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Healthcare Heroes 2015

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Septic tanks don’t usually thrill people. But there Mary Moore Kieh stood, arms raised and fists pumping the air. To have the septic tanks installed was a triumph, a long-awaited step forward in the construction of the Robert Moore Memorial Healthcare Center, an outpatient clinic and teaching facility in Liberia. Kieh and her husband, Mark, are funding the center’s construction by themselves, taking what they can from their paychecks while paying college tuition for two of their four children. 

Mary MOORE Kieh, RN//Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and Delaware County Memorial Hospital

Cathleen Petrucci, MSN, RN

To generate extra money, Kieh works two jobs—full time as an RN at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and part time at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. Her husband is a doctor, currently working on a project with the World Health Organization and the Liberian government. 

The Kiehs were both born in Liberia, and creating a medical center there is personal for more than one reason. The center is named for Kieh’s late brother, an unfortunate example of Liberia’s struggling healthcare system. Both of his legs were amputated because of ulcers that, in the United States, are easily treated. Those ulcers, the amputations, or something else entirely may have led to his death. Tests weren’t run before or after he died. 

That’s how it is in Liberia, Kieh says. “When my brother died, I thought, ‘I don’t want another family to suffer this way,’” Kieh says. “We are building this healthcare center so we can teach people to be doctors and nurses, and they can help people—diagnose them, treat them, and provide a higher level of medical care.” 

That same sort of thinking led Cathleen Petrucci to Nepal. An RN at Crozer-Chester Medical Center and Community Hospital, Petrucci is also a certified Wellness Works nurse navigator. And she’s a minister’s wife; her husband leads Praise Assembly in Newark, Del. It’s with her husband and church members that Petrucci has made four trips: Romania (2002), Russia (2006), Kenya (2007) and Nepal (2010). Each trip was for 10 days, during which she trained residents in various nursing skills. 

On that Nepal trip, Petrucci taught first aid and oral rehydration therapy for cholera in local communities. “It’s a simple solution of salt, sugar and clean water,” says Petrucci. “Combined in the correct proportions, it prevents dehydration. No one dies from cholera; you die from dehydration. People could do this in their homes, if only they knew how.”

Dr. David Broyles 

Suzanne Hipple, RN 

Dr. David Broyles has witnessed similar deplorable conditions in Central America. He practices with Family Physicians at Middletown, an affiliate of Crozer-Keystone Health System. Away from home, he and his wife, Melissa, who’s an integrative-medicine specialist in Thornton, have traveled to the Dominican Republic, Panama and Guatemala. They go on these trips in conjunction with ValleyPoint Church in Garnet Valley. Suzanne Hipple, an emergency-room RN at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and also part of ValleyPoint, has been on missions to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. 

The clinics at which they volunteer are held for three or four days. In that time, they treat 500-700 patients, many of whom travel many miles by foot, donkey and motorcycle to see them. Most of the maladies they treat—parasitic diseases, rashes, GI issues, chronic respiratory infections—stem from malnutrition, the lack of clean water, and other unhygienic conditions. Extreme poverty is a painful sight, Broyles says. “On one trip, we went two hours outside of Guatemala City to a shanty town that sprang up in a landfill,” he says. “We walked into our clinic—made of metal sheets put on sticks—and there was a dead iguana in the sink being carved for dinner.”

Of all the need-stricken places in the world, one seems to capture the hearts of healthcare workers: Haiti. The Broyleses and Hipple traveled there in 2010, after the magnitude-7.0 earthquake destroyed much of the country—but not the Haitians’ spirit. 

“The Haitians are so inspiring,” says Hipple, offering her impressions from the trip. “They’re gracious and hospitable, and seem to believe in the goodness of people and the world, even though their country has suffered so many tragedies.”

Haiti’s magic captured Dr. Anthony Coletta long before the earthquake. Now the president and CEO of Tandigm Health, Coletta was Bryn Mawr Hospital’s chief of surgery in 2007 when he made the first of what would become an annual medical mission to Haiti. After the earthquake, Coletta got there as soon as he could and stayed for 10 days, performing life-saving surgeries. Inspired to do more, he created the Blue Sky Surgical Team, a group made up of healthcare workers from across the country, and led it back to Haiti. They arrived two months after the quake.

(From Left:) Cate McKee, RN; Dr. Anthony Coletta; Dr. John Sauter; MIKE FLECK;  Barbara Thompson, RN

Dr. Herbert Schiffer 

“It was the first time I’d been to Haiti and my first medical mission,” says Dr. John Sauter, an anesthesiologist with Main Line Health. “I had no idea what to expect. We carried a lot of donated supplies with us. We treated a lot of manifestations of crush injuries, like fractures and limb loss, and did surgeries for conditions that were independent of the earthquake.”

Blue Sky continues to travel to Haiti for medical missions. The group performed 77 surgeries during its weeklong trip in February. Local members of the Blue Sky team include Chris Aylsworth, a surgical physician assistant at Phoenixville Hospital, and Main Line Health nurses Barbara Thompson, Cate McKee, Lisa Czyzewski, Deb McTamney, Barbara Tudor and Leslie Edwards. Bioengineer Mike Fleck and OR aide/interpreter Yvon LeBrun are also from Main Line Health. 

