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(From time to time, the blog features recipients of the IHA Iowa Hospital Heroes Award. These outstanding hospital employees come from across the state and work at hospitals of every size. They exemplify the courage, caring and community focus that are the hallmarks of the hospital mission in Iowa.)

A hero is admired for outstanding achievements and noble qualities. This is true for Pharmacist Michele Birdsell from Henry County Health Center (HCHC) in Mount Pleasant, who is our hero both inside the health center and out in our community.

An HCHC pharmacist since 1996, Michele has positively impacted the lives of patients, staff and students for 20 years. Her actions, attitude and day-to-day concern for our patients are evidence of the passion she has for others. When Michele says “my patients,” she really means it, it’s not just a mantra.

The impact she makes does not stop with her patients. Michele spends a tremendous amount of time, talent and energy as a preceptor for pharmacy students from the University of Iowa and Drake University. In 2011, she was named University of Iowa Hospital Pharmacy Preceptor of the Year. One member of HCHC’s medical staff said, “Michele’s critical thinking skills are second to none. She goes above and beyond to pass her knowledge on to others by being a preceptor to pharmacy students and providing education to staff.”

Michele has been described by colleagues as a shining example of selflessness, caring and compassion. She does whatever is necessary to ensure that patients receive their needed medication in a timely manner, even when that means responding in the middle of the night, in inclement weather or when she’s not on call.

Outside of HCHC, Michele shows her commitment to the community by serving on the local business and professional women’s group. Within that organization she mentors young women to become professionals and supports scholarship efforts. She is also an active participant with the American Cancer Society and has volunteered for more than 10 years with HCHC’s Relay for Life team, helping with fundraisers and volunteering at the event.

Maya Angelou once said, “A hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” Michele Birdsell is a true Hospital Hero as her numerous contributions have made HCHC and the surrounding communities in Henry County a better place for us all.

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A month-long stay in the UnityPoint Health-Allen Hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) wasn’t easy on premature twins Brayden and Bentley. It wasn’t easy on their parents, Maja and Josh Etringer.

And it wasn’t easy on a new big sister, when it’s best for 2-year olds to stay home.

“Having one child at home who needed me. Being here and separating myself. I complained, I cried,” said Maja Etringer. “But everyone was supportive. They didn’t judge me.”

Maja and Josh asked aloud if everything was going to be OK. They wondered if they were doing the right thing.

Allen Hospital neonatologist Dr. Pankaj Nagaraj provided the necessary expertise to help sick newborns grow, thrive and eventually go home for the first time. He also provided comfort for a family in distress.

Dr. Pankaj Nagaraj

“I had conversations with him that I maybe wouldn’t have with another doctor – maybe others wouldn’t have time, there are other babies,” Maja added. “He listened to every single thing I said, I asked silly questions but he answered every single one of them. He gave reassurance that everything will be OK.”

Brayden and Bentley returned to Allen Hospital for the annual NICU reunion as healthy seven-month olds. Dr. Nagaraj was happy to catch up, although it wasn’t the first time he was updated on their progress since discharge.

“I called his cell phone at 9:30 one night because the twins had just got their first shots and our pediatrician had told us to go to the emergency room,” said Maja. “I called Dr. Nagaraj, he walked me through it and I was able to sleep. Who else does that? I called his cell phone at 9:30 at night to ask a question.”

As happy as families are to see nurses and doctors they spent such critical time with in the past, the NICU staff beams at the sight of babies they got to know so well.

That’s the sense of community that develops in the NICU, and the Etringer family is appreciative of all that Dr. Nagaraj does to help keep precious newborns in need of careful supervision close to home.

“We’re lucky to have him as a doctor. It’s almost like having a big city doctor here in the Cedar Valley,” Josh said. “Dr. Nagaraj’s presence, just who he is makes you feel calm and less stressed.”

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“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Francis of Assisi

janet-stoefens-greyhounds-2Janet Stoefen doesn’t stop providing health care when she leaves her role as nursing supervisor at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport.

Some days she is a nurse 24/7.

When she puts aside the nursing of humans for the day, she still has patients like Cryo, Pep Boy, Beau, Holler, Fat Sam and a cast of other four-legged characters waiting for her in her home in Davenport. At times, there are nearly enough dogs K-9 baseball team.

In 1999, the dog lover thought she was adopting a springer spaniel and Labrador retriever mix. The veterinarian informed her otherwise. The dog she had just taken in was a greyhound.

Sixteen years and dozens of greyhound rehabilitation projects later, Stoefen is well-known in greyhound racing for her impressive winning record with rehabilitation and placement of retired racers. Often using her nursing skills, she helps the dogs recover from injuries that ended their track careers and then works diligently to place them with loving owners.

