UF doctor gives local writer hope as she battles debilitating disease

Published: March 30, 2012

Category: Neurology, Neuroscience Institute

Anne Johnson

I had spent the past 25 years of my life writing. I was a business reporter, the author of four books, the owner of a genealogy company and founder of Florida Caregiver Magazine, but that all changed when I lost the use of my right hand.

In January, 2010, I was in Chicago helping my daughter when I noticed that my right hand started locking up. When I returned home in April, I started dropping things from my right hand. Long story short: I was diagnosed by my primary care doctor with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. I immediately decided to have a second and third opinion.

During my first three appointments with a local neurologist, I saw a physician assistant. When I finally saw a neurologist, he said, "If I were a betting man in Vegas, I'd say you had ALS."

When I saw Dr. Michael Pulley at Shands Jacksonville, he said, "Not so fast; we're going to run some more tests."

He let me know that some of the procedures were going to hurt. He was very caring and very kind; he gave me some reason to hope, which is why I decided to go with him for my treatment.

Dr. Pulley confirmed my diagnosis of ALS and formulated a treatment plan that included a variety of medical services.

The ALS clinic at Shands Jacksonville is great because there's a support group made up of physical, occupational and speech therapists, social workers and hospice.

Anything they see you need, as you advance in the disease, they order it. It's just impressive what they do there.

The ALS Walk was in April this year [2011], and Dr. Pulley was there with his daughter. That's him; he's not just there to support us in the clinic, but everywhere.

There are a lot of good neurologists out there, but I admire a doctor who cares and shows he cares to his patients.

Anne Johnson
Jacksonville, Fla.

Clay County boy is alive thanks to mother's intuition and TraumaOne

Published: February 6, 2012

Category: Surgery, TraumaOne

Jacob Fulford

Jacob Fulford is living proof of the power of a mother's intuition.

The 12-year-old son of Jim and Peggy Fulford, Jacob was riding his bicycle in a Kmart parking lot with his older cousin on Sept. 18, 2011, when he hit a curb and flipped forward onto the pavement. The boys were running a quick errand for Jacob's uncle and were not wearing helmets.

Jim and Peggy were summoned by Clay County Fire and Rescue, who found Jacob lying inside the store, crying excessively but otherwise appearing to be unharmed. With no noticeable damage to his body and only a minor scrape on his head, Jacob's behavior was initially attributed more to his ADHD than his injuries. He was cleared to leave with his parents, and the family began driving home.

They didn't go far, however, before Peggy knew something just wasn't right.

"We could not get Jacob to connect with us or calm down," said Peggy, who then told her husband, "You're going the wrong way. We need to get him to a hospital."

Jacob was admitted to Orange Park Medical Center, which conducted a CT scan and found evidence of a fractured skull with bruising and bleeding underneath. Doctors there determined he needed specialized treatment only available at a Level I trauma center, which is designated to treat both adult and pediatric trauma patients. He was transferred to Shands Jacksonville by the TraumaOne flight crew and treated in the pediatric intensive care unit.

Within three days, Jacob's vital signs were stable, and he was eating and walking without assistance. He was cleared to continue healing at home.

Not out of the woods

Just three days later, as Jacob was watching a movie with his parents in their Clay County home, he experienced a sudden and excruciating headache. Screaming and resistant to his parents' touch, Jacob's stiffened body was carried by his father to the car and driven back to Shands Jacksonville, where more bleeding was discovered. It was determined Jacob needed a craniotomy, so urgently that the attending surgeon ordered the procedure to begin with only half of Jacob's hair shaved off in preparation.

"Any injury to the brain may manifest itself again later," explained Joseph J. Tepas III, MD, chief of the University of Florida Division of Pediatric Surgery at Shands Jacksonville. "Because Jacob's parents fully understood this they were able to recognize the situation and bring Jacob back to the hospital immediately for emergency intervention. If they hadn't, Jacob might not be here today. Thanks to their collaboration we were able to yield good results rather than tragedy."

After relieving the pressure and sealing the blood vessel that caused the bleeding, Jacob was transferred back to the pediatric ICU. He once again recovered quickly, having fun with the staff and delighting in the opportunity to choose his meals. "It was like room service to him," Peggy said.

The road to recovery

Jacob finished his treatment at Brooks Rehabilitation and was home by Oct. 1. Although there are a few things he is still not allowed to do, Jacob has returned to a normal life and is back at Seven Bridges School in Orange Park.

"I'm happy to be home so I can play my video games," said Jacob. "But I can't wait to run and swim and ride rollercoasters again!"

Jim and Peggy, who adopted Jacob from Kazakhstan when he was 18 months old, recognize their good fortune and remember nearly everyone who saw their family through the ordeal. From surgeons to housekeepers, they acknowledge the many individuals who worked to save their son, ease their fears and make them feel comfortable.

"We are very humbled. So many families don't have as good an outcome," said Peggy. "Everyone was great and we are so appreciative of the care Jacob received."

