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How One Nurse Made the Difference for a Leukemia Patient

Posted by | Posted in Cancer Care, Nursing | Posted on 10-03-2012

Stephen Wilkin and Family

On April 2, Stephen Wilkin was feeling tired. It was a Monday, and after a weekend of family time and riding his motorcycle, he assumed he was coming down with a cold or the flu. He called his physician clinic, which ordered some blood work.

By the end of the day, Stephen was an inpatient on Memorial’s 2E Oncology unit.

“His physician’s office had called back, told him they thought he had leukemia and to get to Memorial Medical Center right away,” recalled Stephen’s daughter, Ashley Creasey. “My mom and I were both in shock.”

Stephen, 56 of Girard, assumed he was coming to MMC for more tests, but he was admitted that night. Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), he was told he had two days to two weeks to live if he didn’t receive treatment immediately. He began intense chemotherapy — at one point receiving chemo 24 hours a day for seven days — and was a patient on 2E Oncology for the 47 days.

His time at Memorial was trying, but Stephen and his family credit 2E Oncology’s nursing staff for helping him find the right attitude and level of comfort to persist through his treatments.

“With all of this that was rushed at Dad and our family, emotionally we were all just so drained that we were numb,” Ashley said. “Dad would have times where he’d be very low and break down.”

During one of those low moments, 2E Oncology nurse Danielle Barnosky, RN, entered his room. She expressed concern for his depression and began telling him how he’d be feeling as he continued along his health journey. Barnosky’s knowledge wasn’t simply a result of being an oncology nurse. As a child, Barnosky had battled — and beat — leukemia herself.

Stephen thought to himself, if she can beat cancer as a young girl, he could beat it now.

“Danielle’s words really helped Dad’s outlook,” Ashley said. “She had a no-nonsense attitude about it. She could laugh with Dad about it because she had been there. She understood, and he felt comfortable around her and talking to her.

“Danielle’s role in his care meant the world to us. I knew that any time one of us couldn’t be there that if she was there, he’d open up to her and talk to her. He’s a very strong man and not the kind to open up, and he was able to have that emotional connection with her to help him talk through those kinds of things.”

Stephen and Ashley said the entire 2E Oncology unit was wonderful in the care they provided. Katie Couper, RN, and Bill Lengacher, RN, would come and sit with him to talk during their breaks on days they weren’t assigned to his care, and Jessica Stombaugh, RN, still keeps in touch with him.

“They were excellent nurses, but more importantly they are great friends,” Stephen said.

After being home for a week earlier this summer, Stephen was admitted to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis to receive more chemotherapy. In addition to his AML diagnosis, doctors also had discovered mutant cells that were chemo-resistant; he was entered into three studies to help identify the best course of action. He returned to Barnes in August for a fourth round of chemo and to prepare for a stem-cell transplant. His donor, Memorial Print Shop employee Dara Drake, is his sister and a perfect match.

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