Patient Stories

Tony Nelson (COVID-19)

Reliable friend. Life of the party. Hardworking. People person.

That’s how Anthony Nelson’s friends and family have always described him. With a quick wit, sharp intellect and enviable social skills, Tony, 49, enjoyed a thriving dual career as a mortgage broker and realtor in Upper Kittitas County for the past 17 years. “I was helping people make the biggest purchase of their lives,” he says.

Then COVID struck.

Tony spent several days in a fever and mental fog. Concerned, his girlfriend took him to KVH Urgent Care in Cle Elum for a COVID test. While waiting at home for test results, Tony’s condition worsened. He stopped answering his phone. Tony’s mom sent an urgent text to her best friend, Marta Whalen, a nurse at KVH Hospital.

“She asked me to check in on Tony,” says Marta, who was on a trip to Colorado at the time. “She was worried that he sounded ‘not great’ on the phone.” The next day, Marta got a voicemail: Tony had COVID. Good thing Marta hadn’t been able to visit and be exposed to it.

“I’m thinking just the opposite,” says Marta, as what she jokingly calls her “nursing brain” went into high gear. “Yeah, I do probably want to go there if he has COVID and doesn’t sound good.” She returned to Washington the next day and made a beeline from the airport to Tony’s place.

Marta entered the house in mask and gloves. “I was vaccinated, but I hadn’t come face-to-face yet with a ‘full-blown’ COVID patient,” she admits. It was dark as she sat on the far corner of Tony’s bed and asked if she could turn the lights on. He agreed.

“Every breath in and out was wheezing, with difficulty,” recalls Marta, who knew she had to act quickly. She gave Tony the choice: call 9-1-1 or head to the urgent care clinic.

Tony opted for Urgent Care. It took mere minutes to assess him, and soon Tony was loaded into an ambulance. Before the rig departed, Marta made sure he had his wallet, phone and charger. “I knew Tony wasn’t coming home any time soon.”

Saving a Life

Tony has no memory of the ambulance ride or his time at KVH Hospital. He was shocked months later when scrolling through photos on his cell phone and discovering a video he’d made from his hospital bed. “I really thought I was dead,” he says, “so I made a video message for my family. ‘Mom, Dad, I love you. I wish I could have been a better son,’ – you know, just sad, very sad.”

Tony’s condition quickly deteriorated. He was airlifted to Harborview, where he spent 59 days on a ventilator, got a tracheostomy, was placed in a medically induced coma and then on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – a process that uses a special machine to replace the functions of the heart and lungs by externally processing and circulating a patient’s blood supply).

The gravity of Tony’s condition was clear to everyone. Without hesitation, his parents signed off on experimental treatments for their son, in hopes of saving his life.

Weeks later, Tony emerged from the induced coma. He’d been strapped to his hospital bed. “The first thing I heard was the noise of machines,” he recalls. “I heard the ventilator breathing for me and the ECMO transferring blood to and from my body. I had multiple tubes stuck in my neck and thighs. All I could do was observe. I was too shaky and weak to even write. I had a tracheotomy tube in my throat and couldn’t speak. I was just plain terrified, and couldn’t comprehend where I was or how I got there.”

For the next several weeks, Tony joined his medical team in the battle for his recovery. “We all fought like hell every day to make me live.”

A ‘New Normal’

After two months at Harborview – “Where I believe the very best doctors and nurses in the world work” – Tony was finally released. “It was time for me to see and be with the people I love.” His sister-in-law Janell drove him to his home in Cle Elum, where family was waiting. They helped him out of her car, into a wheelchair, and into his house. “I’ve been here ever since,” laughs Tony, who can count on one hand the number of times he’s been out in the past six months.

“Tony doesn’t go to the grocery store. He doesn’t go out for entertainment, shopping, or visiting friends,” says his primary care provider, Dr. Andrew Thomas. (Doctor visits are also on the list of things Tony’s been unable to do as often as he should.)

When asked to compare Tony to his pre-COVID self, Thomas replies with compassion and great respect for his patient, “Tony is the shell of the man I once knew.”

On rare ventures out, Tony returns to KVH Hospital where he works with Jim Allen, Director of Cardiopulmonary Services, to test his now-damaged lungs. It’s an important part of what Allen calls Tony’s “very long road to recovery.”

“Tony’s situation is a vivid reminder of what COVID can do,” says Allen. “It also reminds me why healthcare providers do what we do.” During a visit in early September, Tony’s lung function measured at half of what it had been in January, pre-COVID.

The Aftermath

“Nobody’s taking COVID seriously until they get it. And then it’s just too late, man.”

Tony has a message for those who have witnessed his epic struggles and yet aren’t concerned about the virus. “First of all, you could die,” he says. “And second of all, if you do happen to make it through, you get to deal with the aftermath.”

For Tony, the aftermath means being unable to work, walk, and even talk for longer periods of time. It means body pains, tremors, headaches. Loss of concentration, memory and balance. It means using aids and adaptive equipment to do the most basic activities – breathing, walking, showering, going to the bathroom. And all while dealing with overburdened government and insurance systems to get basic assistance.

“I cannot operate or function without help from others,” Tony explains. “I now have oxygen machines, in-home physical and occupational therapy. My wonderful family bought equipment for my home. All these things cost money.”

Even so, Tony counts his blessings. He worries about others in similar situations who don’t have the resources and relationships that make all the difference when the bottom falls out of life. When a Facebook page was created to keep family and friends informed, some offered financial help. That was tough for Tony to take. “Everybody’s going through a hard time right now. There are people out there worse off than me.”

