Many things come to mind when the names Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer are spoken – savvy business acumen, dedication to their faith community, as well as support for the arts, women’s causes, animal welfare, higher education and more. Especially in the High Country, the Schaefer family name evokes gratitude for the incredible philanthropy, support and wisdom they give to their community.
The Schaefers have been great friends to Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) throughout the years. They both recently experienced significant health challenges and turned to ARHS to walk with them through their journey of healing.
For a total of 70 days and nights over the last two years, Bonnie and Jamie considered the hospitalists, doctors and nurses at Watauga Medical Center to be their extended family, describing them as “our angels with invisible wings who provided comfort and care on a daily basis.”
While the Schaefers have the means and opportunity to seek healthcare from anywhere in the world, they trusted Appalachian Regional Healthcare System with life-saving medical care, chronic disease management, surgical services, emergency care, intensive care — as well as several other service lines and specialists. Fortunately, they are both on the road to good health and they only return to the hospital for routine care these days.
But while they were in the hospital, they realized that the world-class healthcare they received from the people of Watauga Medical Center didn’t necessarily match the aging physical building.
Left to Right: Steve Weishoff, Jamie and Bonnie Schaefer, Marla Schaefer
“They say people make a place and it’s a good thing, because the core hospital, built in 1967, is dated, in disrepair and in need of improvement,” said Bonnie.
“Watauga Medical Center offers life-saving medical care to those living in the High Country,” said Jamie. “The patients and healthcare professionals need and deserve a new, state-of-the-art hospital.”
The couple recently returned to the hospital – their “home away from home” – to thank the hospital family, including doctors, nurses, dietary staff, lab technicians, cleaning staff, and the chaplain.
And in a tradition as long-standing as the Schaefer family itself, they are taking steps to ensure that everyone continues to receive the same high standard of care they did – for generations to come – in a brand new, modern patient care tower.
Bonnie and Jamie are joining together with their family, Marla Schaefer and Steve Weishoff, to give a three-million-dollar gift for the future Schaefer Family Patient Care Tower at Watauga Medical Center.
“I would like to thank Bonnie and Jamie Schaefer, Marla Schaefer and Steve Weishoff for their generosity in providing the lead gift for a new 48-bed hospital tower,” said Rob Hudspeth, President of the Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation and Sr. Vice President for System Advancement for ARHS. “This historic investment will fuel the future of healthcare in the High Country, ensure access to continued technological improvements and allow us to reimagine our community hospital to address the ever-changing world of healthcare.
Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” If her theory is correct, then the High Country community is among the greatest.
Like the rest of America’s healthcare systems, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges and unimaginable scenarios for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS). While ARHS healthcare professionals worked the front line, local businesses, organizations and individuals immediately stepped up to help.
Avery County Emergency Services Parade at Cannon Memorial Hospital
They donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as N-95 masks, face shields, hand-sewn face coverings, hand sanitizer, and protective suits. They dropped off food, treats and special meals for employees. They offered special discounts or perks to ARHS employees, such as free soft drinks at their establishments. The Watauga and Avery County first responders and emergency personnel even paraded by Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital in a show of solidarity and support.
The healthcare team at ARHS has always stood ready to take care of the community. But it was profoundly touching when the community repeatedly came forward to help take care of them. For that support, the more than 1400 ARHS employees are forever grateful. It serves as a reminder that everyone is in this together, and ARHS is fortunate to be part of a community that feels that – and acts upon it.
The Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation and Employee Assistance Program worked with the following generous businesses, organizations and individuals who have shown support through donations of supplies and food. Everyone at ARHS would like to say a hearty “THANK YOU.”
The pandemic is not over yet. But one thing is certain: the High Country community will continue to come together as one in times of trial.
