Making the Rounds with Dr. Andrew Leventhal

Cardiologist Dr. Andrew Leventhal helps a unique group of patients

Making the RoundsIn this week’s Making the Rounds interview, we caught up with Dr. Andrew Leventhal, director of the Kentucky Adult Congenital Heart Program at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute. Dr. Leventhal is one of the nation’s few adult congenital heart disease specialists, helping a unique set of patients who are born with heart defects and who require specialized care as they become adults.

Why is adult congenital heart disease a challenging specialty?

Patients born with heart defects face unique challenges as they get older. They outgrow their pediatric cardiologists, but their heart problems can be very different from cardiac conditions that begin during adulthood.

One of the problems with this specialty is, because they have had good care in the past, many of my patients feel well and don’t necessarily think they need follow-up care. That’s why we make such a great effort to go out into the community and make sure these patients understand that they do need to see doctors for the rest of their lives.

What can a patient expect during their first appointment with you?

Many of my patients had surgery when they were children, so we talk a lot about their past. Even though they may be young, they actually have a fairly extensive medical history.

We really start at the beginning and go through their lives to make sure we have a very accurate perception of what they’ve had done in the past and where they are now.

What inspires you?

When I get up in the morning and I see my patients and see what they’re going through, that’s very inspiring. And the work ethic of my colleagues here at UK is quite inspiring, too.

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be doing?

I’d be coaching baseball somewhere.

What do you enjoy most about living in Lexington?

I like that fact that it’s a city, but it has a small-town feel. I think it’s the most beautiful place in the world.

My wife and I very commonly will go out on the weekends into farm country just to drive around and really wonder at how nice of a place it is here.


Check out our video interview with Dr. Leventhal, where he explains how exciting new treatment options are helping patients feel better faster.


Next steps:

Clark Regional Medical Center

Markey extends cancer network to Winchester

Clark Regional Medical Center in Winchester has announced a new affiliation with the UK Markey Cancer Center, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.

By becoming a Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network member, Clark Regional Medical Center will be able to offer more patients in Central and Eastern Kentucky access to specialty and subspecialty cancer care, including clinical trials and advanced technology, while allowing them to stay closer to home for most treatments.

“Clark Regional Medical Center is proud to join the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network,” said Robert Parker, president of LifePoint’s Central Kentucky East market and CEO of Clark Regional Medical Center. “Our mission is ‘Making Communities Healthier,’ and this affiliation is further evidence of our commitment to providing high-quality care for our patients close to home.”

Clark Regional is a 79-bed community hospital that has served the residents of East Central Kentucky since 1917. A Commission on Cancer-accredited facility, Clark Regional takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer as a complex group of diseases that requires consultation among surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists and other cancer specialists. This multidisciplinary approach to cancer care results in improved care for patients.

The Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network was created to provide high-quality cancer care closer to home for patients across the region and to minimize the effects of cancer through prevention and education programs, exceptional clinical care, and access to research. The affiliate network is especially important in Eastern Kentucky, where cancer rates are disproportionately high.

“We see 50 percent of our patients coming from Eastern Kentucky, which has some of the highest rates of cancer in the country, particularly lung and colon cancers,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center. “The Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network allows us to collaborate with community hospitals to provide top-notch cancer care for these patients much closer to home – saving both travel expenses and time for the patients, in addition to keeping them close to their personal support system.”

Markey is one of only 69 medical centers in the country to earn an NCI cancer center designation. Because of the designation, Markey patients have access to new drugs, treatment options and clinical trials offered only at NCI centers.

Moving forward, Markey is working toward the next tier of designation – an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Currently, 45 of the 69 NCI-designated cancer centers in the country hold a comprehensive cancer center status. The Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network will play a significant role in bringing that next level of cancer funding to Kentucky.

“Kentucky is home to some of the worst cancer rates in the country,” said Dr. Tim Mullett, medical director of the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network. “Collaborating with our affiliate hospitals across the state will enable us to make a positive impact on the dire cancer rates here in the Commonwealth.”


Next steps:

  • Learn more about the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network, which gives people across Kentucky access to high-quality cancer services and programs through collaboration with community hospitals.
  • Markey is Kentucky’s only NCI-designated cancer center, providing world-class cancer care right here in the Commonwealth. Learn more about why patients choose Markey for their cancer treatment.

ALS Clinic team provides care, support for former UK Wildcat

Talbott Todd had a memorable football career as a UK Wildcat in the mid-1960’s, playing multiple positions for Coach Charlie Bradshaw.

