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Erika Carter

With cancer behind her, it’s back to school again for this teacher

Don’t miss the video at the end of this blog to see Erika talk about her treatment journey at the Markey Cancer Center.

Dealing with a classroom full of rowdy second-graders can be taxing on even the most patient, energetic individual.

But for 42-year-old Versailles schoolteacher Erika Carter, her real challenges have happened outside the classroom. In the summer of 2015, she visited her doctor for her yearly checkup and bloodwork, which yielded some bad news: an anomaly in her white blood cell count.

Months of monitoring and referrals followed, including a bone marrow biopsy. Her white blood cell count continued to drop, and on Sept. 24, 2015, she received a call telling her to immediately come to the emergency room at the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital. She would not go back to teaching for the rest of the year.

“I was numb,” Carter said. “I just kind of didn’t have any feelings at that point. I just couldn’t believe that my world was completely rocked.”

Carter was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia. Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt, a UK Markey Cancer Center blood and marrow transplantation hematologist and Carter’s physician, says the good news is that this type of cancer is usually curable with fast intervention. And in Carter’s case, the cancer was discovered very early, which boded well for her treatment.

“It’s characterized by a certain genetic change, which fortunately allows this disease to have a higher cure rate than other leukemias,” Hildebrandt said.

Getting through treatment

Over the next nine months, Carter underwent 128 chemotherapy treatments, including a 19-day stint as an inpatient at Markey. Throughout her journey, she built a good relationship with the nursing team that took care of her.

“They are always upbeat and friendly,” she said. “All across the board, the nurses were fabulous. I’ve gone back several times to see them. I really had a good experience.”

Hildebrandt agreed and said the communication between patients and his team is one of the strengths of the program at Markey.

“The team is not too big, so everybody knows the patients quite well,” Hildebrandt said. “Communication is very easy both between the patient and the care team and between the care team itself. I think it gives a level of personalized care.”

Erika and Dr. Hildebrandt

Erika Carter and Dr. Gerhard Hildebrandt.

Carter was lucky that she had minimal side effects after chemotherapy, so she tried her best to keep on with much of daily life. She took advantage of some of Markey’s integrative medicine options, including Jin Shin Jyutsu and art therapy, but says the hardest thing for her during the treatment was not being able to go outside.

“I’d look out the window and see everyone going to the UK game,” she said. “I love going to the UK games, so just watching them, I felt like this prisoner. … Luckily, I had a huge support system with my friends, family and church.”

Back to school

This time last August, Carter was just getting back to work after nearly a year off. Coming from a family of educators, she carries a love for teaching in her blood and was eager to get back to the Southside Elementary classroom she’s been teaching in for six years. She says she’s inspired by her students who motivate her to carry a positive attitude throughout the day.

“I’ll tell you what – with teaching, you just really can’t have a bad day,” Carter said. “I love the children, they make me laugh. I could have a rough day, but I’ve got to check that at the door and I’ve got to walk in and put that smile on my face for these kiddos. … I want it to be just a fun experience for them, to love learning and love education.”

Although her students are young, Carter says that many of them had some understanding of what she had gone through. She has a picture that says “We love Ms. Carter” and a banner signed by the entire school that she hung at the hospital.

“They were great, so great, in welcoming me back,” she said. “I’m just glad I had a story where I was able to come back, and [the students] are like, ‘Okay, people can have cancer, but they also survive it, too.'”

The importance of preventive care

In fact, at the end of the 2017 school year, Carter invited Hildebrandt to come visit her class and give her students a quick lesson on what cancer is and what doctors do to treat it.

“It’s a fantastic honor to be here,” Hildebrandt said. “When you have a patient who does remarkably well and then goes back to daily life, like Erika with her kids in this classroom, it’s the reward for the entire team.”

Carter describes the circumstances around her diagnosis as a “blessing,” noting that her case could have turned out very differently if she’d neglected to get her physician-recommended preventive care.

“It is very important to get preventive care,” Carter said. “Sometimes when you need to get bloodwork, it’s very easy to push that aside. But thank the Lord I did go – because had I not, I would’ve ended up in a really bad state. It would’ve been possibly too late or it would’ve been a whole other road of struggle.”

Erika Carter and her students at Southside Elementary in Versailles.

Erika Carter and her students at Southside Elementary in Versailles.



Next steps:

Alton Boyd

Meet Alton Boyd, UK HealthCare’s friendly first face

Alton Boyd never meets a stranger.

“I’m the type of guy that doesn’t have a frown on his face,” Boyd said. “I like to be a friendly person. I want to know people and what they do.”

His smiling face is the first that many people see when they come to UK HealthCare for an appointment or to visit a sick family member. For six years, Boyd, 86, has worked as an ambassador in the parking garage across from Chandler Hospital. He hands people their tickets at the front gate, provides directions and answers questions. More than that, however, he can, and often does, brighten everyone’s day.

Boyd discovered his people skills in 1967, when he began selling cars for Rudolph Chevrolet in El Paso, Texas.

