak was devastating to the community because it included 3 generations of families — from preteens to grandmothers.

While we as a whole health community will continue to conquer the rise in opioid drug use, we can stop the epidemic of hepatitis C across the U.S. with awareness and treatment with a short duration of oral medications.

Vicki Shah, PA-C, is a physician assistant at the Rush University Medical Center Medical Center Hepatology Clinic.

Thank You for Saving My Dad’s Life

George Allington

George Allington

By Jason Allington

Rush saved my father from certain death and made a horrific situation not only tolerable, but inspiring.

I live in Oak Park. Over the holidays, my 76-year-old dad, George Allington, came to visit from South Carolina. On the evening of Dec. 29, we were watching TV together when he took a bathroom break. A few minutes later, he called in distress, because he’d passed a frightening amount of blood.

We called 911, and the paramedics rushed him to the Rush Oak Park Hospital emergency room.

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Telling Your Loved Ones You Have Cancer

IMG_6093By Deb Song

I can still remember the day I got the call from Dr. Andrea Madrigrano, my breast surgeon at Rush.

“Deb, I’m so sorry, but it’s not going to be what you want to hear,” she said. “The lumpectomy confirms it is DCIS. You have breast cancer. The good news is, we caught it early, but we recommend a bilateral mastectomy.”

I don’t remember much after that. I tried to stay calm and ask questions on next steps. I’m a doer. Instinctively, I just set out to get this treated. My “let’s do this!” attitude kicked in.

But suddenly I felt my heart racing faster, my breath shorter, and I could not hold back the tears any longer. I started to weep uncontrollably.

I blurted out, “Oh my God. How do I tell my mom? How am I going to tell my parents I have cancer?”

On this Mother’s Day, as I plan a day with my mom, I cannot help but think back to this moment when I was finally diagnosed and staged out for surgery. How do you tell your loved ones you have cancer?

The reality is there is no good way to say it. There is no manual. There are no tips. After my call with my doctor, I turned to Google and Siri and asked, “How to tell your parents you have cancer?”

Not much is there.

‘I don’t want to break my mother’s heart’

At this point, I had kept my screenings, testing, imaging appointments, biopsy procedures, high-risk status a secret from others. I even kept my same-day, lumpectomy surgery a secret from my family, and two dear friends came with me so I could be discharged and took care of me at home. Only a few very close friends and my boyfriend at the time knew and were asked to keep a lid on it because I did not want my family to worry about if I might have cancer. We have a family history and I lost two cousins from breast cancer and am still recovering from the loss.

Then, the mic was dropped. I got the call.

Now, I had to tell my family. I had to tell my mom and dad.

As my wonderful surgeon softly explained to me what I needed to do to save my life, I kept asking questions on how to avoid surgery and treatment even though I already knew the answer from my years of covering breast cancer stories in my work in health care — that I could not avoid the treatment process.

Most of these questions did not only come from fear of my impending battle, but also my fear of how to tell my mom. It’s bad enough I have cancer, but I don’t want to break my mother’s heart in the process.

At that moment, Dr. Madrigrano said to me “Deb, I don’t want to take your boobs. I would do anything to be out of a job and not have to do this, but this will save your life.”

Her kind, honest, heartfelt and direct words snapped me back to my old self even if it was for just a moment to go over next steps and my treatment plan. I set up my appointments to go over details of my surgeries with her and Dr. Anuja Antony, who would be my breast reconstruction surgeon.

Numb

I continued working because it was the perfect distraction.  I had asked if I could take the next day off.

I remember finishing out the day and walking to my car. I felt numb all day, but was like a robot and just kept going.

Finally, when I sat in my car in the parking lot by myself, I lost it. I remember turning on my music loudly to drown out my screaming and sobbing.

I then proceeded to meet my two friends who took me to my lumpectomy surgery so that I could keep it a secret from my parents.

I thought to myself, “Well, consider this practice. I’ll tell them first as though I am telling my mom and dad.”

It didn’t go well. I was a crying, blubbering mess because I can be with my closest girlfriends.

That’s when I realized, there is no manual.  There is no one way or best way to tell your loved ones.

Rehearsal

I set a date to go over to my parents’ house to tell them.

In the meantime, I practiced by telling a handful of my closest friends and my brother.  Each time was different.

The only thing that was the same was how it sucked to hear your closest friends and your big brother cry.

You put on your brave face and smile. You try to use your calmest, most serene voice.

I would say:

“Hey. How have you been? So I’m calling because I have something to tell you. I have breast cancer. But doctors think they caught it early and I am going to be totally fine!  I just need surgery.”

The responses would be:

The initial shock

The questions … What? How? Why?

The tears.

The tears was the hardest part.

I would find myself crying only when I would hear my best friends cry. I felt like someone was tearing my heart out. If I feel like this now, how am I going to tell my mom and dad?

Breaking the news

Surprisingly, it was so different the day I went to tell my mom and dad.

