Category Archives: Overcoming adversity

Seeking closure one year after 9/11

When Tech. Sgt. Keith Winchell’s mother told him she was worried about him deploying here to a war zone, he responded with a shrug of his shoulders and in a heavy New York accent he said, “Ma, I work in the Bronx. I get bottles thrown at me from rooftops. I’ll be fine over there.”

Winchell’s full-time job is protecting the streets as a New York City patrolman in the 50th Precinct. His part-time job is as a fireman at the 105th Civil Engineering Squadron, Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y.

He does not remember sleeping during the first three days after the planes hit the World Trade Center, and he still has a hard time sleeping more than four hours at any given time.
Images race through his mind like seeing a fire truck pounded into a 1-foot deep chunk of twisted metal and picking photos of couples out of the rubble at Ground Zero and knowing that one of the people smiling up at him was probably dead.

However, the worst is knowing 343 firefighters and 23 police officers died, two from his precinct.

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Tech. Sgt. Keith Winchell, a firefighter from the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, ties the flag to a fire truck in preparation for the base’s Patriot Day ceremony Sept. 10, 2002. Winchell spoke at the event, and shared stories about the destruction he personally witnessed at Ground Zero and the fellow coworkers he lost to the tragedy.

A year later, he is still searching for ways to deal with the pain of Sept. 11, 2001.

For him, pulling a tour of duty in Southwest Asia for Operation Enduring Freedom helps.

“It’s funny because many Americans want to see Ground Zero for closure,” said Winchell. “Cops and fireman who were on scene want to come here.”

His orders state he will be here 24 days, a number which annoys him.

One of his coworkers said he would volunteer to do dishes just to stay here longer.

Winchell says he would also roll up his sleeves right beside him, if given the opportunity.

Winchell said a tour here is one way for him and many others to take back power from the terrorists.

“I’ve seen the devastation at Ground Zero,” he said. “I had to carry caskets of some of my friends. You realize something has to be done or it will happen again if we don’t.”

The 23-year veteran said sometimes he sees people around base who don’t believe that they personally matter to fighting the war on terrorism. He disagrees.

“We are fighting terrorism from here,” Winchell said. “The tankers refuel the aircraft that go to the front lines, and they can’t do their mission without all of us. It takes the guys turning wrenches on the planes to the guys making our tents comfortable.

“Everyone can’t be the star of the team; you’ve got to have support people as well,” he said. “I can’t be the Special Forces unit smoking the enemy out of their holes, and I may be here for a short time, but I can help out.”

A year ago, he spent four days at Ground Zero on leave without pay to help clear the endless tons of rubble in the hopes of helping someone.

The destruction he saw there still haunts him.

“I stepped through a window in a building into another world,” Winchell said. “There were fires burning in different spots. You would be crawling around and under steel beams… scrapping in the dirt with your hands trying to find survivors because there weren’t enough tools.”

Whenever he feels his resolve slip, he remembers the stories of the people’s lives who were affected by the tragedy.

Stories like the one about Stephen Driscoll, a 38-year-old officer assigned to Winchell’s precinct who was buried alive under tons of rubble trying to rescue victims after the planes hit the Twin Towers.

One story starts with Driscoll and his partner driving by a post office in an emergency vehicle, when he spotted a flag that was wrapped around the flagpole. Driscoll stopped, took out a ladder and unfurled the flag. Then he went inside and told them he would be back again if he saw the flag wasn’t waving freely.

Described by Winchell as one of the most patriotic American citizen he ever met, Driscoll was survived by his wife, Ann, and their 15-year-old son, Barry.

It’s a true account that makes Winchell laugh, not just a small chuckle but a deep belly laugh.

The father of two children, Kaitlin, 13, and Ian, 11, he believes laughter is the best medicine.

“You have to find the humor in it,” Winchell said. “Some guys here are miserable. You have to find ways to cope and entertain yourself.”

At first glance, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Retzlaff, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron chief of maintenance, seems like he has coping with 9/11 down pat. A three-time grandfather, he’s the epitome of a fun loving, “look on the bright side of life”-type of guy.

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Chief Master Sgt. Michael Retzlaff, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, pauses for a moment as he remembers the destruction he saw at Ground Zero at the base’s Patriot Day ceremony Sept. 10. Tech. Sgt. Keith Winchell, 380 ECES, (pictured to his right) also helped clear rubble at Ground Zero and spoke at the ceremony. Both men volunteered to do a tour here to gain closure of the events of 9/11 and snuff out terrorism.

Some might argue that can’t be too hard for Retzlaff, when he pulls his monthly reserve duty at the 624th Civil Engineering Squadron, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

However, his military assignments haven’t always been so comfy.

He spent three years active duty in the Marines where he served three tours in Vietnam, and five years active duty in the Air Force with one tour in Vietnam. He fought in both Desert Shield and Storm, and most recently he served at Ground Zero trying to rescue thousands of noncombatants.

“I’ve seen my fair share of death and destruction. I never expected to see someone take the fight to our sovereign soil,” Retzlaff said.

The father of four (Michael, 32, Carla, 30, Keo, 17, Darak, 18) and husband to Shari has given more than enough to his country over his 34 years and 8 months of military service.

But he needed to do one more tour of duty here.

It’s still hard for him to talk about Ground Zero, but he takes comfort in being around others and talking to the lord.

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After a Patriot Day ceremony held for the members of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Sept. 10, 2002, more than 200 base personnel formed a line and waited more than a half an hour in the blistering, 100-degree sun to sign a memorial board dedicated to the 9/11 victims. The sign is engraved with the words, “380 AEW remembers those slain 9/11/01” on the top and “Let’s Roll” on the bottom.

Both men are quick to point out closure won’t come until those who are responsible are brought to justice.

“The terrorists are criminals not soldiers,” said Winchell. “They just killed more than an average criminal does. They committed the crime, so we have to go after them.”

Article and photos by Melissa LeGates (under my former name Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs)

– Originally published in the Sand Script, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, newsletter Sept. 15, 2002

– Reprinted on Air Force Print News Sept. 18, 2002

– Reprinted on Department of Defense News about the War on Terrorism page Dec. 31, 2003.


me   Melissa LeGates is a professional writer and retired Air Force journalist. She specializes in long-form feature writing and loves to write about living a victorious Christian life, art and health. She and her husband live in Delaware. In her free time, she is a student of colored pencil, watercolor, acrylics and oils.

Melissa is an avid blogger and currently maintains three sites:

– Read excerpts and follow my progress writing my first book “Set My Captives Free” at https://setmycaptivesfree.wordpress.com

– Read published clips from my professional portfolio at https://melissalegates.wordpress.com

– Read about the world of colored pencil art and artists at http://coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.

You can contact Melissa at malegates@gmail.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.

my husband and I

His and her story: Surviving heart disease, getting a second chance at life

By Chris and Melissa LeGates

His story:  Support the AMA. You may need them someday; I did at 48

I am two years shy of 50. So when I experienced shooting pains going through my arms while watching television this July 4, I thought it would pass.

Then all the sudden, it literally felt like an elephant jumped on my chest. I could barely breathe, and I told my wife to take me to the hospital.

I know – bad idea! I already got the lecture at the hospital from the nurses: always call for an ambulance. So why didn’t I?

Well the short answer is I never suspected I was having a heart attack.

Abnormal symptoms

For the past year, doctors had been trying to find the origin of those shooting pains, especially in my elbows. Three different doctors had diagnosed me with pinched nerves and essentially told me there was nothing I could do except take medicine to ease the inflammation or get surgery. I didn’t want to get surgery so I just put up with the pain.

My blood pressure was good and my cholesterol was low.

Other than smoking (and eating crappy food as my wife liked to point out often), I was healthy as an ox – or so I thought.

Unimaginable pain

On the way to the hospital, the pain got worse. I kept chanting over and over again, “Please just let me get to the hospital. Don’t let me die.”

I couldn’t even walk into the ER. I collapsed on the sidewalk outside, and I literally couldn’t move my arms and legs.

My wife ran inside, and nurses came out to wheel me in to the ER.

From there, it felt like an eternity until they gave me something to relieve the pain. In reality, it was probably about a half an hour of pure torture waiting for test results.

Initially, they told us there was an abnormality on the EKG but they didn’t think I was having a heart attack.

Then they gave me morphine, and I was half in and out of consciousness. I just kept saying “Thank you. Thank you”. I was just happy to get rid of that pain.

Then about an hour later, they came back in and said the test showed blood markers for a heart attack, and they were calling in the cardio cath lab to open me up and check for a blockage.

My wife says I signed paperwork and verbally gave them permission to do surgery, but I honestly don’t remember any of it.

I woke up in a hospital bed the next morning without my clothes and my wife…wondering what the heck had happened. I had no idea I even had an operation until the nurse told me.

The next two days were scary.

Surviving a widow maker heart attack

I had experienced a widow maker heart attack, which means the largest valve in my heart was completely blocked. They say most people don’t survive a widow maker, hence the nickname.

That is sobering to know that if I hadn’t made it to the hospital when I did I would be dead.

The next day I was told my heart was only operating at 30 percent of its strength. I didn’t like hearing that.

I’m too young! This cannot be happening

I cannot say I never thought about this day coming. I think every smoker does in the back of their mind, but I did not think I would have to deal with health stuff like this until at least 20 years from now.

I have smoked ever since I was 16. Through the years, I would tell myself I had time to quit smoking and repair my body before I got old.

I even watched my step-father die from smoke-related cancer and environmental poisoning in his 50s.

It devastated my mother.

When he was dying in the hospital, he begged me to stop smoking but of course I didn’t.

Smoking was cool.

It was what my friends and many of my family members were doing in the 1980s. It is what my co-workers and I did to release stress at break time every day since then.

All three of my children still smoke. We have had many of conversations over the lite end of a cigarette that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Smoking is a low key way to bond with people and that is probably the hardest benefit to lose.

However, I am a Christian. I knew God didn’t want me to smoke, and I was slowly tearing down the temple He built. I was ashamed of my smoking but it still didn’t stop me from doing it.

I even quit for months at a time but I just never quite succeeded until the day of my heart attack.

A simple choice: Quite or Die?

The day after my emergency surgery the cardio doctor came in to visit me. He looked me and said, “Do you plan to quit smoking?” I said “yes” but I’m sure he has heard many patients say the same thing and not quit.

He replied, “Good. Because you can either quit smoking and live, or keep smoking and die. The choice is yours.”

I wish I could say I quit for God, my wife, kids or some other noble cause but I didn’t.

It was the pain.

Words don’t do it justice; I never want to go through that kind of pain again.

If I can change so can you!

It was time to make some serious changes in my life. Now, I am one of those annoying people that lecture others about smoking if they give me a half a chance.

My grandfather had a heart attack in his 50s and my uncle in his 40s. My dad is a survivor of heart disease as well.

After my grandfather had a heart attack, he became kind of a health fanatic. He watched what he ate and used to walk religiously to keep in shape. He lived another fifty years after his heart attack.

So I knew it could be done.

I feel great!

I currently feel better than I ever have in my life. People don’t believe me when I tell them I had a heart attack this summer.

I credit that to God bringing me through and the care from the nursing staff and the cardio rehab folks at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

I was lucky, and I know it. Many people don’t get a second chance.

About 2,150 Americans die each day from these diseases, one every 40 seconds. Each one of those people had family and friends mourning them. That is a lot of unnecessary grief.

Here are a few more facts. Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans…# 1 killer.

More than 787,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in 2010. That’s about one of every three deaths in America.

If I had to do it differently, I would have never picked up that first cigarette 30 some years ago but no one can turn back time.

What I can do is never pick up another cigarette again.

I pray my three children stop smoking now! I pray that my grandchildren never start! I pray that my friends and family kick the habit!

Support me: Please donate

And, I can support the American Heart Association.

That’s why two Saturdays from now (Oct. 18), I am walking for the AMA Southern Delaware Heart Walk in Georgetown.

So please consider donating money to my AMA page at http://bit.ly/1nYFmj6.

The American Heart Association provides people with information, inspiration, recipes and the latest research. You can check them out at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/.

Don’t become a statistic! Donate to AMA and choose life!

Her story:  Support heart disease survivors even if you want to strangle them

When my husband asked me to walk for the American Heart Association this October, I looked at him like he sprouted a third eye and jokingly said “who took over your body and where did you hide my husband?”

In many ways, it has felt like I’m married to another man than the one that had a heart attack this July 4th.

Actually this new and improved man is the one I thought I was marrying when we met on a dating web site years ago.

One of my chief criteria in a mate was absolutely no smoking.  My dad smoked in the house when I was growing up, and I hated it.

I vowed to never marry a smoker, and Chris reassured me he didn’t smoke anymore.

Big tobacco companies are the only ones who benefit from cigarettes and they are laughing all the way to the bank

We married in early November 2009. By late November, we faced a stressful family crisis and he resumed smoking.

I was livid but what could I do.

