The Tony Weaver Story: Local man brought back to life after heart stops

The Tony Weaver Story: Local man brought back to life after heart stops

Photo: Tony Weaver outside of the Cardiovascular lab at WMC

By Josh Jarman

Are you prepared to die today? Perhaps no question in life is more sobering than the one that causes us to consider our own mortality. Most of us, if given the opportunity, will avoid death and dying conversations like the plague – pun intended. But if faced head on, tough questions can also challenge us to make the most out of every opportunity.

Tony Weaver, an adventure loving Ashe County resident, knows firsthand the danger of taking life for granted. After experiencing chest pains, he made an appointment at The Cardiology Center in Boone, NC, part of Watauga Medical Center (WMC). It was there, during his appointment, that he went into cardiac arrest and his heart stopped beating for nearly five minutes. When it counted most, his medical team responded with what Tony can only describe as “divine intervention” to save his life.


Raisin’ Cain


Photo: Tony Weaver with his motorcycleTony got his first motorcycle when he turned six years old. Much to his mother’s chagrin, his father proudly encouraged his son to race his older brother, Billy, up and down the country road in front of their home. And so it was a thunderous transition from boyhood to manhood– an unspoken acknowledgement from father to son that the young buck has what it takes.

Tony idolized his father, Reggie, a highly decorated World War II veteran with a purple heart. Together they would hunt, work on their bikes in the garage, and go to church with his grandmother on Sunday.

“Early on I was a wild man on that bike,” he said. “I used to outrun the highway patrol. I guess I was just trying to prove my place in the world. It took me awhile to realize that dad was tough not on account of his war stories, but because he knew what he stood for in life. He used to say, ‘You never know what’s going to happen and it’s a good thing you don’t.’ I guess his point was that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, so why worry about it. Instead, he was a lot more interested in making sure we made the most out of today.”


Two Rules


Tony went on to have a successful career in plant operations. After he completed his degree in applied engineering, he worked for 38 years as a supervisor in various automobile and electronic factories. During that time, he hired, trained and mentored hundreds of employees and today he still manages a team of 30.

“I have two rules when it comes to leading people,” he shared. “Be fair and be honest. People may not always like you as a supervisor, but they will still respect you if you are fair and honest with them.”

Perhaps his best hire took place in 1997. On that day, he hired his future wife, Brenda Weaver. “I tried to stay objective during the interview, but truth be told, I was pretty distracted by her good looks and personality. Well, as fate would have it, we eventually determined that we would be a better suited as husband and wife than as supervisor and employee. So she quit and I married her. That was the best business decision I’ve ever made.”


The Heart of the Matter


Tony was concerned earlier this year when several employees around the plant told him that his face was pale. During that time, he also remembers that he felt unusually tired and that his heart rate had slowed down to 44 beats a minute. A healthy heart ranges between 60 – 100 beats per minute.

The very next day, on January 24, 2019, he scheduled an appointment at The Cardiology Center. It was there that Dr. George Hanna, a board certified cardiologist, ran a diagnostic test known as an electrocardiogram (EKG). The results confirmed what Dr. Hanna had suspected. He had an abnormally slow heart rate that would require a pacemaker.

Tony then unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest and collapsed in the office. Eager to restart his heart, Dr. Hanna called for help and his team responded without missing a beat.

Kim Denny, RN, a pacemaker device nurse at The Cardiology Center literally jumped on top of the exam room table to start performing CPR. Her colleague Carly Blevins then charged the defibrillator and applied the single shock needed to save his life.

“Every three months we are required to complete an in-service CPR training class at the hospital,” said Denny. “In that moment, all of my training came back to me. I also cannot say enough about Carly, as she charged the defibrillator I noticed her praying for Mr. Weaver. They just so happen to be friends outside of the hospital.”


Plumbing and Electrical


Now that their patient was revived and stable, the cardiology team needed to determine if Tony’s low cardiac output was a result of a plumbing issue (coronary blockage) or an electrical issue (communication malfunction) within the heart or a combination of the two.

To find out, Tony was then transported to Watauga Medical Center for an emergency cardiac catheterization. The diagnostic procedure was performed by WMC’s new Interventional Cardiologist, Dr. Steve Filby. Fortunately, the test revealed no blockage and thus ruled out a plumbing issue. Had there been a coronary blockage, Dr. Filby could have then performed a minimally invasive artery widening procedure known as an angioplasty to improve blood flow to the heart.