“Being a nurse has been such an asset,’’ Stoefen said. “People call me and tell me about a dog that has a fracture. I change splints twice a week, and dressings, sometimes more often, increase their exercise gradually and get them ready to have a home again.’’

Nursing Continues at Home

Her house is lovingly filled with dog beds, cages, medications, bandages, food and treats and lots of blankets needed for the temporary care of the greyhounds. The greyhounds showed some of their athletic abilities on a recent day when they romped in the fenced back yard. Each has a different personality.

“They give a lot more to me than I’ve ever given to them,’’ said Stoefen, a 38-year veteran of nursing care. “When I’ve had a long, stressful day in my job, they are all here waiting for me to come home.

“Dog owners are healthier. They live longer. And we have so much fun doing this.’’

Stoefen’s first greyhound, the one she thought was going to be a lab and retriever mix, saw her through uterine cancer. “She was my best buddy,’’ Stoefen said. “She just had unconditional love for me. That was when I started wanting to give back to these animals.’’

Stoefen and Cinda German, a surgical nurse at Genesis Medical Center in Silvis, Illinois, are affiliated with Central Illinois Greyhound Adoption Association, a non-profit support group that moves greyhounds from tracks and breeders in Iowa, Florida, West Virginia and New York to adoption groups in the United States and Canada. Stoefen often takes in dogs with broken legs or other injuries. She nurses them back to health and readies them for adoption.

“The most common injuries are fractures of the left, back leg. That is the leg they plant on when they are racing,’’ she explained. “But some greyhounds we get are just retiring. Either they aren’t competitive any longer or they turn five years old, which is the mandatory retirement age for greyhounds from racing.’’

Stoefen, German and Robert Fischer, who helps out Stoefen, frequently pick up and deliver dogs throughout the Midwest. The road trips, Stoefen says, are an adventure with several dogs usually moved at the same time. Along the wayy, they’ve become experts on dog-friendly hotels.

Holler, one of Stoefen’s most recent acquisitions, needed vet care on the first day she had him. She has a network of Quad-Cities veterinarians who give her discounted care because of her frequent visits and the role she plays in the dogs’ lives.

Stoefen’s experience as both a nurse and patient have made her better with her dogs. “I just have a sense about them. I’ve been told I’m the dog whisperer. Someone will tell me a dog is a problem child. I look at them and talk to them and usually can figure them out. I think this is why I’m a 20-year survivor of uterine cancer. I’m meant to be here for these animals.’’

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The Schaedig family of Shell Rock (Teri Egts Photography)

Lindsey and Chris Schaedig of Shell Rock found out that they were expecting a child on July 5, 2015 and later that same month that it was fraternal twins.

“Our girls Whitney (age 6) and Brooklyn (age 2) were born at Waverly Health Center (WHC), so it was a natural choice to want our twins to be born there as well. I really liked the comfort of the spacious rooms and that all of the equipment for delivery was cleverly disguised in the birthing suite,” stated Lindsey. “It only took a couple minutes to transform the room for delivery.”

The Schaedig’s chose Dr. Stephen Styron, WHC Women’s Clinic, to deliver because of his 34 years in obstetrics and gynecology and his extensive experience with twins.

Week 19:
Baby A – 13 ounces
Baby B – 12 ounces

Starting at 19 weeks, Lindsey had ultrasounds each month at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, High-Risk Obstetrics Care Clinic in Waterloo. Measurements were taken each time to determine their size and position.

“I knew there was a chance they could be born early, possibly with health problems. If they were born early, I’d need to go to a hospital that had a neonatal intensive-care unit. The doctors at WHC did a good job of calming my concerns. They would remind me that all my medical tests were where they needed to be, and that I had already carried two healthy babies to term.”

WHC would be able to care for the twins as long as they made it to 36 weeks (mid-February). Once that date was reached, the plan would be to induce Lindsey or perform a Caesarean (c-section) in late February.

Week 32:
Baby A – 4 pounds, 11 ounces
Baby B – 4 pounds, 7 ounces

Starting her third trimester, Lindsey also had weekly ultrasounds and non-stress tests at the birthing center at WHC. “The babies were changing positions often. I didn’t think this was possible with how big I was getting, but they found room to flip and would kick the monitor off my belly!” she continued. “We found it amazing that you could actually see their hair in the later ultrasounds! The hair showed on the pictures as little white spikes, which we thought was very cool.”

“Two weeks before my due date, Baby A flipped to a breech position. I was a little scared as this meant I would need a C-section and I had never experienced that before.”

