Each day, our care team receives expressions of gratitude at MedStar Health, as well as, hospitals and outpatient medical sites across our MedStar Health system. To further cultivate a culture of gratitude, we want to continue to share the heartfelt and inspirational testimonials we received from our friends, families, caregivers, community, and patients. We hope you enjoy the following stories and videos that feature how our culture of gratitude continues to grow.
Young Life Supports Pediatric Palliative Care
The brave soul and unique life of young Brandon Carrington Lee is nothing short of inspiring. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, at the age of 12, Brandon’s spirit, faith, and gusto for life persevered through two years of treatment until he passed away in 2003.
Brandon’s parents had no idea what their family would soon face when they brought their son into MedStar Washington Hospital Center for a hurt knee. X-rays led to bone biopsies which revealed Brandon’s underlying health issue.
Brandon was referred to Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, where he received tremendous support from his family, pediatric physicians, and caregivers. Throughout his cancer treatment, he remained an honor student, athlete, and devout Christian.
He was never left alone during his treatments. Brandon’s parents were always there to talk with him in the middle of the night, or provide him back rubs and encouragement. During their time at MedStar Georgetown they noticed not all of the children received the same familial support.
In celebration and gratitude of their son’s life, Jefferi and Tina Lee established the Brandon Carrington Lee Foundation, which focuses on providing an extra level of comfort for pediatric patients. This investment created the Brandon Carrington Lee Pediatric Palliative Care Grand Rounds Lectureship and supported the Happily Hungry nutrition program.
A Game Changer
James Wentworth, peer recovery coach at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, shares his story from addiction to recovery, and how grateful he is to MedStar Health for giving him a chance to help others.
Care Experience Comes Full Circle
When Cheryl George began coughing and feeling chest pains, she knew something was wrong. She went to the emergency department when she found it hard to breathe. Even her career as a nurse manager could not prepare her for the diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.
Her husband, Noble, was amazed that during this crisis that turned their whole family’s world upside down, the medical professionals at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center exuded kindness and compassion.
“We have been married for 35 years and have been through a lot together,” said Noble. “I have never experienced so much love and compassion in my entire life. Every person expressed love and consideration in every bit of care they gave to my wife.”
They were encouraged by doctors who set out to treat her cancer until it went away. Cheryl underwent radiation and chemotherapy to eliminate her tumor, and she is now getting immunotherapy to make sure the cancer does not come back. She continues to work as a nurse during her treatment to give others the compassionate care she herself is receiving.
The couple lives in Southern Maryland, and despite some of these experts working out of hospitals in other regions, Cheryl has been able to receive treatment in her community. Noble expressed his gratitude, “I feel so blessed and overwhelmed. I wish I could give every person who cared for her a basket of fruit.” Noble has inspired his Shriners chapter to make a financial investment, and he is also referring his friends to MedStar Health for oncology care.
A Tiny Start to Big Things
When Nick Cortina was born three and a half months prematurely, he weighed one pound, 11 ounces and fit in the palm of his father’s hand.
He spent the first 100 days of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital–one of the best NICUs in the country. The care he received in those early days of his life, combined with multiple surgeries and quality medical care during childhood helped him avoid the most serious complications of his premature birth.
“I am here today because of the lifesaving efforts of the extremely dedicated, selfless doctors, nurses, practitioners, and staff who cared for me and helped me leave the hospital as healthy as possible,” Nick said. Not only is he grateful for his life and his health, but “those same caregivers gave vital moral support to my parents as they rode an emotional roller coaster that hinged on every ounce I gained or lost.” The combination of exceptional medical care and compassionate caregiving made all the difference for the entire Cortina family.
Nick’s entire life has Georgetown woven through it. He was born at MedStar Georgetown and survived because of the care he received there. He attended Georgetown University and graduated in 2016. He now works as a program manager for marketing and communications at the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.
Nick’s gratitude is profound, and he continues to visit the NICU at MedStar Georgetown to support and inspire families–some of whose babies are even smaller than he was at birth. He wants them to know that even the tiniest newborns can lead lives as successful as his.
Inspiring Hope for a Healthy Life
Living with sickle cell disease, Jessica Ceja shares how participating in a clinical trial participant at MedStar Health has made a positive impact on her life.
