Live Well Dayton: Women’s Health

Two women reflect on how the region’s health care offerings helped them in their time of need

By Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti

For those who have gone through a health challenge, the story of coming out the other side is not always given the attention it deserves. We reached out to two women who lived through some of their most daunting moments, and, with the help of the area’s health care professionals, are now enjoying their lives with family at their sides.

Twice is the Charm
Having a child in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be scary for any parent, but Rachel Abshear went through the experience twice. Thanks to the professionals at Kettering Medical Center’s Level III B Maternity Unit and NICU, both experiences turned out positive.

Abshear’s journey began in 2012, when a break from fertility treatments ironically led to an unanticipated but welcome pregnancy. Through genetic testing, Abshear learned that her daughter, Avery, had Down Syndrome and would need open-heart surgery.

On Nov.26, Avery made her appearance almost seven weeks early. “She came out screaming and relatively healthy,” Abshear says. Nonetheless, the experience was a lot to take in. “Everything seemed so traumatic,” she says.

However, the Kettering NICU staff did everything in their power to make the experience a pleasant one. “We visited twice a day, and the nurses would dress her up in outfits I brought,” Abshear says. The nurses also made scrapbook pages as a memory. A special private internet monitor allowed Abshear’s family to catch glimpses of Avery even before they could hold her. “It was a scary, magical time,” Abshear says.

Perhaps most special, however, was allowing Abshear the moment she thought she had missed. While the hospital plays a special song every time a baby is born, Abshear missed hearing it for Avery because of the precipitous nature of the birth. Instead, the staff made sure the song was played as Abshear took Avery home. “They let me have the moment,” she says.

Just a year later, when Avery was getting her open-heart surgery, Abshear delivered her son Jackson. This time, she was on bed rest due to placenta acreta, a condition in which the placenta attaches abnormally to the uterine wall. Jackson made his appearance 11 weeks early and also spent time in the Kettering NICU before coming home in January of 2014.

Today, Avery and Jackson are active, healthy children. Avery is starting kindergarten and enjoys dancing; she also has a modeling contract at her young age. Jackson has tried many of the activities his big sister has, and he is starting ballet, tap and swimming as well as preschool. “You would never guess he was a preemie,” Abshear says. “He has an amazing little memory; he taught himself the alphabet backwards.”

Abshear herself serves on the Kettering NICU advisory board and enjoys helping make a scary time a little more magical for others who have children in the NICU’s care.

A Passion for Prevention
Bev Denny has always been diligent about regular screening for health problems. With a family history of cancer, she felt this gave her the best chance to head off problems early. “I’m adamant about annual everything,” she says.

Her regular screening practices may have saved her life, as a routine exam uncovered what she called “a huge cyst on my ovary.” Rather than waiting to see if the cyst would resolve itself, Denny’s physician referred her to a gynecologist/oncologist, who recommended Denny schedule a hysterectomy she had been considering for other reasons.

During the surgery, the surgeon found stage 1A ovarian cancer, a very early stage in which the cancer is in just one ovary or fallopian tube with no evidence of the cancer on the outside of the organ or in nearby lymph nodes or other distant sites. Ovarian cancer is rarely discovered this early, because it is generally a symptomless cancer until it progresses. According to the American Cancer Society, only 15 percent of all ovarian cancers are caught this early, but for those that are, the five-year survival rate is 92 percent. The surgery allowed Denny the best chance of a cure and of more time with her grandchildren, who she calls “my blessings.” 

Six rounds of chemotherapy later, Denny is now in her third year cancer free. She looks back on her treatments at Miami Valley South as a positive experience, with everyone involved making her feel comfortable and supported.

Today, Denny is a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor therapy for conditions like pain during intercourse and incontinence, as well as a range of other pelvic floor conditions. “There’s nothing better than getting a letter from a patient saying that for the first time, she’s had a good sexual experience with her husband.”

Denny also describes herself as having a “passion for prevention,” and she encourages women to take charge of their own preventive health care. “You’ve got to be diligent; don’t take a wait and see attitude,” she says. She urges women to ask questions about preventative screening and tests for cancer. She gives the CA125 blood test as an example of a test to ask a doctor about; this test measures the amount of a certain protein in the blood that increases with the presence of cancer, and it is helpful in monitoring for ovarian cancer in those at high risk for the disease.

Denny tells of a woman she met 20 years ago who had continual abdominal pains that were assumed to be gastric in nature; by the time she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she was at stage 4. Other women have suffered for years with abdominal pain that was the result of endometriosis before finding their diagnosis. Denny has made it her mission to help women understand that they shouldn’t suffer in silence when help is available.