“I enjoyed every minute,” Boyd said. “I didn’t care whether people bought a car or not. I wanted to make a friend out of every customer so they would remember my name the rest of their lives, and they did. And boy did it pay off for me! They’d bring their kids in there, their aunts and uncles, and I’d sell them a car.”

The story behind the friendly face

Perhaps Boyd’s congenial personality derives in some part from meeting many different people over a life filled with varied careers. He worked in the post office as a young adult when his family lived in Carlsbad, N. M., where his dad had a job in the potash mines.

After retiring from the Marine Corps at age 22, Boyd and his wife at the time returned to Carlsbad. He went back to work at the post office during the day and then fixed cars from 6 p.m. until midnight in order to save enough money to buy a house.

“I did that for about five years and got enough money to pay cash for a house,” Boyd said. “I bought a brand-new three-bedroom house for $11,000, which you can’t do anymore!”

When Boyd moved to El Paso, Texas, to sell cars for Chevrolet, he knew no more about cars, or selling them, than the fact that he liked them. After the first year, Boyd grew frustrated with his lack of sales and lost interest in the job, but his boss must have seen something special in him.

“My boss, Jimmy Godwin, truck manager at that time, said, ‘Alton Boyd, you’re going to live with me for three months. I don’t want you to sell nothing; I’ll just pay you. Every time I move, you stay with me.’ And, you know, the second year I sold 30 cars a month. I couldn’t believe it. I made several $6,000 bonuses.”

During that time, Boyd and his wife purchased more than 30 acres of ranch land, where he planted alfalfa fields, built a house and put up a barn for Quarter Horses, dabbling in breeding and training them for racing.

Boyd sold the ranch and retired from selling cars in 1991, when he and his wife moved to Georgetown, Ky., to be closer to family. However, Boyd loves having something to do every day, so he found a job with Tower Automotive in Bardstown, Ky., for several years before coming to UK.

Loving life and work

Alton Boyd, 86, serves as an ambassador who greets patients and visitors entering the UK HealthCare parking garage. He enjoys helping people and putting a smile on everyone’s face.

Boyd has enjoyed every bit of his interesting life. At an age when many people enjoy retirement, he plans to continue as an ambassador in the UK HealthCare parking garage for as long as he is able, where he can enjoy two of his favorite hobbies: cars and talking to people.

“I love talking to people,” Boyd said. “I want them to smile when they talk to me. I kid them, and they smile and say, ‘Oh, Alton, you know everything about this place.’ I have a lot of people call me by my name. I like to help them with where they’re going, and they appreciate it because they’re lost when they pull in here. That’s what it’s all about. I just like to be friendly. I enjoy doing what I do.”

When Boyd isn’t making friends during work hours, he’s most likely making friends while playing golf or on his occasional visits to the racetrack. Should the opportunity arise someday, he can see himself returning to his favorite place: Rio Dosa, Texas.

However, for now, he’s content making people smile and easing their troubles, if only for a moment, as the first face they see when they enter the UK HealthCare parking garage.


Next steps:

Todd Svoboda

Former Wildcat teams up with Markey experts to beat rare bone cancer

Although he rarely played, Todd Svoboda was a universally adored member of the 1993 UK men’s basketball team that made it to the Final Four, and will forever be linked to the Big Blue Nation.

Years after he hung up his basketball sneakers, Todd’s bond with UK became even stronger when he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. With the same toughness and perseverance that helped him on the hardwood, and with the help of an expert team at the UK Markey Cancer Center, Todd faced his disease head on.

Read Todd’s story and watch our video to find out how Todd is doing today.


Next steps:

UK chaplain returns to work with renewed spirit following cycling accident

Exactly five months ago today, Laura Babbage had a devastating accident while biking through the French Alps with her 22-year-old son Brian.

Babbage, a chaplain at UK HealthCare, suffered a traumatic brain injury during the accident, which required months of treatment and rehabilitation. With the help of her care team at UK HealthCare and the prayers of friends and family, Babbage has returned to her work more than six months ahead of doctors’ estimates.

Babbage’s accident happened in France, she was airlifted back to Lexington and was treated at UK HealthCare. She completed her inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation at Cardinal Hill Hospital.

Babbage knows that many of her UK HealthCare family know her story, because she has heard of the many staff who prayed outside the door of her ICU bed and has delighted at the numerous people who’ve stopped her in the halls with a “welcome back!” smile or a hug.

“I’m overwhelmed by how much people rooted for me,” Babbage said. “There was an ocean of prayer entire churches I’d never heard of were praying for me. And I believe prayer, in all its forms, does matter.”

Read Babbage’s open letter of thanks to the UK doctors, nurses and staff who cared for her.

Using her experience for others

Since her return to chaplaincy about two weeks ago, Babbage has gone about her work with the grace and empathy that all who know her recognize: She is a patient and willing listener, she is trained to develop a relationship of trust without judgment and to add dimension to the skilled care provided by physicians and staff.

While Babbage acknowledges that, at least in the beginning, this ordeal was easiest on her – “I don’t remember a thing, but my family was sorely tested,” she said – she knows that this experience will help her do her job better.

