Category Archives: Christianity

Colored Pencil Student Magazine Summer Issue

How writing and art has helped heal my recent bout of PTSD

It continues to amaze me how much talent is out there in this great big world and how artists’ use the gifts God gave them to express their feelings through a pencil and sheet of paper.

Suddenly, a ton of scribbles becomes a masterpiece right before the artist’s eyes. It is an amazing feeling when it all comes together and you can share it with others. I know whenever I “nail” a drawing, I feel like I am tracing the hand of God.

I like to think of my writing in the same vein.  As writers we combine words to paint a picture for the people who read our written artwork. Each article I complete is a gem to me – timeless, unique and beautiful.

I have missed blogging and sharing with this community.

I haven’t been writing lately because this Winter and Spring I dealt with a strong bout of PTSD brought on by seeing pictures of ISIS burning the Jordanian man alive. Suddenly, images from my dysfunctional childhood and a 20-year military career that took me to Iraq twice just started crashing over me in waves.

I have struggled with depressive episodes for most of my life, so this just made it worse. I felt like the dude in the second Transformer movie, when he touched the piece of the rock and started seeing writing projected on all the walls around him. My eyes just kept flashing all these horrific images on repeat and wouldn’t stop. Consequently, I fell off my meds schedule and that made it worse.

Here is a little background on what I have been going through. In 2013, one month after I got my bachelor’s from Regent University, I checked myself into a mental institution — exhausted from my own mind, constant worrying and suicidal ideation.

I had thought it would be the happiest time of my life. It wasn’t. Right after graduation, I hadn’t slept for three or more days straight. After a successful 20 year career in the military, I was totally at a loss why I couldn’t get it together and deeply ashamed. It took me over a year to recover and then bam it happened again this February. I was so lost…

It wasn’t pretty but through my faith in our mighty creator, the Holy Spirit by my side, the pure love of Jesus, and the help of my family I sought help and received the proper diagnosis of PTSD….FINALLY!

I never considered I had PTSD, even though family and friends kept telling me I displayed symptoms since I came back from Iraq the first time. The VA only diagnosed me with depression from my family of origin, so I never considered anything else.

At the time I retired in 2009, military professionals still weren’t proficient in dealing with PTSD…unless the person witnessed gross carnage and death. I didn’t see that with my own eyes, but I was around death and saluted several fallen soldiers in my deployed unit. As a journalist, I don’t really need to see something to emphathize with people and I tend to take on feelings from people around me. So I internalized all my fears from operating in a war-zone twice and didn’t know how to deal with them.

During the time I was flashing back, I was fortunate to begin working for Sally Robertson, the editor of Colored Pencil Magazine via computer correspondence. While I was figuring out how to heal and deal with the VA, she was very patient and let me stick my toes in the water as the associate editor of Colored Pencil Student Magazine.

I was deeply afraid of being rejected for suffering with depression, anxiety and PTSD because it can effect your work life. But, she was kind and understanding, which allowed me to build up my self-esteem once again and get back to my old work self. I still have a little way to go but I will no longer let self-doubt continue to seep in and poison my mind against myself.

So I thank Sally and the other artists I worked with in this issue. I am sure they had no idea of the impact they were having on my life.

In the end I have learned, no anxiety pill, recovery center, person, place or thing, can cure you of pain, depression or addiction. No one can do it for you because no one else has “all” the answers “you” need. Even if some people pretend they got it all together, they don’t. We are all in the same rocking boat together. Some people are just better at hiding their pain and pulling themselves together. And, believe me I have looked hard! LOL.

However, I believe that each person and experience (even negative ones) has a small part in creating one master key to unlock your healing and help you on your way to fulfilling your personal destiny on earth.

What I learned in my last PTSD bout is each person throughout my entire life was crucial in helping me heal myself now.

One day, I hope to write a book about what I have learned and maybe it can help someone else struggling with their own issues – PTSD or otherwise. So I am putting this desire out there in the universe right now for other people to come into agreement with me.

I tentatively plan to call it: Set My Captives Free: How one PTSD war vet healed herself through love, therapy and the Bible.

Well enough about me!

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Here is a sneak peak at the summer edition of Colored Pencil Student Magazine. These people are amazing artists!

