Lifesaving research thanks to donor support

When cardiologist Daniel Ortiz, MD, was a resident at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, one of his patients passed away after having a procedure called a peripheral vascular intervention, or PVI. The procedure opens up blocked arteries in a person’s legs, but about 11% of patients are at high risk for complications like internal bleeding, which can cause death. That’s what happened to Dr. Ortiz’s patient, and it led him to the next phase of his career: research.

“I wanted to see how that could be avoided,” explained Dr. Ortiz. “There were no tools to identify high risk patients at the time.”

Maharaj Singh, PhD, and Daniel Ortiz, MD

Dr. Ortiz received the first Sullivan Cardiac Research Award for Residents and Fellows in 2014, which was made possible by a generous $1 million donation from Vivian and Tim Sullivan of Milwaukee. Because of the award, he and a team of cardiovascular physicians and a biostatistician were able to develop a way to identify patients in the high risk category. The tool itself is a specific set of criteria that a nurse has to assess before a patient has a PVI. It’s something that doctors at Aurora St. Luke’s are using right now with great success.

“It’s saving lives,” said Dr. Ortiz. “There’s nowhere else in the world where this tool exists, and we couldn’t have done it without donor support.”

His research is earning praise from his colleagues as well.

“I’ve worked on more than 100 research projects, and out of all of them, Dr. Ortiz’s PVI research had the best patient-centered outcome and one of the best publications,” said Maharaj Singh, PhD, principal biostatistician at Aurora Research Institute. “It was wonderful working with him and I’m very proud of the research he has done and is currently working on.”

Now Dr. Ortiz is planning to present his findings at a national conference in October, and he’s hoping his research will help physicians and patients across the country.

“This is groundbreaking because this tool didn’t exist before; no one thought it was possible because there are so many ways this surgery can be done, and every patient is different,” said Dr. Ortiz. “But our method works, and it’s already saving lives.”


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Bringing hope and healing to survivors of sexual assault in Manitowoc County

Sexual assault statistics* are nothing short of shocking:

  • One in four girls and one in six boys are abused as minors.
  • More than one-third of women who were raped as a child are raped again as adults.
  • One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.
  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • In eight out of 10 rapes, the victim knew the assailant.
  • Nearly one in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner.

Deanna Grundl, RN, BSN, SANE-A, is the SANE/Forensic Nursing Coordinator at Aurora Medical Center in Manitowoc County

And Manitowoc County is not immune. In 2015, nearly 150 people reported a sexual assault, but only six went to a medical facility for treatment. That’s part of the reason why Aurora Medical Center in Manitowoc County opened a new Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program in January of 2016. In the first nine months of the year alone, the hospital’s emergency department saw a more than fivefold increase in the number of adults treated for sexual assault.

“The program is so important because it’s the beginning of a process that gives survivors choices and connects them with resources in our community, including advocacy services,” explained Deanna Grundl, the SANE/Forensic Nursing Coordinator at Aurora in Manitowoc.

Specialized care is needed

Sexual assault is a complex crime, which results in trauma that requires specialized patient care. Nurses who deal with this kind of trauma must compassionately perform a thorough medical forensic examination of the victim while collecting evidence in the process.

“Because of this compassionate care, we’ve seen survivors who have decided to work with law enforcement. We’ve seen them be able to start the road to healing by making their own choices,” shared Deanna. “We’ve been able to help empower survivors, so they gain back control over their own lives. Even making simple decisions can be a start to that journey.”

The program is making great strides in the community, but there’s a lot of room for growth, including more community education and more training for nurses.

“Without more awareness in the community, survivors don’t know where to go for medical care. The more opportunities they have to find resources close to home, the more likely they will be to start the road to healing. We have an obligation to help survivors in any way we can.”

Live Well Manitowoc

How you can help

You can help survivors of sexual assault by attending Live Well Manitowoc County on Saturday, September 16. Donations will help fund a more peaceful and private room for those going through emergency testing and treatment. Funds will also ensure community agencies and nursing staff receive needed education and ongoing training.

“My hope is that every victim of crime knows the community supports them and will help them heal,” said Deanna. “I hope they know they can go to a hospital and be connected with resources and be believed.”

*Statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center

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Cancer care worth traveling for

Lee Pinkus is a fighter.

He came to Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center from a small town in Arkansas in 2014. He’d been diagnosed with nodular melanoma after finding a lesion on his chest. His doctors removed it seven times. But by that point, the cancer had spread to his lung, small intestine and brain. His doctors had given him just 10 months to live.

From left to right: Lee Pinkus, George Bobustic, MD, and Lee’s father, Lester Pinkus

“My cancer continued to spread until we sought other means of care,” said Lee. “I went to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Illinois. They assured me that they could indeed help. After the first day of scans, x-rays and the like, we sat down. The meeting was short. They couldn’t help me, but there was a guy in Milwaukee that could.”

Lee and his fiancée met with neurosurgeon Amin Kassam, MD, at Aurora St. Luke’s two days later.