Veteran Musician Stays Creative through Care
Samuel Hollomand fondly remembers his time with the National Guard and 272nd Army Band. He excitedly discusses his days of performing as a jazz musician.
At 90 years old, despite facing numerous health conditions and intermittent need for rehabilitation, Samuel can still express his creativity through photography, music production, and technology. He credits his occupational therapist, Elizabeth Romero (pictured left), for helping him keep his creative ability.
“The MedStar Visiting Nurse Association not only employs wonderful professionals, but they are also wonderful human beings,” Samuel explained. It was through the collaborative effort of a team of caregivers that Samuel received care in the comfort of his own home that was tailored specifically to his health needs. He is grateful for the care he received from everyone, but for Elizabeth in particular.
“I would always request Elizabeth as my therapist,” Samuel continued, “and even though my treatments are currently done, Elizabeth is always just a call away. She checks in on me from time to time, too!”
They Gave Me Back to Him
Thene Mernick recalls her sudden injury after feeling faint. She talks about how MedStar Health helped in her healing process and how grateful she and her husband are for the team that supported her incredible recovery.
Creativity for the Healing
After Harry Ulrich received his diagnosis of prostate cancer, he and his wife Harriet were worried about his prognosis. Concerned about finding the right provider, Harry and Harriet researched their options for care providers and discovered the CyberKnife technology at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Their search led them to Sean P. Collins, MD at MedStar Health. “Dr. Collins had a track record of treating over 1,300 prostate cancer patients, and we were impressed by how deeply warm, relatable, and upbeat everyone on his team was,” Harry said.
The compassion, empathy, and respectful care they received from the entire team helped ease their anxiety every step of the way. Everyone from the front desk person helping them schedule treatments around travel plans, to the accommodating nurses and follow up physician. “We both felt like we were in a partnership with Dr. Collins and his team,” they said. “This is truly patient-centered care.”
Their gratitude for Dr. Collins and the entire group who helped them through Harry’s treatment led them to provide beautiful artwork to improve the aesthetic quality of the radiation oncology lobby. Harry and Harriet (pictured with their artwork) hope the improved lobby will help other patients and families feel more comfortable throughout their treatment experience.
Compassionate Care for Carpenter Hobbyist
Kathy Myers was home enjoying her hobby of refinishing furniture when she suddenly felt a sharp pain in her abdomen. The rapid feeling of pain was so intense, it knocked Kathy to her knees.
A quick call to her friend and she found herself in the emergency department of MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. Kathy recounted, “Everyone was concerned and did their all to make sure I was seen quickly and was as comfortable as I could be. The way they treated me with such kindness really calmed me and I knew they were on my side.”
When she arrived at the emergency department, she realized that she forgot her cell phone, but a nurse was able to help her connect with her loved ones. “When people put that much compassion and love in their work… to see the level of care they give, not only professionally, but just as the good, genuine people they are -- these are the exact people who you want to surround you in a health emergency,” Kathy shared.
As she learned more about her prognosis, it became apparent emergency surgery would be required. Her surgeon explained the best next steps not only to Kathy, but also over the phone to her parents who were en route to the hospital.
After an early morning surgery and during a day of rest at the hospital, Kathy met many care team members. Kathy reflected, “Everyone on the staff, from the surgeon to the kind woman who would wipe down my room, they stopped and talked to me like I was more than just a patient, they treated me like I was one of their people.”
Kenny Alexander, RN, MedStar Montgomery Medical Center, talks about how his patients impact his life and the great sense of satisfaction that comes from helping them reach their goals.
A Beautiful Legacy
A complicated health journey would take Elizabeth LaFleur, and her husband Arthur LaFleur, away from home. Elizabeth had a diagnosis so difficult that her primary care physician in Boston sent her to Washington, D.C. to meet with Cal S. Matsumoto, MD at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
As a clinical specialist, Dr. Matsumoto conducted a multi-organ transplant on Elizabeth – a complex, time consuming surgery with numerous potential complications.
Elizabeth’s husband Arthur said, "I can't say enough good things about Dr. Matsumoto’s care. From the very first moment he walked into the conference room, Elizabeth and I felt a presence about him. He was caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable."
Understanding the gravity of the decision they were making to undergo this complex surgery, Dr. Matsumoto explained every possible alternative and what the complications were.