– Find out why Will Stoller doesn’t sign his artwork and instead created his own signature brand

– Fiona Rose frames her artwork inexpensively with an embroidery hoop

– Carmen Medlin and the art of ACEO’s

– Irene Marie Cortez quits a lucrative medical career to pursue her love of art

– What’s Funzie Art? Annie Nelson explains

– Ann Nichezynski uses her talent for a bigger purpose to educates people on big cats and other wild animals at the Safe Haven Rescue Zoo

– and much, much more…including information on how to enter the 2015 CP art competition (deadline Sept. 1)

Check out all these great artists at  http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/947536 and get inspired to create your own art!

Then share your artwork with the colored pencil community at Colored Pencil Magazine’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ColoredPencilMagazine?fref=ts.

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CPM and CPS are on all your fav social media sites: Pinterest, Blogger, Flickr, Deviant Art and Instagram. 

Wherever you are online, we are there. Go to our home page at www.coloredpencilmag.com and click on your favorite social media icon.

Melissa LeGates
Associate Editor
m.legates@coloredpencilmag.com
Colored Pencil Student at http://www.coloredpencilstudent.com

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me

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in feature writing. She is also the associate editor at Colored Pencil Student Magazine, as well as a colored pencil artist herself. She blogs about the exciting world of colored pencil art at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.

adoption

Adoption: The True Heroes are the children

adoption
(Upper right) Lolita, myself, my wife Julie and Mary in Riga, Latvia, throwing keys off Lock Bridge Aug. 24, 2014. Lock Bridge is special to many adoptive families, who write their names on a lock and throw the keys in the water to signify a pact has been made that the family and adopted child will stay together forever.

By Bill Sammons (as told to Melissa LeGates)

Time is running out for millions of orphans worldwide, who will age out of orphanages and foster care, and find themselves homeless. We were blessed to provide one of them with a happy ending and a forever home. It was a long journey to get here but worth every minute of heartache. This is our story.

If adoption is a roller coaster, and it is, then we completely jumped the tracks in September 2013.

For more than a year, my wife Julie and I had been trying to adopt Irada, a young teenager living in a Ukrainian orphanage.

We hosted her in our home for four weeks through a non-profit called Project 143, a program that facilitates orphan children from Latvia, Ukraine and China to visit a host’s home over the summer or winter holidays.

Project 143 runs their “Hope Program” to give children a chance to experience life in a nurturing and stable family environment. The program has a special emphasis on hosting older children, children with special needs and sibling sets because these are the ones most overlooked.

They are not an adoption agency, and not everyone who hosts a child adopts that child. That is not their end goal; however, Project 143 is a great way to get to know if a child matches your family dynamics before taking that big step into adoption.

Our first hosting experience

When we hosted Irada, we fell in love with her.

Somewhere along the line, she started calling us mom and dad, and even changed her last name on her social media sites to ours.

So we rushed forward with the paperwork to adopt her before she would age out of the system. When I put her on the plane to go back to the Ukraine, I feared I may never see her again because of all the hoops you have to jump through to adopt.

I just never dreamed it would be by her choice.

Every adoption has its trials

Then, one day out of the blue, my wife received a message that Irada had changed her mind and decided to stay with her friends in the Ukraine.

We went into grieving mode. We were also mad. And sad. And confused.

I decided my heart could not stand another loss and thought I wanted off the adoption roller coaster completely.

Learning how to dream

However, my wife was a different story. One day she saw a picture of a teen girl from Latvia waiting to be hosted through Project 143.

She told me there was just “something special” going on in Lolita’s eyes that captured her, so she forwarded her picture to me. I decided that I was willing to get back on that hamster wheel to provide this girl with a good home and shot at living a decent life protected by a family who would love and support her.

Some people ask why did we adopt a teen?

I jokingly tell them, “I am too old to adopt a baby”. But really I’m too old to adopt a baby at 57.

We purposely decided to adopt an older child because generally people do not want them. And, they still need homes and supportive parents for the rest of their lives – not just until they reach age 18.

We didn’t want or need to start from scratch again. A teen was a much better fit for our entire family, especially for our daughter Mary, who is still young. We also wanted Mary to have an older sister.