“Dr. Kassam looked at the scans and told us that he could fix it. He cleared his schedule for Friday, put me into the hospital to introduce drugs to reduce the swelling on my brain, and on Friday, removed the tumor. Never in my life had I seen a doctor who said, ‘I can do that.’ It was always, ‘we can try.’”

Lee also met with neuro-oncologist George Bobustuc, MD.

“He put together several types of medications to attack the cancer from multiple fronts,” explained Lee. “It was a treatment I wasn’t offered anywhere else and it saved my life.”

Radiation oncologist Kenneth Bastin, MD, used CyberKnife® treatment to clean up leftover spots after Lee’s surgery.

“I went from having 32 tumors in February of 2014, to little or no cancer now. These three men, aided by the nurses and staff, worked in unison to remove, radiate and medicate this cancer, saving my life.”

Now Lee is back to doing all the things he couldn’t do when he was sick: working, hunting, riding ATVs – he’s even engaged to be married.

“I can’t express the gratitude that I have for this hospital. They have assembled a team of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers that is unmatched by any other facility that I have been to. I have been to the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences hospital, the Mayo Clinic and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. All failed where Aurora St. Luke’s succeeded.”

Lee is now trying to get the word out about his experience. He recently told his story at the 2017 Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer in Milwaukee.

“I want to thank the Aurora Healthcare system for giving me hope. I also want to thank my doctors and nurses for not only saving my life, but for healing me in such a way that I can live my life and not simply go through it,” shared Lee. “I cannot say enough good things about this hospital. I travel a thousand miles to get here, three or four times per year, sometimes more. Whether someone needs these hospitals or not, the fact that you don’t have to travel half way across the country to get this kind of care should give you peace of mind.”

We want to thank Lee for sharing his story. You can help people like Lee receive world-class cancer care – wherever they’re from – when you support our cancer services. To get started, click here.

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St. Vince and Cleopacker

Some of cancer’s most interesting opponents are a husband and wife who live near Madison.

John O’Neill and Mary Beth Johnson, known by her friends as “B,” have alter egos: St. Vince and Cleopacker, who are on a mission to raise money for local cancer programs, all while having the best Packers costumes possible.

It all started in 1997 at Super Bowl XXXI, where the Green Bay Packers beat the New England Patriots in New Orleans.

St. Vince and Cleopacker at the 2017 Lombardi Walk to Tackle Cancer in Two Rivers

“John wanted to represent the spirit of Vince Lombardi come back to life to watch his Packers in the first Super Bowl since his days as coach,” explained B. “We made a costume with a long green robe and mitre to symbolize St. Vince. We didn’t know how he would be perceived down in Kiln, Mississippi the Friday night before the Super Bowl game, but he was an instant celebrity.”

Then on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, people kept stopping to take pictures of St. Vince and his entourage, and one of their friends encouraged them to charge for photos.

“We started taking donations in our beer mugs, and soon, we had over $300.”

They decided to donate the money to charity. They found one in Hattiesburg, Mississippi – not far from Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s home. “Brett had a fund to help young people, so we gave the money to them.”

Almost famous

St. Vince wasn’t meant to be an ongoing gig, but he was so popular among fans, that the couple decided to keep it going at Packers games and other events. B also started dressing up, first as “Cheese Louise,” then later as “Cleopacker.” And anywhere they went, they collected donations.

To make the gifts more personal, they decided to give to the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinic in Two Rivers, where B is originally from. Her mother, Charlotte Johnson, passed away 25 years ago after battling cancer and received her care at this clinic.

“She was a welder on the submarines during World War II.  She was very tiny, and was the only welder to fit in the bow of the subs.  We think this contributed to the widespread lung cancer that she died from.”

B’s sister-in-law, Tina Johnson, also lost her battle with cancer. She was only 64 years old.

“So, we will continue to donate money in her memory, my mom’s memory and in Vince’s memory,” she explained.

St. Vince and Cleopacker most recently appeared at the Lombardi Walk to Tackle Cancer in Two Rivers, where they were more than happy to snap pictures with the crowd and help a cause that’s so dear to their hearts.

How you can help

You can support people like B’s mother, sister-in-law and patients like them in your community. Click here to get started.


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Palliative care supports not only the patients, but also their families

Gus and Tina are soul mates. At ages 96 and 91 years old, they have had an amazing journey together. They are still living in the same home where they have spent 40 of the 70 years they’ve been married. It’s the home where they have celebrated many birthdays, anniversaries, hosted family Christmas dinners and made many more memories.

Gus and Tina 2

Gus and Tina’s wedding

Both are children of Greek immigrants who had a tough childhood. Gus had to drop out of school to support the family. He later went on to get a GED and worked his way up from a factory worker to a supervisor. Tina spent time raising her family, but as the children needed less of her time and Gus decided to retire, she got her realtor’s license. Gus, meanwhile, was trying his hand at painting and soon filled up the walls with his art work.

But now both of them can barely walk. They need help with all of their basic needs like bathing, getting to the bathroom and dressing. Their memories are fading and they remember the “good old days” more clearly than what medications they take or even what they ate for breakfast.

