It was 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and Martin Walker had the last appointment of the day for a blood transfusion, a regular part of his treatment for a chronic blood disorder.
The Sanford resident was scheduled for two units of blood at the FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center . As he and wife Betty recall, he had the first bag without incident.
Things didn’t go nearly as well with the second.
When Walker started to shake violently, nurses Jenny Fowler and Terry Long leapt into action, caring for their declining patient while locating – despite the date and hour – an infectious disease specialist who told them how to respond to the emergency.
Although months have passed since that frightening incident, the memory is still vivid for Martin and Betty Walker, who know that he got the same high-quality care as the last patient on a holiday as he would have gotten on a regular day of the week at the Outpatient Cancer Center.
“It touched our hearts,” he says.
Martin Walker was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) more than two years ago. Since then, he has had every available service for his condition that Moore Regional Hospital has to offer. He and his wife are on a first-name basis with most of the Outpatient Cancer Center staff and many of the volunteers. Both feel they are in good hands whenever they walk through the hospital’s doors.
“We have utilized so many services of FirstHealth,” says Betty. “We can’t tell you how excellent they’ve been.”
Martin’s health care journey began with a heart problem, and surgery to replace a faulty valve and repair an aortic aneurysm also took place at Moore Regional. Later, as he recuperated at home, an alert nurse with FirstHealth Home Care noticed that his hemoglobin was dangerously low and set up an appointment with medical oncologist David Allen, M.D., at the Outpatient Cancer Center.
Since his diagnosis, Martin has been hospitalized at Moore Regional several times and had four different chemotherapy programs – two as part of a clinical trial. He currently comes into the Outpatient Cancer Center twice a week for the blood transfusions. Because there is no known cure for MDS, treatment focuses on controlling symptoms, improving quality of life and delaying the disease’s progression.
Since Dr. Allen’s retirement, Martin’s medical oncologist has been Robert Pohlmeyer, M.D., who monitors his red blood cell and platelet counts and watches for signs of spleen enlargement, a common MDS complication. He also stays in touch with physicians at Duke Medical Center where Martin is being prepared for a bone marrow transplant.
“They work hand in hand,” Betty says. “That’s another thing we’re grateful for.”
On May 12, 2011, exactly two years to the day after his first transfusion, 68-year-old Martin Walker had his 168th unit of blood at the FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center. The staff treats him and his wife like family, he says, and volunteers – many of them cancer survivors themselves – often stop by between chores “to give you a little pep talk.”
“All the stuff that’s going on here, it affects so many people’s lives and gives them hope,” Martin says. “The caring is really wonderful.”
The caring can extend beyond the walls of the hospital as the Walkers learned the day Betty locked her keys in the car during a brief off-campus shopping trip. Former Cancer CARE-Net coordinator Kathy Milewski stepped in with an offer of help when Betty called to let Martin know why she’d be late getting back.
“Find out where she is,” Milewski said, “and I’ll go right down.”
“I’ve never seen more considerate people,” says Martin.
“They set the bar for quality and care,” says Betty. “If they need a press agent, I want that job.”
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