“I am always aware of and sensitive to the desire for a visit from a chaplain as well as for prayer,” she said. “Chaplains are a listening presence for patients and families to help them begin to make sense of their situation. We are available for prayer if requested. Often we simply meet someone in the midst of their pain and suffering, aware of this special privilege.

“But now I have a deeper appreciation for families and their experience with their ill or injured family member since I’ve returned to work,” she explained. “Chaplains listen far more than we talk, allowing time and space for families to grasp the gravity of the moment. I have a heightened tenderness for family members now that I recognize what my own family experienced during my hospital stay. Like other chaplains, I will continue to learn.”

Returning to the patient’s bedside

Babbage and Joe Alverson, UK HealthCare’s director of pastoral care, were very careful to make sure she was prepared to meet and address patient and family needs.

“We wondered what would happen if I was needed to minister to a patient or family who’d experienced a trauma similar to mine,” Babbage said. “But we’ve been trained to eject ourselves from any situation if necessary – sometimes you’re not the right person for that patient, and sometimes they don’t want you there at all.  I felt I’d still be able to do that.”

Alverson remembers the shock and disbelief he felt when he learned that “one of our own” was in serious trouble.

“My first thought was for her – and my second thought immediately after that was for her family,” he said.  “As chaplains we see the sickest of the sick, and her condition was a huge worry for us.”

The pace of Babbage’s recovery was “beyond belief,” Alverson said.

“The first time I saw her was after she’d completed inpatient rehab at Cardinal Hill in September, and the first words out of her mouth were ‘When can I come back?'” he said. “I was excited for her, for me and for the hospital as well.”

Alverson knows that Babbage will make good use of her experience as she continues to care for others.

“We work in the midst of trauma and chaos every day, but to actually live that makes it more real,” he said. “I really look forward to seeing how her experience changes the trajectory of her work, but regardless of the exact path, I know it will be a good one.”

“We’re just thrilled to have her back.”

Media inquiries: Laura Dawahare, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, laura.dawahare.uky.edu


Next steps:

  • Learn more about Pastoral Care at UK HealthCare, where our chaplains are available to help patients, families and staff deal with spiritual and emotional challenges associated with medical events and crises.
  • The world-renowned doctors at UK Neurosurgery provides diagnosis and management of a wide range of conditions involving the brain, spine and nervous system. Learn more about the care we provide.
Gardner and Jon Wes Adams

Gill Heart Institute saves 27-year-old identical twins

Jon Wes and Gardner Adams share a lot. Both have a profound love for baseball. Both are in phenomenal physical condition. And as identical twins, they share the same genetic profile.

The Adams twins, now 27, began playing baseball almost before they could read.  Both were offered scholarships to Asbury University. Gardner was drafted by the Braves. Their work ethic was a big factor in their success on the diamond, running 25-30 miles a week, regardless of weather, each pushing the other to achieve.

It was that closeness — and their shared genes — that ultimately saved both their lives.

In June 2014, as Jon Wes was running in the Lexington Arboretum, his heart suddenly stopped beating.  He collapsed near a concert, and audience members performed CPR for almost 20 minutes until emergency crews arrived to transport him to UK HealthCare. Doctors there told his frantic family that Jon Wes had about a 30 percent chance of survival.

But Jon Wes is a fighter. After several days in a medically induced coma, he began to wake up. Now the real work fell to Gill Heart Institute cardiologists Dr. Samy-Claude Elayi and Dr. Alison Bailey, who needed to figure out why a physically fit 26-year old would have sudden cardiac death. And after some sleuthing, they had their answer: Brugada Syndrome.

According to Elayi, Brugada is a fairly rare diagnosis, affecting only about one in 1,000 people, typically of Asian descent. It can cause dangerous arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, which in extreme cases can cause sudden cardiac death.

An implantable defibrillator — a tiny version of the paddles that doctors use to shock people back to life in medical television dramas — monitors arrhythmias and delivers a shock to the heart whenever one occurs. Jon Wes was implanted with an ICD in late June and was cleared to resume exercising shortly afterward.

In the meantime, Drs. Elayi and Bailey took note that Jon Wes had a twin — an identical twin. Gardner was put through the same paces.  While the ECG was inconclusive for Brugada, the genetic tests indicated he had Brugada as well. Gardner and his family agreed with the Gill team’s recommendation, and on Aug. 29, 2014 — six days after his 26th birthday — Gardner was implanted with an ICD.  His first words out of surgery: “Look Mom, we’re identical again.”

Fourteen months after Jon Wes collapsed, and almost exactly a year after Gardner received his ICD, a short run revealed just how sound that decision was.

Gardner and his wife, Mary Ann, went to a local park in Anderson County, where they now live, to get some exercise and fresh air.  Elayi had warned the twins never to run alone, so the plan was for Gardner to run one direction around the circle while Mary Ann walked in the opposite direction. Just four minutes in, however, Gardner knew something was very wrong.

“I was dizzy and short of breath,” Gardner said.  “The next thing I knew, I woke up face down on the pavement.”

Within a minute Mary Ann appeared on the path and immediately drove him to UK Chandler Hospital.  There they learned the incredible news: during Gardner’s run, his heart had stopped.  The ICD had shocked his heart back to life.

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