GOW mission 183 had the crew flying to Valdosta, GA to bring home Shelia S.
Shelia is a most unfortunate 49 year old patient who is in the clutches of stage IV pancreatic cancer. She is the oldest of 4 sisters who had “never been sick a day in her life” according to her sister Theresa, along with their mother, who accompanied us back to Indianapolis. However, that all changed in January, 2011. Shelia had been having increasingly painful and frequent stomach ailments and, at the insistent urging of her family, finally sought medical advice and treatment. A diagnosis of acute pancreatitis was made and she was treated accordingly. The situation seemed to have “run it’s course” and everything was fine afterward, but only for a short time though.
Later in the fall of 2011, the symptoms returned. This time with a vengeance. Further testing was done and finally on 11/11/2011 the devastating phrase that no one ever wants to hear, “I’m sorry, but you have cancer”, was delivered to Shelia. A large tumor in and around her pancreas was identified. As I stated earlier, not only was it cancer, it was already in stage IV meaning that it had already metastasized or spread to other areas and organs in the body.
Pancreatic cancer is sometimes referred to as a “silent killer” because early pancreatic cancer often does not cause symptoms, and the later symptoms are usually nonspecific and varied. Therefore, pancreatic cancer is often not diagnosed until it is well advanced.
Shelia is the proud grandmother of a 5 year old little boy. Once the initial shock of the diagnosis and the reality of the seriousness of the situation set in, she had one major goal in mind, to get that grandson, who had never been on a beach, to Florida.
Shelia loved the sun, surf and sand and frequently vacationed in Florida over the years so it was a logical destination for their trip. So after gaining medical clearance to travel from her oncologist, vacation arrangements were made. Shelia, and her extended family..35 in all!, ventured down to Treasure Island. FL.
The week they all shared together, I’m told, was just fabulous, however, the obvious feeling dwelling on everyone’s mind was Shelia was there to say her “goodbyes.” Despite that, they made the best of the situation and had a fun and an memorable vacation.
Just as all vacations must come to an end, Saturday April 7th the group departed for home. After a few hours of travel, Shelia became increasingly nauseated. Her sister Theresa, felt she perhaps needed fluids so she began to stop at a nearby convenience store / gas station off the Interstate to get her some bottled water. Before they were able to reach the store, and I don’t know how to say this any better, Shelia had serious projectile vomiting and then became unresponsive. Theresa went ahead the short distance to the station and immediately called 911. The local EMS responded and transported Shelia approximately 45 miles away to the north to the South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta, GA.
Upon arrival to the hospital, Shelia was assessed and stabilized in the ER then admitted to the ICU. During her stay, she received an endoscopic examination of her esophagus and stomach. The doctor that performed the procedure told the family that the tumor had created a fistula which is is an abnormal connection or passageway between two organs or vessels that normally do not connect. In her case the fistula was between her stomach and her peritoneal area. Simply put, everything she took by mouth ended up in her intestinal cavity. Of course, the obvious questions Theresa and the other family members had was, how long does she have to live and can we get her home?
The doctor said that he would “estimate days, maybe a couple weeks but not months.” As far as travel, the only way he said he would release her back to Indianapolis was by air ambulance because she was not able to fly commercially or travel by ground due to her guarded condition.
As I hear over and over when doing these missions for GOW, the family was terribly distraught when they began to price for-profit air ambulance services. Through the power of the internet and social media, a desperate plea of help was posted by one of the family members because of Shelia’s limited time remaining. They just wanted her home. Apparently within minutes, with unmistakeably divine intervention, a “friend of a friend on Facebook” directed the family to GOW. Tam was contacted and the necessary arrangements were made to get Shelia home.
After a short ride from the Valdosta Regional Airport to the hospital, my RN/Medic partner Matt, and I, assessed Shelia, received report and headed back to Nellie. Loaded and secured we departed. The flight back to Indianapolis was uneventful thanks to the skilled abilities of pilots Hal, and Mark.
Shelia rested quietly and required very little care after premedication was given to help her tolerate any pain during the trip.
Two medics, who incidentally volunteered their time, from Heartland Ambulance Service drove down from Muncie and was waiting at the GOW hangar when we landed. We transferred Shelia, her sister and her mother into the ambulance and off to Community Hospital South we went.
Shelia was admitted by the CHS staff and after she was “tucked in”, we had the remaining family members come in the room and we prayed over Shelia and thanked God for a safe trip home and for peace, comfort, and understanding for Shelia and her family.
As I was writing this report and reflecting back on the mission of yesterday, Romans 8:10 kept coming to mind, so I’d like to share that passage with you:
10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. (NIV)
Alan Taber, R.N.
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