Given the limited, effective options available to her, Elizabeth chose to undergo the complex surgery. Tragically, she did not survive the nearly 12-hour operation. Despite this devastating outcome, Arthur was filled with love for his wife and gratitude for the MedStar team who skillfully and compassionately cared for her. He wanted to express his gratitude to both Dr. Matsumoto and his team, as well as pay tribute to Elizabeth in a special way.
Using a portion of the proceeds from her estate, Arthur honored their loving relationship – and Elizabeth’s passion for the Maine coast and lighthouses – by dedicating a tranquil fountain in the space where she received treatment. The fountain creates a beautiful legacy in Elizabeth’s memory that will benefit patients and their loved ones.
Rides for Therapy Patients
Patricia Chung faced a loss of independence after her knee surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. She was advised by her physician that she would be unable to drive for several weeks.
For her first outpatient therapy appointment, she arranged a cab to the Irving Street clinic at MedStar National Rehabilitation Network. “It was $80, round-trip, and the cab did not pick me up at the exact location or on time,” Patricia explained. “You can imagine how frustrating and expensive it might have been to continue calling cabs on my own.” Soon after her first therapy visit, she was connected with MedStar NRH’s Outpatient Transportation Program. The program, made possible through 2016 and 2017 Power to Heal Campaign, offers free Yellow Cab rides to eligible patients who cannot get to their therapy appointments on their own. “Everything was so amazing and convenient,” Patricia said. “Everyone was so professional and kind, from Ashley Benoit [patient care coordinator] to the cab company. The drivers called ahead to let me know what time I could expect them, and they always picked me up and dropped me off exactly where I needed to be.” “I’m so glad this kind of service exists to help patients like me. I’m back to driving on my own now, but when I really needed help getting to my appointments and my children weren’t available to drive me, I was so grateful I didn’t have to figure it out on my own.”
A Team’s Willingness to Further a Life
Without treatment, Ed Pinder would have six to nine months to live with his diagnosis of colon cancer. His disease was so advanced that his cancer had spread to his liver with too many tumors to count. Ed began the long, painful process of treating an illness designed to thwart treatment efforts.
After grueling surgeries and six months of hard chemotherapy treatment, Ed received a pump which deposited the chemo directly on his liver where it is concentrated on the tumors. This enables limited removal of the liver where tumors were occurring, with the expectation that the liver would regenerate in those areas. To continue this different kind of chemo treatment started in New York, Ed needed to find a local hospital care team willing to learn this new approach. “Other nearby institutions had no idea what we were talking about when we approached them about this process called hepatic arterial infusion,” Ed said. He finally discovered the oncology department at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, where Pallavi P. Kumar, MD expressed interest and willingness to have her staff trained on this new procedure. Ed continues to share his gratitude, “The team at MedStar Franklin Square helped me undergo multiple chemo therapies and get two liver resections and five ablations. More than that, they stood shoulder to shoulder with me, were direct and honest, and said we are going to make the best of this.”
Pilot’s Passion Leads to Paralysis Recovery
Lee Sommer’s passion for flying and his pride in managing the historic College Park Airport is limitless. "This is the world’s oldest, continually operating airport and was a demonstration and training site for the Wright Brothers," he said, happy to remind anyone within an earshot.
On a regular day, doing routine tasks, Lee experienced a slight pain in his back while moving from a large fuel truck to an aircraft. What seemed to be a minor incident rapidly escalated to a cause for concern. "I went to bed feeling okay," Lee recalled, "but when I woke up during the night, my right leg didn’t work at all and luckily my partner was with me to rush me to the hospital."
Lee received a diagnosis of a cauda equina lesion, which is an incomplete paralysis that is caused through injury to the mass of nerves which fan out of the spinal cord in the lower back. Lee had lost, in one evening, complete movement and sensation in his right leg which required an immediate surgery. After surgery, Lee was told that with intensive therapy, he would be able to achieve recovery, and was referred to MedStar National Rehabilitation Network for physical therapy.
Lee expressed his gratitude, "Dr. Pamela Ballard evaluated me right away and the next day I started my regimen. The entire team at the hospital was a huge support. Harsh Thakkar, the spinal cord injury wellness specialist was terrific." Over time, with the expertise and encouragement of his team of therapists, Lee went from no movement, to being wheelchair bound, to now only utilizing a cane to help steady himself.
"This experience has been the biggest challenge in my life," Lee added, "My personal goal is to get back to 100 percent and I know my caregivers at MedStar are critical to achieving it. I am incredibly grateful for the care I received and the progression I made with the help of my therapist. They put me back on my feet and for that, I’m eternally thankful."
One Heart Saves Another
Maureen O’Neil Hooker (pictured right) lived with heart failure for many years due to the damaging side-effects of chemotherapy and reached the point where she desperately needed an organ donation.
At the age of 67, she was given a second chance at life through the tragedy of a 26-year-old organ donor who died suddenly. Maureen got the phone call she had been waiting for, and in the capable hands of surgeons Steven Boyce, MD and Samer Najjar, MD at The Nancy and Harold Zirkin Heart & Vascular Hospital, she received a new heart. "Dr. Boyce and Dr. Najjar's excellence kept me alive then and it keeps me alive today. My experience has given me a new sense of purpose... I genuinely feel like I gained a new life in this hospital."
Maureen is grateful to everyone at MedStar, "an army of phenomenal caregivers," she said, who gave her this new chance. "Every morning when I wake to the sound of my new heart, I celebrate the gift of life. My gratitude grows with each passing day."
Maureen further expressed this gratitude by locating the family of the young woman who gave her heart, and became close friends with her mother (pictured left). Discovering her organ donor was a mother herself, Maureen established a scholarship fund to benefit the children of organ donors who gave the gift of life.
Perseverance and Positivity
Patrick Forbes used to live an active life. He worked as a mechanic, was engaged in his neighborhood, and always had a positive attitude about himself and the world around him. His activity lessened once he was affected by complicated health problems, including suffering from diabetes and tragically losing his left foot in an accident, but his kind spirit remained.
Eventually arthritis and complications from diabetes required two knee replacements. This surgery was successful, but knee replacements with below-knee amputations are extremely rare and his healing proved difficult. Patrick frequently used a wheelchair because of his amputation and his knees had begun to freeze at a 90-degree angle. These frozen limbs required splints and over time a great deal of effort to regain mobility.
Surgeon Jeffrey D. Sabloff, MD at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center said, "This was an unusual case, but he was in a situation where if we didn’t do something, he’d never get up and walk." Patrick said he appreciates and is grateful for the time and attention Dr. Sabloff dedicated to his treatment. "I never thought I’d walk again,” Patrick said, “but Dr. Sabloff told me ‘we’ll get you out of this chair."
Knowing the great results Dr. Sabloff has achieved, patients can see that seemingly impossible results can sometimes be possible. Patrick has always paired medical treatment with a positive attitude. "I don’t let anything bother me," said Patrick. "Life is good. I’m thankful for my beautiful life."
Proud Veteran Conquers Appalachian Trail
Henry Rorie learned "Mind over Matter" during his time in the Marine Corps and placed this mantra directly in the center of his incredible 2,191.1 mile journey to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., a proud Vietnam War veteran and police sergeant, Henry found a love for hiking after completing his active duty service to our country and community. In 2016 his voyage to conquer the Appalachian Trail began, but was met with some prohibitive health barriers that would slow his 15 mile per day pace. When a health concern took him off trail, it was met with determination and a focus from both Henry and his care team to, as he states, "Get me back on the trail".
Nearing the end of his epic journey, Henry was faced with a complicated surgery that would require another break from what he loved. With mind over matter, this didn’t slow his drive, "The number one goal for me was to get back on the trail. All of my doctors at MedStar Health made this their number one priority as well... I can’t say enough about how grateful I am for their care. They were just excellent!"
Under the care and expertise of his MedStar physician, Ravi Agarwal, DDS, and clinical team, after surgery and a brief hospital stay, he was able to reach the final precipice of the Appalachian Trail. He even touched the iconic end-trail marker as he summited Mount Katahdin! He stood at the end of a momentous personal journey, with his health and grateful spirit, an example of the fighting human spirit.
Tennis Injury turn nearly Tragic
When Sarah’s health took an unexpected turn for the worse, her emergency care team sprung into action and brought her back to life. Twice.
Sarah Pheasant is a Washington, D.C. attorney who enjoys playing tennis to help de-stress, that is, until a sudden sports injury left her limping off the court. The pain continued and even after an urgent care visit, use of an orthopaedic boot, and physical therapy, Sarah was still facing difficulties.