App State Athletics
ASU Beaver College of Health Sciences – Nursing Department
ASU Chemistry Department
Art of Oil
Avery High School
Blue Ridge Energies
Boone Girl Scout Troop 13115
Call Family Distillers
College Foundation of North Carolina
Cranberry Middle School
Creative Printing and Internet Services
Daniel Boone Inn
Frontier Natural Gas
Adam Hill, DDS
Hope Pregnancy Center
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Mast General Store
Mayland Community College
NC Department of Transportation
Premier Sotheby’s International Realty – Banner Elk
Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church
Valerie Rush and Team
Nicole Scheffler, DDS
Wilkes Community College
Countless individuals who made and donated masks
Many businesses who offered us special discounts or free drinks.
Left to Right: Emily Roberts, Irene Sawyer (HCBCF), Michelle Forrest, Terri Brown (HCBCF), Alicia Debord
November 18, 2020
The Rehabilitation Center, the outpatient physical and occupational therapy arm of Watauga Medical Center, received a donation of a Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) device from the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation. The American Food and Drug Administration has cleared this device – the Riancorp LTU-904 laser therapy unit – as a tool to be used in the treatment of postmastectomy lymphedema. The Rehabilitation Center has three Therapists and one Therapist Assistant with specialty training and certification in the evaluation and treatment of lymphedema.
Founded in 2017 by breast cancer survivor Irene Sawyer, the mission of the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation is to support breast cancer patients, survivors, and their families in the High Country of North Carolina. All of the funds raised by the HCBCF go to helping local patients.
“We are honored to be able to provide this device to The Rehabilitation Center,” said Sawyer. “It gives the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation a chance to show the community how their donations are being used to improve the lives of our community members impacted by breast cancer.”
What is postmastectomy lymphedema?
During breast cancer surgery (mastectomy or lumpectomy), some of the lymph nodes in the underarm may be removed and checked to see if they contain cancer cells. When lymph nodes are removed from the underarm area during breast surgery or treated with radiation therapy, lymphatic vessels can become blocked or compromised, preventing lymph fluid from circulating out of the area. Lymphedema occurs when this fluid collects in the arm, underarm, chest, breast or back, causing swelling, pain, and other problems. The body’s natural process of scarring at the surgical incision lines and from radiation further increases the risk of lymphedema. This condition may occur directly after surgery and oncology treatment course, or months later.
According to The Rehabilitation Center’s certified lymphedema therapist Michelle Forrest, the percentage of lymphedema occurrence following mastectomy and lymph node removal varies depending on the source, however the average is between 20-50%.
The risk increases with the number of nodes surgically removed, however the good news is that there are preventive strategies and therapies available that can reduce occurrence.
How does postmastectomy lymphedema impact a breast cancer survivor’s life?
Lymphedema impacts a survivor’s life in many ways:
Having a heavier limb can cause pain and physical discomfort.
Clothing can be too tight on the affected arm.
The affected arm may have range of motion limitations from scarring and decreased flexibility if the lymphedema is not treated.
There is also risk of skin breakdown and a higher risk of infections if left untreated.
How does LLLT improve the lives of cancer Survivors?
“With use of this Low Level Laser device, we will be able to shorten recovery time, reduce painful scarring, increase range of motion of the affected side, and soften hardened tissue at the mastectomy site,” said Forrest. “This will allow the patient to return to work, childcare, full movement of the affected side and experience return to normal sensation.”
Forrest continued, “As a Lymphedema Therapist, it is amazing to help a breast cancer patient take control of yet another aspect of their life that was afflicted during their journey.” With use of the Low Level Laser in conjunction with manual therapy techniques, each survivor will have an opportunity to return to full arm function and flexibility. The risk of further scarring and pain is greatly reduced over time so they may return to gardening, sports, swimming, pottery, playing with grandchildren and all of the other joys in life.
For information regarding a Lymphedema Consultation (pre or post-surgery) or information on treatment with this device – please contact Michelle Forrest, OTD, CLT-LANA, at The Rehabilitation Center, (828) 268-9043, or request an appointment online at https://apprhs.org/appointment/.
Dinora Hernandez, with boxes of food bound for Watauga County’s Latino population
October 23, 2020
Imagine seeking medical care and not being able to understand what your provider is telling you. Many of our High Country community members experience this scenario each day. Even with an understanding of English as a second language, medical terms and concepts can be difficult to grasp in a non-native tongue.