My other two sons have families and lives of their own now. They no longer need my guidance as much, but I still love having kids around.

I especially love kids who were not blessed with moms and dads, homes and sports programs, and a community support system.

I like helping kids learn that they are loved and that it is okay to love back.

Most of all, I like helping them learn how to dream!

Plan B

It’s easy to romanticize adoption, and we did to some extent. However, I assure you the romance of adoption is short-lived and real-life remains.

My wife and I have always kept in mind that adoption is not a fairy tale ending for the child. It is “Plan B” for adopted children.

It is second best for their life, and it would not be needed if Plan A had worked out with their birth parents and families.

Instead of being a fairy tale, adoption is more like an epic battle.

It is a life or death battle for the body and soul of a child. One we had never met but knew we already loved.

Combatting sex trafficking and child slavery through adoption

Adopting orphans also helps to fight a huge global problem – sex trafficking and child slavery.

These children in orphanages around the world have no options and no one to care for them or about them.

In the Ukraine, six out of 10 girls, who age out of orphanages, end up in prostitution or being trafficked. Seven out of 10 teen boys who age out enter into a life of crime just to survive.

The numbers of orphans are unfathomable

In 2010, Project 143 was established and aptly named after the estimated 143 million orphans in the world.

That number continues to grow.

Our Lolita, also called Lola, was one of them. Not anymore! She officially took our last name Nov. 19, 2014 and her adoption was final Dec. 15.

She is our happy surprise at the end of the adoption roller coaster. ­­

If I could have custom-ordered a daughter from the Sears Roebuck catalog, she would be it. She is gracious, kind and loving.

She will do great things in this world, and we look forward to celebrating her accomplishments with her as she grows into a young woman.

I adore this girl as much as I adore my Mary, my Josh and my Nick. In my heart, she is not my adopted daughter.

She is my daughter, period.

A divine tasking

The Bible is clear that we are supposed to take care of orphans (James 1:27). We are each called in different ways to accomplish that task. We opened our home but many others helped support us emotionally and financially.

Some people hear our story and treat us like heroes. But I assure you, we are not.

We are not any more special than the next guy, and to be totally honest, we winged this entire adoption thing.

We got through this difficult two-year process because we serve a mighty God. During our darkest times (and there were many), we cried out to him often. Our faith carried us through because we were not, and are not, big enough to do it on our own.

Adoptive families raise money and tell their stories on social media and blog sites, but the kids are the amazing ones.

The true heroes of the story

These kids are tough. They are survivors.

They leave their environment, friends and everything familiar to them to travel half way around the world…praying and hoping for a better life and people who truly love them. They have no guarantees.

They go to a new school. Many have to learn a new language. They have to assimilate into a new family and learn to care for people they barely know.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, simultaneously they have struggle against their own history of abandonment (and for some the aftermath of the horrors of war, abuse, dysfunction, drug use, etc.), just to get through the day…then the next day.

They are the ones we should celebrate! They are the true heroes!

For Julie and me, it was stressful but a whole lot easier mentally and spiritually. Our hearts were broken—cracked wide open—in preparation to love one of God’s little ones.

He called. We answered.

Adoption is a blessing

We have been immensely blessed throughout our epic adoption battle. We now have a second beautiful daughter whom we love and she loves us back.

Along the way, we have met people we might never have encountered otherwise. They have poured into our lives, helping us financially and emotionally, and we are all richer for it.

As much as we would like to, Julie and I cannot cure the adoption epidemic in the world. But for now, we knew we could help one child.

We are honored to call Lolita our daughter, and we will love her intensely and unconditionally as Jesus loves all of us.

If you would like to learn more about Project 143, go to http://www.projectonefortythree.org/.

me

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.

Fine artist Lisa Clough

Living with chronic pain – Artist thrives despite painful medical conditions through prayer, diet and a steady dose of painting

 

Lisa Clough (as told to Melissa LeGates)

When most people think about Christmas, they might remember the smells of cookies, pies or turkey cooking in the oven – or time off from school.

For me, I equate Christmas to having a sore throat. I had one every year of my childhood because of my compromised immune system. So I know it sounds odd but sore throats remind me of being excited to wake up and open presents.