For a long time, they relied on their children for help. Their daughter even moved in with them to take on the role of caregiver. But after more than a year, getting her parents to and from their doctor appointments got to be too much, and Gus and Tina’s primary physician set up a meeting with a palliative care specialist at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton to provide more support.

Gus and Tina 1

Gus and Tina with their palliative care physician, Kavita Sharma, MD

The palliative care physician visited their home and went over everything with a fine-tooth comb. Medications that were absolutely needed were continued. The risks and benefits of other medications were addressed. Long and short-term goals were discussed, along with resources that were available in their community.

The palliative care team is now walking the journey with Gus and Tina’s children to help them make decisions about their parents’ health needs as their situation changes. They are not only supporting Gus and Tina as they “age in place” in their own home, but they’re also supporting their whole family, who can take comfort in knowing there is a plan in place and their loved ones are being well cared for.

Posted in Live Well Ozaukee, palliative care, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No retreat, no surrender

Brian Juech never imagined he’d have cancer by the age of 30.

He’d gone to see his primary physician for a regular checkup, when he suddenly remembered to bring up what he thought was a minor concern.


Brian Juech shared his story at the 2017 Lombardi Walk to Tackle Cancer in Oconomowoc.

“It didn’t seem that important to me; I almost forgot to say anything at all.”

But it turned out his doctor was concerned, so much so that Brian was sent to a GI specialist at Aurora Medical Center in Summit.

A scary diagnosis and a fortunate discovery

“I had my first colonoscopy, and two masses were found,” he recalled. “They turned out to be stage 3 colon cancer.”

Brian had surgery to remove half his colon, and then he began six months of chemotherapy. It was a scary time, but he had great support from his family and caregivers.

“My oncologist, Dr. Adam Siegel, met with me and my family for hours. We also talked about my family history.”

At least five members of his mother’s family had had cancer. So Brian and his relatives underwent genetic testing and learned they had something called Lynch Syndrome, an inherited condition that increases a person’s risk for colon and other cancers.

The diagnosis and Brian’s experience led his mother and aunt to schedule early colonoscopies. It turned out to be a wise decision.

“My mother found out she had colon cancer,” said Brian. “Because of what I went through, she got the screening years before she was supposed to. Doctors caught it early though, and she was able to have it removed with surgery. And she didn’t need any other treatment.”

Now Brian is worried about how Lynch Syndrome could impact his own child.


Brian (back row, far left) and his family at the Walk.

“What about my two-year-old son? It’s yet to be seen whether he has it, but at least we have the knowledge and the monitoring to make sure he knows if he has this condition and what to do about it.”

Forever grateful

There are two things Brian can’t forget about his battle with cancer.

“First, that I’m here today not only because I’m a cancer survivor, but also because of the wonderful care and treatment I received at Aurora,” he said. “And second is the support of my family and friends. Cancer makes you feel alone, but you never are. From my wife, Corena, who endured the ups and downs with me, who had my back no matter what, who kept us afloat when the water kept rising, to my parents who would sit at chemo with me and keep me company whenever I needed them, to my in-laws who helped by taking care of our son, to our friends who cooked us meals…I was never alone.”

Brian now lives by a couple of slogans. One he borrowed from his favorite baseball team, the Cubs: “Make someday today.” The other comes from a Bruce Springsteen song: “No retreat, no surrender.”


Join the fight against cancer 

Sign up to participate or volunteer at the 30th annual Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer in Milwaukee on July 22. Your participation includes free admission to Festa Italiana. But even more importantly, by joining the fight to tackle cancer, you will make a difference!

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Warriors go to battle and #tacklecancer

If you’re going to tackle cancer, you’ll want to have some warriors on your team. That’s why we’re so proud to have the “Sarcoma Warriors”, one of our most dedicated teams at the Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer in Milwaukee.

In the last five years, these warriors have raised nearly $65,000 in the fight against cancer.


Dr. Nicholas Webber (front row, far left) and his “Sarcoma Warriors” at the 2016 Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer in Milwaukee

They are led by Nicholas Webber, MD, who specializes in orthopedic oncology, including the diagnosis and treatment of primary benign and malignant tumors of bone and soft tissue, or sarcomas.

Motivating patients and their families 

Many of the warriors on his team are his current and former patients. Dr. Webber credits those “star patients” for taking on a very active role in recruiting their friends and family members each year.

“Not only do I love to see all of the patients and their families together, I like to see all the new faces at the event,” said Dr. Webber. “When I’m there it really is not as a physician, but as someone supporting the patients who are dealing with their disease on a day when we can all be a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

LCRF_Logos_AllLocations_fnl-Milwaukee-ColorHow you can help

Sign up for the Lombardi Walk/Run to Tackle Cancer in Milwaukee on July 22, volunteer or donate at Money raised will support local cancer care and research initiatives by Aurora Cancer Care and is eligible for a 50 percent match from the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation.

Thank you for your support!


Posted in Cancer care, Caregivers Give Back, Fundraising Events, INSPIRE Newsletter, Lombardi Walks to Tackle Cancer, Our Community Commitment, Uncategorized | Leave a comment