As a non-smoking spouse, you always feel like your significant other cares more about puffing up that expensive pack of cigarettes than they do you. The smoker, of course, doesn’t see it that way and feels you should support them no matter what.

It is a no win situation.

The only one who actually wins in the nicotine racket is the huge companies pushing cigarettes.

What other business can get their customers addicted, turn their teeth yellow until they fall out, and still people willing line up to pay them over a $100 to $200 a month for a product that ultimately maims or kills them?

It is called addiction; it is just a legal form of it.

We argued about his smoking often over the years but I finally gave up. I realized nagging him wouldn’t stop him so I turned my anger and concerns over to God. It wasn’t easy.

I also continued to pray and petition God for him to be released from this horrible cycle.

Almost widowed at 44

In the back of my mind, I feared I would be a widow by 50 because of his poor health choices. For some reason, I just carried those negative premonitions with me even though I know many smokers live into their 70s and 80s.

Ironically, my husband had bought Rick Warren’s new cookbook and Christian prayer guide called “The Daniel Plan” — on his own without my nagging or urging — a month earlier. He also got really interested in researching the Mediterrean diet.

I was ecstatic. My prayers were being answered, and we were all set to get healthy.

We had even outlined a specific timeline for him to quit smoking, for us to start this new lifestyle diet together and for both of us to start exercising more.

Then Boom out of nowhere I find myself watching my husband literally have a heart attack in front of me on a hospital bed in the Seaford ER.

I suspected on to the way to the hospital he was having a heart attack but we are so young it was hard to believe death was knocking at our door.

Sponge bath at 40

Two days later, we hit another milestone in our marriage, when I gave him a wet wipe “sponge” bath in his hospital room – and not the sexy kind either.

It was sobering to realize my husband was so weak, he couldn’t even bathe himself.

That is something most women don’t have to even think about until their 60s or later. We were in our 40s.

Both of us worried what else was in store for us?

At that point, he didn’t even know if he could work again – let alone ride a bike, run after our grandsons or travel around the world like we dreamed about.

Luckily for us, God still has more for him to do on this earth, and he has fully recovered.

He will have to take six different types of medicine for the rest of his life and carry nitroglycerin with him wherever he goes. But he is fine for now.

Halleluiah!

But for a few long hours that first night, I really didn’t know if he would die all alone on a cold, steel operating table or recover from this.

It is a horrible, numbing feeling and in the back of your mind lurks unexpressed anger.

Yes, I said anger.

My husband did this to himself. How could he be so selfish?

And the worst part is as a family member you aren’t even allowed to be outwardly angry because your loved one is in pain.  And, you are supposed to be nice to people in pain.

So instead I smiled, hugged him, kissed him but inside I just wanted to “lovingly” wack him a good one.

If I wasn’t so afraid it would stop his heart, I might have done it.

We aren’t helpless against heart disease

I know I am not the only one in this position so I wanted to tell my story to reassure men and women who love a smoker, there is hope!

I believe the most powerful thing you can do is to pray for those smokers in your life and just love on them.

Most smokers I have met don’t want to smoke (if they truly admit it) but feel powerless to stop (which they will never admit to anyone even themselves).

I also try to remember smoking isn’t the only risk factor for heart disease.

So is being over-weight, and I have struggled with yo-yo weight loss and gain all my life. I’m currently on the gain side.

I have never met a cupcake I don’t like.

So I know excessive sugar intake is another key factor in creating heart inflammation, as well as eating crappy, high cholesterol food.

It starts with you

In the end, the only thing you really can do is change your lifestyle and hope it rubs off on others.

Personally, we have completely eradicated soda from our house, although we drink it as a treat when we are out. Unfortunately, we still crave it; I pray those cravings go away someday.

Instead at home, we drink reduced-sugar iced tea and water.

Now I realize that is a crime in Sussex County where super-syrupy sweet tea (usually one to two cups of sugar per gallon) rules the day and pretzel salad is considered a side dish on the par with broccoli and green beans.

Just try arguing with a Sussex Countian that pretzel salad is in fact a dessert, and you will have a cat fight on your hands.

You may have figured out I’m an out-a-stater infiltrating the ranks and married to one of the few native Delawareans left. I get knocked around enough for being a PA’er so it is time for a little ribbing back.

I used to make iced tea for our family with a cup of sugar per gallon (which BTW is the recommended sugar ratio for sweet tea recipes), and when my eldest step-daughter tasted it, she literally spit it out and exclaimed there was barely any sugar in it. Then she stirred in even more sugar before drinking it.