Thanks to the catheterization it was then determined that Tony’s heart problem was in fact caused by an electrical issue. For Tony, that meant that the top part of his heart and the bottom part of his heart were no longer communicating with each other. To correct this disorder Dr. Andrew Hordes, a cardiologist and device specialist at WMC, inserted a two wire pacemaker that same day. The pacemaker puts one wire in the top part of the heart (atrium) and another wire in the bottom part of the heart (ventricle) and then uses the signals from the atrium to tell the pacemaker when to pace or reestablish the timing between both parts of the heart. Essentially, the pacemaker will now ensure that both his heart rate and heart rhythm stay in normal healthy ranges.

“Mr. Weaver was fortunate enough to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people,” said Dr. Hordes. “After the team resuscitated him, and it was determined that he had no coronary blockage, we were able to put in a pacemaker. By putting in a pacemaker, we not only fixed the electrical problem with his heart, but we prolonged his life.”


Guardian Angel


Tony was cleared to return home two days later. When asked about his experience he said, “It is clear to see that God had no intention of taking me that day. He put all the right people, with all the right training in my path to save my life.”

Kim Denny, the quick thinking nurse that performed CPR in the office now serves as one of Tony’s pacemaker device nurses. Denny and her fellow device nurse, Leslie Wilson, RN, remotely monitor thousands of pacemakers every day from The Cardiology Center.

“On the Saturday he went back to work, I remember we were curious to see if all of the equipment he works with at the factory would interfere with his pacemaker,” said Denny. “So, I asked him to send me a transmission after he walked through the entire plant just to make sure it was safe and it was. I think he takes comfort in the fact that we are always monitoring and ready to help if he needs us.”

Pacemakers have come a long way over the years. Like Tony, the majority of patients do require the dual chamber two-wire system. Fortunately, this state-of-the-art pacemaker is small, MRI safe and Bluetooth compatible, which allows for remote monitoring and as needed heart rhythm adjustments. Watauga Medical Center also recently started offering what is referred to as the world’s smallest pacemaker, a wireless system, for patients who qualify.


Wild at Heart


Outside of his pacemaker, Tony admits that nothing makes his heart beat with more vigor than riding his motorcycle. “I have been riding motorcycles for 52 years now,” he said with a grin. “And thanks to God and the medical team at Watauga Medical Center, I’ll keep riding till the day I die, which is hopefully a long time from now.”

At work, he has become an outspoken ambassador for intentional living. “I try to remind my team that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow,” he said. “I feel a responsibility to always point people toward the things that matter in life. I believe that is why I am still here. And I’m going to live the rest of my life by the scripture verse Joshua 24:15, ‘…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’”

The Carlton Isaacs Story: Hospital caretaker receives lifesaving care

The Carlton Isaacs Story: Hospital caretaker receives lifesaving care

Carlton Isaacs


By Josh Jarman

Have you ever thought about what goes into hospital operations? Oftentimes we spend so much time thinking about doctors, nurses and patients that we tend to overlook those who work behind the scenes to take care of the hospital building itself. Each pipe, ventilation shaft, walkway and light bulb must be well-maintained in order to keep the hospital up and running.

No one knows more about hospital operations than Carlton Isaacs. For more than 41 years, Carlton has served as a caretaker for Watauga Medical Center in Boone, NC. During that time he has shoveled snow, waxed floors, washed dishes, pulled telephone wire, and even helped out in the operating room. He jokes that he knows the ins and outs of the hospital better than his own home. Recently, roles were reversed however when the 67-year-old caretaker relied on the hospital to provide him with lifesaving care.


Words to live by


Carlton was born and raised on a farm in Watauga County. It was there that his father taught him that ‘you are only as good as your word.’ This truth was lived out on the farm where he and his five siblings would milk cows, herd sheep and pull tobacco to help the family stay afloat.

For fun the kids would eat popcorn and watch Westerns at night. They also enjoyed chasing fireflies in the summer and sledding in the winter.

“Money was tight back then,” he said with a chuckle. “Since we couldn’t afford gloves, my mother would make each of us wear our wool socks like mittens in the snow. When they got wet we set them by the stove to warm, grabbed another pair and then back out the door we went.”