Early one morning, Sarah experienced rapid labored breathing and tightness in her chest. The last thing she remembers from that morning is immediately dialing 911 only then, to awake four days later in a MedStar intensive care unit.
What she doesn’t remember is arriving by ambulance, unable to speak due to respiratory distress. Her emergency department team had to revive her twice when her heart stopped beating. The rapid onset of such dangerous symptoms lead physicians to diagnose Sarah with a pulmonary embolism. With quick action, her care team safely removed the blood clot that had formed behind her knee - saving Sarah’s life.
It was thanks to the fast action and medical expertise that Ethan Booker, MD; Travis Thompson, MD, emergency medicine resident, Matthew Schreiber, MD and Emil Cohen, MD were able to quickly collaborate on bringing Sarah back to health.
"My family and I are so grateful to the hospital and the entire team," Sarah reflects. Her father also states, "My wife and I know that Sarah is alive because she had the right doctors with the right skill set, doing their job well. Every member of the team was so kind to us. They went out of their way to make us comfortable, and the care Sarah received was quite remarkable. The practices and the culture of caring were so impressive. We cannot say enough about how incredibly grateful we are for the care she received."
Strong Women: A Mother and a Daughter's
When LaWan Sypert-Mujiheed and her husband Dawud arrived at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s Labor & Delivery department, they were ready to welcome their daughter, Laila, to the world. On the day of delivery, however, mother and newborn daughter endured life-threatening medical emergencies. When in active labor, LaWan suddenly collapsed and passed out completely and baby Laila’s heartbeat slowed.
Michael Hotchkiss, MD, Meghan Malentacchi, MD, Brook Gebeyehu, MD, Nahid Mazarei, MD, Sara Parker, MD, Dominique Stuckey, Director of the Women and Newborn’s Center, along with many caring nurses and other MedStar Southern Maryland associates, rushed through the night to convene at the hospital and determine a diagnosis and treatment plan. It was discovered the mother suffered from an amniotic embolism and the baby had developed a lung condition called a bilateral pneumothorax.
After intense intervention and numerous hours spent in care at MedStar Southern Maryland, Children’s National Medical Center and MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital, both Laila and LaWan’s health risks subsided. LaWan now has nearly full physical function, thanks to continuing treatment with her MedStar therapist. Little Laila is now a thriving young toddler.
Dawud, after being faced with losing both his wife and daughter, recalls of this life changing event, "You are never prepared to hear your wife is dying and your baby is too. I knew Laila would pull through, just like her mother. They are strong women. I am incredibly grateful to the physicians and care team who saved both my wife and daughter."
The “A-Team” Saves My Life Twice
In 2006, despite experiencing a tremendous amount of tightening in his chest, Larry Washam was discharged from a community hospital. Not one to complain, Larry continued to fight through the pain until a second trip to the emergency department was necessary. As his oxygen levels continued to decline – things went from bad to worse.
As a result, Larry was immediately flown to the intensive care unit at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital under the medical advisement of M. Blair Marshall, MD. During transport to the operating room, Larry vividly recalled Dr. Marshall’s calm demeanor, “she held my right hand and told me I’m going to bring you through this. It was unbelievable how calming that made me feel.”
A year after the surgery, Larry was again having troubles breathing. After Dr. Marshall ran a series of tests she identified a condition which included the paralysis of the diaphragm on the right side of his lungs. With another successful surgery, Larry stated, "You never forget the person who saves your life once. The difference in my case is that Dr. Marshall saved my life twice. I can't put into words my gratitude for her care."
For his continued care, Larry was referred to Charles Arthur Read Jr., MD. In 2015, during a routine checkup, Dr. Read noticed a nodule on Larry’s lung. Due to his limited lung capacity and other comorbidities, surgery wasn’t an option. Subsequently, Dr. Read conferred with Dr. Marshall and Brian Timothy Collins, MD on the treatment needed and decided to pursue the high intense target radiation Cyberknife procedure. Through this targeted form of radiation, Larry was able to keep the remaining functionality of his lung while removing the majority of the cancerous nodule.
Because of this exceptional care, Larry now affectionately refers to his clinician team as his "heroes" and to MedStar Georgetown as the "A-Team".