Once again I repeat, it had an entire cup of sugar per gallon. That’s a lot.

So reducing down to two thirds a cup of the sweet stuff per gallon is a big deal for my husband!

We are slowly changing our diet for the better and believe in moderation in everything we do.

And, we don’t put any foods off limit. We still eat bacon occasionally but we eat more fish and have cut out or reduced most white food stuff (primarily white sugar, potatoes and bread).

Now we are eating brown: wheat bread and brown rice. We also try to eat fresh and shop from the produce aisle.

What we have learned

I know this sounds weird but his heart attack has been one of the best things that has happened to us as a couple. We are more in tune with each other. We are kinder to each other.

We both better appreciate the value and fragility of life.

And, my husband continues to surprise me. Since his recovery, he has tried Indian and Thai food…something he would have never done before.

We plan on buying bikes and finding fun ways to fit more exercise into our lives. We are embracing this new lifestyle change, and it doesn’t feel like a punishment…more like a reward.

Support the American Heart Association: Donate Now!

Chris is the youngest person in his rehab group by about 20 years, and he has started encouraging the other rehab-ers to change their diet without sacrificing their taste buds.

This is also one of the core missions of the American Heart Association.

The AMA educates people on how to take their life back after surviving heart disease. They share a lot of information on their website at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/ and their You Tube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/americanheartassoc.

They even have a cooking channel called “Simple Cooking with heart”. You can subscribe to it at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVHKmryC1CUNsHDduY1f1Fw.

If you lost anyone to heart disease or know someone struggling with it now, the AMA is a great resource and a great non-profit to support.

I am proud of my husband wanting to walk with his rehab buddies to support the fight because heart disease is preventable for the most part.

You can help too! Please consider donating to his AMA page at http://bit.ly/1nYFmj6.  There is also still time for you to sign up to walk yourself at www.heart.org/southerndewalk.

There are two walks scheduled for this month: Oct 18 at the Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown and Oct 25 at DTCC in Dover. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the walk begins at 9 a.m. both days.

From our heart to yours, may God bless you and thank you for taking the time to read our story! Feel free to share it with others.

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.

Colored Pencil Magazine June 2014

Living the dream–Fine artist transitions from amateur to professional by teaching others art

I had the privilege of interviewing You Tuber and artist Lisa Clough on her colored pencil artwork.

Click here to read a PDF copy of the article: Clough-CPM-Jun-2014.

You can purchase a copy of the magazine in its entirety at www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/761782.

You can connect with Lisa on her You Tube channel at www.youtube.com/user/lachri. She posts time lapses videos of her creating artwork every Wednesday, critiques of other artists’ work on Tuesdays and Vlogs most weekends.

—-

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.  You can commission Melissa’s work (either writing or art) by contacting her at malegates@gmail.com.

‘Mechanics of All Trades’ Maintain Equipment

I must admit I have a soft spot for women who break through societal barriers to accomplish great things. Staff Sgt. Michele Calton is one of those woman, and she is beautiful to boot.

U.S Air Force Staff Sgts. Jose Barraza (left) and Michele Calton work on a diesel generator that powers up aircraft on the flightline here. They are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's aerospace ground equipment flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz
U.S Air Force Staff Sgts. Jose Barraza (left) and Michele Calton work on a diesel generator that powers up aircraft on the flightline here. They are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s aerospace ground equipment flight. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jamie Shultz

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

ALI BASE, Iraq, Aug. 26, 2005 — When Staff Sgt. Michele Calton spotted a stranded elderly woman whose car had broken down with smoke streaming from under the hood, her first instinct was not to call someone else for help.

She calmly got out of her car in her 4-inch heels and skirt that she wore for a girls’ night out a few months ago, lifted up the hood of the steaming vehicle and reconnected a loose radiator hose.

Then she handed the woman her cell phone so she could call home before she drove the woman to purchase more antifreeze.

It is all simple stuff to the 777th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s aerospace ground equipment airman, who picked up her mechanical skills in the Air Force.

“I credit the military for all my gained knowledge,” Sergeant Calton said. “I probably would have never attempted to close that gap (and learn how to fix machinery) because of the perception this career field carries.”

Sergeant Calton said she sometimes thinks women feel it is too difficult to understand all the moving parts inside engines and how they all tie together. After all, she said before technical school she classified herself as “mechanically challenged.”

