Sharing Our Stories

Nurse Shares Her Thoughts About Dying Patient’s Wedding

The story of terminally-ill Evonne Lee marrying her long-time boyfriend Don Tyler here at University of Louisville Hospital yesterday has touched  hearts across the nation, thanks to news coverage locally from WAVE 3 and the Courier-Journal and nationally from USA Today, Today Show online and New York Daily News (and more!) .

Below is the story behind this beautiful story from Melissa Prtichett, RN. She is one of Evonne’s nurses in our Bone Marrow Transplant Unit who helped organize this unforgettable ceremony.

Thank you Melissa and thank you to every single person who played a part in this amazing ceremony. This event is a true representation of our staff’s never-ending passion when it comes to caring for our patients and their families each and every day! We’re proud of you all, Team! Thank you for what you do daily!

I first met Evonne in August of 2012, and Don was not too far behind.  From the moment I walked into the room, they made me feel like a part of the family. 

They welcomed me with hugs and offered me a great chicken and dumplings recipe.  Evonne and I also share a love for cats and would compare pictures of some of our favorites.

Over the last six months she was in and out of our Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at University of Louisville Hospital.  I knew the pain she was in, but despite that, she remains up-beat, always a smile and focusing on the positive.  Her enthusiasm makes our team feel as special as we hope to make them feel.

Don popped the question on Christmas morning.  Last week, after a not-so-good prognosis, they decided to make it official and get married! 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my nursing team so excited.  It was a total team effort, from making the invitations, arranging music and decorations to coordinating the schedule with her daughter flying in from Japan.

I’ve cried watching friends come down the aisle before, but nothing like this.  Our hospital chapel was standing room only, and the crowd spilled out into the hall.  When Don planted his kiss on Evonne, it was among the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen. 

While parting may come sooner for them than most couples, I know their love will endure.  It’s inspired me and so many others.  I’m honored to be part of their family, and proud they are part of mine.

Melissa Pritchett, RN
University of Louisville Hospital BMT Unit




Bone Marrow Drive Focusing On New Donors for Registry

“March Marrow Madness” (Bone Marrow Drive)

WHAS Great Day Live host Terry Meiners joins BMT nurse Melissa Pritchett, BMT patient Gillian Koch, and Gillian’s sister, Jessica Gibson, who donated bone marrow to her sister for a bone marrow transplant in 2005. See the interview.

Saturday, March 9, 10 am to 6 pm, 1401 Bardstown Road (Highland Green Discovery Center)

Gillian Koch of Jeffersonville, Indiana, was a little surprised but happy when she discovered she was having twins. The 21-year old’s happiness turned to complete shock, however, when minutes later further tests revealed she also had leukemia.

From that point on, Gillian’s journey was one of determination and prayer. When her twin girls were just 18 months old, Gillian received a bone marrow transplant – fortunately, her sister was a perfect donor match. The treatment was a success, and Gillian recently celebrated a birthday with her daughters; she just turned 29 and they are now beautiful and thriving 7-year olds.  See more of her story here on WHAS TV’s Great Day Live.

Gillian was fortunate that her only sibling was a perfect donor match. Seventy percent of patients will not find a match within their own family, and can languish for years waiting for a life-saving match from the bone marrow registry. More bone marrow donors are critically needed, especially for African-Americans and other diverse racial groups, so every patient has the chance for a cure.

Finding donors for patients who need them was the driving force behind the first annual “March Marrow Madness”Bone Marrow Drive at James Graham Brown Cancer Center and University of Louisville Hospital.

On Saturday, March 9, nurses will be conducting simple cheek swabs from 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Highland Green Discovery Center at 1401 Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky, for those willing to participate.  Guidelines for joining the registry include being between the ages of 18 and 44, meeting the health guidelines and being willing to donate to any patient in need if your marrow should prove to be a match.

Join us and be a hero to someone in need – you may have the chance to save a life! For more information, contact Michelle Perry at (502) 562-6170 or To get more information about being a donor, visit Be the Match.

Colon Cancer Awareness Month Begins March 1

As a University of Louisville Professor in Health and Sports Sciences, David Britt is surrounded by messages about healthy living. So when he first noticed blood in his stool, he did not delay. He immediately got it checked out.

Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Stage Three colon cancer. But fortunately, Britt’s assertive action has been key to his successful treatment of the disease at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center.

In fact, with March being National Colorectal Cancer month, Britt wants his message to the public to be just that: Get screened and, if you notice something unusual, get it checked out immediately. Hear David Britt’s video message.

“Fifteen years ago, I might not have been as vigilant about getting checked out,” he said. “And I shudder to think about what my father would have done. He would have just dismissed his symptoms completely.”