Soreness, pain, nausea and tiredness have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. They are not exactly my friends but I have learned to deal with my chronic illnesses through my faith in God and his calling in my life.

Yes, I said illnesses. I have three that I have to keep in check to function each day, although you would never know by looking at me.

That has always been the frustrating part – convincing others I actually don’t feel well, especially doctors.

For so many years, doctors treated me like I was making things up. It doesn’t help that I talk really fast, especially when I am frustrated, so doctors always thought I looked too energetic to be sick.

My main complaints have always been nausea and fatigue. I have woken up with the feeling of being rested only about five times in my life. On top of having Celiac disease, Fibromyalgia and Ankylosing spondylitis, I also don’t retain REM sleep therefore I never really feel rested.

Here is a quick rundown of what those diseases do to me. Celiac disease is a reaction to eating gluten that damages the lining of the small intestines and presents it from absorbing parts of food important for staying healthy. So if I eat those cookies and pies, I immediately feel nauseated and end up in the bathroom. Fibromyalgia causes long-term, body-wide pain in joints, muscles and tendons. So it essentially feels like somebody is stabbing me in my side or legs some days. Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of long-term arthritis that affects the bones and joints at the base of the spine and over time the spinal bones fuse together. This is the reason why I cannot sleep with a pillow, and I really miss them. I cannot stretch like a normal person can when they wake up, because sometimes the muscles around my rib cage will tighten to the point where every breath is agony. And REM sleep, oh how I would love to get some. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, is a stage of sleep occupying only about 90 – 120 minutes total of a night’s rest but without it people often feel drowsy the next day, which is my case every day.

However, it hasn’t been all bad. My sicknesses have afforded me plenty of time to stay inside and get better at what God has designed me to do – create.

I am blessed to make a living as a professional fine artist. I paint. I draw. I play violin. And if I have any energy left, I love taking on new hobbies like quilting, crocheting or working with mosaics and glass.

So I don’t really have a lot of time to feel sorry for myself.

Even as a child, I never blamed God for feeling so sick. While all the other children were outside playing, I was safely tucked away in my bed drawing or coloring. I have the best mom in the world, and she would bring me hot tea to cheer me up and make me feel better.

Those years struggling to find out what was wrong with me set the foundation for my craft. Although God designed me to be an artist, I don’t think it is some sort of magic and Poof, He made me instantly great. I have had to work really hard at perfecting my craft the same way a doctor learns the skills they need to cure others.

It also helps that painting for me is a type of prayer. When I create, I feel closer to God than almost any other time. If I go long without painting, I start to feel disconnected and depressed. It’s not just that I like to paint, I have to paint and create. There is a force driving that need in me. I can only assume it is His will pushing me, and I’m grateful for that.

So I paint whales, flowers, stars and planets, and anything else that pops into my mind. I love animals; they inspire a sense of awe and wonder in me. I like taking God’s creations and placing them in settings that don’t normally exist together. For me, it is like creating a new world inside our world.

So no, I don’t feel sorry for myself despite my pain. The knowledge that God is in control and that everything happens for a reason keeps me positive. Even now, I hear from others who have physical afflictions, who tell me how encouraged they are after hearing my story. If that alone is God’s reasoning, then it’s all worth it.

Plus, I don’t have it that bad. I have a roof over my head, a husband and family who loves me, art supplies and internet access to share my work. God also blessed me with an inquisitive mind and through internet-research I learned eating raw foods or embracing a vegan diet diminished my symptoms greatly. So now my health is in my own hands. If I feel poorly from eating like crap, I am the only one to blame.

I figure, worst case scenario, if I never feel totally well while I’m here or Earth, then Heaven is going to feel that much more amazing to me. Not only will I be able to worship non-stop, it will be pain free!

That is a pretty exciting thought for me!

Native Californian Lisa Clough is a self-taught fine artist who lives in Frisco, Texas with her husband Matt and two Italian Greyhounds. You can check out her artwork at www.lachri.com and watch her speed lapse painting videos where she invites you into her studio every Wednesday to learn painting tips at www.youtube.com/user/lachri. She also loves teaching art classes around Texas and offers online student consolation. “I feel when we are blessed with a gift and called to perform for Him, we should be working harder than secular artists to represent Him in the best way possible and grow our gift,” Lisa said.

