Archive for the ‘Patients’ Category

A Standing Ovation


Cora Christensen describes her care at The Nebraska Medical Center like that of a well-rehearsed symphony — a welcome relief when much of her health over the past 30 years has been more like an opera with its share of tragic moments.

Having the right care in competent and experienced hands not only saved her life but has given her a sense of peace and harmony. “It’s so much more fun being alive now that I know I have a team of doctors who can take care of me if something goes wrong,” says the 60-year-old Christensen. “I’m not scared anymore.”


Curtis Hartman, MD

Scene 1 of Christensen’s story begins at age 33 when she was diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy. A condition characterized by thickening of the heart muscle, this can impede blood flow and worsen with age, leading to a host of problems including arrhythmia, shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue and heart failure. For some 15 years, Christensen treated the condition with medications.

By the time Christensen had reached her late 40s, the drama began to unfold. She started to experience fatigue, occasional dizziness and arrhythmia. The arrhythmias became more frequent and, at age 53, Christensen underwent surgery to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), a device that continuously monitors your heart. If it detects a life-threatening rapid heart rhythm, it sends an electric shock to your heart to restore a normal rhythm. Although the ICD did its job, saving Christensen from serious arrhythmias in numerous instances, Christensen’s condition continued to worsen.

The arrhythmias became more severe and bouts of dizziness, shortness of breath and fainting spells made it difficult to work. A teacher at Metropolitan Community College, she eventually had to quit. At the same time, Christensen was also going to school to get her master’s degree, a goal she refused to give up on.

Then she had a heart attack. Subsequent tests showed her heart was barely functioning. Her doctors sent her to The Nebraska Medical Center’s Heart Failure Clinic where she was diagnosed with end-of-life-cardiac failure. “I was barely cognitive,” recalls Christensen. “They said my ejection fraction was only 7 percent.”

Keeping Hope Alive | Personalized Brain Cancer Treatment


No one wants to hear the word cancer. But if there is one cancer that you would least like to hear come from your doctor’s mouth, it would probably be brain cancer.

While brain cancer is very rare, affecting less than 1 percent of the population, it also has one of the least favorable outcomes.

Craig Harrison, RN, is very familiar with these facts. Not only is he a nurse, but he often cares for brain cancer patients on the neuro intensive care unit at The Nebraska Medical Center.

Story_Vertical_HarrisonCraig Harrison


In 2012, when Harrison was just 26 years old, brain cancer became a very intimate part of his life.

Harrison was working in the neuro intensive care unit at The Nebraska Medical Center, doing a little home remodeling on the side and playing golf in his free time. He was planning to go back to school to become a nurse anesthetist and had dreams of having a family of his own and traveling the world. At 26 years old, life was carefree and full of hope.

On a beautiful fall day in September 2012 Harrison met his friends to play golf. The game came to an abrupt end, however, when at the par 3, 2nd hole, Harrison felt a strange sensation pass through his body before falling to the ground.

“All I remember from that point was trying to tell my friends that something wasn’t right, but I was unable to speak to them and unable to move,” recalls Harrison. “The last thing I remember is falling over, and then waking up on my back looking at the bright blue sky above and hearing peoples’ voices telling me that I had had a seizure.”

His friends called 911 and Harrison was taken to The Nebraska Medical Center. After undergoing a series of tests, doctors determined that Harrison had suffered a seizure that they suspected may have been triggered by a primary brain tumor — difficult news to swallow for a 26 year old with a full life ahead of him.

Fear initially engulfed him, Harrison says. But that eventually subsided when he met neuro-oncologist Nicole Shonka, MD, who would lead his treatment and care plan. “I was very comfortable with her from the first time we met and confident in her care,” he says. “She immediately put me at ease and I weighed her advice very heavily in my decisions.”

Grant will help lab’s efforts to battle ovarian cancer

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations


Cheng Wang, Ph.D.

Cheng Wang, Ph.D., assistant professor, obstetrics/gynecology, recently received a grant to study the initiation and progression of ovarian cancer.