Caring about others is also the reason why Tony insists on sharing his story. “If I can help one person by sharing this, it’s worth it,” he says. “People need to know. It’s not just about getting sick, it’s about how sick you get. And then if you do happen to get incredibly sick, knocking on heaven or hell – if you survive, it’s a long deal.”

Final thoughts

A few weeks ago, Tony was able to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a fact he proudly announced during one of our phone conversations. He continues to adapt to his new life of daily struggle in the pursuit of healing and wholeness.

“Getting COVID is one thing,” says Tony. “Getting severe COVID is an entirely different subset of the disease. If people don’t act with common sense and get vaccinated, they can get COVID, severe COVID, and possibly die.” He adds, “None of these things need to happen. Those without a medical history of adverse allergic reactions need to get vaccinated. People need to think not only about themselves but society in general.”

“Tony lost his self-confidence, and for a while he lost his sense of humor,” notes Dr. Thomas. “He is rebuilding his emotional strength, but his physical strength has not yet returned. And at this point, he doesn’t have confidence that it ever will.”

“It must be really, really difficult to realize that you might never have the capacity or potential that you did before,” agrees Marta. Having lost two unvaccinated friends to COVID in the past year, she pleads for others to reconsider their own decisions not to vaccinate. “Please, think of the community, and the families that you live with and love.”

Perhaps because Tony beat the odds when others in his situation didn’t survive, his closest friends and caregivers can’t help but be optimistic. That includes Marta, who Tony will forever credit with saving his life by making him get out of bed and get help.

“Tony’s got a long recovery ahead,” says Marta, a smile coming through in her voice, “but I’m confident that he can get there because he’s so stubborn and strong.”

“This has pushed my mind and body harder than anything I have ever been through,” says Tony. “It’s made the good old days of two-a-day practices when I played college football seem like an ice cream eating contest.”

While each day brings a new set of challenges, Tony’s brush with death has given him a renewed outlook on life.

“I am grateful and happy to be here in the present.”

With all the support he’s received, Tony’s list of people to thank is a mile long. Here are just a few of the people he’s very grateful for:
Tony’s parents, Ronda & Ray Thompson and Mike and Phyllis Nelson
Marta Whalen
Stacy Houle
The team of doctors at KVH Hospital, including Jim Allen
The many teams of doctors & nurses at Harborview Medical Center
Dr. Andrew Thomas
Karlee Rahm
Gina Bjorklund
Drew & Jeanell Nelson
Justine Viviano
All the friends and family members that visited Tony in the hospital and supported him virtually on the group Facebook page
Special call-out to these friends that have gone above and beyond: Chanda and Matt Daly, Tim Stime, Jamie Steele, Justin Trost, Mark Krier, Mario Aguedelo, Rob Zutter & Meke Hansen, Wendy Retacco Hatteberg – owner of Retacco Law Offices – for donating pro bono legal services

Debbie Hulbert (Inpatient Care)

Debbie Hulbert loved to work in her garden, growing vegetables. A graphic designer by trade, she also loved to cook and paint, and had plenty of energy to do it all, until one day in late July 2021, when she found a lump.

Two weeks later, she received an official diagnosis: triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Aggressive treatment resulted in total hair loss, mouth and sinus trouble, digestive tract issues, and more. “The chemo is chasing after anything that replicates quickly,” Debbie explains. Which is why she needed a transfusion of platelets in November. Impacted by the hospital capacity issues that have been in recent news, KVH didn’t have room for Debbie at the time, so she was sent to a major Seattle hospital to recover.

It wasn’t long before she was dealing with neutropenia. “My white blood cells were basically non-existent,” she says, making her vulnerable to any kind of bacteria or virus. She relapsed in early December. “I was on a strong antibiotic to combat an infection, but my fever had broken through it.” She needed treatment immediately.

Her oncologist called KVH Hospital to inform them his patient was on her way in. ER staff had the Hulberts pull into the ambulance bay, where they wheeled her directly into the emergency unit, rather than having her enter through the front lobby. “They were concerned with reducing my exposure to others in the hospital,” she says.

Debbie was later transferred to the Medical/Surgical Unit, where staff followed “very careful protocols. They made sure to let me know exactly what they were doing at all times,” says Debbie. “They showed me how they were protecting me.” At one point, when the sound of harsh coughing filled the halls, staff reassured her of her safety.

“There was no COVID on the floor at the time,” she recalls, concerned after being exposed to the virus during her Seattle hospital stay. Debbie learned that Med/Surg staff at KVH were assigned to specific areas within the unit, and only certain people would be allowed to enter her room, to ensure the highest levels of safety for their vulnerable patient.

“I felt incredibly safe,” says Debbie. “Everyone that came in my room addressed me, talked to me – housekeeping, nurse’s aides, nurses, doctors – they treated me like a human being, making sure I was comfortable and had everything I needed.”

It was impossible for Hulbert not to compare her treatment with the west side experience she’d had just weeks earlier. “I stayed on the top floor in a state-of-the-art medical facility. Seattle hospital rooms don’t get better than that.” And yet, “I was a room number,” Debbie says. “I would sometimes have to wait a half an hour to get help to go to the bathroom.”

As an inpatient at KVH, “When I rang the bell, someone was there in 30 seconds,” which mattered a lot to Debbie when dealing with, among other things, intense bouts of diarrhea.