Todd is perhaps most famous for his 1964 game-clinching fumble recovery that ended top-ranked Ole Miss’s 22-game regular-season road game winning streak. His tenacity on the field was acknowledged last year when UK named the alley between the football field and Nutter Field House “Talbott Todd Way.”

That same tenacity continues to serve him well today as he and his family deal with his 2015 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, diagnosis. ALS is a progressive neurological disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, eventually stealing from its victims the ability to walk, dress, write, speak, swallow and breathe. Most ALS patients die within five years of diagnosis, and currently, there is no cure.

“Everything about Talbott was happy, healthy and normal, but I noticed that every once in a while, his speech was slurred,” said Marilyn, Todd’s wife of 52 years. “The first doctor thought it was medicine side effects. A second doctor conducted every kind of test, but ALS was not in our thoughts at all.”

After he was diagnosed with ALS, Talbott and Marilyn made an appointment with Dr. Ed Kasarskis, director of UK ALS Clinic at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute. The couple felt a connection the moment Kasarskis walked through the door – the result, Marilyn says, of his easy personality, patient listening and clear explanations.

“He acknowledged right away that this diagnosis was something no one wants to hear, but we weren’t entirely powerless in the situation,” Marilyn said. “Everything about him said, ‘This is not just about being sick.'”

A team approach to ALS care

Every day about 15 people learn they have ALS, while tens of thousands more are living with the disease, which requires a dizzying array of treatments and services to help them stay mobile and independent. The ALS Association, headquartered in Washington D.C., was formed in part to provide people with ALS and their families the resources to live fuller lives.

Research has shown that multidisciplinary care, or the practice of having physicians and other healthcare professionals collaborate to provide the most comprehensive treatment plan for patients, helps people with ALS have a better quality of life and actually prolongs life in most cases.

Kasarskis (fondly called “Dr. K” by patients and staff) is committed to multidisciplinary care, and his ALS Clinic at UK is set up so that patients can typically see every member of the care team – neurologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, respiratory therapist, nurse, dietitian, speech language pathologist, social worker, mental health professional and an ALS Association (ALSA) Chapter Liaison – in a single visit.

That, plus UK’s significant involvement in ALS research, has earned the ALS Clinic a coveted title from the ALS Association: ALS Association Certified Treatment Center of Excellence.There are fewer than 50 such centers in the U.S., and UK is the only one in Kentucky.

“The University of Kentucky continues to exhibit the highest levels of established national standards of care in the management of ALS, providing patients with high-quality compassionate care and support,” said Mari Bacon, executive director for the Kentucky Chapter of the ALS Association. “The care that people receive here is a model for other parts of the country, and I’m proud that we are able to recognize UK for its outstanding multidisciplinary approach to treating people with this devastating disease.”

Finding strength in the ALS community

Marilyn points out that an ALS diagnosis requires the entire family’s hands-on assistance.

“God blessed us with two sons,” she said. “Their love and support cannot be measured in time or money, and we could not do it without them.”

Marilyn also treasures the friendships she’s made through the ALS Association Kentucky Chapter support group meetings.

“We ask questions of one another and share ideas,” she said. “We support family members in their grief and keep up with each other long after the battle is over.”

ALS exacts a significant financial toll as patients tend to require expensive equipment to help prolong their sense of independence at home. A customized wheelchair, for example, can cost $25,000 to $30,000 and take several weeks to manufacture. The ALS Clinic at UK, in partnership with ALS Association Kentucky Chapter and volunteer Roddy Williams, helps manage the Loan Closet, which functions as a public library of sorts that supports patients until their own equipment arrives.

“ALS is often not diagnosed until the patient has significant symptoms, and you can’t just get equipment off the shelf,” said Kim Williams, Roddy’s wife and a partner in their business, APEX Mobility. “The Loan Closet helps bridge the gap while the patient waits for their new equipment to arrive.”

The Todds used the Loan Closet after Talbott was first diagnosed and are currently awaiting the arrival of his new customized wheelchair.

The ALS Clinic was recognized for its ALS Association certification during a reception and plaque presentation last week, and the Todd family was present to help commemorate the honor.

“What this clinic has done for us is immeasurable,” Marilyn said. “On a scale of one to 10, I’d give Dr. K a 20.”


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sports injuries in kids

Coaches and parents, help your kids avoid sports injuries this year

For many families across Kentucky, the start of the school year also means the start of the fall sports season.