“Once you learn the fundamentals of an engine, it’s actually quite simple,” Sergeant Calton said. “The ‘big metal mess’ under the hood starts to take the form of a starter, alternator, radiator, etc.”

Referring to themselves as “mechanics of all trades,” Sergeant Calton and her colleagues have to learn a little bit about everything, because not only do they deliver the equipment to their customers, they maintain it as well.

They quickly figure out how to fix light carts, ground diesel generators, mobile air-conditioning units, air compressors, hydraulic test stands and an assortment of small machinery that support aircraft operations.

Even though they fix some specialized equipment, AGE Airmen consider themselves maintainers foremost.

“I’m a mechanic; I can work on a truck right along side my fiancé,” Sergeant Calton said.

She realizes that her presence in a mostly male-dominated career field is often shocking.

“When people see me, it’s not expected,” said Sergeant Calton, who is from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. “However, I like the fact I get to know all this information. It’s pretty awesome to be able to work on these things.

“I have a (better) understanding how they actually work individually and how they come together to achieve the end result of starting your car or applying power to an aircraft,” she said.

For another AGE airman, it is important to learn the basics so he can apply them to fix just about anything.

“When it boils down to it, it’s all about remembering the basics — where’s the source power, air, hydraulic pressure, etc.,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Barraza, noncommissioned officer in charge of the AGE shop, who is also deployed from Luke.

“AGE is all about problem and solution solving,” he said.

Although AGE craftsman spend a lot of time elbow-deep in grease and wires, they also get out from “under the hood” to talk with their customers.

During her visits, Sergeant Calton said aircrews often show her pictures on their digital cameras of the people and places they see when the C-130 Hercules leaves here.

“When you see the pictures of where the aircraft has been, whether it dropped off humanitarian supplies or troops going home, it’s a great feeling knowing you helped it get there,” she said.

AGE is often a secondary thought in mission success, but without their equipment, transportation could not fix the Humvees security forces use to patrol the base and outside area to keep more than 8,000 U.S. servicemembers and coalition forces safe in this area.

“I rely heavily on AGE (light carts) to provide our lighting for the 24/7 maintenance operations here,” said Senior Master Sgt. Konrad Delger, 407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron’s vehicle management flight chief from the Nevada Air National Guard. “Also, without their support (of an air compressor) the entire Air Force vehicle fleet here would have been driving around on flat tires.”

Even though AGE Airmen are more than happy to help out people in other units who occasionally need their equipment, their primary mission is supporting aircraft maintainers.

Without their generators the aircraft would have to burn through precious fuel to produce electricity.

“Our main piece of equipment is the (-86) diesel generator set,” Sergeant Barraza said. “That’s our prized possession for AGE out here. It allows aircraft mechanics to maintain and run system checks on aircraft.”

AGE craftsmen provide around-the-clock service, 365 days a year.

“Without AGE, we could not fly the mission or do proper maintenance on aircraft,” said Master Sgt. Jeff Wiedeman, 777th EAMXS production superintendent, who is deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

“We use the power units (air/electrical) to power the aircraft, so we can use the different systems (like the) interior lighting (and for) trouble shooting all maintenance problems from hydraulics (that lift the aircraft’s flaps), engines and all electrical systems,” he said

Realizing other agencies depend on the equipment to get their job done is a source of satisfaction for Sergeant Calton, who said she was happy to deploy here to have a closer effect on the war on terrorism.

“When I see the aircraft take off and come back, I know that’s a result of our equipment working properly,” she said.

Knowing she can fix equipment, which powers up million-dollar aircraft, has given her the confidence to fix other mechanical items.

Since her training, she seems to have a soft spot for stopping to help those in broken-down vehicles. Before she deployed here, she pulled over to help a 16-year-old girl with a flat tire.

“I pulled out my tool box from my car along with my coveralls (once again I was dressed up, heels and all). Then I showed her how to change a tire,” Sergeant Calton said.

Sergeant Calton said she loves her job because she likes being thrown into a situation where she has to figure out a solution.

“This job is great if you love to attack a challenge,” Sergeant Calton said. “Units come in broke, and you have to figure out what’s wrong with them, fix them and send them back out on their way to take care of the mission.

Servicemember in Iraq serves to help the ‘good guys’ win

I rarely wrote many commentaries while I was in the Air Force. I am a behind the scenes type of gal so I prefer to tell other people’s stories – not my own. But this one has a special place in my heart. Sometimes it is easy to forget what military service really means and this commentary captures my feelings.