More importantly, Debbie felt seen. “The care, the compassion, the idea that everyone that talked to me, they’d come in and say, ‘How’re you doing today?” And they’d remember something we’d talked about the day before. I really mattered, you know, as a human being and not just a patient in a room,” she says. “I felt safer there, I felt seen there, I felt cared for.”

Treated with broad spectrum drug IVs, Debbie remained in the hospital until her cultures were clear and staff knew she was safe to go home, armed with two more antibiotics to cover anything that the IV medications could have missed. “I went home feeling stronger than I had in a month or more,” she said.

While Debbie has a long way to go in her battle with cancer, she’s already looking forward to resuming her creative lifestyle. She occasionally paints acrylic pieces in her bathroom when she has the energy, inspiring her husband: “He carved out a part of his shop to make me a paint studio,” she crows. “Once I’m feeling stronger, I’ll have my own studio to paint in.”

Betty Osborne (Neurology)

“Dr. Gustavson is super nice. His voice is soft and it just makes you feel comfortable. I felt good when I left his office – knowing I was going to be okay.” – Betty Osborne

KVH has welcomed a new Neurologist to our specialty team. His name is Dr. Andrew R. Gustavson. Dr. Gustavson comes to KVH with expert training in both Neurology and Psychiatry. He has worked all over the world, but his desire was to get back to practicing Neurology here in Eastern Washington.

Dr. Gustavson desires to treat patients with compassion and he works with them to build long-lasting relationships. The patient and their family are all participants in assuring the very best care. When someone has a neurologic disease, this may require care over the course of many years. The Doctor, the patient and their family are all essential to providing the best care for an individual. Dr. Gustavson enjoys this part of his practice and loves working with family members of his patients – either remotely or here in Kittitas County.

We received some recent comments from a patient after she came to see Dr. Gustafson for the first time in late 2020:

The patient, Betty, has had Parkinson’s disease for many years. Prior to Dr. Gustavson’s arrival at KVH, Betty had to go to Seattle to be seen by a Neurologist. This would mean her Daughter would need to take an entire day off to drive her to these appointments in Seattle. Betty wasn’t a fan of going to Seattle for her care. When Betty found out a Neurologist was coming to Ellensburg – she was ready to make an appointment right away.

“When I went to see Dr. Gustavson he checked me really good. He watched me walk and had me do some exercises to hold my hands out straight and fall backwards. I didn’t think I could do it, but he reassured me saying “We are here to catch you”. He is very nice. He speaks softly and makes you feel comfortable. He was very thorough and gave me a good checkup. I told him I would be out of medicine in January, so he said – “just come back and see me in three months and I will order and manage your medication for you.
You are doing well on this medicine.”

Dr. Gustavson says that if a patient has Parkinson’s disease we usually manage their care with medications. We can use surgical approaches if the disease gets more severe. I am seeing many Parkinson’s Disease patients since we opened my practice in Ellensburg, up to 50% of my patients on some days. The care of a person with Parkinson’s disease has to be individualized because you need to set up a medication regimen that’s is built specifically to help them with the issues they are having. It’s also a disease that progresses or changes over time – so we need to teach them and their caregivers how to adjust their medications themselves based on their symptoms.

Dr. Gustavson fell in love with Neurology as a college student. He became interested in how the brain works and this remains a great mystery. This means that we rely heavily on the patient history and physical exam to find the answers. It’s a very personal type of medicine. We have to work hard, with the right diagnosis, to tailor treatment to each individual person, according to their needs.

KVH is honored to have Dr. Gustavson on our team and to be able to provide this special care in the local community. Betty and many others are happy to have expert neurology care much closer to home.

View Dr. Gustavson’s provider bio page.

Colton Harlin (Emergency Surgery)

At the tender age of 10, Colton Harlin was generally used to the bruises and scrapes of pee wee football. And when the goal is a quarterback sack, a little pain for your efforts is to be expected, even during practice.

Colton was knocked down on the play. The quarterback remained unscathed. But Colton?

“My head was ringing,” he recalls. “My stomach was, like, hurting a lot.”

They returned to the sidelines, where Colton confided to his mother, Miranda. “I figured he’d be okay,” she says. “He’d cried ‘wolf’ so many times before; we thought he was just trying to get out of going to school.”

(Sound familiar, fellow parents?)

It wasn’t long before Colton was back on the field. He seemed fine.

“You know, we raised him to be a tough kid,” says his father, TJ. “We’re telling him, ‘You know what, son, you’re going to be all right. Sometimes we pull a small muscle in our tummy during practice. It’s bound to happen.'”

At the Saturday game, Colton was knocked down again. The pain came back like a flood. “I just tried to suck it up,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to cry in front of people.” Colton, telling his coach he was going to be sick, was pulled from play.

Returning home after the game, Colton went straight to bed, and to sleep. “I thought, ‘Maybe he’s just tired and needs rest,” says Miranda. The next morning unfolded like a typical family Sunday. “We’re up later, doing our normal routine, and Colton was watching TV.”

Suddenly, she saw her son bowing over the side of his chair. “I asked him what was wrong. His face was pure white. I said ‘Yeah, we’re going to go to the doctor, right now.’” She asked her daughter, Dakotah, to let TJ know, and with that, Miranda and Colton were out the door.

Colton and his family.

“We’re on our way to the hospital,” says Miranda, “and I’m on the phone with my mom. I said, ‘What if it’s appendicitis or something like that?’ But I didn’t know for sure.”