Almost three out of every four families with school-aged kids have at least one child who plays organized sports. That’s great! Sports provide physical, emotional and social benefits for kids of all ages. But with sports unfortunately also comes the risk of injury.

The good news is, as parents and coaches, there are lots of simple things you can do to prevent injuries and keep kids playing the sports they love.

Use proper equipment

Make sure young athletes are wearing appropriate and well-fitted safety equipment. This includes:

  • Helmets, for sports like football and lacrosse.
  • Mouth guards, which are inexpensive and can help reduce injury to the mouth, teeth, lips, cheeks and tongue.
  • Sunscreen for outdoor sports.
  • Properly fitting shoes or cleats.

Be aware of heat-related illness

Compared to adults, children are at an increased risk of suffering heat-related illness because they have a lower sweating capacity and produce more metabolic heat during physical activities.

  • Kids just getting back into sports shape after a summer off are especially vulnerable to heat-related illness. Keep an eye on those children in particular.
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of heat illness, which include nausea, dizziness and elevated body temperature.
  • Reduce the risk of heat illness by making sure young athletes stay hydrated. That means drinking water before, during and after all activities.

Avoid overuse

Nearly half of all sports injuries are from overuse or overexertion and can be easily avoided with proper rest.

  • Plan at least one day off per week to allow a child to rest and recuperate.
  • Coaches, rest players during practice and games to avoid overuse.
  • Children who play multiple sports that use the same body part (like swimming and baseball, for example) are at a higher risk of overuse injuries and should be extra careful.
  • Kids should take two to three months off from each sport every year to avoid overuse.

Be smart when it comes to head injuries

Concussions are serious, traumatic brain injuries that get worse each time they happen. It’s important to know the warning signs of something as serious as brain trauma. Concussion symptoms include:

  • Headache, vomiting or nausea.
  • Trouble thinking normally.
  • Memory problems.
  • Fatigue and trouble walking.
  • Dizziness and vision problems.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.

These symptoms can occur right away, but may not start for weeks or even months. If your child or athlete has any of these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately.


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Dr. Sandra Beck

Dr. Sandra Beck’s patient-care mantra: ‘I treat you like family’

Making the RoundsFor our latest Making the Rounds interview, we sat down with colon and rectal surgeon Dr. Sandra Beck. Dr. Beck is the head of colon and rectal surgery section at UK and the program director for the general surgery residency. 

How did you become interested in medicine?

I actually started out in business in undergrad, and I realized I was helping all my friends in the sciences with their homework. I figured out pretty quickly I was in the wrong business. I explored just doing research, but realized that I actually really liked working with people. So, after doing a few years in research, I ended up going to medical school and then ended up as a surgeon.

What conditions do you treat?

We mainly treat diseases of the small bowel, colon, rectum and anus. That includes inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. And we deal with all the complications of those diseases.

We take care of patients with colon and rectal cancer, and we also take care of patients with diverticulitis or other benign diseases of the colon. And we also do things like hemorrhoids and infections around the anus.

What do you tell patients who are nervous or embarrassed about their condition?

We look at things in a very clinical sense, and it’s something we are trying to fix. So, don’t be afraid to come in and talk to us about things.

Also, colorectal surgeons have great senses of humor. We tend to be a lot of fun and we’re pretty nice people. But if you don’t want us to joke about things, we won’t. We’re sensitive, too.

What’s your favorite part of mentoring residents?

We have them for five years, and so it’s really neat to see them mature and to see what I call “the lights to go on.”

When you’re working with them in the OR at first, you can tell they’re not really seeing what you’re seeing. But then by the end of it all, they’ve matured into these great surgeons who I know can go out into their communities and be a real asset. It’s really very gratifying to see them mature in that way and to be able to be part of that.

What is your patient-care philosophy?

I try to approach it as if you are one of my family members. I try to be your quarterback, and if we need to coordinate care, I try to do that for you. But I also try to be the person you can come to to ask questions.

I think being a physician means being an educator, and I feel like we – me and the patient – need to be a good team. I need to educate you about your disease so that you know what you can do better. I’ll tell you what my role is, and then we work through the process together.

I think that’s one of the reasons my patients like me – I treat them like family. I try to make it feel like we’re all part of the same team. And then once we get you through treatment, you’re always part of the family.


Check out our video interview with Dr. Beck, where she talks more about the patient-first approach at UK HealthCare.


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healthy school lunches

Tips for packing a delicious, nutritious school lunch

Parents, the school year is here – what’s your plan for packing school lunches?

