UK senior is all smiles thanks to collaborative care at UK Dentistry

Simple tasks like biting into a crisp apple or snacking on baby carrots might not be a privilege for most people. But for pre-dental student and UK senior Joy Andrade, complications resulting from reconstructive jaw surgery meant that every decision regarding eating had to be carefully planned and tightly restricted.

In 2013, the summer before her senior year of high school, Andrade underwent surgery to correct a series of skeletal malformations including an underbite, cross bite and open bite. The procedure was intended to be one of the final steps in years of orthodontic treatments, which had included three sets of braces, a palatal expander and multiple extractions. Instead, Andrade faced an entirely new set of obstacles as she was left with a great deal of bone loss and eventually lost six of her upper teeth.

These complications left the sociable student and high school soccer player homebound and feeling isolated for much of her senior year. For months, she visited specialist after specialist and was continuously told that her condition was an unfortunate rare and severe combination.

“At this point I had become cold to dentists,” Andrade explained. “I was really resentful. I was losing teeth; I was losing hair. In thousands of cases, why me?”

Finding the right help at UK

Finally, in late 2013, Andrade found the medical support she needed when she was referred to the UK Dentistry to meet oral surgeon Dr. Joseph Van Sickels. After evaluating Andrade’s case, Van Sickels enlisted the help of Dr. Rodrigo Fuentealba in prosthodontics.

“They’re a great team,” Andrade said. “They were professional and knowledgeable, but warm and comforting. The more you get to know them, the more you realize how great they are.”

Van Sickels and Fuentealba have taken extra care in Andrade’s treatment, working to rebuild a strong foundation of bone and gum tissue to support dental implants. She has undergone several additional surgeries, including a bone graft from her hip, to repair the damage from her initial operation. Throughout this time, she has received two different sets of dental flippers and wore temporary crowns for two years.

“Dr. Fuentealba is an artist. He constructed my teeth while I was sitting right there, while most dentists would have sent that work to a lab. I knew I was in good hands,” Andrade said.

Seeing practical results – and a career

Andrade has a lot more to smile about these days. This summer, she received permanent crowns, which have improved both her outlook and her functionality.

“I can eat corn, apples and other things I used to steer clear of,” she said. “Being able to eat a noodle all by myself – these little victories are when you realize the change.”

Andrade’s journey is far from over, as her condition will require monitoring and progress checks for decades. Looking back, however, Andrade says going through the experience with the help of UK Dentistry has changed her life for the better. Now in her senior year of college at UK, she is preparing to enter dental school upon graduation – hopefully at the UK College of Dentistry.

“It is a big, life-changing event, but it’s given me a different quality of life, and I see myself differently,” she said. “And to anyone going through something similar, it gets better. To have an awesome team that knows what they’re doing and treats you like family – it makes a difference. My life would not be what it is today without them.”

Next steps:

  • Learn more about UK Dentistry, which offers expert comprehensive dental treatment for the entire family, including general, orthodontic and oral surgery services.
  • Read how dental implants gave one UK Dentistry patient a new smile and new confidence.

UK transplant patient shares emotional bond with family of donor

By early 2016, Conrad Webster was battling to stay alive.

Cardiomyopathy and polycystic kidney disease had destroyed his heart and kidneys, and his health had been deteriorating for nearly a decade. A combined heart-kidney transplant was his only remaining option.

After being turned away by multiple regional transplant centers, he came to the UK Transplant Center, where he was admitted right away and listed for transplant.

In April 2016, West Virginian Tim Maris suffered from pneumonia and a brain hemorrhage that ultimately took his life. Before passing, Tim told his family that he wished to be an organ donor.

Tim’s request saved three lives: One patient received his liver, another received a kidney and Conrad received both his heart and a kidney.

‘I was just so happy to know Tim is still out there’

Working through Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates, Tim’s mother, Evelyn, sent a card to Conrad expressing her desire to meet. They began corresponding via letters and phone calls, and made plans for their families to meet in person at KODA’s Donor Family Recognition Ceremony in Lexington.

Conrad, his wife Leticia, and two of their children drove down from Ohio to meet members of Tim’s family: Evelyn, his sister Penny and brother-in-law Howie, and his nephew, Caleb.