That day, I went to work. Then, took a fitness class and pole dance class. Afterward, I drove straight over to my parents at the designated time I was going to meet them.

The visit started off like any typical visit. I let myself into the house I grew up in. Then, my mom hugged me and asked how work and my workout was. She asked if I ate yet. I told her I was hungry, and she set up some food for me.

As I sat at the kitchen table eating, I thought, “How do I tell them?” I felt myself chickening out.

My dad came down to have tea with me. Our usual routine where we all sit and drink tea and catch up.

As I sat there, I finally mustered up the courage and asked my mom, “So what are you up to in November besides Thanksgiving? Are you free to stay with me for a few weeks to help me out?”

My mom responded, “What’s going on? Why do you need help? Do you need to have surgery again?”

I had a surgery the year before and my mom needed to stay and help me for eight weeks.

“Actually, I do,” I responded calmly.

‘I have breast cancer’

My mom started to become concerned and asked me what I was not telling her.

“I just need to have a couple things removed. That’s all,” I said nonchalantly as I referred to my breasts as a couple of things.

My mom looked at me like she was annoyed and scared.

“What’s wrong? Did the first surgery not take?”

I told her that it had nothing to do with my first surgery and that was OK, and I am doing well from that.

“What is it then?” my mom asked.

“Well, so I have breast cancer, but the doctors caught it early, and I just need to have surgery and no radiation or chemotherapy and I will be fine,” I blurted out calmly.

I couldn’t look up. I didn’t want to see their faces.

It was completely silent.

I finally searched for my mom’s face. I thought she had passed out on the floor. She did not. She had a blank look on her face. My dad began to cry and said, “This is my family’s fault. It is our genes.”

I dug so deeply to put on my best face. I could feel the tears.

Before I could speak, my mom immediately stood up and said, “It’s going to be OK. You’ve got this. We’ve got this. Don’t worry. We will take care of you.”

I tried my best not to cry, but I wept. I think out of relief that I finally told them and that I was no longer keeping it a secret, but also because I know I just cut them so deeply. The two people I love the most in this world.

‘Brave and strong’

She then looked at my dad and said, “We will not cry. The only person allowed to cry is my Debbie, but we will not cry.”

She then hugged me and smiled. She said, “It’s OK my bobae (In Korean bobae means treasure). You at your worst is most people at their best. You are brave and strong. You are the favorite son and the best daughter. You will live and we will put this all behind us.”

I don’t remember much after that.

For the first time, I actually slept.  I woke up without the feeling of fear, devastation and anxiety.  I’m not saying that it just goes away.  For that one moment, I felt a little better.

My mother told me months later that after I left, she fell to the floor sobbing. She cried to all my aunts and uncles. My parents told them all that they ask for forgiveness, but if it would be OK if they call them to cry because they don’t want me to see or hear them cry.

There is no good way of telling your family and loved ones that you have cancer.

I thought I would have insight on how to do it.  The fact is, I probably am not a good example of how to tell your loved ones you have cancer.

What to expect

But I can provide you with insight on how your family and loved ones will react.

There are true emotions. They might not know what you have been going through and what’s going on in your head, but they know it is hard.

Your loved ones will try to be supportive the best they can.

They also need emotional support and will turn to others for it because they want to be strong for you.

It’s OK not to be OK and to feel what you feel whether you are the patient or the caregiver.

It’s OK not to always wear your brave face.

It’s OK to have good days and bad days.

It’s OK to cry.

It’s OK to smile.

It’s OK to talk about your feelings.

The one thing I wish I had done was start off my psychological oncological support during this time. I had waited until after my bilateral mastectomy.

I’m glad I set it up.  It’s never too late to have psychosocial support, but I realize I should have done it at my darkest time, which was during diagnosis.

It really could have helped me in not how to tell my parents, but how to deal with the anxiety, fear and concerns about telling your loved ones.

It also helped me in providing support for my loved ones.  There are programs for caregivers, which helps them too.

So I urge you to get professional psychosocial oncological support. Don’t think you have to go at this alone. The sooner is also the better.

Deb Song is a media relations specialist at Rush. Learn more about For more information about psychosocial oncological support at Rush.

From a Winter Vortex to a Pollen Vortex?

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Payal Patel, MD, is a board-certified allergist at Rush South Loop.

By Payal Patel, MD

After surviving the polar vortex of 2019, many of us are just itching for some warm weather. But for allergy sufferers, could that itch be worse this year compared to the years past? Is this year truly the worst allergy season?

To answer that question, we must first take into account the climate pattern changes that are predicted to take place in our future. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are predicting a double to triple rise in the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels within the next century. This rise in CO2 levels, in turn leads to changes in temperature and precipitation. Namely, Earth’s average temperature is expected to rise, as will the average global precipitation.

These global changes are the perfect setup for increasing pollen in the environment. This occurs by not only increasing the pollen production by some plants, but also by extending the pollen season.

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