Still trying to reach TJ, the pair went straight to the ER. Labs were ordered. Miranda knew what was coming next. “Colton had never had his blood drawn with a needle,” she says. “But his nurses were able to calm him and get the needle in, and he was a champ right after that.”

Miranda and TJ finally connected by phone. “She said Colton was going right into surgery, and my heart just dropped,” he says, learning that his son would need an emergency appendectomy. “My world’s flashing before my eyes,” TJ recalls. “I played football for nine years. I’ve been hit in the stomach lots of times. And now this. Then I really started feeling like a bad parent, that he was really hurt.”

Dr. Daniel Smith would be performing the appendectomy. It was Miranda’s first time meeting the provider from KVH General Surgery. “He had the best bedside manner, ever,” she says. “He told Colton that he had a sick appendix, that we really don’t need it and don’t even really know why we have one. He reassured him and helped him understand what was happening.”

TJ and Miranda sat in the waiting room while Colton underwent surgery. “Of course I’m doing all the research I can possibly dig up on this,” says TJ. Less than an hour later, they were told Colton was in recovery, that everything had gone well. They’d been able to remove the appendix before it would have ruptured. Miranda immediately jumped up and ran in to see her boy.

Colton spent the night in the medical/surgical unit. “He got great care. The nurses were on top of anything he needed. They made sure he didn’t have a fever or any reactions to anything.”

When Colton was discharged the next morning, football was on his mind. “His team was going into the playoffs,” says Miranda. And so they carefully, slowly eased him back into practice, and before long, he was back on the field.

TJ has a message for all the ‘football fathers’ out there. “When your child says they’re hurt, really pay attention. It could be something serious. You know, we’re always pushing our sons to be greater than we were. Take into account what’s going on, and don’t shrug anything off. This could have been catastrophic.”

Miranda agrees. “Now, his toe starts aching, or whatever, we’re going to the doctor. We’re never going to not believe him again.”

As for Colton, he’s got his sights set on a career in the NFL. A linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, to be exact. And once he’s there? “Make it to the playoffs,” he grins. “And the Superbowl.”

Colton’s family would like to especially thank all of the staff who were involved in his care: Phyllis, Jana, Katie, Hannah, Pat, Luke, Jamie, Abigail, Ken, Kara, Anji, and Dr. Smith.

Christina Thunberg (Orthopedic Surgery)

It seems like every time folks gather around to swap life stories, there’s always one person whose experiences trump them all.

Christina Thunberg is such a person.

“It was my 17th birthday,” she recalls. “We were at my uncle’s place, and I’d brought a friend with me.” Riding was definitely on the menu – but there were only two horses and no one felt like doubling up. “My uncle got a horse. My friend got the other horse.” Which left Christina. She got the donkey, with assurances it was “tame and fine” and frequently ridden by “neighbor kids.”

Christina mounted the donkey bareback, with nothing to control it but a simple rope around its neck. Her uncle provided a slap to the beast’s hindquarters and off they went. Headed downhill at a fast clip, it wasn’t long before things got out of control. Next thing Christina knew, “I flew off the donkey and landed on my shoulder.”

Happy birthday, indeed.

That painful escapade landed her in the ER, followed by copious amounts of physical therapy. And yet, if that was her only war wound, Christina wouldn’t last long in a story-swapping contest.

But wait!

Months later, Christina was out with friends when they had a rollover accident after the senior prom. No one was seriously injured, but once again her shoulder “was really messed up.” More physical therapy followed.

The same year, Christina was racing up a steep slope on the back of a large utility quad – until she wasn’t. She and her friend fell off, and the heavy quad, complete with roll bars, ran over Christina’s back as it tumbled, rider-free, down the hill with them.

“I was a bit of a crazy child,” she admits, and the chain of accidents and repeated trauma to her shoulder was taking its toll. “I was in pain for the next ten years.”

For Christina, that decade of shoulder pain opened with earning a degree in criminal justice, followed by a short stint in maximum security (as an employee, of course). She’d hoped to work as a juvenile probation officer. “I lasted maybe six months, and I’m like ‘this is not for me.'”

Ready for a fresh start, Christina, by now a mother of two, made the move from Chehalis to Ellensburg. She found work at KVH, and eventually joined the team at KVH Orthopedics, where she helped patients navigate the non-medical side of the surgical process, such as scheduling and insurance issues.

It had been ten years since Christina’s initial shoulder trauma, and time was taking its toll. “I was in so much pain. I was taking eight ibuprofen a day,” she admits. “I got ulcers from that. I tried massage, physical therapy, you name it. Finally, I decided to see Dr. Mirich, since I was already working with him and knew how great he was with his patients.”

She quickly knew she’d made the right decision. “Dr. Mirich spent a lot of time with me to figure out what really was wrong,” says Christina. “I had a nerve conduction study, MRIs and x-rays. He even brought me into his office and explained everything, had me look at the MRIs and – he went above and beyond. It’s probably why he takes a lot of time with his patients. I just felt special, I guess.”

The initial diagnosis was thoracic outlet syndrome, a compression and tangling of nerves below the neck. “I also had tendonitis, osteoarthritis and a bunch of other stuff,” says Christina, who, under Mirich’s care, underwent a shoulder scope, carpal tunnel surgery, and distal clavicle excision (removing part of the clavicle bone to relieve joint pain). Genetics likely played some small part in Christina’s condition – her aunt and grandmother had also undergone carpal tunnel and shoulder surgeries.