To help provide for the family, Carlton landed his first job in the environmental services department at Watauga Medical Center when he turned 17. His first assignment was to scrub and wax all of the floors in the hospital. Often viewed as a menial task, his supervisor noticed that he performed the job with a great deal of pride.

“Growing up on a farm will teach you not to be afraid of hard work,” he said. “No matter what you do at the hospital, your job is just as important as the next one. It takes a team to make everything work.”

Thanks to his positive attitude he was promoted to work in several other departments including plant operations and information technology. He was also recognized as the hospital’s employee of the year in 1991.

“I was shocked when they called my name at the banquet,” he said. “It just goes to show that if you stay true to your word, good things happen.”


Diagnosis love


One evening, while working second shift at the hospital, Carlton spied a pretty girl who was there to visit her sick grandfather. Unwilling to let the moment pass him by he summoned all of his courage to say hello. And so it was a friendship formed. Night after night the blushing teenagers would secretly rendezvous in the hospital cafeteria until one day when she informed him that her grandfather’s health had improved and he was getting discharged to return home.

“At that point, I knew I had to quit playing around and ask the girl out,” he laughed. “But, without a car or license I felt like a poorly equipped bachelor. So I asked if it would be alright if I called on her once I got my driver’s license and my own set of wheels. She agreed.”

After a year of saving, Carlton purchased his datemobile, a red 1968 Chevrolet 327 Camaro. As fate would have it the couple went on to have their first of many dates at Hilltop Drive Inn and got married a year later. Today, after 47 years of marriage, Carlton and Mary have two kids, three grandchildren and three great grandbabies.


To love and be loved in return


Recently, because of his history with smoking, his primary care provider Jerica Smith, FNP, and Dr. Kevin Wolfe, a pulmonologist at The Lung Center in Boone, NC, recommended that Carlton participate in the hospital’s lung cancer screening program. This low-dose CT (LDCT) scan is free and available as a preventive service for Medicare patients between 55 – 77 years of age who qualify. Private insurance plans also cover the screening program.

“I was surprised to learn that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States,” he said. “But, Jerica and Dr. Wolfe explained that with early detection, patients have a better shot at survival. Needless to say, I signed up for the screening.”

Unfortunately, the screening revealed a suspicious spot in his left lung. He was then referred to Dr. Tim Edmisten, a Boone native and general and thoracic (lung and esophagus) surgeon at Watauga Surgical Group. Dr. Edmisten and the surgical team at Watauga Medical Center were able to use an advanced minimally invasive technology called endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS) to determine that Carlton‘s cancer was detected by the screening CT scan at an early stage. EBUS combines traditional bronchoscopy (looking into the airway and lungs with a light) with ultrasound imaging to enable the surgeon to visualize and biopsy lymph nodes or masses beyond the traditional access points of bronchoscopy in order to increase the ability to obtain a diagnosis and determine the extent of the cancer. All of this can be done as an outpatient procedure without any incisions or need for lengthy recovery time.

Thankfully, the EBUS and x-rays confirmed that Carlton’s cancer was localized in the left upper lung at an early stage, which would give him a high chance of cure with surgical resection, as opposed to the vast majority of patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer at a more advanced stage. Dr. Edmisten went on to explain that less than 20 percent of patients with lung cancer currently survive the disease because it is not detected until a more advanced stage. However, the screening program at Watauga Medical Center enabled Carlton’s cancer to be diagnosed at the earliest stage which would allow an 80 to 90 percent chance for cure with surgical resection. Dr. Edmisten and the team at Watauga Medical Center proceeded to perform a thoracoscopic lobectomy for Carlton which enabled removal of the upper lobe of the lung containing the cancer through a minimally invasive technique involving two keyhole incisions plus a 1 1/2 inch incision utilizing thoracoscopic video technology. This advanced technique, offered to less than 50 percent of lung cancer patients in the United States who have surgically removable tumors, provides the benefit of less pain, lower risk of complications, and more rapid recovery and return to work in comparison to the traditional larger open incision thoracotomy.

As a result, Carlton was able to be discharged from the hospital two days after surgery and is thankfully on a full road to recovery.

“I’ve been around long enough to remember working with Dr. Edmisten’s father (Edmisten Heating and Cooling) to add Freon to the chiller at the hospital,” said Carlton. “Now, I have lived long enough to have his son, Dr. Edmisten, say a prayer over me before surgery. When you have a doctor like that and the good Lord on your side, not much can go wrong.”

Before he was discharged to return home, Carlton was touched by the number of hospital friends who stopped by to check on him.

“I had friends from all points in my career stop by to look in on me,” he said. “When you spend a lifetime taking care of a building, and then that building and the people in it take care of you, well, it’s just pretty special. I love these people like my very own family.”

Nearly two months after his procedure, Carlton, who still wears his 20 years of service pin on his belt buckle, is eager to get back to work on a part-time basis. When asked why he was only coming back part-time, he smiled and said, “So I can spend more time spoiling my grandbabies.

Joe Thompson: A 1952 Farmall tractor, a hip replacement, and writing plans in pencil

Joe Thompson: A 1952 Farmall tractor, a hip replacement, and writing plans in pencil

Joe Thompson's AppOrtho StoryBy Josh Jarman

Experience teaches us that few things in life go according to plan. As a result, we are encouraged by our elders to hope for the best and to prepare for the worst. After successfully navigating through an early-life tragedy, Joe Thompson has learned to embrace change with humility and to write his plans in pencil.


Life lessons

Thompson grew up on a small farm in Pittsboro, NC. As an only child, he became very close with his mother, who worked long hours at the community label mill, and his father who managed the family farm.

“I’ll never forget the day when dad brought home that bright red 1952 Farmall tractor,” said Thompson with a grin. “I was just a child at the time, but he taught me how to plow, plant and harvest sweet corn, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, butter beans and so much more. Little did I realize it at the time, but dad was preparing me for life after his death.”

Thompson was 11-years-old when his father lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. “At that point, mom and I realized that we had a choice to make… we could either get hung up on broken plans or write new ones in pencil.”

His mother continued to work long hours at the label mill and Thompson, with the help of his uncles, agreed to take on the responsibility of the farm.

Still small in stature he can remember wiping away tears as he climbed up into his father’s tractor seat for the first time after his death. “I did all of the things dad taught me to do and as a family mom and I grew closer, we persevered together.”


Puppy love

It had always been a dream in the Thompson household that Joe would be the first one to graduate from a four-year university. Although Thompson excelled in the classroom, he was often distracted by his work on the farm and a fun-loving girl who caught his eye.

“I met Martha in the first grade and I can still picture her running around in those pretty cotton dresses,” he said. “It took me until prom to actually ask her out on a date, but we have been together ever since.”

To the delight of his mother after high school Thompson was accepted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I was excited to go to college, but money was tight and I still needed to be able to help out on the farm. I decided to live at home and commute to school. This was a bit embarrassing, but since Batman’s Stately Wayne Manor was pretty popular at the time, I used to tell people when they asked which dorm I was living in that I was staying at Stately Thompson Manor. No one ever questioned my answer or found out that I was living at home.”

Thompson later married Martha and together they had a son, Adam. The family moved to Wilkesboro, NC, where Thompson worked for the Department of Transportation for 38 years and Martha as a nurse for 40 years.

During that time, Thompson became a very involved father and he embraced his role as an Assistant Scout Master in Adam’s Boy Scout Troop. “I guess I was personally drawn to the Boy Scouts because of their motto, to Be Prepared. My dad taught me as much as he could before he died and I wanted to pass those same preparedness traits on to my son.”



A few years ago, Thompson decided to have a total knee replacement procedure with orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Steven Anderson. “I hurt my left knee while playing football back in high school,” he said. “At the time I had surgery, but it left me with limited lateral stability. Once I finally decided to address the problem for good in 2015, I felt very fortunate to find Dr. Anderson, who was working in Wilkesboro at the time. Unlike the orthopedic surgery center I went to in Charlotte, NC, Dr. Anderson treated me with respect and like a real person. I was not another number to him.”

So pleased was Thompson with the outcome of his knee surgery that he decided to return to Dr. Anderson last year when he started experiencing pain in both of his hips, even though Dr. Anderson is now at AppOrtho in Boone. “I was having mobility issues in terms of getting in-and-out of the car, using the tractor, and even just trying to go on walks with Martha.”