In his career as a health prevention theorist and sociologist, Britt and his students have had the opportunity to conduct research and study the operation and effectiveness of many cancer clinics across the country. Britt said the JGBCC is among the best in the country.

“We have been to many clinics where the people are treated like second-class citizens and the quality of care is abysmal,” said Britt.

“The James Graham Brown Cancer Center is so different. It’s a real partnership working with the patient to develop their care. They treat everyone with respect. The staff is on a first-name basis with their patients, and they even know their children’s names. I see staff members collaborating to get things done even when something is not their job. It’s like an extended family. Part of me will actually regret the end of treatment because it is nice to watch this place work. It’s it’s wonderful to see.”

Britt said his cancer diagnosis has truly changed his philosophy and perspective on life.

“This experience has re-catalyzed my sense of indebtedness. I have a stronger sense of what I want to do. I want to dedicate myself to trying to find ways to help organizations be engaged, creative and conducive to good health, like I have seen at the JGBCC.”

In addition, Britt said his family ties are stronger than ever. “I have a renewed appreciation for my children, and my wife and I are closer than ever. This experience has been life-affirming and life-altering.”

“Did you know that every four minutes someone is diagnosed with colon cancer?” Britt asked. “I am very enthusiastic about screenings. It saved my life.”

With the completion of his treatment in April 2012, the professor’s prognosis is excellent – and he is happy to be advocating for colon cancer screenings and awareness.

Tomorrow on March 1 help all colon cancer survivors celebrate National Dress in Blue Day by visiting the Louisville Science Center and the Kentucky Cancer Program‘s Incredible Colon from 10 am – 4 pm. Special guests Madeline Abramson and UofL Basketball’s Darrell Griffith will visit at 12 pm. All guests are encouraged to dress in blue to increase colon cancer awareness. Learn more about local activities for National Dress in Blue Day.

JGBCC Breast Cancer Radiation Program Offers New Hope / Reduced Visits

The innovative work of JGBCC’s Dr. Anthony Dragun, was recently featured on WKYU-FM (read/listen here).   Patients who qualify for the radiation program benefit from once-a-week radiation treatments.  It’s opening up the option of radiation treatments to patients who might otherwise not be able to make the tradiational commitment of daily treatments.

Dr. Dragun is  member of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic.

University of Louisville Hospital Named First Comprehensive Stroke Center in Kentucky, 20th in the U.S.

This is a monumental day for our organization and our state!

University of Louisville Hospital has become the first facility in Kentucky, and the 20th in the nation, to earn Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center (CSC) designation from The Joint Commission.

CSC is the newest and highest level of Joint Commission certification for stroke centers; formerly, Primary Stroke Center certification was the most distinguished level, which University Hospital obtained in 2004.

CSC designations recognize those hospitals with the most advanced equipment, infrastructure and staff and physicians, making it possible to treat complex stroke cases. University Hospital met those standards as determined by Joint Commission surveyors following a two-day site visit.

“There are very few Comprehensive Stroke Centers in the United States, making this is a great accomplishment for University Hospital, the city of Louisville and the Commonwealth,” said James Taylor, CEO of University Hospital. “Our Stroke Center is committed to providing the best patient care, and this certification reinforces that dedication.”

The impact of CSC certification will reach many cities in Kentucky considering 50 hospitals in western and central Kentucky and southern Indiana transferred patients to University Hospital’s Stroke Center from 2011-2012.

“Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death and the leading cause of long-term adult disability in the United States. Additionally, Kentucky ranks above the national average in the prevalence of many stroke risk factors (high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise, obesity, high cholesterol),” said Kerri Remmel, Director of University Hospital’s Stroke Center.

“Kentucky needs the best stroke care, and University Hospital becoming a Comprehensive Stroke Center is the next step in advancing that care in our region and state.”

A primary emphasis of CSC guidelines is to demonstrate collaboration between neurology and neurosurgical services. Though neurologists treat a vast majority of stroke patients at University Hospital, there are cases in which neurosurgical services are needed. The teamwork between the two is critical in managing complex stroke cases.

“University Hospital’s CSC designation signifies our commitment to providing multidisciplinary stroke care,” said Dr. Warren Boling, Chief of Neurological Surgery at University Hospital. “This means that our neurology and neurosurgical teams are working together to provide individualized stroke care. We are able to determine as a team which treatment is best for each patient.”

