Who: Jim Lewis, a patient from Texas; his physicians, Dr. Rumon Chakravarty, Dr. Omair Chaudhary, Dr. Nishi Patel, and Dr. Ronson Madathil; and the heart failure care team at WellSpan York Hospital.
What: Jim and his wife of 57 years, Suzanne, traveled from their Levelland, Texas, home to Gettysburg in early August to see their grandson play in a baseball tournament. On the way, Jim, 80, a retired farmer who now works as a crop adjustor in the insurance business, started having pain in his shoulders and felt increasingly out of breath. After the tournament, he went to WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital, where doctors found he was in advanced heart failure and decided to airlift him to WellSpan York Hospital, where he could receive more complex care. There, he received a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, a mechanical pump that helps increase the amount of blood flow through his body.
While recovering in the hospital, Jim felt “scuzzy,” he says, so Suzanne attempted to cut his hair and helped him to shave. His doctors noticed her efforts. With the blessing of hospital leadership, the trio of physicians (who all like a sharp haircut) hired their own barber, Jason McGarry of Cornerstone Barbershop in York, to come into Jim’s room to give him a hot towel shave and a haircut.
But that wasn’t the end of the surprises for the Lewis family. Under the direction of LeAnn Ream, mechanical circulatory support program coordinator, the care team on the open-heart intensive care unit, with help from some of the couple’s five kids, planned a surprise 77th birthday party for Suzanne in Jim’s room, after Jim told the care team that he was feeling sad he could not do anything for her. The celebration included a steak dinner, candlelight (from a battery-powered candle), balloons, flowers, a coconut cake (Suzanne’s favorite), and gifts, including earrings and a joke cattle prod to help Suzanne keep Jim moving.
Jim, a sometimes taciturn man who speaks in short sentences in a Texas twang, chokes up when he considers all his caregivers have done for his family. He gathers himself and offers a one-word assessment: “Overwhelming.”
Suzanne says: “We felt like God led us here.”
Words to live by: Casey McDermitt, mechanical circulatory support program manager, says, “They are so far away from home. Pretty soon, everyone on our team felt like they were their own grandpa and grandma. They became part of our family. We treated them that way.”
Dr. Chakravarty says, “Nishi, Omair and I were talking and knew Jim was always spic ‘n’ span in Texas. He needed a trim and we thought we could do that to make him feel more human.
“We treat our patients as people. Seeing people as people is so important. Your body is not going to heal if your mind is not feeling good. What can we do to take away some of the stress? It’s a holistic approach.
Stopping in Jim’s room to catch up, Dr. Chakravarty takes off his blue scrub cap, runs a hand through his hair, and laughs ruefully, telling Jim, “I hate it when my hair is long. I felt your pain! We knew we could do something to make you feel better, so we did.”