Cancer patient’s daughter saves Seaford doctor’s life

Article published in Seaford Star April 2011
Article published in Seaford Star April 2011

The odds of this happening is like winning Powerball six weeks in a row

By Melissa LeGates

Although Sheryl Magathan of Frankford and Dr. Burton Aronoff of Seaford are some 30 years apart in age, they sometimes introduce themselves as identical twins.

The “soul” siblings are a medical marvel in the kidney donation arena.

Through his practice, Delaware Digestive Disease Associates, Aronoff was used to creating medical miracles for others.

However, when the gastroenterologist and gastrointestinal tract cancer specialist found himself in need of a life-saving miracle, he couldn’t muster up the faith to see past his own terminal diagnosis.

He had developed a fatalistic attitude, closed his practice, resigned himself to enjoy the little time he had left on earth and was on his way to buy a bright, red convertible.

That was until Magathan and her mother bumped into Aronoff in Hardees in Georgetown.

Aronoff had treated Magathan’s mother, Diana, for a rare type of Carcinoid cancer in her stomach called the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and hadn’t seen either woman since he shut the doors on his practice in August 2008.

Magathan’s mother was in remission but it had been a slippery slope for more than a decade.

“When I found out Dr. Aronoff was out of practice, my hope for my mother went out the window,” said Magathan about her mom’s future health.

At the time, Magathan was just another face to Aronoff in a sea of patients and supporting family members, but the doctor was a beacon of hope to the young woman now 28 but just 15 when her mother was diagnosed.

When Magathan and her mom saw him that day at Hardees, they were happy to run into him.

However, he wasn’t the same optimistic man who told the mother of five children to fight and never accept the recommendation of other doctors who dispensed death sentences in days or months.

Battling despair

Something was missing in his face. Magathan was despaired to see he had no hope.

She could tell he had accepted the same death sentence that he told his patients to fight. That day he shared with the mother and daughter that his kidneys were failing.

He had lived with diabetes for 34, but had developed Antiphospholipid syndrome, a disorder where a person’s immune system mistakenly produces antibodies against certain normal proteins in their blood.

With the addition of the syndrome, he was dependent on a dialysis machine to filter the toxins out of his body for six hours a day, three days a week.

The complicated process was depleting his body and will to live.

When Magathan heard the news, she was shocked but still hopeful.

As a lifelong, devout Christian, she believed in divine intervention.

Instead of caving into the fear surrounding both her mother and Aronoff’s diseases, she thought to herself, “could this be my answer to prayer?”

She had seen countless miracles occur in her mother’s treatment, who had originally been given a 3-month death sentence by other physicians.

Aronoff helped her when no one else would, and 13 years later she felt blessed to still have her around.

Blessing others

For the last two years prior to running into Aronoff, she had been praying and asking God to use her to bless someone else.

So where Aronoff could only see medical complication upon complication, Magathan saw the beginnings of God’s promise and will.

She knew in her soul that God wanted her to bless this man.

The three sat down to share a meal together. Within minutes, she asked him if she could donate one of her kidneys to him.

“My first thoughts were that is a nice gesture but she doesn’t know what she is getting into,” said Aronoff.

As a doctor and man of science, Aronoff implicitly understood the slim statistics surrounding successful donor operations.

Several of his friends had stepped forward and asked to be donors, but didn’t make it through the screening process.

So what were the odds that this young woman, who had no genetic link to him, would be a match?

However, Magathan wouldn’t be deterred.

Throughout the year-long process, she kept reassuring him she would be the one to donate her kidney to him.

“If we hadn’t been a match, I would have still donated my kidney because it would have placed him higher on the donor list,” she said.

However, the wait list to receive a kidney donation from a deceased donor is about seven years, according to Aronoff.

He knew he didn’t have seven years to live with his current kidneys.

Against all odds, the two received the incredulous news.

Sheryl’s kidney was a 6-point match, which is extremely rare because many biological parents and siblings are only a 3-point match and still can’t donate to each other.

For a 3-point match, Aronoff said the average person is expected to live with a donor kidney for 10 to 11 years but for a 6-point match the odds increase to 20 years.

The two were ecstatic.

Meet your twin

Aronoff’s doctor told him, “Burt, you have found the proverbial needle in the haystack.

