Strengthening survivorship

Cancer isn’t something new to Chris Norton of Green Bay.

Chris Norton cheers on fellow survivors at the 2017 Lombardi Walk to Tackle Cancer in Green Bay.

He watched his mother battle and pass away from this disease. In 2013, Chris was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in his brain and was referred by his neurologist to his mom’s physician,
Dhimant Patel, MD, at Aurora BayCare Medical Center. Chris went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment and temporarily lost function of the left side of his body. With determination and
exercise, Chris recovered and was declared “cancer-free,” but that was shortlived.Since his initial diagnosis, Chris’ cancer has returned four times in just four years.

“Each of us has challenges in life every day. Survivors like myself, we just have a different mindset to get over those challenges,” said Chris.

Dhimant Patel, MD (left), is Chris’ primary oncologist.

A long, difficult battle

At one point during treatment, Chris lost sight in his left eye. Yet his faith and determination to beat this disease led to a continued regimen of exercise and activity during and after cancer treatment—even during radiation and chemotherapy. That discipline and determination, coupled with a new oral chemotherapy trial, made a difference in Chris’ recovery.

“I love Dr. Patel, and thanks to him, I was connected to cancer research,” said Chris.

Over the years, Chris has become an advocate for other survivors through his local LIVESTRONG program. He is a champion at every Lombardi Walk to Tackle Cancer in Green Bay, where this year, about a month after treatment, he came to cheer on survivors even though he was too weak to walk with them.

Federico Sanchez, MD (left), meets with Chris at a recent visit.

Moving forward

Today, Chris’ cancer journey takes him to Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, where under the care of Federico Sanchez, MD, he completed a stem cell transplant in which his own stem cells were harvested and reintroduced to his body. Today, he is responding well to treatment. He knows his recovery will take some time, but he continues to exercise daily and is staying positive.

“I cannot thank my doctors and medical team enough. But most importantly, I’m grateful to my wife, Jen, for being with me throughout this journey,” said Chris. “What keeps me
going? Enjoying life the best I can. Every day is a gift.”

How you can help

You can support innovative research just like this by supporting the 2017 Aurora Gala. To make a gift, click here.


Posted in Cancer care, Fundraising Events, Lombardi Walks to Tackle Cancer, Research Innovation, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Live Well Manitowoc County event raises more than $20,000 for abuse response services

Thank you to sponsors and attendees of Live Well Manitowoc County! They helped raise over $20,000 to support abuse response services at Aurora Medical Center in Manitowoc. Because of their generosity, more men, women and children will have access to the specialized care and treatment this program provides – and more nursing staff and community agencies will have the education and training they need to help survivors on their healing journey.

The event was held on Saturday, September 16 at the Capitol Civic Centre in Manitowoc. Click here if you’d like to make a gift to support abuse response services.To see more pictures from Live Well Manitowoc County, click here.

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Scared to Live: How you can give patients with chronic heart disease more control over their illness

Julie, with her husband Randy, who is also now a patient of Dr. Prakash Shah. Julie says she refers people all the time to Dr. Shah because of her confidence in his care.

“I was scared to live.”

Julie Glud’s harrowing heart journey all started when she was 35 years old. “I passed out in my kitchen. I saw so many doctors in different states. I just felt so sick but nobody knew what was wrong with me,” she shared.

Doctors finally discovered she has idiopathic cardiomyopathy, which is essentially an enlarged heart with an unknown cause. She had a pacemaker put in to help control her abnormal heart rhythms but that still didn’t solve her problems.

“I was so afraid with that pacemaker I had, no one knew how to set it,” Julie said.

Then, in Florida on a family vacation she had a horrible arrhythmia and nearly died. She was flown to Minnesota where doctors were able to set the pacemaker but the lingering cause was still there.

“I was scared to live. I had horrible anxiety. When I look back now, it was devastating. I was in constant heart failure,” she shared. That’s when Julie finally met Prakash Shah, MD, a cardiologist at Aurora Medical Center in Kenosha. At their very first visit, Julie says he changed her life.

“He knew I wouldn’t survive another arrhythmia with the medication I was on, and told me I needed a defibrillator. He said ‘I can take that fear away, Julie.’ And he did,” she shared.

Dr. Shah was right; within a year her pacemaker died and he was able to turn on the defibrillator and it saved her life. Now, two decades later, she’s on pacemaker number four and she’s had three defibrillators. Her heart disease isn’t going away, but she is reassured that she is finally in the right hands. She’s also able to do more in-home monitoring than ever before.

“It is well worth it if it can save me a trip to come in. And monitoring things myself makes me feel more safe and confident,” she explained. “And being confident about my health is a really big deal for me.”


That’s why this year’s Infinity Ball is fundraising to help patients, like Julie, with chronic heart disease. Dollars raised will help purchase CardioMEMS devices that enable patients to monitor their heart condition from the comforts of their own home. The device is a major opportunity for improving outcomes in chronic heart failure disease management. It gives patients the ability to monitor their daily status without the need to be in the clinic, and it enables them to transmit important data straight to the clinician’s office.

So join us on Saturday, October 14 at Festival Hall in Racine! The Infinity Ball is a black-tie optional event that will include a cocktail reception, dinner and silent auction. CLICK HERE to purchase a ticket, a table or to learn more.

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Making lemonade: woman enrolls in trial to fight cancer

When faced with a lemon-sized tumor in the right side of her brain, Heidi Zellmer of Cedarburg began a journey that would lead the wife and mother of three boys to enroll in a clinical trial that was testing an investigational combination of chemotherapy for glioblastoma multiforme,a fast-growing brain cancer.One fall day, Heidi went to the emergency department at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton with stroke-like symptoms. It wasn’t a stroke though. A CAT scan revealed the tumor.

One-two punch

After being transported via ambulance to Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, Heidi spent about a week in the neurointensive care unit undergoing tests before Amin Kassam, MD, performed an awake craniotomy to remove the tumor. George Bobustuc, MD, took over her cancer care,which included six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation.

Near the end of her treatment cycle, Dr.Bobustuc informed Heidi about a clinical trial testing whether temozolomide chemotherapy is more effective with veliparib at improving overall survival in subjects with particular genetic indications. Acting as a one-two punch, the chemotherapy damages the cancer cell and the veliparib, a PARP inhibitor, prevents the body from producing a protein that would repair the cell, making it easier to kill.

As part of the research protocol, subjects are randomized to receive the chemotherapy and PARP inhibitor or the chemotherapy and placebo. Heidi agreed to enroll in the trial, even
though she couldn’t be sure she would receive the PARP inhibitor.

“If it could extend my life, why not?” Heidi said.

Support and care

A spiritual person, Heidi has relied on her Christian faith, positivity and extensive support system to carry her through. Not only has her immediate family – husband John and sons
Zachary, Benjamin, and Aaron – stepped up, but others have pitched in too, like her mother and sister in Washington, her brother in Alaska, as well as friends, neighbors and “people we didn’t even know.”

And she can’t say enough about her care team throughout Aurora Health Care.

“I feel like I’m getting the best care I can get,” she said.

How you can help

You can support innovative research just like this by attending the 2017 Aurora Gala. To learn more or make a gift, click here.



*Heidi is participating in a trial being conducted by Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology. Alliance is a member of the National Cancer Institute National Clinical Trials Network and serves as a research base for the NCI Community Research Oncology Program. Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center is member of the Alliance NCTN network. Heidi’s experience should not be used to predict outcomes of the clinical trial. Data collection continues.
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“We’re living in constant fear he’s dead”: A mom’s story of addiction and how you can help

If you’re a parent, you can empathize with Sarah*. If you’ve been the parent of an addict, you can relate all too well. Her son, Joe*, started drinking alcohol and smoking pot when he was just 14. He’s now 27. A few years ago they found needles Joe had used to inject heroin. He is currently living on their sofa. He doesn’t have a job, but he does have a child who he is no longer allowed to see.

“We tried kicking him out, but then we’re living in constant fear that he’s dead,” Sarah explained. “We found him sleeping in our backyard. I’ve chased away drug dealers, gone to pick up him at four in the morning in the worst neighborhoods. This has been my life.”

Graphic credit:

When someone in the family suffers from addiction, the entire family suffers from addiction. Sarah has spent thousands of dollars trying to get help for Joe, through various treatment programs. He is currently taking suboxone to try to stay off of heroin, and he is going to counseling. He’s doing better, but still has mountains to climb.