“I was only too willing to travel up the mountain to see my preferred surgeon,” said Thompson. “After a quick examination, Dr. Anderson told me that I would benefit from and be an ideal candidate for anterior hip replacement surgery. He went on to say that at 70-years-old, I could either try to live with the pain a little while longer, or I could fix it now and enjoy a better quality of life.”

Thompson went home and researched anterior hip replacement surgery. He watched countless surgery videos and learned after completing his own research that this front-of-the-hip approach to surgery is less invasive than the traditional hip replacement. He also learned that patients, who choose an anterior hip replacement, typically experience a quicker recovery time.

After completing his due diligence, Thompson agreed to have his right hip replaced by Dr. Anderson on January 23, 2018, at Watauga Medical Center. The procedure was completed without complication and Thompson was discharged the following day. Eight weeks later, after noticing a significant improvement in his right hip, Dr. Anderson completed the same procedure on his left hip.


Moving forward

“Sometimes I have to remind myself that I even had hip replacement surgery,” he quipped. “I’m able to do the activities I want to do again.”

One of those activities includes riding his father’s 1952 Farmall tractor. After his mother passed away in 2008, Thompson inherited his parent’s farm and restored his father’s cherished tractor. Every two weeks, he returns home to care for the farm, while Martha tends to the flower beds around the house.

“I guess you could say I’m pretty sentimental,” said Thompson. “Although my plans have changed a few times throughout the years, I’m grateful for my family, for the opportunities they provided for me, and for the many memories we share.”

Thanks to AppOrtho, patients are choosing to drive up the mountain for their orthopedic care. With locations in Jefferson, NC, and Boone, NC, patients can schedule same-day appointments Monday through Friday, and on Saturday in Boone. Referral is not required.

To schedule an appointment at AppOrtho call 828-386-2663 or visit

Local 11-year-old starts a beary special program at Watauga Medical Center

Local 11-year-old starts a beary special program at Watauga Medical Center

Donate_a_BearBy Josh Jarman

Few things in life can seem scarier than the thought of surgery – especially for an 11-year-old. After her tonsillectomy at Watauga Medical Center, Lula Bovino awoke last December to find a teddy bear nestled beside her in the recovery room. This unexpected companion surprised and encouraged both Lula and her mother Natalie, a Registered Nurse in Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s (ARHS) Anesthesia Department.

Natalie’s supervisor and hospital Chief Nurse Anesthetist, Kevin Henson, assisted with the surgery. He was also the one who surprised Lula with the teddy bear.

“My mom did a good job of telling me what to expect beforehand, but I was still scared when I woke up from surgery,” said Lula. “Then I saw the bear sitting beside me and I felt safe.”

Bear in mind

Bear Toy at Watauga Medical CenterA few days later, Lula asked her mother if she could start her own teddy bear program at the hospital. “I may not be old enough to help mom in the operating room,” she said. “But it is certainly one way I can help other kids feel better or at least more at ease.”

“The idea was met with tremendous enthusiasm from both the hospital and the community,” said Natalie. “We held our first teddy bear fundraiser a few weeks ago at our church. I offered blood pressure checks while Lula worked the bear donation table. Needless to say, it was a big success.”

The Bovino family also posted an ad on Amazon. Their Web page allows donors to easily shop for and contribute bears to the cause. After the bears are received, Lula and Natalie carefully outfit each teddy bear with a pair of scrubs and a tag that reads ‘You’re Beary Special to us at Watauga Medical Center’. To date, more than 40 children have received a teddy bear from Lula’s teddy bear program.

Bare necessities

Lula is a 6th grade student at Blowing Rock Elementary School with a passion for singing in her church choir and playing any instrument she can get her hands on. Natalie works full-time at Watauga Medical Center and is currently studying to become a Family Nurse Practitioner.

Despite their busy schedules, they reconnect in the evenings for special mom and daughter strolls around Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, NC. On these walks, they often skip rocks, play hide-and-seek and quiz each other with school related flash cards. Natalie also uses this time to tell her daughter if a teddy bear had been handed out that day at work. Lula, who has never witnessed a teddy bear patient delivery, loves to hear about the recipient’s reaction and whether or not it made a difference. It always makes a difference.

“I think my mom is a great nurse and an amazing influence on my life,” said Lula. “No matter what, she always makes the best out of all situations and I admire her for that.”