Week 37:
Baby A – 7 pounds, 9 ounces
Baby B – 7 pounds, 5 ounces
(margin of error of 1 pound)


Blake and Carver Schaedig (Teri Egts Photography)

Lindsey had her last high-risk ultrasound on February 19 in Waterloo. One of the babies was still in the breech position. The doctor there told her that since the babies were a healthy size, she did not need to wait until 38 weeks (February 25) to deliver. On February 22, Lindsey received a phone call from Dr. Styron to let her know he had made arrangements to perform the c-section the next morning.

“Only our bosses knew that the day was moved up, so we were able to surprise our family and friends. I’m still amazed that I was able to work full-time through the entire pregnancy,” stated Lindsey.

Birth Data:
Carver Paul – 8 pounds, 2.9 ounces; 19.5 inches
Blake Christopher – 7 pounds, 6.2 ounces; 19.75 inches

“Dr. Styron was great and so sweet. After the birth, he came over and held my hand as he congratulated me on two healthy boys. I just kept squeezing his hand in relief that it went so well. I was surprised that they weighed more than the ultrasound predicted. I asked why they were so big and was told ‘they had good growing conditions.’”

“I have never delivered twins this size in 34 years of doing obstetrics,” stated Dr. Styron. “Lindsey was an ideal patient, despite it being a complicated pregnancy, the normal rapid growth of twins and being larger than a singleton pregnancy.”

“I truly appreciate all the birthing center staff that took such good care of us. Sharee, Jess, Amber and all of the nurses did a super job. They even let my kids help give the boys their first bath. My older kids had a bath night in the Jacuzzi in my room at the hospital.”

“The twins continue to grow into their own look and personalities,” Lindsey said last summer. “They like to be together and will cross arms or hold hands if they are next to each other. At four months old they weighed 15 and 14 pounds.”

The Schaedig’s are adjusting pretty well at home thanks to so many great family and friends. Whitney, Brooklyn and Owen (age 4, who the Schaedig’s adopted last year) were helping feed the twins, holding them and give lots of hugs and kisses. Nicole, (age 19 – whom the Schaedig’s fostered for nearly two years and consider their daughter), was off at college, but stopped by often to help out or take the older kids for an outing.

“We are working on potty-training Owen and Brooklyn so we currently have four kids in diapers or pull-ups,” Lindsey said “We go through about 30 per day.”

“We get asked a lot about how we handle five kids that are ages six and under. Our response is that we don’t think about it, we just do it. We have lived in a world full of chaos for many years, so the twins just blend right in. Having two newborns doesn’t seem to be as much work as it might sound like. We just do our best to take care of everyone so all needs are met at the end of the day. Most days go smoothly.”

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(From time to time, the blog features recipients of the IHA Iowa Hospital Heroes Award. These outstanding hospital employees come from across the state and work at hospitals of every size. They exemplify the courage, caring and community focus that are the hallmarks of the hospital mission in Iowa.)

berryinpatient600It’s not unusual for a doctor to be referred to as a “hero.” They save lives on a regular basis, sometimes in dramatic fashion in an emergency room, sometimes by way of monitoring chronic health conditions. Dr. Elaine Berry, a family medicine physician at the Atlantic Medical Center, is no exception. For those “routine” acts alone, Dr. Berry could easily be designated as a Hospital Hero.

But the only “routine” thing about Dr. Berry is her time in the primary care clinic where she sees patients four days a week. However, clinic time is just the tip of the iceberg in her far-reaching medical practice. She spends countless hours caring for her hospitalized patients, providing coverage in the emergency department and rounding with patients in long-term care facilities.

berrysmallDr. Berry is also quick to volunteer for leadership roles and committee work. She has actively participated in the selection and implementation of new electronic medical record systems. Dr. Berry has served as the medical director of home health care since 1990. She has served as the local hospice medical director for 26 years and in 2008 became the only physician in southwest Iowa to earn certification in hospice and palliative care.

Dr. Berry has mentored many young people interested in medicine. In 2009, she received the Volunteer Clinical Faculty Award by the Iowa Chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society. She also makes time to be a community leader, serving as Cass County coroner since 1988 and as a member of the Cass County Emergency Preparedness Team. Dr. Berry has served as medical director for local emergency medical services for 20 years, has assisted local immigrant families in their transition to living in Iowa and has participated in four medical mission trips abroad.

Dr. Berry came to the Atlantic Medical Center (now a part of Cass County Health System) as a young physician fresh out of residency training. From the beginning, she has been unwavering in her pursuit of providing compassionate, safe, intelligent care to her patients while fulfilling so many roles within our health system and community. She truly is a hero among us.

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