The $70,000 grant came from Colleen’s Dream Foundation and local community efforts in Harlan, Iowa.

About the Foundation

Colleen’s Dream Foundation started in 2012 and supports research for early detection and improved treatment for ovarian cancer. Based in Phoenix, the foundation is named after Colleen Drury, who died of ovarian cancer after a five-year battle. NFL kicker Billy Cundiff, a member of the board of directors and Colleen’s son-in-law, is a former Harlan Cyclone. For more information on the foundation board, click here.

Dr. Wang, in collaboration with Jixin Dong, Ph.D., of the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, is investigating whether the hippo signaling pathway drives migration and proliferation of the cancer cells. His studies show that a recently-described new cell signaling pathway which controls organ size and how rapidly cells divide, may be responsible.

“The disruption of the Hippo pathway transformed these cells,” he said.

Suppressing the Hippo pathway, or overexpression of the YAP pathway, can lead to organ overgrowth or tumor growth. But whether the pathway contributes to the initiation of ovarian cancer cells is currently unknown.

In addition, Dr. Wang will be investigating whether, as some recent studies have conjectured, the Fallopian tube is the primary site of origin for ovarian cancer.

“This is important, because it was previously believed ovarian cancer came from ovarian surface epithelial cells (OSE), and it possibly may originate from fallopian tube secretory epithelial cells (FTSEC),” Dr. Wang said.

Still, there is no direct evidence, for now. Dr. Wang’s project also may provide molecular evidence to show that ovarian high-grade serous carcinoma originates in the fallopian tubes.

“This has important clinical implications,” Dr. Wang said. “Early cancer screening tests may allow surgical removal of malignant cells, preventing them from colonizing ovarian tissue.”

“Understanding how the tubal cells colonize the ovary may facilitate the development of methods to prevent cancer cells invading the ovary.”

The implications are especially important because despite the rapid progress made in ovarian cancer research in the past several decades, the mortality rate of patients with ovarian cancer remains very high. It is the most lethal female cancer in the U.S. In 2014 alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that 21,980 new cases will be diagnosed.

“If the diagnosis is made early, 90 percent of the women are saved,” Dr. Wang said. “With a later diagnosis, the survival rate is less that 40 percent, and at stage four, it’s 10 to 20 percent. Early detection is very important.”

Nebraska Medicine named to 100 Great Hospitals list

by Nebraska Medicine public relations


For the second straight year, Becker’s Hospital Review has named Nebraska Medicine, UNMC’s primary clinical partner, to its list of “100 Great Hospitals in America.”

The prestigious list includes some of the most prominent, forward-thinking and focused health care facilities in the nation.

Becker’s list

To see the complete 2015 list of “100 Great Hospitals in America,” click here.

Hospitals included on the list are home to many medical and scientific breakthroughs, provide best-in-class patient care and are stalwarts of their communities, serving as research hubs or local anchors of wellness. A version of this list has been published each year since 2011.

“It is a huge honor to again be included on this list,” said Rosanna Morris, interim Nebraska Medicine CEO. “Our health care professionals strive every day to provide serious medicine and extraordinary care to each of our patients. It’s gratifying to see that the work we’re doing here is being recognized and is paying off.”

To develop the list, Becker’s Hospital Review’s editorial team conducted research and evaluated reputable hospital ranking sources, such as U.S. News & World Report, Truven Health Analytics, Healthgrades, Magnet designation by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, The Leapfrog Group and several other resources. The final result is a group of 100 hospitals that are leaders in their region, their state and the nation in terms of high-quality patient care.

“This is a testament to the extraordinary patient care we provide at Nebraska Medicine,” said Brad Britigan, M.D., Nebraska Medicine interim president and dean of the UNMC College of Medicine. “It’s also evidence that the cutting-edge treatment we provide is on par with what is being delivered at the most high-profile medical facilities in the country.”