“You can’t focus, you don’t know where your child is,” Sarah explained. She’s a caregiver at Aurora West Allis Medical Center. “I try to not let it bother me at work, but sometimes you get calls that he’s in jail or things like that. I don’t want to tell people why I’m so upset but it’s really hard to hide.”

“Parents too often feel like they aren’t doing enough,” explained Pete Carlson, Vice President of Aurora Behavioral Health Services. “There are more people dying from overdoses now than car accidents, and these families need our support.”


That’s why this year’s Evening of Promise event is raising funds to help support a current Aurora Family Nurse Practitioner at Aurora West Allis Medical Center to complete the Psychiatric Nursing Certificate program at UW-Madison, and to help create the first support group in the area specifically designed for those who have lost a loved one from an overdose.

“I’ve talked to parents who are doctors, police officers and other caregivers going through this. I know a lot of people who would go to a support group,” Sarah said. “I feel so terrible for people who have lost their children already. I’m trying my damndest to save mine.”

Evening of Promise will be Wednesday, October 4 in West Allis. You’ll be hosted by Honorary Chairperson Mary J. Reznicek, MD, and enjoy live music, silent auction, dinner, raffles and more. To learn more or purchase a ticket go to

*Names were changed to protect their privacy

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Studying the aging heart

In 2016, more than $1.1 million was disbursed from the Aurora Health Care Foundation for the Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani Center for Integrative Research on Cardiovascular Aging (CIRCA). The mission of the Center is to conduct clinical and basic research on the biology of cardiovascular aging and to develop diagnostic, predictive and therapeutic interventions. These interventions aim to preserve wellness, prevent age-related cardiovascular dysfunction and improve quality of life.

Dr. Rosy Joshi-Mukherjee looks over Stacie Edwards as she prepares heart cells.

Growing “hearts” in a dish

Research scientist Rosy Joshi-Mukherjee, PhD, and research technologist Stacie Edwards are building a cell-based program at CIRCA using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technology. This revolutionary technology takes Aurora Health Care researchers closer to growing miniature beating heart tissue on which new therapies for treating cardiovascular disease can be tested in a dish. After launching the cell-based program in late 2015, the team has made progress implementing the iPS cell technology and establishing techniques to successfully grow heart cells derived from reprogrammed iPS cells.

The research was presented by Dr. Joshi-Mukherjee at Gordon Research Conference on Cardiac Arrhythmia Mechanisms in Ventura, CA, in February 2017. To continue the work, Dr. Joshi-Mukherjee received a $50,000 Cardiovascular Surgery Research Award, also supported by donors of the Foundation.

How you can help

You can enhance amazing innovation like this at Aurora Health Care by supporting this year’s Aurora Gala. To learn more or make a gift, go to

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Why this year’s Aurora Gala is supporting research and innovation, and how YOU can support it

Patient-centered research is a cornerstone of Aurora Health Care. So much so, this year’s Aurora Gala will celebrate and benefit our research and innovation efforts. Cristy Garcia-Thomas, President, Aurora Health Care Foundation, sat down with Randall Lambrecht, PhD, president of Aurora Research Institute, about how Aurora transforms innovative research into extraordinary patient care.

Please join us for this exciting celebration on September 23! CLICK HERE to learn more about this year’s Aurora Gala and to make a gift!

How does research at Aurora translate into better care for our patients?

The transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, procedure is an example of many success stories where we have translated innovative research into best patient care. TAVR provides a less invasive alternative to open heart surgery. Aurora was the first in the state to engage in the TAVR research trial. If you talk to patients who benefitted from it, their

Randall Lambrecht, PhD, with Cristy Garcia-Thomas at Aurora Research Institute.

whole lives have changed. We celebrated our 1,000th TAVR in 2016.

How is Aurora impacting the field of research, on a national or international level?

Our clinicians and scientists publish impactful manuscripts every day. We are known for translating that research into patient care on a time frame that is faster than what you might see at a university or academic medical center. I think that our innovative expertise draws patients here. We are a destination for patients looking for hope.

What are you most proud of?

The people I work with every day—they are so passionate about what they do and are constantly thinking of new ways to do things. I am so proud of how Aurora has supported research and sees it as an important part of clinical care.

How do donors to Aurora Health Care Foundation impact the work you do?

We couldn’t do what we do without support from the Foundation, grateful patients and others who want to see medicine advance. I feel a responsibility every day to steward those gifts so they lead to translatable research and improved standards of care that help someone in need.

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