“Words cannot describe how proud and grateful I am to be Lula’s mom,” said Natalie. “Lula is so wise to recognize that sometimes, great big bear hugs are all we really need.”

For more information about how you can contribute to Lula’s teddy bear program click here.

Cancer could not steal faith from Laura McClure

Cancer could not steal faith from Laura McClure

Albert Einstein said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Laura’s story

Laura_McClureLaura can still remember the day her parents informed her they would be moving out of the country to pursue a missionary life. At the tender age of 5, her family moved from Hickory, North Carolina to Costa Rica for several months of training and language development. At the end of their allotted time, they moved to the area that would be their new home, Lima, Peru. At the time, Lima was engulfed in political chaos and violence, shrouded with the terrorism of the Shining Path. “The world as I knew it changed very quickly,” Laura said. “Despite everyone questioning my parent’s decision to take us into such a dangerous environment so far from our usual comforts, I can remember my dad’s calming words of reassurance, ‘keep the faith, God will sustain us.’”

Trials, challenges, and wonderful experiences were always a part of her experience growing up in another country. Despite the surrounding social climate atrocities, their family always felt safe, and they eventually fell in love with their new home of cinderblock walls, high shared fences, and flat rooftops that were all adorned with shattered glass as a deterrent for would-be invaders.

Laura attended Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The American School of Lima, which was an independent international school deep in the central city of Lima. She quickly became bilingual through cultural immersion. Her experience and her language abilities brought her back to the US in time for college, where she attended Appalachian State University, majoring in Spanish Education. It was during this time she met her future husband, Derek McClure, now a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) here in the High Country. She later obtained her Master of Arts in Higher Education, with a focus in Spanish. She taught in the Watauga and Ashe County school systems for several years, helping to expand cultural understanding through the Spanish language. Today, Laura lives with her husband and two daughters, Abby (11) and Sarah (9) in the outskirts of West Jefferson in Ashe County.


Faith tested

On December 9th last year, Laura visited the Wilma Redmond Breast Center in Boone for her annual mammogram screening. While sitting in the waiting room, her thoughts shifted between her husband’s upcoming Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) graduation and her last minute Christmas shopping list. Hearing her name called by a smiling radiologic technologist awakened Laura from her thoughts.

On the way back to the exam room, she was informed that the Breast Center had recently installed a new state-of-the-art 3D mammography machine which is able to more accurately detect abnormalities. Laura, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, was pleased to learn of the upgraded equipment. Less than ten minutes later, the pain-free scan was complete and Laura was ready to move on to her next errand. That was until she was notified by the Breast Center that an abnormality had been detected and that a follow up screening was recommended.

“I was terrified,” said Laura. “In that moment, while trying to hold back tears in my car, I debated whether or not I should tell my husband before his graduation or my kids before Christmas. As a mom, you want to shield your family from everything, but I also knew I had to get answers.”

In those quiet moments of uncertainty, Laura reflected on her father’s words of reassurance, “…keep the faith, God will sustain us.” She decided to share the news with her husband and together they wept.


Into the storm

Few words were spoken as Laura and her husband drove with fragile hearts to The Breast Center the following day. Unfortunately, the second mammogram and additional ultrasound confirmed the abnormality. Laura’s radiologist recommended that she schedule an appointment at Watauga Surgical Group, and aided in a quick referral process.

“At that point, Derek’s past work experience with Watauga Medical Center became an influential factor,” said Laura. “Before he became a FNP, Derek used to work in many departments of the hospital over years, including the operating room. Now, as a healthcare provider, he continues to keep a positive relationship with all the providers and specialty offices in the area. He reassured me that the hospital and the community surgeons were top notch.”

A few days later, Derek and Laura met with Dr. Anne-Corinne Beaver at Watauga Surgical Group and Dr. Damon P. Anagnos of Blue Ridge Plastic Surgery Group to make an individualized plan for Laura’s treatment that could put her new found diagnosis behind her as soon as possible. After performing two biopsies, Dr. Beaver confirmed that the tumors were malignant and that the results would need to go before the Tumor Board. The Tumor Board, which meets weekly at Watauga Medical Center to discuss cases, consists of a radiologist, pathologist, and several surgeons including Dr. Beaver, as well as the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center’s medical oncologists, radiation oncologist and nurse navigator. Together, they discuss each case to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. In Laura’s case, surgery was recommended.