The only way you could have gotten a better match is if you had been identical twins.”

The long-time fellow of the American Board of Gastroenterology was bowled over backwards at the news.

“The odds of this happening is like winning the Powerball lottery six weeks in a row,” Aronoff said.

Still something seemed off, and Magathan sensed it as well.

Several weeks before the surgery, Magathan made Aronoff promise her he wouldn’t die on the operating room table.

The off-hand comment stuck with him, as he began to have weird unexplained symptoms. He sought medical care and was told the symptoms were “all in his head.”

He knew his body better than that and sought another opinion.

Listen to your heart

It turned out it wasn’t in his head; it was his heart.

He had a condition nicknamed the widow maker where the blood in his left ventricular was severely reduced.

Once diagnosed, he was rushed in for an immediate quadruple bypass surgery.

The recovery delayed the kidney surgery another excruciating four months.

In July 2010, the two headed up to New York-Presbyterian Hospital to the Rogosin Institute, and the surgery went off without a hitch.

A year later, both Aronoff and Magathan kidneys are back up to full function.

The surgery was uncomfortable and taxing on both their bodies.

Magathan still finds it uncomfortable to sleep on the side where her kidney was removed.

However, she believes the temporary discomfort has been a small price to pay. She can live with only one kidney and still have a full life.

Within three to six months, the remaining kidney started compensating for the other. Aronoff now has three kidneys.

Surgeons didn’t take out the bad kidneys. Instead, they installed Magathan’s donated kidney in front of his belly.

The avid gardener can’t pull his belt too tightly anymore, so it is a daily reminder of what is important in life.

“When you dealt with life and death, and death was the most likely outcome, petty annoyances don’t mean a thing,” Aronoff said.

What does matter is doing what he loves best – providing patients with hope and comfort.

For him, every day is a puzzle in the inner workings of the human body and every person’s diagnosis and recovery provides a new challenge.

Giving back

Aronoff re-opened his practice this February at 904 Middleford Road in Seaford. A plaque with Sheryl’s picture hangs in the lobby.

It reads, “If you appreciate the medical care you received today thank my kidney donor Sheryl Magathan who made it possible.”

Aronoff’s recovery happened just in the nick of time, as Magathan’s mother once again faced feelings of helplessness when her pain relapsed.

Only a short half a year after the soul sibling’s surgery, Magathan’s mother had lost hope. She was tired of almost 15 years of fighting.

Once again, Aronoff was by her side saying “no, no, no…we can do something about this pain. Don’t stop fighting!”

After all, the two now shared common blood – a young woman who wouldn’t give up on either of them.

Aronoff and Magathan kidnapped her mother and took her to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The hospital checked her out and prescribed a new medicine for her that actually worked.

Aronoff said the results where miraculous within one month the pain was gone and within two months there was no evidence of the disease.

The senior Magathan had once again escaped death with her faithful doctor and daughter at her side.

Beating a death sentence to find faith

Magathan had restored Aronoff’s hope, and he was ready once again to pass it on to his patients.

“There is no such thing as a death sentence,” Aronoff said. “I get riled up when doctors say a person has ‘X’ amount of time to live. Frankly, they make me look good.”

Besides a new lease on life, Aronoff also received another gift from Magathan.

By observing Magathan’s faith first hand, the man of science now believes there is a higher power at work in the world.

Now the friends both attend Bay Shore Community Church in Gumboro each Sunday.

“The Bible talks a lot about God’s timing. I probably only eat at that Hardees about every five years when I buy a new vehicle,” Aronoff said.

If he hadn’t bought the little red sports car, he wouldn’t have run into Magathan and listened to a seemingly impossible idea that saved his life.

“It is improbable that I survived this surgery, improbable that I am doing this well and improbable that I am back in practice,” Aronoff said. “When you see someone acting on the word of God, never disagree with God.”

Melissa LeGates freelance writer
Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.

Cancer patient’s daughter saves Seaford doctor’s life April 2011

Article published in Seaford Star April 2011
Article published in Seaford Star April 2011

The odds of this happening is like winning Powerball six weeks in a row

By Melissa LeGates

Although Sheryl Magathan of Frankford and Dr. Burton Aronoff of Seaford are some 30 years apart in age, they sometimes introduce themselves as identical twins. The “soul” siblings are a medical marvel in the kidney donation arena.