UNMC ranked in top 10 for primary care, PA programs

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations News0311 UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., center, and Paul Paulman, M.D., professor of family medicine, right, with medical students in the simulation lab. UNMC’s primary care program jumped two slots and is now ranked No. 4 in the country in the 2016 ranking of the nation’s top graduate schools by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, UNMC’s physician assistant program also cracked the top 10 and is now ranked No. 9 by U.S. News, up seven spots from when the magazine last ranked PA programs in 2011. In other rankings, 60th-ranked in research, up four spots from last year, and 39th in public health. “UNMC continues to be recognized for the excellence of its primary care program, which is a testament to the work of our medical students and faculty,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D. “It is exciting to see both the primary care and physician assistant program counted among the best in the nation, and to see continued growth in the national recognition of our College of Public Health and our research programs. This is truly the result of clear focus and hard work.” U.S. News surveyed 130 medical schools and 26 schools of osteopathic medicine during 2014 and 2015 while compiling the rankings, which were released Tuesday. Schools surveyed were accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education or the American Osteopathic Association. “These rankings offer a reason to take pride in UNMC,” said Dele Davies, M.D., vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Our educational mission at UNMC is a vital part of what we do, and these rankings for primary care and the physician assistant program emphasize our strong commitment to that mission.” The primary care ranking included indicators such as student admission statistics (MCAT, GPA and acceptance rate), the percentage of graduates entering primary care residencies, peer assessment, assessment by residency program directors and other factors. The research ranking included the total dollar amount of NIH research grants and the average amount of those grants per full-time medical school science and clinical faculty member. (For more on U.S. News’ methodology, click here.) The rankings of the physician assistant programs, where UNMC placed ninth, are based on the results of peer assessment surveys sent to physician assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. Although new rankings for 2015 weren’t available in all health care categories, UNMC continues to be ranked in three other programs:

  • 93rd in biological sciences (last ranked in 2014);
  • 32nd in pharmacy programs (last ranked in 2012);
  • 34th in physical therapy programs (last ranked in 2012).


Officials to join Biocontainment Unit anniversary event


Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Rep. Brad Ashford and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert will be among the guests Friday as the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine Biocontainment Unit celebrates its 10th anniversary.

From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nicole Lurie, M.D., also will attend.

Students, faculty and staff of UNMC are invited to celebrate a decade of preparation and the ongoing accomplishments of the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine Biocontainment Unit team at the event. Attendees are encouraged to show up early to sign a “Congratulations” banner that will be presented to the team.

Rick Sacra, M.D., the first Ebola patient treated at the Biocontainment Unit, also will speak at the event.

UNMC/Nebraska Medicine has one of three biocontainment units in the nation that have treated Ebola patients. Having drilled for countless hours since the unit opened in 2005, the Nebraska biocontainment team was uniquely qualified to answer the call. The original team was soon joined by other experts on campus.

In February, President Barack Obama said the center had delivered “world-class care” to Dr. Sacra.

The ceremony will be held at the Truhlsen Campus Events Center, located on the first floor of the Sorrell Center at 2 p.m. on March 27. Immediately afterwards, a reception in the foyer will follow.

The event will be tweeted live at the hashtag #NEbiounit10, and it will be livestreamed here beginning at 1:40 p.m.

Parking for those guests arriving from off campus will be available in Lot 36, northeast corner of 42nd and Leavenworth streets.

New Lung Transplant Program Expected to Begin Early Summer

By early summer, leadership plans to once again perform lung transplants.


3-9-Heather-Strah-215x142Heather Strah, MD, Medical director of Lung Transplantation

“There is definitely a need for a lung transplant program in this area,” says Heather Strah, MD, director of Lung Transplantation at Nebraska Medicine. “The nearest programs are almost 400 miles away. This creates quite a burden on the patient and family who must relocate for three months or more during the transplant process. Some patients are turned down because they are not able to relocate.”

The lung transplant program expects to perform 10 transplants in the first year and average 35 to 40 per year by the third year, says Dr. Strah, who we introduced you to in the March 4 issue of Now.