The sky is also a part of Dr. Herbert Schiffer’s volunteer work. The medical director of Crozer-Keystone Health System’s EMS South Division pitches in as a pilot for Angel Flight East, a non-profit organization that coordinates air travel for patients who live far from the medical facilities where they get treatment. Schiffer flies his own plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, and he flies it a lot, having logged 7,300 nautical miles in 2014. 

Schiffer also pays the expense for those flights—including fuel—and says it’s worth it to help patients in need. One of them was a little girl getting a life-saving and rare bowel transplant. Schiffer flew her and her family from Syracuse, N.Y., to Boston. “Very few centers do that surgery,” Schiffer says. “Finding a donor is also very complicated, so when one was found for this little girl, we wanted to get her where she needed to be to receive it.”

Dr. Glenn Kaplan

Being the pilot, and not the doctor, allows Schiffer to interact with patients differently than he does in the ER. “On flights, I have long conversations with people about how they deal with their illnesses, which are chronic,” he says. “I get into the more humanistic elements of medicine, which makes me a better person and a better doctor.”

Dr. Glenn Kaplan feels the same way about the Parents Advisory Network, a support group for parents of children in the neonatal intensive care units at Bryn Mawr, Paoli and Lankenau hospitals. PAN’s members are parents of former NICU patients who volunteer to support parents of current NICU patients.

Kaplan knows all about NICUs. He is chief of neonatology for Nemours duPont Pediatrics at Main Line Health. But he is also the father of twins who were born prematurely, and he knows that parents need more than medical support to get through the experience of having critically ill infants. “There are few things more traumatic than having a baby born prematurely or having a problem when a baby is born at term,” he says. “The more premature the baby is, the more scary and complicated it is for these families—and what makes it worse is that they feel helpless, both in terms of caring for their child and in navigating the situation by themselves.” 

But they aren’t by themselves, because PAN is there, thanks in large part to Kaplan’s advocacy of it. He acts as master of ceremonies for PAN’s 5K run and its bingo night, and he hosts the live auction at the group’s annual golf outing. He also takes part in PAN’s bake sale with quite a unique treat: oatmeal cookies with cinnamon-honey-roasted peanuts and white- and milk-chocolate chips, topped with a chocolate drizzle. 

Kathy Coultes, MSPT, PCS

Michelle Epstein

 MSW, LCSW, CBIS

Kathy Coultes might not be a fan of those cookies. A physical therapist and clinical specialist in pediatrics at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, Coultes believes that childhood obesity is one of the most widespread problems in the area. That’s why she got involved with the William Penn School District and its playground committee, which raised the money to build new playgrounds at three elementary schools: Evans in Yeadon, Park Lane in Darby, and Ardmore Avenue in Lansdowne.

“The goal was to build or replace the playgrounds at elementary schools in the district,” says Coultes. “Either schools didn’t have playgrounds at all, or they were so outdated that they were dangerous.”

Educating kids about the danger of distracted driving is Michelle Epstein’s mission. The manager of community outreach at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, Epstein rebranded and expanded its drunk- driving awareness program to include distracted driving. Now called Cruisin’ Smart, the program is presented at 60 different schools in the Delaware Valley. “Presenters share their story, including their backgrounds and what choices they made leading up to the accident,” Epstein says. “Then they talk about the accident and how they recovered from it, or how the person they hurt recovered from it.”

Epstein also helms Project SEARCH, Bryn Mawr Rehab’s chapter of the national program that provides internships and job-skills training to people with developmen-tal disabilities. More than 75 percent of Project SEARCH graduates have perm-anent jobs. Epstein recently expanded the program by opening a second Project SEARCH classroom at Lankenau Hospital in April 2014. 

Even some folks who do have jobs need assistance to make ends meet, especially at Christmas. To help, Delaware County families have an unlikely Santa: Monique Carpenter, administrative assistant for Crozer-Keystone Hospice. Carpenter expanded the organization’s holiday program, which previously focused on food donations for needy families. “I decided that we’d dig a little deeper,” Carpenter says. “I made contact with the families to see what needs they have, then created wish lists. This way, the gifts we provide are exactly what they need.”

Monique Carpenter

Dr. Christopher Olukoga

This past year, one recipient was the family of a patient who died in the hospice unit, leaving behind five children ages 4-19. Carpenter coordinated donations for them and other families nominated by hospice workers and volunteers. Hospice staff, nurses and others donate the items. “Then everything gets delivered on the Friday before Christmas,” Carpenter says. “Sometimes, we have two or three shopping carts full of food, clothing, toys and other items going to those families. I like to think that a higher power is bringing us the people who need the most help.”

This month, more than 25,000 people from Chester County and beyond will assemble on the grounds of Brandywine Hospital for its four-day Strawberry Festival, benefiting the charitable works of the Brandywine Health Foundation. While attendees have food and fun on their minds, Dr. Christopher Olukoga will be focused on engaging with those who might benefit from the weight-loss procedures he performs as director of general and bariatric surgery at Brandywine Hospital. “I’m there all four days at a booth, handing out information and educating the public,” says Olukoga, who was originally recruited in 2009 as a general surgeon. 

Shortly after his arrival, Olukoga encouraged the hospital to consider establishing the Bariatric Weight Loss Program. “All the way through medical school at the University of Benin in Nigeria, I never considered obesity to be a disease,” says Olukoga. “During my fellowship, I was exposed more to obese patients and their struggles. Obesity is a disease that needs to be treated with the same degree of intensity and attention that you’d treat any other disease. We’re giving patients their quality of life back.” 

 

Tara Behan contributed to this story.