Dinora Hernandez is the medical interpreter and coordinator of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s Latino Health Program (LHP). She has been working with our local Latino population for over five years and has become a crucial link in the chain between healthcare and the Spanish-speaking community.
The Latino Health Program’s main focus is to reach out to our Hispanic Community in Watauga and Avery counties to provide services such as interpreting during medical appointments, assisting with financial assistance documents, securing appropriate medication, coordinating appointments, and providing transportation to clients who are in need of this service.
The goal of the program is to educate the Latino population in reference to their chronic conditions and to use preventative measures to support healthy lifestyles. Although most people see Dinora during her role as interpreter she also helps provide patients with medications, financial assistance, and even food.
LHP is distributing food to its clients as part of a unique partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA will provide Watauga County LHP clients with boxes of food containing meat, vegetables, and dairy products for the next few weeks. LHP delivered 40 of these food boxes on October 8, and 40 additional boxes on October 15.
“This couldn’t have happened at a better time because many LHP clients are experiencing a reduction in work hours due to COVID-19,” said Hernandez. “It has become difficult for many of our clients to pay their monthly utility bills much less afford healthy food that helps control chronic health issues. If we hear of any program that can help, then we try to connect our clients with that resource.”
Hernandez is an important part of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System’s service to our community. “It is a pleasure and a worthwhile blessing to be able to work with this program. With each client that I help, I have a feeling of a job and a life that is fulfilled.”
After three years of planning and a year of construction, Cannon Memorial Hospital’s new Medical Surgical Unit is officially open. Hospital staff moved patients into the beautiful healing space on Thursday, June 25th.
The ARHS-funded renovations to create the 8-bed acute care unit Cannon Memorial Hospital began on June 4, 2019. The spacious, family-friendly rooms allow for family members to comfortably stay with loved ones overnight. Rooms are also equipped with the latest technology which enable the medical care team to access the patient’s medical records and discuss care plans with the patient and their family.
Upon completion of phase one, Cannon Memorial Hospital immediately began construction on phase two – a 27-bed Behavioral Health Unit – funded by a $6.5 million grant from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services (NCDHHS).
Cannon Hospital’s existing 10-bed inpatient behavioral health unit can accommodate only a fraction of the referrals the facility receives.
The funding for the grant originated from the Dorothea Dix Hospital Property Fund, which was created by the North Carolina General Assembly from the sale of the Dorothea Dix Hospital in 2015. The Dorothea Dix Hospital Property Fund was established as a part of NCDHHS’s plan to expand the number of beds that provide crisis stabilization and inpatient behavioral healthcare. The plan calls for 150 new behavioral health inpatient beds across the state. The new behavioral health unit is expected to be complete in the fall of 2021, according to Cannon Memorial Hospital President, Carmen Lacey.
On Monday March 23, 2020, Blue Ridge Energy donated hundreds of N95 masks to ARHS in an effort to help ARHS protect its caregivers.
An N95 mask is a special type of mask used among health care workers to protect against dangerous airborne particles. As the coronavirus continues to spread, supplies of such masks may become limited, and many companies are donating from their own supplies. At this time there are no shortages of needed medical supplies at Watauga Medical Center or Cannon Memorial Hospital.
“Having enough personal protective equipment to ensure that our dedicated caregivers are appropriately safeguarded is one of our highest priorities, and we can’t thank Blue Ridge Energy and our community partners enough for their generous contribution to that cause,” said Chuck Mantooth, ARHS President and CEO.
Blue Ridge Energy is a member-owned electric cooperative serving some 77,000 members in northwest North Carolina. Its propane and fuels subsidiary also serves customers in the cooperative’s service area and beyond, including parts of Virginia, Catawba and Burke counties in North Carolina.
If You Would Like to Donate Supplies
Organizations or community members that are interested in donating PPE supplies to ARHS should contact Brian Whitfield at (828) 262-9105 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your generosity in helping to support our organization and the patients we serve.
At this time we are accepting gifts of personal protective equipment to include: