Gratitude Stories- February 2020

  • Read Bob and Carol Buhr's
    The Gift of Time
  • Read Mel George's Story
    A Life-Changing Experience
  • Read Phyllis and Bob
    Bickel's Story
    Driven to Give Back
  • Watch Ralph Ferrara's
  • Watch Joyce and Bob
    Peavey's Story
    Living a Meaningful Life

A Life-Changing Experience

Pictured are Mel George and his daughter, Kennedy

Mel George had nausea on and off for five years … the cause of which was never accurately diagnosed. While it sometimes kept him away from his job as a National Account Representative for Miller Coors, he was usually back to work after a little rest. That changed earlier this year.

“I got so sick I could barely function,” the 53-year-old says. “The nausea was severe for weeks. I couldn’t eat … all I could do was lay in bed.” He eventually ended up at a local hospital where tests were inconclusive. He was transferred to the specialists at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

“There I was told my heart was failing. It was not pumping at the rate it should be and my organs were shutting down,” he explains. After a series of evaluations, it was determined that George was an ideal candidate for a heart transplant. “They explained to me that finding a new heart could be a long process—probably 80 to 90 days—and I would need to stay in the hospital during that time.”

Then, on the third day of his wait in the middle of the night, George was awakened by his nurse who was crying. “A heart that was a match had just become available and they needed to take me into surgery right away,” he explains. “My nurse was a wonderful older man who took the best care of me and we shared tears. I was frightened by the thought of having my heart taken out but was thankful to have a chance to survive.”

George spent four weeks in the hospital after his surgery, during which he benefitted from extensive rehabilitation to “get me back in order,” he says. “The whole process made me feel special. It was life changing. I was treated like a king.

Today, George is doing great and looking forward to getting back to work. He is now walking two miles a day, and the former collegiate golfer chips balls regularly with his 15-year-old daughter, who has taken up the sport.  He is also developing ideas for a fundraiser to benefit the Institute. “My goal is to do whatever I can to give back. I’ve been blessed and I will always be grateful.”

The Gift of Time

Pictured are Bob and Carol Buhr

When Bob Buhr started retaining an excessive amount of fluid, his wife, Carol was alarmed. “He had open heart surgery in 2009 and had taken a diuretic to control fluid retention since then,” she says. “His cardiologist said to give him more of his medication, but there is only so much of that drug that an individual should take. I knew there was something seriously wrong.”

Finally, she took him to the emergency department at the local hospital where Bob waited, wrapped in blankets for hours before he was seen by a doctor. He was eventually admitted and spent the next 11 days undergoing a variety of tests and being evaluated by a parade of physicians … to no avail. “He was going to die in that hospital if something wasn’t done,” Carol says.

Her daughter-in-law, a nurse practitioner at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital at the time, insisted he be moved to MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, where he could receive the expert care he needed. The transfer was made and the Buhrs got what they wanted most … more time.

“The staff at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital was the best. They were on Bob’s case from the second he arrived,” Carol says. He was placed under the care of George Ruiz, MD, who specializes in treating adults with advanced heart failure.“Dr. Ruiz was my saving angel. The experience was so different from where we had been. Everyone treated us like we were part of the care team … like we were family. They asked us questions and included us in discussions.”

Thanks to the care he received, Bob was able to return home, looking good and feeling much better … giving the couple five more months together. During that time, they decided to make a gift to the new cardiovascular center being built at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. “If I had more … I would donate more,” Carol says.  

Unfortunately, Bob passed away in May of 2017. Still, Carol treasures the extra time they shared. “He was the love of my life. I can’t express enough gratitude for the wonderful care he received and the way we were treated at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital.”

Driven to Give Back

Phyllis Gray and Robert Bickel met at Ithaca College in New York, where they both majored in physical therapy. Shortly after graduating, the young couple moved to Baltimore to start their careers. It was 1981. Phyllis landed a position at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital and Robert was hired by another hospital in the area.

Pictured are Brad Chambers, President of MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital and MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, Phyllis Gray, Robert Bickel, and son, Andy Bickel

As their careers flourished, so did their desire to give back. “We were doing well. Bob had moved on to work for MedStar Health Home Care and then transferred to MedStar National Rehabilitation Network as an outpatient physical therapist. I had been presented with numerous opportunities to grow at MedStar Good Samaritan and within MedStar Health,” says Phyllis, who now serves as administrative director for Palliative Care Services for MedStar.

“We are both driven by a strong desire to help others and felt that supporting the places where we work was one of the best ways we could do that,” she adds. “We have always spent our money wisely and have been fortunate to be able to give to many worthwhile programs at MedStar Health entities over the years.”

So, when the couple heard about plans for a new Inpatient Rehabilitation Center at MedStar Good Samaritan, a partnership with MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, they stepped up to the plate with a large gift. “With our backgrounds in rehabilitation, we knew what a difference a better physical plant would make for the patients being cared for at MedStar Good Samaritan,” Phyllis notes. “This hospital is my home away from home and I am extremely grateful that we had the means to support the development of this beautiful, state-of-the-art facility.”