By putting some thought into your children’s lunches, you can help keep them full and able to focus on learning throughout the school day. Here’s how:

Rethink the sandwich

Sandwiches are a staple of school lunches, but they don’t have to be boring or unhealthy.

  • Choose bread that is made from whole grains (terms like “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain” should be listed first on the ingredients list). Whole grains have nutrients like fiber and can help lower the risk for diabetes.
  • Instead of cheese or mayonnaise, try healthier options like avocado and hummus.
  • Put sliced apple or pear on a turkey sandwich for an extra serving of fruit.
  • Introduce some variety by using whole-wheat tortillas or whole-wheat pita in place of bread.

Make fruits and vegetables fun

Kids need three to four servings of vegetables and two to three servings of fruit each day. Make sure you’re loading up your kids’ lunch boxes with a variety of each.

  • Keep it colorful. Incorporate fruits and vegetables of different colors, such as red apples, oranges, blueberries and dark leafy greens.
  • Encourage kids to play with their food by packing healthy dips. Hummus is great with vegetables such as green peppers and carrots, while low-fat plain yogurt is a healthy option for fruit like apples and strawberries.
  • Feeling creative? Try “bugs on a log.” Use celery sticks or carrots as the “logs” and load them with peanut butter. Then sprinkle your choice of “bugs” – dried cherries, cranberries or raisins – on top to create a fun and tasty snack. Look online for other creative, healthy snack options.
  • Ask your kids what they like. Find out which fruits and veggies are their favorites and be sure to include those more frequently.

Don’t forget about beverages

An otherwise-nutritious lunch can be undone if a child washes it down with an unhealthy beverage.

  • Encourage your children to drink water throughout the day. Drinking water is essential for good health, and it’s a great habit to build early in life.
  • Choose low-fat or non-fat milk. Children get the same calcium and nutrients from these but without the added saturated fat and calories.
  • Avoid sugary drinks such as soda, sports beverages and even juice (especially if it’s not 100-percent juice). They’re often loaded with extra sugar and calories and contain little nutritional benefit.

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lung nodule

Your doctor says you have a lung nodule. Now what?

Dr. Jonathan Kiev

Dr. Jonathan Kiev

Written by Dr. Jonathan Kiev, a cardiothoracic surgeon at UK HealthCare.

Your doctor tells you that a chest X-ray shows a spot on your lung. It might sound scary at first, but these spots, or lung nodules, are not an uncommon occurrence.

What are lung nodules and what causes them?

Lung nodules are small masses of tissue in the lung that can be cancerous, although the majority are non-cancerous.

Dust and chemical exposure, infection or other tumors can all cause a lung nodule to form. Most people have no symptoms at all and lung nodules are accidentally discovered during the evaluation of something else.

Conversely, people who smoke or who have smoked in the past may also have nodules, which sometimes progress to an invasive cancer. That’s why it’s so important for a specialist to look at your X-rays for further evaluation.

Do lung nodules cause pain?

Pain is rare, especially if the nodule is very small. A CT scan will reveal even the tiniest of nodules, and your doctor can then correlate it with your symptoms. Rarely, if the nodule is near a rib, there could be associated pain.

Why does my doctor want me to get my old records?

An X-ray or CT scan is a snapshot in time; it shows what is happening now.

For comparison, a doctor may ask you to get old hospital records or X-rays to see if your nodule was there in the past, if it’s grown or if it’s stayed the same size. Benign nodules usually don’t change in size, while nodules that are associated with cancer can grow or spread.

If I have a family history of lung cancer, should I be concerned?

Secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer, so most physicians will screen family members of lung cancer patients more frequently. Cancerous nodules that are discovered earlier are more easily treated.

Unfortunately, that the vast majority of lung cancer patients have no symptoms at all, which is why only 15 percent of people who have lung cancer are diagnosed early.

My radiology report said that my nodule was suspicious. What does this mean?

Nodules that are deemed suspicious have certain characteristics, and your care team may want to do additional testing to find out whether your nodule is cancerous.

If your nodule is large enough, your doctor can do a needle biopsy, which involves placing a small needle in the nodule to remove some of the tissue for further testing. In some cases, a surgeon will need to do a surgical biopsy, which involves making a tiny incision to remove the questionable tissue for testing.

Why was I referred to a pulmonologist?

Pulmonologists specialize in lung disease. Through a procedure called a bronchoscopy, they are able to access different areas of the lung and perform biopsies of abnormal areas.