“I couldn’t really get any sleep [the night before],” Conrad said. “My nerves were just built up so much.”

The two families spent several hours chatting before the ceremony, sharing stories and pictures from their lives. Representatives from KODA provided a stethoscope to allow Evelyn, Penny and Howie the chance to hear Tim’s heart beating in Conrad’s chest.

Evelyn says that meeting Conrad and his family provided her with some much-needed closure.

“My heart was about to burst, we were so excited,” she said. “It was a joy. I was just so happy to know Tim is still out there.”

A life-changing experience

For Conrad, Tim’s gift completely changed his life. After years of chronic illness, he’s able to do things he never thought he’d have the chance to do again, like travel, prepare his youngest daughters for college and meet his grandchild.

And last October – just six months after receiving his transplant – Conrad and Leticia got married in Florida after 11 years together.

Because of their experiences, members of both families have decided to become organ donors themselves.

“Someone saved my husband, and kids’ father,” Leticia said. “Why not join Donate Life to help another family or multiple families in need?”

Becoming an organ donor

Although hospitals are obligated by law to identify potential donors and inform families of their right to donate, anyone can sign up to become an organ donor by joining the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry. The registry is a safe and secure electronic database where a person’s wishes regarding donation will be carried out as requested.

To join the registry, visit or sign up when you renew your driver’s license. The donor registry enables family members to know that you chose to save and enhance lives through donation. Kentucky’s “First Person Consent” laws mean that the wishes of an individual on the registry will be carried out as requested.

UK Transplant Patient Thankful to Meet Donor Family from University of Kentucky on Vimeo.

Next steps:

Alexis Johnson

Eye care experts provide lifelong support for blind equestrian

When Alexis Johnson, a 22-year-old avid equestrian and resident of Versailles, Ky., prepares to jump with her horse Joey in competition, she is keenly focused on what lies before her. There are no distractions, no nerves and no fear. Everything around her is in shades of gray, and the only sound she hears is the rhythmic pace of Joey’s hooves as he begins to canter.

As Joey jumps over the fence, Johnson feels like she’s flying – a feeling of pure joy and exhilaration. Her limitations are nonexistent.

It doesn’t matter that she is legally blind.

Twenty-two years ago, Alexis’ mother, Lynn Johnson, was standing outside on a sunny day holding her then 8-month-old daughter. She noticed the pupils of Alexis’ eyes were so large that she thought the sun might burn them. Alexis also squinted her eyes a lot in bright light, displayed repetitive rapid eye movements and had one eye that was turned inward.

Lynn took Alexis to a general ophthalmologist but wasn’t satisfied with the lack of answers. She made an appointment with Dr. Julia Stevens, an opthalamologist at UK Advanced Eye Care, for a second opinion.

After several tests to rule out brain injury, an electroretinogram (ERG) confirmed a diagnosis of congenital achromatopsia, a rare hereditary disease that affects only one in 33,000 people in the U.S.

Not only had Lynn found answers, she found a physician who would provide healthcare and support for Alexis throughout her life.

UK provides support after rare diagnosis

An ERG examines the light-sensitive cells of the eye, the rods and cones, and their connecting cells in the retina. When Alexis was tested 22 years ago, a large contact lens was placed on her eye to measure the light responses in her retinas.

“We were fortunate because UK was one of the few facilities to have an ERG,” Lynn said. “The wires that record the natural responses to light showed that Alexis had no response to light. The line on the screen was flat.”

Dr. Julia Stevens

Dr. Julia Stevens

Stevens explains that achromatopsia is an autosomal recessive disease, meaning two copies of a mutated gene must be present in the affected person.

“Both parents must be carriers, and their child will inherit one recessive gene from the mother and one from the father,” Stevens said. “Individuals with achromatopsia have nonfunctioning cones and rely on rods for their vision. Rods do not function well in daylight, thus people with achromatopsia have extreme sensitivity to light, poor color vision and poor central (reading) vision.”

