Sharing Gratitude Across the System



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.

Pilot’s Passion Leads to Paralysis Recovery

Lee SommerLee 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'NeilMaureen 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 ForbesPatrick 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

Mr. Rorie overlooking viewHenry 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

MedStar Washington associatesWhen 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 Resilience

Sypert-Mujiheed familyWhen 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".


Unexpected Gratitude

Stuart Levine, MD shares how even after a patient passed away from a prolonged illness, a family was profoundly grateful.

A Fighting Chance

Jessica Kearney did not get a chance to meet her unborn son, Garrett. Jessica shares how she helped offer comfort for other mothers and their newborns.



We invite you to participate in our culture of gratitude. What’s your story?