Additionally, they can assess your breathing function and make useful recommendations for inhalers and other medicines as well. They work in close collaboration with thoracic surgeons to form a multidisciplinary lung care team.

Should I consider lung cancer screening?

Lung cancer screening was developed several years ago to detect lung cancer in people who are at a higher risk of developing the disease.

Lung cancer screening is recommended for patients who are at high risk for lung cancer. Low-dose CT screenings are recommended for patients who:

  • Are ages 55-80.
  • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
  • Have a 30 pack-year smoking history, meaning the patient smokes one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years, or two packs per day for 15 years.
  • Have no current symptoms of lung cancer.

The low-dose CT scan takes about 30 seconds to perform, and there is very little radiation exposure to be concerned about. Most insurances will pay for the scan, and many hospitals have programs to help offset the cost as well.


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back-to-school safety

Back-to-school safety basics

Kids across Kentucky are heading back to the classroom this week. From backpacks to buses, here’s what you need to know to keep the little ones in your life safe and happy as they return to school.

School bus safety

School buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children to and from school, but injuries can occur if kids are not careful when getting on and off the bus.

Tell your children to:

  • Stand at least three giant steps from the curb while waiting for the bus.
  • Use the handrails while boarding and exiting the bus.
  • Be careful of straps or drawstrings that could get caught in the door.
  • Instead of standing up or moving, tell the bus driver if they drop something.
  • After exiting the bus, take five giant steps in front of the bus and make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing the street.

For drivers, remember to:

  • Follow speed limits and slow down in bus loading/unloading areas.
  • Stay alert for kids walking to and from buses.
  • Stop when driving near a bus that is flashing yellow or red lights.

Backpack safety

When used incorrectly, backpacks can injure your child’s muscles and joints, which can lead to severe pain and other problems. When selecting a backpack, look for the following features:

  • Two wide, padded shoulder straps. A single strap does not distribute weight evenly.
  • Lighter bags decrease the total load weight on the back.
  • Rolling backpack. A good choice for students who must tote a heavy load.

Here are some other tips to help prevent injury:

  • Always use both shoulder straps to distribute weight evenly and decrease muscle strain.
  • Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body and two inches above the waist.
  • Pack light. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student’s total body weight.
  • Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
  • Use school lockers to store books between classes.
  • Bend using both knees. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.

Pedestrian safety, especially for older kids

Did you know that pedestrian death and injury rate among older children and teenagers is now twice that of younger children? Unsurprisingly, that increase is believed to be related to distractions caused by the use of cellphones and other electronic devices.

To prevent accidents and injuries, tell your children to avoid these dangerous behaviors while walking:

  • Talking on the phone.
  • Texting.
  • Playing handheld gaming devices.
  • Using ear buds or headphones.

Other tips for pedestrians:

  • Always stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Remind children of all ages the basics of pedestrian safety:
    • Cross only at crosswalks and obey traffic signals.
    • Look both ways and listen, before stepping off the curb.
    • Walk, don’t run while crossing the street.

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Diagnosing eye cancer early preserves girl’s sight

When Kenley Overton’s parents took their infant daughter in for her four-month wellness checkup, they didn’t know much about retinoblastoma, the rare form of eye cancer that most commonly affects children. But that quickly changed.

Kenley was born Aug. 24, 2010, to Jason and Kendra Overton. When Kenley was a few weeks old, her parents noticed that her right eye would cross frequently. They brought it up to their local pediatrician during a wellness checkup and were told that it wasn’t abnormal for newborns.

However, when the Overtons brought Kenley in for her four-month wellness checkup, her right eye was still crossing. The pediatrician suggested Kenley see an eye doctor as it was likely she would need glasses to fix the issue.

In a whirlwind of appointments, Kenley first saw an optometrist who believed she had a detached retina. She was then referred to Dr. Peter J. Blackburn at UK Advanced Eye Care. After some testing, Blackburn diagnosed Kenley with retinoblastoma – a form of eye cancer that begins in the retina. Thirteen days after her wellness check, Kenley was scheduled for surgery with Blackburn to evaluate the situation and decide on a plan moving forward.

The best-case scenario

Retinoblastoma is a rare disease; only 200 to 300 children are diagnosed with it each year in the U.S. About three out of four children with retinoblastoma have a tumor in only one eye. Overall, more than 90 percent of children with retinoblastoma are cured, but the outlook is not nearly as good if the cancer has spread outside the eye.