Christina’s recovery lasted three weeks, and for the first time since her shoulder troubles began, physical therapy wasn’t part of the process. “I didn’t feel like I needed it,” she says, finding new enjoyment at work and at home now that she was pain-free.

Today, Christina works at KVH Hospital on the preoperative team, booking outpatient surgeries, including orthopedic procedures like the ones she herself experienced. And while her former colleagues at KVH Orthopedics are like family to her, Christina loves her new role and is considering a future as a surgical technologist.

Also in her future – a new last name. “Walters,” she grins. Recently engaged, Christina’s family of three is blending with her fiancé’s family of four, and their children couldn’t be happier. “I love all of them. And my kids look up to their new (older) siblings. It’s so cute.” They plan to make things official in 2021.

In the meantime, Christina fills her days with the people and activities she was unable to enjoy for so long. “I was pretty grouchy there for a while,” she admits. “All that popping and clicking every time I moved my shoulder, really got to me.” When her youngest, Brody, slipped on the steps and fractured his hip, Christina didn’t hesitate to take him to KVH Orthopedics, where he was seen by physician assistant Dena Mahre. “She was amazing,” confirms Christina.

These days, having long outgrown her ‘reckless teenage phase,’ Christina has fewer of those fantastic accident stories to share – and that’s just fine with her. She encourages anyone with debilitating pain to stop waiting, and get checked out for possible treatment. “As soon as I had the surgery, I felt so much better,” she confesses, with a smile. “I still do.”

David Martin (H1N1)

David Martin (H1N1)

It started with a nagging cough.

David Martin hadn’t felt well for several days. “You don’t go running to the doctor for the first little sniffle,” admits his wife, Jennifer. Still, she suggested he get checked out, just in case.

David went to Reno, instead.

An associate professor in Construction Management at CWU, David was part of a group traveling to Nevada for an annual student competition. The next Monday, David was back in the classroom. He felt run down, and so did several of his colleagues, who had contracted the flu. Unlike his colleagues, David hadn’t gotten a flu shot that year.

“Honestly? I just didn’t get around to it,” he says.

David called in sick on Tuesday. By Wednesday, Jennifer was worried. “He wasn’t pulling out of it quickly enough,” she recalls. After three restless nights, David went to the doctor. “I was just so tired,” he says. “I needed to sleep.”

David was given two flu tests. Both came up negative. He was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and sent home with antibiotics. Saturday, he returned to the clinic, still unwell.

“He was really not looking good,” says Jennifer, “kind of grayish in color.” Dr. Arar measured his oxygen level at 87. “You’re going to the hospital,” she said, and sent him straight to the emergency room.

“But first, we went through the drive through at Taco Bell,” laughs Jennifer. “Neither of us had had anything to eat, and he wanted some sweet tea.”

In the ER, David was put on oxygen. “They couldn’t get his levels to budge.” Jennifer, who works at KVH as a respiratory therapist (RT), called in her boss, Jim Allen, “because you don’t work on your own family.” When David was put on BiPAP, a noninvasive ventilator, Jennifer wasn’t overly concerned. “I thought, okay, he just needs to get some rest.” It had been a long week, and she went home to rest, herself.

Sunday morning, David was in the critical care unit. Jim had spent the night there. Dr. Survana, the hospitalist on duty, told Jennifer David was too sick to stay – he needed to be transferred to Yakima, and Jim would go with him. At Memorial, David was intubated, placed on a vent, and put into a medicated coma.

That night, tied to the phone, Jennifer checked in repeatedly with the RT in Yakima, who assured Jennifer that David was okay. “I went to bed feeling like he’d be on the vent four or five days down there, and we’d be all right.”

Monday was President’s Day. Jennifer was getting ready to head to Yakima, when pulmonary internist Dr. Ramachandran called to tell her David would have to be transferred, again: he needed to be put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) to give him his best chance to live.

“I was like, ‘What?!'” says Jennifer.

The doctor explained there was an 80% chance that her husband wouldn’t survive if he stayed on a conventional ventilator. He would be transferred to Portland for care.

“I was freaking out,” she recalls. A friend drove Jennifer and her two sons down to Portland. They arrived not long after David, who was taken by fixed wing to Legacy Emmanuel. “I was able to go in and see him,” says Jennifer.

Normally, ECMO is used in open heart cases, bypassing the entire circulatory system. David’s ECMO removed blood from the inferior vena cava (at the thigh), oxygenating it and passing it back through the superior vena cava, which carries blood from the head and upper body, to the lungs. It’s a drastic procedure, but effective. In addition to the ECMO, David was on an oscillating ventilator.

By the time Jennifer arrived, David’s oxygen levels were improved. Doctors then performed additional tests to determine what was going on. If there was a MRSA infection present, things could be dire.

The seriousness of the situation was hitting home with Jennifer. “I was begging God for ten more years, for my kids to grow up with a father.”

Fortunately, David’s tests were negative for MRSA, but positive for influenza. David had swine flu, the H1N1 virus. “The attending physician said one flu shot would have stopped this,” recalls Jennifer. “He might have still gotten sick, but not this badly.”

“They gave him an 85% chance of survival,” she says. David remained on ECMO for nine days. Then, weaned onto a tracheostomy tube, he was put on a regular ventilator.

When David awoke, he was delirious. “I thought it was just the next day,” says David, but he’d been there three weeks. He figured he was in Seattle. He knew he was sick: he’d been having dreams about it. Vivid dreams, largely brought on by the drugs keeping him comatose while his body regained strength.