In considering mastectomy, Laura also considered the multiple new techniques of breast reconstruction that might meet her individual needs. Ultimately, she would choose immediate reconstruction to allow her to get back to her life as quickly and smoothly as possible.

“The timing was horrible,” said Laura, who tried to compartmentalize her emotions. “Here we are, scheduled to fly out in two days as a family to watch Derek defend his doctorate project and cross the stage, suddenly hearing this life-changing news. As a weight was finally lifted off of his shoulders, our family gained another burden. It was supposed to be an exciting time…our children’s first airplane experience, a chance to connect with a dear childhood friend from Peru now living in Wisconsin, and a time to enjoy the passing of a milestone in our life’s adventures.”

Hoping to keep some joy for the children, the decision was made not to share the cancer news with her children until after the Christmas holiday. “We broke the news while walking in the Ashe County Park. It was hard to explain in concepts they would understand. They were so worried that mommy was not going to be okay.”

During the weeks that followed, though already confident in her care plan, Laura sought a second opinion from a large healthcare system located down the mountain. After enduring a battery of tests and consults, the results confirmed that surgery was the best option for treatment. While either institution could have performed the procedure, Laura felt at peace with the decision to have her double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery closer to home at Watauga Medical Center. Laura’s first surgery was successfully completed on February 12th without any complications.

She was now cancer free.


Becoming whole

“Despite the horrific diagnosis of cancer, my experience with Watauga Medical Center as a patient was wonderful,” said McClure. “Prior to surgery, Dr. Beaver prayed with me and I honestly felt at peace. When I woke up, Derek and my children were there to greet me. Nursing care was incredible and attentive. Everyone was so patient and caring as they let me have time to try to figure out this new me.”

Over the months that followed, and the second part of her reconstructive surgery later, Laura’s perspective on life changed. While gingerly regaining her strength, she observed that life does not slow down – not even for cancer. Despite not having to endure infusion chemotherapy or radiation, she battled constant pain associated with the reconstructive process and looming depression. Throughout it all, she found solace in her family’s support, her mother’s encouragement and her unwavering faith.

Looking back, Laura credits the Breast Center’s new 3D mammogram technology for its early detection of her cancer and the rapid coordination into the surgeon’s office by the radiologist. She is also thankful for Dr. Beaver (her surgeon), Dr. Damon Anagnos (her reconstructive surgeon), the Tumor Board at Watauga Medical Center and all of the medical staff who provided her with compassionate care.

Today, nearly a year after her diagnosis, Laura considers life even with all of its trials to be a miracle. The former “missionary kid” now plans to use her experience to encourage other women to keep the faith when facing cancer.

Watauga Medical Center: Restoring Hearts & Car Engines

Watauga Medical Center: Restoring Hearts & Car Engines

By Josh Jarman

For most men, few things in life are considered more valuable than their car, especially if their car is an old Ford Model T. Floridian Graham Haile’s appreciation for the Tin Lizzie took root a couple of years ago when his son-in-law invited him over to help tinker on his 1913 Model T.

While their wives gabbed in the kitchen, the men enjoyed a welcome reprieve in the garage exchanging bolts, grunts and the occasional uproar of laughter. Hours past and oil was changed as an unspoken appreciation formed between two men and an antique car. This new hobby eventually led Haile to purchase his own 1921 Model T. Now, regardless of which house their wives want to visit, Haile jokes there is a car in the garage ready to entertain the boys.

Graham_Haile_and_son-in-law_Aaron_Bokelmann_with_Model_T“My heart attack caught me off guard and essentially served as a wake-up call to take better care of my health,” said Haile. “After my unplanned yet successful first procedure at Watauga Medical Center, I did not consider going anywhere else for my second.”

One month later Haile made the 12-minute commute from his cabin in Boone to Watauga Medical Center. His second stent procedure was completed without complication and Dr. Vignola reported that there was no residual damage as a result of the heart attack.

“I could not get over the personal and professional care I received from Dr. Vignola and the staff at Watauga Medical Center,” said Haile. “In reflection, similar to conducting routine maintenance on the engine of my Model T, I need to take better preventative care of my heart.”

Shortly after his second procedure, Haile was cleared to return home with full functionality. Today, he has a new appreciation for his heart, his family and the time he gets to spend under the hood with his son-in-law.