With a skilled team of physicians and nurses, University Hospital’s Stroke Center has many achievements in recent years, including:

  •  Kentucky’s first stroke telemedicine program (2007)
  • $1.4 million investment in a dedicated stroke unit (2009)
  • First hospital in Kentucky to receive the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Target: Stroke Honor Roll Award, recognizing University Hospital’s excellence in providing the standard of stroke care (2011)
  • Developed Kentucky’s first stroke nursing fellowship program (2011)
  • Multi-year recipient of American Heart Association’s Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award

“University Hospital’s Stroke program is locally and nationally recognized because of its team of expert physicians and nurses,” said James Ramsey, University of Louisville President. “I’m proud of their accomplishment and what it means for the people of Louisville and throughout Kentucky.”

Since 2004, when University Hospital became the first Primary Stroke Center in Kentucky, the Stroke Center has implemented many practices to improve care at University Hospital, but the most important factor in stroke treatment remains getting to the hospital promptly.

“In addition to providing integrated individualized care of stroke patients, we are committed to our mission of education and innovation,” said Dr. Remmel.

“We will continue to educate patients and the citizens of our region on the prevention of stroke and will engage in clinical and translational research to improve prevention and clinical care.”

For more information about University Hospital’s Stroke Center, go to:

Interdisciplinary education seeks to improve palliative care

University of Louisville program is result of work from $1.5 million NIH grant

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A unique curriculum at the University of Louisville is preparing medical, nursing, social work and pastoral care students to work together on interdisciplinary teams, so patients can receive better care when facing a serious illness.

The program, interdisciplinary curriculum for oncology palliative education (iCOPE), piloted in Fall 2012, and is teaching students to distinguish the roles and contributions of each team member; equipping them to initiate an interdisciplinary collaboration; and helping them to formulate a patient care plan that addresses psycho-social-spiritual and physical needs.

The curriculum is mandatory for nursing students, master’s level social work students specializing in oncology social work and clinical pastoral care trainees. It will be required for medical students starting in Fall 2013.

Alyssa Compton, a UofL School of Nursing alumna, works as a registered nurse on the neuroscience intensive care unit at University of Louisville Hospital (ULH). She was part of the first iCOPE class.

“iCOPE helped me understand how each discipline thinks in response to a patient’s condition. I saw how important this team is to families who see their loved one from a holistic view point and are looking to the team for guidance to get them through,” Compton said.

The curriculum planning began when UofL received a five-year $1.5 million grant in 2010 from the National Institutes of Health to develop, implement and evaluate an interdisciplinary oncology palliative care education program.

Mark Pfeifer, MD, professor of medicine, UofL Division of General Internal Medicine, Palliative Medicine and Medical Education, is the principal investigator on the project.

“Palliative care is much more than end-of-life care,” said Pfeifer, who also is senior vice president and chief medical officer for ULH. “It focuses on ongoing quality of life and well-being and is integral to the treatment of cancer patients from time of diagnosis throughout the trajectory of the illness.”

“Students often are educated in silos and have no idea how to work together in professional teams, and this is why we don’t always provide appropriate care for patients and their families,” said Carla Hermann, PhD, RN, project co-investigator and UofL School of Nursing professor. “What we have developed is what we believe to be an ideal model, not just for palliative care, but for many areas in the health professions.”

The curriculum includes three components: on-line case-based learning designed to teach students core concepts of palliative care, interdisciplinary case management experiences (ICME) and clinical experiences that include a reflective writing exercise.

The web-based modules include topics related to roles of each team member, pain and symptom management, communication, spiritual dimensions of care, and grief and loss.

Each module integrates core concepts when providing care to a particular patient. The on-line segments were created in an interactive software program that link to videos, websites and learning activities.

During the ICME session, teams of students from each of the four disciplines meet to consider a patient case, share information and develop a care plan based on simulated interactions between a patient, family members and treatment team members.

The final step in the iCOPE course places students in clinical settings where they observe the care of a patient with a serious illness and write a paper evaluating the care and how it may have impacted them personally. Students from each discipline share and discuss their experiences in small groups.

“Our goal is to graduate students who create the demand for these interdisciplinary teams because they have learned the value of what other professionals can bring to the table as it relates to patient care,” Pfeifer said.

Pfeifer hopes the program eventually will be transportable to other colleges and universities.

The iCOPE team will continue to evaluate the program and make adjustments through the end of the grant period, 2015.

University Hospital SANE program featured on WDRB

Check out the story on our Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program that recently aired on WDRB.

The SANE program is a valuable ally for men and women, helping through some very difficult times.  SANE nurses at University of Louisville Hospital are specifically to take care of the medical and emotional needs of patients, while collecting evidence that may be used later in court.

Whether or not a patient decides to press charges, it is advised to perserve evidence to perserve the option.