Jennifer gave it to him straight. “I told him he’d been there a month. I said, ‘You need to know, you almost died.'”

David was moved to ‘track U,’ a step-down unit where, among other things, he was able to use a speaking valve on his tracheostomy tube to finally, clearly communicate. Within days, he seemed well enough to begin inpatient physical therapy. “My legs were like spaghetti,” says David, but his Christian faith gave him encouragement and direction. “God gave me a small role to play: do what the doctors tell you, work hard, get better and get back home as soon as possible.”

Four days later, David insisted he was ready to go home. Jennifer was hesitant. “He’s about 100 pounds heavier than me,” she says. “What if he fell after we got home?”

Martin Family

But David was ready. “I was telling the staff, ‘I couldn’t walk on Monday. It’s Thursday, and I’ve walked around the entire hospital on my own.'” He calls his rapid recovery “miraculous” and “not supposed to happen.”

Back home, family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers were thinking about David and his struggle to live. “While I was in the hospital, I can’t say that I actually knew when somebody was praying for me, but boy, did I ever feel the effects,” he says. “For every day I was there, I experienced about three days’ worth of recovery. I recovered three times faster than anyone said I would.”

Some five weeks after arriving in Portland, it was finally time to head home, where David took it easy – doctor’s orders. After three months of rest, “I was climbing a ladder, painting the house,” he admits, thanks in part to time spent in physical therapy. By fall, he was back in the classroom.

Now that they’re on the other side of David’s health scare, the Martins want to emphasize their gratitude to those who supported their family while David was in the hospital. “People from work, the community, friends, friends of friends, people I didn’t know, people from all walks of life – everyone was reaching out to help us,” says Jennifer. “The outpouring of support was incredible.”

Among their supporters, fellow RT Heather Zech was a standout. “She took it on herself to organize meals for us. With all that was going on, it was such a relief to know there’d be something I could just take from the freezer and put in the oven – and Heather made that happen.”

There’s another message the Martins want to make loud and clear – flu shots can save lives.

“What are you getting from now on?” Jennifer prompts her husband.

He grins, “A flu shot.”

Martin Family photo: David and Jennifer with sons Zach, Wesley, and Josh. Zach was away at college when his father’s illness occurred.

Nigel McNeill (General Surgery)

Nigel McNeill (General Surgery)

He’s a 38-year-old father of four with an active lifestyle, a passion for volunteerism, and a job he loves as a firefighter/EMT for Grant County Fire District No. 3 in Quincy.

So when a doctor told Quincy’s Nigel McNeill that an on-the-job injury suffered on May 16 would require surgery and a long recovery, McNeill was devastated.

“I was literally in tears,” he says. “This was our busy season, coming up on July and August. I needed be out there with the guys.”

In an occupation where risks are part of the job, the injury caught him by surprise.

“It wasn’t doing anything exciting,” he says. “I wasn’t saving babies or breaking glass. I was just checking the oil on an engine. When I came back out I felt a slow burning sensation in my abdomen.”

McNeill was taken to the emergency room at the hospital in Quincy where Dr. Fernando Dietsch quickly diagnosed a hernia and referred him to a facility he was familiar with in Wenatchee for further care.

The surgeon in that facility told him he needed surgery to repair his hernia but that laparoscopic surgery, which is less invasive than conventional surgery and typically has a much shorter recovery period, wasn’t the right option, McNeill says.

With surgery scheduled for June 12, recovery expected to take six to eight weeks and fire season rapidly approaching, McNeill was desperate to find a way to get back on the job sooner.

Then a friend at Kittitas Valley Healthcare in Ellensburg suggested he get a second opinion and referred him to Dr. Thomas Penoyar of KVH General Surgery.

Penoyar, who is skilled in laparoscopy, saw him immediately.

“He told me it could be done laparoscopically,” McNeill says. “He said it was pretty much a chip shot. He had a great sense of humor but was professional at the same time.”

A week later, on May 31, Penoyar performed the surgery.

At the hospital, “they took me right back. There was great communication,” McNeill says. “The last thing I remember is being wheeled into OR, then I woke up and they were right there with me.”

McNeill went home from the hospital that same day. On June 18 he was released back to full duty.

It isn’t the first time someone in his family has gotten exceptional care at KVH, McNeill says. Nine or ten years ago his mother experienced possible heart attack symptoms while traveling through Ellensburg and ended up in the KVH emergency department.

“They got her right in and treated her. It turned out to be her gallbladder,” he says. “What she told me about her experience sounds a lot like mine. Whatever you’re doing down there, you’re doing it right.”

And that’s a message he’s sharing.

“We don’t have an operating room here in Quincy. Most people, when they need care they have the mindset to go to Wenatchee,” he says. “It’s maybe 40 minutes to Wenatchee, maybe 15 or 20 minutes more to Ellensburg. For me, those extra minutes are worth it.

“I’m telling everybody I know, you probably should check out KVH for your surgical needs before you go to another facility. The word is out. I’m telling everyone.”

Bri Botten (OB)

Bri Botten

It was a time of big changes for Trey and Bri Botten. Trading in Bri’s Ford Focus for a minivan. Painting the nursery. Putting already-expert Pinterest skills to work on what to do when you’re expecting twins.

That’s right, twins.

Married since 2016, the Bottens planned to start a family a few years into the marriage. Baby #1 would be followed in a couple of years by Baby #2. It seemed reasonable at the time. “We got two for one, instead,” laughs Bri.