However, if you ask many on the TraumaOne team, they will tell you it is a mother who followed her instincts that is the greatest hero of this story.

"The very first rule of pediatric surgery school is mama is always right. Jacob's mother had an intuition that something was wrong and that intuition paid off," said Dr. Tepas.

UF surgeon puts prostate cancer survivor back on the tennis court

Published: January 20, 2012

Category: Cancer Center, Community Health & Family Medicine, Surgery

Cliff Grant

I'm 66 years old and Dr. Eric Stewart has been my primary care doctor for 20 years. Dr. Stewart told me that my prostate had been getting larger and he continued to keep an eye on it by scheduling regular exams.

Dr. Stewart eventually referred to Dr. Christopher Williams with the UF&Shands Jacksonville Cancer Center. He did some biopsies on my prostate and said nine of 13 cells had cancer in them. I received this diagnosis in March 2011.

Dr. Williams immediately recommended surgery. It was shocking to me because nobody in my family has ever been diagnosed with cancer. So he mentioned cryotherapy as one of the treatment options. He explained that it was a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that would take about four hours. He told me it would be a pretty easy procedure, but the simplicity of the process didn't dawn on me until everything was over with.

My recovery took about 10 days after the procedure. I was surprised at how simple the entire process went. I'm back at work, playing tennis and I feel great.

Dr. Williams is just a wonderful person and I just thank him for his advice and guiding me through the best treatment process. He and his team of nurses made it very easy for me because I had the right people around me and I had my faith.

Cliff Grant
Jacksonville, Fla.

Woman avoids ovarian cancer thanks to her UF doctor

Published: January 5, 2012

Category: Cancer Center, Obstetrics & Gynecology

Edith Horovitz

My name is Edith Horovitz and I am a teacher and vice principal at the Martin Jay Gottlieb Day School. I am married and I have two boys, 25 and 28. I love to read and walk and be at the beach, but reading is what I do the most.

My mother died of ovarian cancer 11 years ago. Since ovarian cancer runs in families, Dr. Guy Benrubi has been following me for a very long time because there are no early symptoms to warn of ovarian cancer. Once you find it, it's really bad.

Because we had been doing the blood tests every three months, I knew what was creeping up so it wasn't a big surprise to me. I wasn't excited about it; no one wants to go in for surgery. On the other hand, I felt it was the right thing to do because that's what Dr. Benrubi was recommending and I trust him completely. I would do anything to avoid a larger problem later.

I had a total hysterectomy. I went into the hospital on a Tuesday morning and went home by Wednesday afternoon. I never took a pain pill the whole time. I was tired and I had limitations because Dr. Benrubi told me I had to be careful, but otherwise I felt great. I have minimal scarring.

Dr. Benrubi has been so wonderful to me; he's treated me like family. He doesn't make me feel bad when I call him right back with more questions that I didn't think of. It has helped because it gives me confidence that I'm getting the very best care available. I don't have to ask around; I can see him and trust him.

I don't have a single complaint about anyone, anywhere along the way. I was treated well and my family was treated well. It was just a wonderful experience.

Edith Horovitz
Jacksonville, Fla.

Breast cancer survivor keeps an eye on lump and lives to tell her story

Published: December 16, 2011

Category: Breast Health Center, Cancer Center, Surgery

Jeanie Thomas

I'm 58 years old, and I've had a lump in my breast for many years. Every time I had a mammogram, I'd ask about the lump. They would tell me that it was nothing, but I noticed the lump kept getting bigger.

I had an appointment to go to my primary care doctor in 2010 but my sister was getting married so I cancelled my appointment because I didn't want to miss the wedding. I didn't tell anyone because I was scared and in denial. When I finally got into the doctor's office, they took a mammogram and an ultrasound but it didn't show up. It was the size of a lemon, yet there was no sign of it on the mammogram or the ultrasound. I'm among a small percentage of women whose mass won't show up during screenings.

I had an MRI and followed up with Dr. Laila Samiian at the Shands Jacksonville Breast Health Center. That's when she told me it was cancer. I told her I didn't care what it took or what she had to do, I wanted it gone.

So they did a biopsy right then and there, and the cancer was found in one lymph node at that point. That was at the end of June 2010. Later on, when they did the mastectomy, it was in four lymph nodes. They ended up removing 22 lymph nodes in all.

I started chemotherapy right away and I finished it in November 2010. On Dec. 23, 2010 I had a single mastectomy. In February 2011, I started radiation and in July I had reconstruction. My plastic surgeon Dr. Jaime Ranieri put in an expander to make sure both breasts would match.

Getting through that time was very difficult but Mia Vincent, my breast navigator, was with me every step of the way. She told me she wouldn't let anything happen to me, and she didn't. The team of doctors and nurses that I had were excellent. I knew I was in good hands and was receiving the best care possible.

Jeanie Thomas
Jacksonville, Fla.