Approximately 1,800 transplants are done in the United States each year. Approximately 35 percent of these patients have end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), 15 percent have cystic fibrosis and 30 percent have interstitial lung disease or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The remaining 20 percent have other conditions such as pulmonary hypertension or sarcoidosis.

Each patient must go through a thorough evaluation and screening process to make sure he or she is a good candidate. Lung transplants are generally reserved for individuals whose lung disease is in the most advanced stages and they are likely to die of their lung disease within one to two years despite maximal medical therapies, notes Dr. Strah. Good transplant candidates are in generally good health, other than their lung disease and have a good support system.

Lung transplants are usually performed on patients between the ages of 16 to 65. Younger patients typically fare the best, says Dr. Strah. Survival for the first year is 80 percent. Five years out, half of patients will have died due to complications related to the transplant.

“For those who have good outcomes, a lung transplant can be a life-changing experience,” she says. “I have seen patients who have been living 20 years or more with their transplant.”

Dr. Strah stresses the need to refer potential candidates early on. About half the people on the waiting list receive a transplant within a year.

“There is no such thing as a referral that is too early,” notes Dr. Strah, “but there are definitely referrals that come too late. The lung is a fragile organ and it can take a long time to find a suitable donor so early referral is best.”

Dr. Strah completed medical school at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, an internal medicine residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a pulmonary and critical care medicine fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine-Barnes Jewish Hospital. She also completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine in immunology. Washington University has one of the oldest lung transplant programs in the country and performs nearly 60 lung transplants annually.

Other members of the lung transplant team are thoracic and cardiac surgeons Michael Moulton, MD and Aleem Siddique, MD.


Michael Moulton, MD, thoracic and cardiac surgeon

Aleem Siddique, MD, thoracic and cardiac surgeon

Nebraska Ebola team draws presidential praise

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations

From left, Angela Hewlett, M.D., Phil Smith, M.D., Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

World-class care.

That’s the verdict of President Barack Obama while discussing the treatment received by Richard Sacra, M.D., at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine’s Biocontainment Unit.

President Obama was speaking Wednesday at an event to recognize the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis. He mentioned Dr. Sacra, “who received world-class care at Nebraska Medical Center.”

The event highlighted how the U.S. government has worked with other governments, international organizations, private sector leaders and non-government partners to support a focused response to the virus.

See the president speaking here.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., Phil Smith, M.D., medical director of the Biocontainment Unit at Nebraska Medicine-Nebraska Medical Center, and the unit’s associate medical director, Angela Hewlett, M.D., attended the event.

“It is both humbling and gratifying to be praised by President Obama for the level of our care in the face of this crisis,” Dr. Gold said. “This is a compliment for the dedicated health care professionals of our Biocontainment Unit, but also for the professionals of Nebraska Medicine and UNMC as a whole. We also should see it as a challenge to maintain our national and international leadership position in the worldwide fight against Ebola and other highly infectious agents as we continue our global educational efforts and regional preparedness.”

UNMC/Nebraska Medicine has one of three biocontainment units in the nation that have treated Ebola patients. Having drilled for countless hours since the unit opened in 2005, the Nebraska biocontainment team was uniquely qualified to answer the call. The original team was soon joined by other experts on campus.

Cancer center attracting top talent

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public relations


The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, which will open in 2017, has added five new translational cancer researchers to its staff in recent months.

The recruits hail from some of the nation’s top scientific and medical institutions. Collectively, they bring more than $5 million in cancer research funding to Nebraska. All have begun their work at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center during the past four months.

“When we launched this ambitious project to build the world’s finest cancer center right here in Omaha, we believed that it would attract the very best minds in cancer research from around the world,” said Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. “These recruits exemplify that vision. We are building a place where pioneering scientific exploration will shape the future of cancer science and medicine — and these recruits are just the start.”