Great work SANE team… and thank you Jennifer Baileys (WDRB) for taking an interest in their work!

University Hospital Burn Unit on Great Day Live

Sarah Bishop and Mandi Walker get ready for interview with Terry Meiners

Check out the interview from WHAS’s Great Day Live featuring the University Hospital Burn Unit.  Sarah Bishop, RN clinical manager of the burn unit and Mandi Walker, RN, critical care educator did a great job with Terry Meiners.

This week is Burn Awareness Week across the nation.  Remember, most burn injuries occur in the home and the vast majority could have easily have been prevented.

Tips for preventions from the Louisville Fire Department.

Stay safe.

Central Hardin High students make donation to James Graham Brown Cancer Center

We want to extend a big thank you to Central Hardin High School students, who raised $1,980 to benefit the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville.

The students, who raised the funds through breast cancer awareness t-shirt sales, a raffle and other donations,  presented a check to University of Louisville President James Ramsey and Brown Cancer Center Director Donald Miller on January 11.

As part of their trip to present the donation, about 20 students also heard about how cancer forms and the history of cancer treatment prior to touring research labs at UofL.

Motorcyclist Becomes Helmet Advocate After Accident

“Once in a blue moon” – that’s how often avid motorcyclist Nelson Riley wore his helmet over the years.

In fact, on the unseasonably warm day of December 1, 2012, it was just the kind of day he would typically have worn only his bandana.

“But something  told me that day – I don’t know what – maybe it was the grace of God – to put one on,” said the 52-year-old Montana native.  “It was my wife’s helmet, and I even had to get it down from the closet shelf to take it.”

Nelson certainly made the right decision – one that likely saved his life.
After working a 10-hour shift at his job in Columbus, Ind., Nelson, who lives nearby in the small town of Hayden, Ind., was riding home down Interstate 65 at about 60 mph. Suddenly, he was face-to-face with a huge deer that jumped in the path of his motorcycle, causing a serious collision.

Nelson stayed aboard his motorcycle as it skidded on its side down the road. “It was probably about a 1/8th of a mile, but I was so scared. I felt like I was never going to stop,” he said. “I remember very clearly my head banged hard on the pavement three or four times inside my helmet.”

Fortunately, a truck driver spotted the accident from the highway and radioed for help, and Nelson was brought to University of Louisville Hospital.
When Nelson’s wife, Nettie, was called, she immediately panicked when she saw her husband’s helmet on the couch. She didn’t realize he had taken her helmet to wear that night.

“The state police told me on the phone that Nelson wanted me to know he was OK,” she said. However, they didn’t tell her he was wearing a helping, So, fearing the worst, she rushed to the hospital to find that Nelson had a catalog of injuries, including broken ribs, a broken wrist, a broken ankle and numerous lacerations.

However, she was relieved to learn he had been wearing her helmet and had not received any head injuries.

All in all, Nelson is still in the middle of his eight- to nine-week recovery period, but his wife still considers him unbelievably lucky.  “I was amazed, truly, that he was alive,” Nettie said.

Nelson, who is a member of Bikers for Christ, a local motorcycle ministry group, agrees. “My Higher Power must have taken the wheel that night because I don’t have the skill level to have survived that accident,” Nelson said.

He also said the accident really put his life in perspective. He vows that he will never ride without a helmet again – and he will advocate for others to do so as well.

Nelson and Nettie, who are raising two of their eight grandchildren, are ardent in expressing their gratitude for the expert care he received while at here at University Hospital. They credit the nurses and doctors for saving his life.

Nelson admits that, at first, there was a real fear associated with coming to University Hospital.

”I grew up in a town of about 200 people, and people like me are leery of a big-city hospital,” he said.  “But once we were here, we didn’t have that fear anymore.  I was shown so much support, love and compassion from these people who don’t even know me that well.  This place is incredible. They spoil you to death. They do anything and everything they can for you.”

And, as it turned out, there was a touch of home after all: The wife of his primary care physician in Seymour works in University Hospital’s Emergency Department.
Nelson expressed his amazement at the medical expertise and the specialized care available at the hospital.

“They had a specialist for every body part that was hurt – hand, head, feet… They evaluate your situation, assign a team, control your pain – the whole team is totally devoted.”

After reliving his accident in detail for this interview, Nelson was preparing to go home after five days in the hospital. Nelson and Nettie reiterated their praise for the hospital staff.

“We could never say enough about this place. The doctors and nurses here have got to have a really high stress level; doing what they do must be like a battle zone. But you would never know it to look at them – they were always cheerful and professional,” Nelson said.

“We were truly blessed. I’m a believer now – it’s not such a bad world after all. There are such good people here. “