Through his practice, Delaware Digestive Disease Associates, Aronoff was used to creating medical miracles for others. However, when the gastroenterologist and gastrointestinal tract cancer specialist found himself in need of a life-saving miracle, he couldn’t muster up the faith to see past his own terminal diagnosis.

He had developed a fatalistic attitude, closed his practice, resigned himself to enjoy the little time he had left on earth and was on his way to buy a bright, red convertible.

That was until Magathan and her mother bumped into Aronoff in Hardees in Georgetown. Aronoff had treated Magathan’s mother, Diana, for a rare type of Carcinoid cancer in her stomach called the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and hadn’t seen either woman since he shut the doors on his practice in August 2008.

Magathan’s mother was in remission but it had been a slippery slope for more than a decade.

“When I found out Dr. Aronoff was out of practice, my hope for my mother went out the window,” said Magathan about her mom’s future health.

At the time, Magathan was just another face to Aronoff in a sea of patients and supporting family members, but the doctor was a beacon of hope to the young woman now 28 but just 15 when her mother was diagnosed.

When Magathan and her mom saw him that day at Hardees, they were happy to run into him. However, he wasn’t the same optimistic man who told the mother of five children to fight and never accept the recommendation of other doctors who dispensed death sentences in days or months.

Battling despair

Something was missing in his face. Magathan was despaired to see he had no hope. She could tell he had accepted the same death sentence that he told his patients to fight.

That day he shared with the mother and daughter that his kidneys were failing. He had lived with diabetes for 34 years, but had developed Antiphospholipid syndrome, a disorder where a person’s immune system mistakenly produces antibodies against certain normal proteins in their blood. With the addition of the syndrome, he was dependent on a dialysis machine to filter the toxins out of his body for six hours a day, three days a week. The complicated process was depleting his body and will to live.

When Magathan heard the news, she was shocked but still hopeful. As a lifelong, devout Christian, she believed in divine intervention. Instead of caving into the fear surrounding both her mother and Aronoff’s diseases, she thought to herself, “could this be my answer to prayer?” She had seen countless miracles occur in her mother’s treatment, who had originally been given a 3-month death sentence by other physicians. Aronoff helped her when no one else would, and 13 years later she felt blessed to still have her around.

Blessing others

For the last two years prior to running into Aronoff, she had been praying and asking God to use her to bless someone else. So where Aronoff could only see medical complication upon complication, Magathan saw the beginnings of God’s promise and will. She knew in her soul that God wanted her to bless this man.

The three sat down to share a meal together. Within minutes, she asked him if she could donate one of her kidneys to him. “My first thoughts were that is a nice gesture but she doesn’t know what she is getting into,” said Aronoff.

As a doctor and man of science, Aronoff implicitly understood the slim statistics surrounding successful donor operations. Several of his friends had stepped forward and asked to be donors, but didn’t make it through the screening process. So what were the odds that this young woman, who had no genetic link to him, would be a match?

However, Magathan wouldn’t be deterred. Throughout the year-long process, she kept reassuring him she would be the one to donate her kidney to him.

“If we hadn’t been a match, I would have still donated my kidney because it would have placed him higher on the donor list,” she said. However, the wait list to receive a kidney donation from a deceased donor is about seven years, according to Aronoff. He knew he didn’t have seven years to live with his current kidneys. Against all odds, the two received the incredulous news. Sheryl’s kidney was a 6-point match, which is extremely rare because many biological parents and siblings are only a 3-point match and still can’t donate to each other.

For a 3-point match, Aronoff said the average person is expected to live with a donor kidney for 10 to 11 years but for a 6-point match the odds increase to 20 years. The two were ecstatic.

Meet your twin

Aronoff’s doctor told him, “Burt, you have found the proverbial needle in the haystack. The only way you could have gotten a better match is if you had been identical twins.”

The long-time fellow of the American Board of Gastroenterology was bowled over backwards at the news. “The odds of this happening is like winning the Powerball lottery six weeks in a row,” Aronoff said.