 

A picture of a little Bedouin girl in the desert outside of An Nasiriyah, Iraq. She is probably looking at the first stuffed animal she has ever been given. Photo by Maurice Hessel July 2007
A picture of a little Bedouin girl in the desert outside of An Nasiriyah, Iraq. She is probably looking at the first stuffed animal she has ever been given. Photo by Maurice Hessel July 2007
550177_4227414917234_1606245571_n
Here a young Airman tries to communicate with a Iraqi mother and her child while on patrol near An Nasiriyah, Iraq July 2007. The vast majority of the U.S. Air Force missions around the world are humanitarian in nature. Photo by Maurice Hessel.

http://www.mccoy.army.mil/vtriad_online/07132007/Servicemember_in_Iraq.htm

By Master Sgt. Melissa Phillips, Special to American Forces Press Service (former name) 

WASHINGTON, D.C. July 13, 2007 — Before I left for my current deployment, an 8-year-old asked me out of the blue, “Why do you have to go to Iraq?” It stopped me in my tracks.

I remember thinking, “How can I possibly answer such an immense question without somehow tainting her view on this unpredictable world?”

When I deployed to Southwest Asia in 2002, a fellow Airman told me that he explained to his daughter why he had to deploy by telling her, “Daddy has to go help feed the camels in the desert.”

After about two months into his tour, he said, his 4-year-old told him on a telephone call, “Daddy, someone else needs to feed the camels. I want you to come home.”

I thought that was such a cute, bittersweet story, but I knew the camel trick definitely was not going to work on the well-informed 8-year-old bookworm who posed the question to me.

I wanted to say something profound and comforting, but I was at a loss to answer her. After all, I was headed for a war zone where people don’t always come back alive, and there is no easy explanation to ease the worries of family and friends.

After a few ums and ahhs, I heard myself tell her, “We have to help the good guys fight the bad guys who are trying to hurt them.”

She seemed satisfied with the response, gave me a beaming smile and ran off to play. I sat there stunned.

I had been trying to avoid thinking about the reason why I was going back to Iraq.

After my conversation with her, I thought, “Is it really that simple? Do good guys still win in our universe? Can U.S. and coalition forces really help a nation of people overcome their differences to rebuild a stable country? Who exactly are the good and bad guys?”

In reality, I know there isn’t a black-and-white answer to these questions. That’s hard to accept by a nation of Americans who pride themselves on their logical and forward-thinking mind set.

To servicemembers’ advantage, we are used to operating in the grey. While it’s unfortunate, and although we do our best to avoid it, it’s accepted there will be collateral damage in war.

Lives will be lost. Families and innocent people will be hurt on both sides. I don’t like that reality. However, I firmly believe we are doing more good in Iraq and Afghanistan than harm.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

I’ve witnessed children receiving the first stuffed animal or toy they’ve ever had, and I’ve seen their eyes light up. I’ve seen thirsty and hungry people barely surviving in blistering 130-degree heat receive life-sustaining supplies.

I know most Americans don’t have the opportunity to witness the endless parade of care packages that family members send their loved ones to give to the Iraqi people: shoes, clothes, wet wipes, diapers, food and more. I had the privilege to see the goodness in people on both sides, despite the harsh conditions that brought them together.

Many military members, and those who support them, are personally invested in helping the Iraqi people.

We admire Iraqis who are forging ahead to make their country a better place, even though they and their family members are targeted for accepting the responsibility to secure their future.

Insurgents don’t recognize freedom of speech, nor do they value human life. They don’t seek a compromise with their countrymen or neighbors for the greater good of their collective society. They are the bad guys.

Not only is our mission to destroy the bad guys, the U.S. military spends a huge hunk of time on humanitarian missions. We patch up Iraqi and Afghanistan children when they’re sick or hurt. We provide medical services that a vast majority of people could never afford on their own, and might not have access to if they could.

We build hospitals, schools and a myriad of facilities that directly improve their lives and will continue to do so long after the U.S. and coalition presence is gone and this war is in the history books.

The success stories are rarely told in the media, but they occur every day. I knew that from my last tour in Iraq, but I was still confused about how I felt about this war.

Now, when anyone asks me why I’m in Iraq, I know what to say.

I’m here to help the good guys win. It’s that simple.

(Phillips of the U.S. Air Force is deployed to Iraq from the 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs.)