KVH midwife Emily Torretta broke the news to the couple at their 7-week ultrasound. Trey was understandably shocked, but – cue the maternal instinct – Bri already “had a weird feeling that we were having twins.” When friends hosted a gender reveal party, it brought fantastic news: they were expecting a boy and a girl. Thus preparations began for a world that would soon welcome little Waylon and Willow, the former named after country legend Waylon Jennings.

Bri started obstetric care at KVH Women’s Health under Dr. Ginger Longo. By week 20, she was referred to specialists at UW Medicine’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Clinic in Yakima for additional monitoring and testing. Between ultrasounds in Ellensburg and visits to Yakima, they had clinic visits every two weeks. “I felt like we were constantly at the doctor’s office,” recalls Bri.

Her care soon transitioned from Dr. Longo, who was leaving to practice on the west side, to Dr. Bruce Herman. “We absolutely loved Ginger,” says Bri. “When we met Dr. Herman, we clicked really well. He was calming and reassuring with all my questions and concerns. I was reading things online, saying, I need to be eating this much, I need to be doing this much, and then when I would go to Dr. Herman, he would say, “You need to do what’s good for you.”

Those who know Bri agree she’s one of the healthiest people they’ve met. Despite a twin pregnancy, she gained just 25 pounds, “literally all of it belly and babies.” While Bri tried to eat as much as she could, she simply had no room in her stomach. “Trey would try to make me eat cheeseburgers and milkshakes and French fries. He was convinced I needed to gain more weight!”

Bri started experiencing contractions while at work. Fortunately, as Event Coordinator for KVH, her office in the hospital was just a short walk from the Family Birthing Place, run by her aunt-in-law, Stacey. “They checked everything and saw that I had started to slightly dilate.” Bri was at 28 weeks, showing early signs and contracting heavily. Dr. Herman was straight with her: it was time to stop work and be on bed rest.

“It hit me like a whirlwind,” admits Bri. “That was a lot to take in.” And while she felt badly about leaving work so suddenly, it was a critical time for her and the babies. The plan was to get to at least 32 weeks. They’d just hit that threshold when a visit to UW caused alarm bells: Waylon was showing some signs of growth restriction and restricted umbilical activity.

Back in Ellensburg, Dr. Herman addressed the situation with the anxious couple. An ultrasound and additional measurements showed that while Waylon did indeed have a small abdomen, his umbilical activity and heart rate was excellent. He also assured them they could call him any time they felt they needed to. “It helped ease our minds a bit going into the next couple of weeks,” said Bri, whose care regimen would now include non-stress tests at Family Birthing Place every other week, and UW growth measurement/activity check-ups on alternate weeks.

Bri was taken off of strict bedrest at week 33. She began to experience leg pain. Then back pain. “It was excruciating,” says Bri, and fear of a possible blood clot sent her to the ER for monitoring. The babies were sitting on her sciatic nerve. The following week, she spent the night at Family Birthing, where they monitored her contractions. Knowing she had an appointment in Yakima the next day, Dr. Herman suggested she meet with a doctor in Yakima, “just in case you have to deliver there.” Unless she made it to 36 weeks, Bri would need to deliver in Yakima, where they were equipped with a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) to care for premature newborns.

That day, during their UW visit, Bri and Trey met with Dr. Hillary Conway, the doctor on call that weekend, who likely would be delivering the twins. They wanted to ensure that Dr. Conway was aware of Bri’s bleeding disorder, von Willebrands, which could cause postpartum complications. Afterwards, they returned Ellensburg to take care of responsibilities at home.

“The next morning, I was on the phone with my mom,” recalls Bri. “I was telling her about what was going on with my contractions. I told her I didn’t know if my water would break, since some women don’t have that experience.” As soon as she hung up the phone, her water broke.

“TREY!,” she screamed, as loud as she could. “I got up and ran down the hallway with this gigantic pregnant belly. My water’s breaking, and Trey’s like, “It’s time? It’s time?”

Like good, prepared parents, they already had a bag packed for a hospital stay. Bri went around the house turning things off. She then changed into a dress and sandals and was putting a headband in her hair before Trey realized what she was doing. He called KVH to let them know they were on their way.

“My second water started breaking in the hospital parking lot,” says Bri. “I thought, ‘Oh, Mylanta, here we go.'” She was quickly wheeled into Family Birthing and hooked up to a monitor. Her aunt-in-law was on vacation in Hawaii, but Dr. Herman, delayed with another patient’s C-section, made it in time to see Bri before she was transported to Yakima by ambulance. With her went Celeste, a nurse from Family Birthing who knew that Bri would be missing Stacey’s familiar presence, so accompanied Bri despite having the day off.

The ambulance delivered them safely to Virginia Mason Memorial. “I was feeling pretty good,” says Bri. The EMTs wheeled her in just Dr. Conway was entering. “Perfect timing,” said Dr. Conway. “I even finished reviewing your files this morning. Let’s deliver some babies!” An hour later, the babies, born three minutes apart, were in the NICU and Bri was recovering from the C-section. “I didn’t get to see them until 12 hours later,” says Bri. “That was really hard, emotionally.”

After five days of recovery, Bri and Trey moved to the hospital parking lot, where they stayed in a friend’s RV. Every three hours around the clock, the couple was there for diaper changes, bottle feedings, burping, and then the twins went down for a nap. After almost three weeks of this routine, the babies doubled their birth weights and were finally ready to go home.

