Gratitude Stories- May 2019

We Care for Cancer Patients Beyond the Diagnosis

Billie Ferguson

When Billie met Keith Kratz, he was being treated for stage four cancer for the second time. Billie Ferguson, an oncology social worker at The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Cancer Institute at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, works with countless patients dealing with financial difficulties resulting from their cancer diagnoses. Among other things, Billie discovered that Kratz was dealing with his diagnosis while living in a home with no heat in the middle of winter.

People sometimes don’t understand how much cancer costs,” Billie says. “Patients may have enough to pay the hospital bills. But what about the rest?”

The We Care Fund seeks to help cancer patients with the rest: bills, transportation, and food. The fund is there to help them. Keith couldn’t afford to fix his heating, so Billie contacted a government grant program to help him get a new furnace installed in his home.

From the We Care Fund, he received supplementary financial help to pay his utility bills. He was also able to receive Meals on Wheels food assistance and compression garments to help reduce swelling as he completed his treatments.

Keith Kratz

In 2017, the We Care Fund provided 22 cancer patients with financial assistance. “Many of the donations come from individuals: family members, friends, and folks from the community,” Billie says. Though the funds are limited, the cancer institute seeks to assist as many people as possible and to be fair when assessing patient needs.

“They have helped me tremendously throughout my cancer ordeal—twice,” Kratz says. He is now a two-time survivor of stage four melanoma. “I can’t say enough great things about Billie and the whole institute at MedStar Franklin Square. I don’t look at anything in the same way I used to. I now appreciate everything in my life to a greater extent.”

 For more information on the We Care Fund at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, please contact Billie Ferguson at [email protected].

Transforming Addiction to Aid

Dan Hakim sees many patients come through the Integrated Wound Healing Center at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center with pre-existing addictions to prescription or street drugs. Carrie Clark came in like the rest of them, seeking wound care as she struggled with a drug addiction. The infections from her needle use were so severe that she almost had to get both her legs amputated.

Dan Hakim, Carrie Clark, and Sierra Davis

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that, and after two years of steady treatment, she experienced a turning point in her physical health as well as in her drug addiction. With recovery came clarity, a sense of responsibility, and immense appreciation for her care team. She felt a need to express her gratitude and told them, “I really want to be able to help people but I don’t know how.”

Dan heard that. Beyond his roles as her therapist and the director of the wound center, Dan wanted to do more for this grateful patient who didn’t know where to start paying her gratitude back.

Connecting her with the peer recovery program at the wound center was a step forward they took together. Dan saw in her an empathetic guide, someone who might help addicted patients focus on their path to recovery. Clark started her new position as a community health advocate in May 2019. Her primary area of focus is the emergency department at MedStar Franklin Square, where many of the wound care patients start their treatment process.

 “I owe so much of my recovery to the love and support I received from my caregivers. They never looked down on me or judged me. They always looked at me like a real person,” Clark says. “They’ve given me another chance to not let my story go to waste. I’m going to make sure I do that for others, too.”

The Saving Touch of Many Hands

Six months ago, a life-threatening medical emergency brought Katherine Farquhar to the emergency department at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center.

It was there that she met the caregivers who ultimately saved her life. There’s Gabriel Yango, the phlebotomist commonly known as “The Angel;” Laurin Manoubi, RN, the overnight nurse whose soothing voice calmed Farquhar during restless nights; and John Brebbia, MD, the bariatric surgeon who conducted her operation.

“Even when I was with one caregiver, I sensed an entire team at work,” Farquhar says.

“Her procedure and recovery couldn’t have been accomplished without everyone being involved. We draw from nearly every single one of our services in the hospital for each patient [who comes through the emergency department],” Dr. Brebbia explains.

Laurin Manoubi, John Brebbia, MD, Katherine Farquhar, Gabriel Yango

For Farquhar, her second chance at life came with life-altering consequences. She returned home understanding that life now would be different than before her neck hematoma.

Every caregiver she encountered during her hospital stay helped her reach this point in her recovery and acceptance. The healing continues for Farquhar, and reconnecting with her caregivers today is a part of that journey. “Thank you all for the care. My whole life pivoted as a result of my hospitalization. I’m sure other people can relate to the unexpected happening to you and changing everything,” Farquhar says.

“Gratefulness is a complex feeling, one that carries so much appreciation and humility for the medical skills and teamwork that brought me through this crisis. Yet it’s on me now to do what’s possible to sustain the healing and celebrate the life that I now live.”

Katherine Farquhar currently serves as chair of the Board of Directors at MedStar Montgomery.