Today, UK Advanced Eye Care has the most technically sophisticated ERG technology available anywhere, offering significant advantages over the prior system. The new ERG machine provides easier testing with comfortable-fitting electrodes that can sit on the skin or on the surface of the eye, highly sensitive and reproducible signal recording, and a large library of tests that can be used to determine problems in the visual pathway to better understand why patients are experiencing vision loss.

UK Advanced Eye Care recently acquired a new, smaller ERG machine that can easily be taken into the operating room and to other locations throughout the hospital to test for diseases of the retina and optic nerve. The current equipment can be used for ERGs on babies and toddlers without having to use sedation, as the system is handheld and can be easily positioned over the patient’s eye during testing.

A lifetime of comprehensive care

At UK Advanced Eye Care, patients can see multiple subspecialists in one location, allowing their complex eye care to be provided by an integrated team.

Stevens says that in Alexis’ care, for example, she had testing through the retinal service, care for her achromatopsia with appropriate eyeglass prescriptions, diagnostic tests by Stevens and a pediatric ophthalmologist, and assistance from the optometry service and optical shop to provide special tinted contact lenses.

As an infant, Alexis was fitted with red-tinted glasses. The red tint is protective of the eyes and filters out light rays, which makes it easier for her to recognize outlines and objects.

After Alexis experienced some bullying in elementary school because of her bulky red glasses, Lynn had Alexis fitted for red contacts, which she said made a big difference. Red-tinted contacts completely seal the eyes so light cannot enter, and Alexis says they’vr made her “feel normal” for the first time.

‘I will find a way’

Alexis has 20/200 vision and is legally blind. She only sees in shades of gray with limited color perception and no fine vision. Even so, she’s confident that nothing in life is beyond her reach because of achromatopsia.

At age four, Alexis learned to play soccer by the sound of the footsteps around her. In preschool, she zip-lined across an open field. She danced her way from first grade through early high school as she learned ballet, tap, jazz and hula. She played the flute in her high school marching band, attributing dance lessons with helping her get into formation relative to other people. She completed high school and attended Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

Her love of horses started when she was 2 or 3 years old and hasn’t waned. Recently, Alexis participated in the American Quarter Horse Congress, which she refers to as the “Super Bowl of quarter horse shows” because of its enormity and level of professionalism. She says the crowds don’t make her anxious or nervous.

“I don’t care about all the people watching me, I can’t see them anyway,” she said. “It’s just me and the horse in the ring. I go in wanting to do my best with my horse as a partnership. It’s not about the ribbons; it’s about having fun and doing the best I can.

“If there is something I want to do, even if it’s hard, I will find a way because it’s always worth it.”

Next steps:

Glenda Brown, double-lung transplant patient.

Double-lung transplant breathes new life into Winchester woman

Glenda Brown used to wake up in the middle of the night starved for breath. Seeking relief, she’d race to throw open her bedroom window just to inhale a rush of cold air to soothe her cramping chest.

Diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, in 2001, the 62-year-old Winchester resident spent nearly two decades fighting for each breath. Like many of her generation, Brown says she began smoking when she was just 17 years old.

But in 2000, nearly 30 years after she first picked up a cigarette, Brown became fed up and quit cold turkey.

Although she had successfully quit smoking, Brown’s breathing worsened over the years. A quality engineer for L3 Communications, she had to quit the job she loved once she required oxygen 24/7. In 2008, her husband died, leaving her to care for herself at home.

She developed severe bronchitis in late 2009, leading to a hospitalization. Her local physician referred her to a doctor in Lexington, who in turn referred her to the UK Transplant Center for a lung transplant.

However, Brown didn’t take the referral – at least not right away. The thought of undergoing a transplant frightened her, and she thought if she just waited a little longer, the situation would improve.

“I was trying to fool myself,” she said. “I put off going to UK for years because I was so scared.”

Working her way to a transplant

A Florida native, Brown said she had friends and family back home begging her to return to the Sunshine State, with a cousin even suggesting she come see a local pulmonologist in Gainesville who specialized in transplant and had cared for an acquaintance.

“She kept telling me, ‘You need to come down here and see this doctor, he’s the best,'” Brown recalled.