They are:

Michael Green, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from Stanford University. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Nov. 1.
  • $195,000 grant funded by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  • Dr. Green works to identify and understand the genetic alterations that give rise to lymphoma and allow it to evade the immune system. He is interested in the genetics of B-cell lymphoma, with the goal of using genetic profiling to understand disease biology and inform treatment decisions.
  • For more information on Dr. Green, click here.

Nick Woods, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Oct. 1.
  • $400,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant in breast cancer.
  • For more information on Dr. Woods, click here.

Amar Singh, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from Vanderbilt University. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Oct. 1.
  • $1.65 million National Institutes of Health grant in colon cancer
  • Brought one other Ph.D. level researcher with him to Nebraska.
  • For more information on Dr. Singh, click here.

Punita Dhawan, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from Vanderbilt University. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Oct. 1.
  • $950,000 Veteran’s Affairs Health Grant in colon cancer
  • Recruited one additional Ph.D. postdoctoral fellow from Chicago.
  • For more information on Dr. Dhawan, click here.

Rebecca Oberley-Deegan, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from National Jewish Hospital in Denver. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Aug. 1.
  • $1.65 million National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute grant in prostate cancer
  • For more information on Dr. Oberly-Deegan, click here.


CAR T-Cell Therapy Now Offered at Nebraska Medicine


After the T cells are collected from the patient, they are sent to a California lab to be restimulated to fight their own lymphoma. They are then returned to Nebraska Medicine to be reintroduced to the patient.

Seeking Patients with Relapsed B-Cell Lymphomas for Clinical Trial

It’s the fifth most common type of cancer for adults in U.S. For years, traditional therapies to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) have included chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell/bone marrow transplant. For the first time, a promising new option will be offered at Nebraska Medicine called Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR T-Cell Therapy). It’s a way of taking the patient’s own immune system and modifying it to attack the cancer.

Dr_-Vose-135x190– Julie Vose, MD

“T cells are white blood cells that help our bodies fight infection and cancer,” explains Julie Vose, MD, chief of Hematology/Oncology. “In lymphoma patients, these cells have gone haywire. They don’t fight the cancer properly. This clinical trial will allow us to take the patient’s own T cells outside the body and restimulate them to be able to fight their own lymphoma.”

From start to finish, the entire process takes about three weeks. During the first phase, the patient’s T cells are collected during an outpatient procedure at the hospital. The cells are then sent to a lab in California for processing. In the meantime, the patient receives several days of intense chemotherapy. When the cells return to Omaha, they’re placed in a specialized processing center here to complete the procedure. The patient then has their own modified T cells given back to them. A specialized team monitors the patient at the hospital for the next 7-10 days, including frequent blood tests and exams.

“It’s a great opportunity for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients who have failed every other therapy,” says Dr. Vose. “So far, this clinical trial has only been done in a few patients, but it looks very promising with high response rates.”

In the past, CAR T-Cell Therapy has only been offered at a few places, including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Nebraska Medicine is one of the first hospitals in the Midwest to offer the clinical trial.

“This type of treatment can’t be done at just any hospital or center. It’s specialized with respect to what’s needed to collect and process the cells,” explains Dr. Vose. “We have a very large lymphoma program at Nebraska Medicine, which specializes in research and clinical trials. We’re hoping to attract patients from all over the region.”

The clinical trial is open to adult patients (19 years and older) with relapsed b-cell lymphomas, which is a subtype of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Because the treatment is extensive, the patient must be in good enough shape. Some of the treatment aspects are paid for by the study. Dr. Vose is looking to attract 5-10 participants over the next year, but will take more if interest is high.

“Clinical trials are very important, especially when it comes to cancer. That’s the way we discover new treatments,” says Dr. Vose. “Everything we have today is because of clinical trials in the past. Without patients on clinical trials, we wouldn’t have any cancer treatments today or tomorrow.”

To sign up for Dr. Vose’s clinical trial, call Nebraska Medicine at 402-559-5600. To learn more about the upcoming clinical trial, watch the video below.