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.

Iraqi Boy to Receive Heart Surgery in U.S.

By Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips, USAF (former name) 
Special to American Forces Press Service

ALI BASE, Iraq, Aug. 23, 2005 – Eight-year-old Baher looks like a happy, healthy boy on the outside. But the members of the combined Iraqi and U.S. Air Force C-130 aircrew who flew him on the first leg of his journey out of Iraq Aug. 22 know he isn’t healthy — at least for now.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Eight-year-old Baher and his mother, Afaf, board the C-130 aircraft that took them on the first leg of the long journey to New Orleans, where Baher will have heart surgery at Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Davidson, USAF
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Baher and his mother, Afaf, are headed to New Orleans to have a hole in his heart repaired through a new program called “Operation Mend a Heart.”

“I was very happy to (be a part of the aircrew to) help him,” said Iraqi air force navigator Atiya, Squadron 23 (Transport).

Atiya was one the C-130 crewmembers who flew Baher from Baghdad International Airport to Basrah Air Station on the first leg of his journey.

Atiya, who has three sons, ages 11, 10 and 5, of his own, held Baher on his lap to show him the airplane’s control panel.

In Basrah, a team of Army civil affairs specialists from the Humanitarian Operation Center in Kuwait was waiting to whisk the family to Kuwait to pick up the proper visas and paperwork.

Later in the week, the mother and son are to board a plane headed for their ultimate destination — Tulane University Hospital and Clinic, where Baher will undergo surgery to correct a congenital heart defect.

Tulane is donating the $100,000 surgery. Operation Mend a Heart is facilitating the effort between Tulane, the U.S. military, and coalition forces.

More than 10 different U.S. and coalition military and civilian agencies will have a part in getting Baher to New Orleans for the life-saving surgery.

“Let’s just say it’s a network of inspired people,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark N. Matthews Sr., of 90th Regional Readiness Command, at Camp Pike, Ark. Matthews helped facilitate intra-theater airlift and began dreaming of ways to help Iraqi children with heart problems. Even though he currently isn’t in the Middle East, he helped smooth over logistical bumps and get the right people involved.

The Ali Base C-130 aircrew had only a short portion of the mission, but it left a lasting impression. “This was the first (advisory support team) mission that flew humanitarian airlift for their country,” said Maj. Bob May, a Squadron 23 advisory support team pilot instructor assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here.

May was the copilot and an Iraqi officer piloted the aircraft. “It was a great feeling being able to do this together with so many Iraqi crewmembers on board,” he added.

At the end of the trip, the U.S. crewmembers asked one of the Iraqis to translate their well wishes to the mother and son. “We asked the translator to tell them it was an honor for us to be able to help him,” said May, who has a son Baher’s age.

“When Baher and his mother were driving away, they were all big smiles,” May said. “It’s good to know you’re making an impact and doing something good for other people.”

That spirit of kindness is what moved Matthews, who started the seeds for the idea of the organization, while helping a 5-year-old Iraqi girl named Noor get airlifted to Kuwait aboard a Japanese aircraft earlier this year. The story garnered wide acclaim and recognition through the recently deceased reporter Peter Jennings.

“On a phone call home, I described how humbled I was to have been a part of helping Noor,” Matthews said. “Later, the organization came up with the phrase, ‘You must have a heart, to save a heart.'”

The program’s long list of supporters includes Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. “The people behind Operation Mend a Heart understand that one way we can support our troops is by supporting the people they are fighting for, the children of Iraq,” Landrieu said in a press release. “Operation Mend a Heart will help provide the humanitarian medical assistance to the underprivileged children of Iraq who would otherwise not have access to the pediatric medical and surgical care they need.”

During the expected four-week recovery period after the surgery, an Iraqi professor at Tulane will host Baher and his mother. They’re expected to return to Iraq in October.

For many of those involved, the intense logistical coordination required by U.S. and coalition military personnel is indicative of a key role the U.S. military plays in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but that is often downplayed in the news.

“Most Americans think of our military in combat roles,” said Operation Mend a Heart program founder Karen Troyer-Caraway, who is also vice president of Tulane University Hospital and Clinic. “Many Americans do not realize that our military mission also includes humanitarian assistance, rebuilding communities, and investing in the future.

“Operation Mend a Heart is ordinary Americans helping the U.S. military accomplish their mission.”

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Phillips is assigned to the 407th Air Expeditionary Group.)

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.

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