Blackburn says that although there are no known avoidable risk factors for retinoblastoma, some gene changes that put a child at high risk for the condition can be passed on from a parent. Children born to a parent with a history of retinoblastoma should be screened for this cancer starting shortly after birth because early detection greatly improves the chance for successful treatment.

When Blackburn came out of surgery, he told the Overton family that Kenley’s cancer was only in her right eye – the best-case scenario.

He was pleasantly surprised because at Kenley’s young age, he had suspected the cancer might have been in both of her eyes. The decision was made to remove Kenley’s right eye that day.

In the years following her surgery, Kenley was regularly monitored to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread to her left eye. As Kenley continued to grow and show no signs of the retinoblastoma in her left eye, Blackburn became more confident that the cancer was limited to Kenley’s right eye.

Compassionate care at UK

Kendra Overton looks back on this difficult time in Kenley’s life and remembers how tough it was on her family. While taking care of Kenley, she and Jason also had to care for their older daughter, Jaylen, who was 4 years old at the time. But through the stress, she remembers Blackburn and the care he provided for Kenley.

“Dr. Blackburn was a very confident in the information he delivered about Kenley and her treatment plan, and he had a wonderful bedside manner,” she said.

She said Blackburn even took the time to pray with her family before Kenley’s surgery.

“At a time when we were falling apart, we really needed that and you don’t normally hear of doctors doing that,” she said.

Kenley is now a thriving 6-year-old. Kendra describes her daughter as naturally funny and someone who never meets a stranger. She just has a love for people, her mother says.

“Everyone who comes in contact with her says she is just so amazing,” Kendra said.


Next steps:

  • Learn more about UK Advanced Eye Care, which provides comprehensive care for patients of all ages  from routine eye exams to treatment for the most complex ophthalmic issues.
  • Earlier this year, UK Advanced Eye Care moved into a new state-of-the-art clinic that will allow us to provide even better care for our patients. Find out more about our new location.

Gift of Life Celebration honors organ donors

In November 2015, Frankfort-native Brian Chenault went to the doctor for what appeared to be a bout of pneumonia.

After more than a year of struggling with the illness, Chenault received some much more distressing news: A viral infection had damaged his heart beyond repair. This past January, the 39-year-old was referred to UK HealthCare for a heart transplant.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “I prayed about it, and then somehow I was OK with it and in a good place mentally.”

UK heart transplant patient Brian Chenault speaks at the UK Gift of Life Celebration.

UK heart transplant patient Brian Chenault speaks at the UK Gift of Life Celebration.

On March 25, Chenault was successfully transplanted and says his life has completely turned around.

“I feel great,” he said. “I feel the way I did before anything ever happened to me.”

This past Saturday, Chenault showed his gratitude for his organ donor by speaking at the Gift of Life Celebration, an annual ceremony held by UK HealthCare and Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) to honor those who chose to give the gift of life.

The importance of organ donation

This year, more than 175 donor family members and friends attended the celebration, while the names of 26 donors were read aloud and unveiled on the Gift of Life wall, located inside Pavilion A adjacent to the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Each year, the wall is updated to honor both new donors and those who have donated in years past. Since the wall was first unveiled in 2012, more than 400 donors have been memorialized.

For patients struggling with organ failure, a transplant may be their only option for survival. Every year, an estimated 6,000 people die while waiting for an organ transplant. More than 117,000 Americans are currently waiting for donated organs, including more than 1,000 people in Kentucky.

Their names are on the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list. The level of necessity, blood type, and size are among several criteria that determine who can receive a donated organ. One individual donor can provide organs and tissue for nearly 50 people in need.

Honoring those who donated

Knowing that their loved one was responsible for saving others offers some small solace for the donor families. Lisa and Tom Blevins lost their 22-year-old son, Keenan, in early 2016.

“We were on our way to the hospital, just trying to think of one good thing that could come of this,” Tom said. “When KODA approached us, we had our answer.”

Keenan ultimately saved six lives, and his name was added to the memorial this year.

“It’s just a great way to honor him,” Lisa said.

For Chenault, hearing that he’d been matched with a donor came with a bevy of mixed feelings.

“I was excited, nervous and a little scared all at the same time,” he said. “But it was also bittersweet because I knew that meant a family had lost a loved one.”

During the ceremony, the crowd listened in rapt silence as Chenault spoke, halting his words periodically to compose himself. He noted that organ donation doesn’t just make a difference in a single individual’s life – it also impacts everyone in that person’s circle.

“Not only did I need this heart, but my daughter, my wife, my family and my friends all needed this heart,” he said. “Thank you.”


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