Within two weeks, the babies were both nursing. “I worked hard on that,” laughs Bri, who often double-nurses when the twins are hungry at the same time. “My friends make jokes that I’m Super Mom, but this is the only way I know. Twins is all I know, so I just do it.” The family makes regular visits to Dr. Young at KVH Pediatrics, ensuring that the twins are gaining weight normally and getting the nutrition they need.

The twins are now four months old, and the little family has settled into a routine – more or less.  Things that parents with one baby take for granted are more difficult for the Bottens, who also have a small farm to care for. “It’s easier to go on errands, or to have the grandparents come over, when you have just one baby to look after. Not that we were surprised by that, but you don’t really know until you experience it yourself.”

Over the past few months, Bri has discovered that being parents of twins is more common than she realized. “Strangers will walk past and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, I have twins. They’re 30 years old.'”

Clearly, the rewards far outweigh any challenges for Bri and Trey, who are both loving their role as parents of twins. “The babies’ bond is probably the most precious thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” says Bri. “They already hold each other’s hands. And their smiles. Even if it’s a busy day, and they’re not napping – they’ll both look at me at the same time, and smile.”

It’s said that you never know your true capacity for love until you have children. Bri couldn’t agree more. “Sometimes Trey and I just sit and stare at them. We can’t believe this is our life, it’s so incredible!”

Emily Wurl (Orthopedics)

Emily Wurl, Orthopedics

Ever since she can remember, Emily Wurl has been active in sports. “I enjoy getting out there on the field where nothing else matters,” she grins. “I also like the relationships you make. It’s a lot of fun.”

“I love them all,” she declares, but if she had to pick a favorite sport, it would be soccer. The memories go back as far as age 7, playing goalie in Othello on Easter weekend. “I didn’t think you had rivals when you were seven, but apparently we did.” The team capped off their victory with a post-game egg hunt.

It’s been eight years since that Easter game. Now, Emily plays forward. In March, she rolled her ankle on a Spokane soccer field, taking an opponent down with her. Emily was back in the game within minutes. “My adrenaline kept me going,” she admits.

Back home in Quincy, Emily felt a bit sore and stiff – nothing she hadn’t experienced before. But when the next 48 hours brought an increase in swelling and bruising, it was clear she wasn’t going to be able to shake this one off.

School was on holiday, so Emily rode to Ellensburg with her mother Michele, Community Relations Director at Kittitas Valley Healthcare.

“I had a small window of time to get her there,” recalls Michele. Emily was admitted to KVH Hospital’s Emergency Department, where they determined her ankle wasn’t broken, but she needed to see specialist.

A call was placed to KVH Orthopedics. They were told to head straight over to the clinic, where Emily was examined by physician assistant Reese Hosey. Soon, they were joined by Dr. Thomas Mirich.

“It was such a team approach,” says Michele. “Depending upon what Emily needed, they’d bring that person into the exam room. One of the providers was an athlete who’d had the same injury, so she talked with Emily about it.”

The providers agreed, Emily would need an MRI.

“What’s the likelihood we can do it today?” asked Michele, hoping to avoid multiple round trips from Quincy. Clinic staff assured her that, barring any emergencies, they could perform the scan that afternoon.

The smooth transition from ER to clinic to imaging wasn’t lost on Michele. “There were a lot of steps that they had to go through, including insurance authorization, but they didn’t make it my problem,” she says. “They just did it.”

Just hours after Emily’s exam, she had the MRI. “I’d had so many sprains in my life, they were concerned that my ligaments were torn,” she says. Two days later, she received good news: no surgery was needed.

The not-so-good news? She’d have to take three months off to let things heal. That was tough for Emily to hear. A freshman at Quincy High School, it was her first year of track. “I was supposed to letter,” she says, “and go to districts and possibly regionals.”

Within days, the Wurls were back at KVH Orthopedics for a follow-up appointment. Once again, Emily was full of questions – and staff were happy to answer.

“The way they approached Emily’s care was to bring it back to her, every time,” says Michele, who continued to be impressed with her daughter’s treatment. “It was about her, and her goals, and the best way to get her there.

“They talked to us both, and when we didn’t know how to do something, they showed us exactly how to do it so that she wouldn’t be risking re-injury.”

In addition to treating athletic injuries, several of the orthopedic providers are athletes themselves, sharing a natural empathy for Emily’s situation.

“They helped her understand from an athlete’s point of view what her limitations were,” says Michele, “and they helped me understand as a parent what I needed to be watching for, where to set limits and where to let Emily make her own decisions.”

While those limits meant some initial disappointments for Emily, she turned her focus to other priorities. “Academics is really important to me,” she says. “Family and friends are, too.” That didn’t stop her from being thrilled when she was cleared for a progressive return to sports activities at her six-week check-up. “Now I know how hard it is to have to watch from the sideline. You never really understand until you’ve been injured.”

She offers hard-earned perspective to others dealing with injuries. “You’re still a part of the team,” she says. “You still have a big impact on the people around you.”

“You can still be a leader, off the field. You can still inspire your teams, and the relationships you built with your teammates are still there. Even if you can’t play, you should stay with your team and continue to build those relationships.”

These days, Emily’s back on her feet, with the future stretched out before her, like – well, like an enormous soccer field. After a few more seasons playing forward with Quincy’s Lady Jacks, “I definitely want to play Division 1 soccer,” says Emily. “That’s my main goal. I want to play in the WNSL, but I’m just going to see where things take me.

“Sports is always going to be a part of my life.”