Still something seemed off, and Magathan sensed it as well. Several weeks before the surgery, Magathan made Aronoff promise her he wouldn’t die on the operating room table.

The off-hand comment stuck with him, as he began to have weird unexplained symptoms. He sought medical care and was told the symptoms were “all in his head.” He knew his body better than that and sought another opinion.

Listen to your heart

It turned out it wasn’t in his head; it was his heart. He had a condition nicknamed the widow maker where the blood in his left ventricular was severely reduced.

Once diagnosed, he was rushed in for an immediate quadruple bypass surgery. The recovery delayed the kidney surgery another excruciating four months.

In July 2010, the two headed up to New York-Presbyterian Hospital to the Rogosin Institute, and the surgery went off without a hitch. A year later, both Aronoff and Magathan kidneys are back up to full function.

The surgery was uncomfortable and taxing on both their bodies. Magathan still finds it uncomfortable to sleep on the side where her kidney was removed. However, she believes the temporary discomfort has been a small price to pay.

She can live with only one kidney and still have a full life. Within three to six months, the remaining kidney started compensating for the other. Aronoff now has three kidneys. Surgeons didn’t take out the bad kidneys. Instead, they installed Magathan’s donated kidney in front of his belly. The avid gardener can’t pull his belt too tightly anymore, so it is a daily reminder of what is important in life.

“When you dealt with life and death, and death was the most likely outcome, petty annoyances don’t mean a thing,” Aronoff said.

What does matter is doing what he loves best – providing patients with hope and comfort. For him, every day is a puzzle in the inner workings of the human body and every person’s diagnosis and recovery provides a new challenge.

Giving back

Aronoff re-opened his practice this February at 904 Middleford Road in Seaford. A plaque with Sheryl’s picture hangs in the lobby. It reads, “If you appreciate the medical care you received today thank my kidney donor Sheryl Magathan who made it possible.”

Aronoff’s recovery happened just in the nick of time, as Magathan’s mother once again faced feelings of helplessness when her pain relapsed. Only a short half a year after the soul sibling’s surgery, Magathan’s mother had lost hope. She was tired of almost 15 years of fighting.

Once again, Aronoff was by her side saying “no, no, no we can do something about this pain. Don’t stop fighting!”

After all, the two now shared common blood – a young woman who wouldn’t give up on either of them. Aronoff and Magathan kidnapped her mother and took her to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The hospital checked her out and prescribed a new medicine for her that actually worked. Aronoff said the results where miraculous within one month the pain was gone and within two months there was no evidence of the disease.

The senior Magathan had once again escaped death with her faithful doctor and daughter at her side.

Beating a death sentence to find faith

Magathan had restored Aronoff’s hope, and he was ready once again to pass it on to his patients. “There is no such thing as a death sentence,” Aronoff said. “I get riled up when doctors say a person has ‘X’ amount of time to live. Frankly, they make me look good.”

Besides a new lease on life, Aronoff also received another gift from Magathan. By observing Magathan’s faith first hand, the man of science now believes there is a higher power at work in the world. Now the friends both attend Bay Shore Community Church in Gumboro each Sunday.

“The Bible talks a lot about God’s timing. I probably only eat at that Hardees about every five years when I buy a new vehicle,” Aronoff said.

If he hadn’t bought the little red sports car, he wouldn’t have run into Magathan and listened to a seemingly impossible idea that saved his life.

“It is improbable that I survived this surgery, improbable that I am doing this well and improbable that I am back in practice,” Aronoff said. “When you see someone acting on the word of God, never disagree with God.”

Melissa LeGates freelance writer
Melissa LeGates freelance writer

Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com/. You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at 1-541-995-0015 or e-mail malegates@gmail.com.

Christian Motorcyclists Association, BSCC feed the homeless in Salisbury, Md.

Sandy McGhee from the Christian Motorcyclists Association and member of Bayshore Community Church in Gumboro, Del. volunteers with other association and church members to feed the homeless in Salisbury, Md.
Sandy McGhee from the Christian Motorcyclists Association and member of Bayshore Community Church in Gumboro, Del. volunteers with other association and church members to feed the homeless in Salisbury, Md.

Article about a great Christian woman and friend and the two worthy causes she volunteers for in her spare time. Published in Delaware State News Feb 5, 2009.