Brown finally decided to come to UK to complete the evaluation for lung transplant. Once here, she met Dr. Maher Baz – who had just joined the UK Transplant Center and just so happened to be the same Florida pulmonologist her cousin had suggested she come see.

“She was barely able to live independently,” Baz said. “She was on oxygen around the clock and couldn’t do much outside the house.”

Glenda Brown with Dr. Maher Baz.

Glenda Brown with Dr. Maher Baz.

Brown took an instant liking to Dr. Baz – and yet still couldn’t bring herself to do a full transplant workup. She waited nearly two more years before finally coming back to complete all the necessary testing patients must undergo before being listed for a transplant. When Brown finally returned to UK, Baz said he could tell that she’d had enough.

“I think she decided to throw caution to the wind once she convinced herself that this is not a life she wanted to live,” Baz said. “She embraced change, and decided to replace it with an active and independent lifestyle.”

“I decided to leave it all in God’s hands and had the attitude that if this is to happen, then it will happen,” Brown said.

‘I get to live again’

On March 9, 2016, Brown was officially listed for transplant. Most patients in Brown’s situation might wait months or even years to hear good news, but just four days later, she got a call at home from the transplant nurse coordinator at UK.

“She told me they’d found a matching pair of lungs, and [asked] did I want them?” Brown said. “I said, ‘Yes!’ It was the scariest time of my life.”

UK HealthCare cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Alexis Shafii performed Brown’s surgery. Although the procedure was successful, Brown says she woke up expecting to feel instant relief in her breathing pattern, only to find herself still gasping in short, shallow breaths. Shafii calmly told her she would need to retrain her body.

Dr. Alexis Shafii

Dr. Alexis Shafii

“He said, ‘Breathe, Glenda. Let those lungs do their job,'” she said. “I was so used to shallow breathing that I actually had to practice deep breathing.”

Brown spent three months in the ICU following her transplant and has been undergoing pulmonary and physical therapy to strengthen her lungs and body ever since. Almost 18 months post-transplant, she says her quality of life has dramatically improved and she’s been more active than ever – even taking Zumba for the first time.

“I get to live again,” Brown said. “I’m doing things I haven’t been able to do in years.”

Some of the best survival rates in the country

Lung transplants are notorious for being the riskiest all of organ transplants. They are especially vulnerable to infection because the lungs are the only transplanted organ that are regularly exposed to the environment through the process of breathing. They are also more difficult to harvest because of infection risk and because their soft, pliable tissue is easily injured.

The average lifespan of transplanted lungs averages five to six years, though some patients are able to keep their lungs for a decade or more. Improving lung transplant outcomes continues to be a point of focus for medical teams across the country. As UK builds the capacity of its lung transplant program, the team has achieved some excellent progress on that front – their survival rates are consistently better than the national benchmark, with the most recent biannual report from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients showing that UK currently has the best one-year survival rates for lung transplant in the country.

As the medical director of the lung transplantation program at UK, Baz credits a team approach for UK’s success, noting that it takes the collaboration of surgeons, pulmonologists, nurses, nurse coordinators, physical therapists, dietitians, discharge planners and social workers to help patients achieve optimal outcomes.

And the team is growing as patient volume grows: Another lung transplant surgeon will be joining UK in a few months, with two more pulmonologists coming on board in the next year.

“We meet as a group and try to have a consensus on all major decisions involving patient care,” Baz said. “It takes the dedication of every team member. Repetition sharpens your skills; plus a bit of luck helps. But luck also favors the prepared mind.”

No looking back

As for Brown, Baz says her prognosis looks very good for the foreseeable future ­– she’s able to live independently, stay active and can travel without barriers and without oxygen tanks for the first time in years. After another year or two in Winchester, she plans to move back to Florida to spend quality time with her son, stepdaughter and four grandchildren.

And though many former smokers say they still sometimes long for a draw on a cigarette even decades after they’ve quit, Brown says she has no desire to pick up a cigarette again, a resolve that was strengthened by the gift she’s been given.

“I know exactly what I went through when smoking and what it did to my lungs,” she said. “And I would never disrespect the person who gave me these new lungs. … I’m so blessed.”

Next steps:

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,

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.

Read more: