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.
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.”
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.
“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.
Cancer does not discriminate. As countless families have discovered over the years, the dreaded disease pays no attention to age, gender, personality type, or occupation when it affects the lives of loved ones.
That’s why Dr. Anne-Corinne Beaver, a beloved physician and general/ breast cancer surgeon at Watauga Surgical Group in Boone, NC, was not shocked by the irony of being diagnosed with breast cancer last November. Instead of asking, “Why me?” she asked, “Why not me?” Her positive attitude and unwavering faith in God are what led her to fully rely on her colleagues at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) to get her through one of the most difficult trials of her life.
Dr. Beaver shares a hug with her husband Mike and parents Betsy and Richard Beaver
Dr. Beaver was born in Nuremberg, Germany. Her father, a physician and orthopedic surgeon in training, was stationed there in the US Army. As a child, Dr. Beaver and her siblings appreciated their mother’s uncompromising commitment to keep Dad’s work at the office and family time sacred at home.
“We always waited until Dad got home to have dinner together as a family,” she said with a grin. “Some nights we ate very late! But, we were together and enjoying each other. We are very close.”
After the family moved back to Johnson City, TN, the Beavers purchased an olive green Volkswagen camper which they used to explore the United States and abroad. Dr. Beaver was moved by the diversity and various needs of the different people they met along the way. It later came as no surprise to her parents, who also served as her Sunday school teachers, when she expressed an interest in medical missions.
As a high school senior, Dr. Beaver left home for her first mission trip to Zambia. She marveled at how patients would travel for days on sleds dragged by cows in order to receive treatment at the hospital. During that time, she also learned how to live without electricity and running water. “The only hard part was taking showers,” she joked. “You would have to take a bucket with you to the river while keeping a close eye out for hungry hippos and crocodiles.”
A life-changing trip
Dr. Anne-Corinne Beaver provides care for a young mother and her 6-day-old child while on a medical mission trip in South Asia
Between college, medical school, and her residency program, Dr. Beaver completed several more medical mission trips in Belize, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and South Asia. “I think the tipping point for my decision to pursue general surgery took place while I lived and worked with Dr. Richard Bransford and his wife Millie at Kijabi Medical Center in Kenya,” she said. “Each time I would scrub into the OR with him, I appreciated the fact that he did so with humility and a desire to serve others. His compassion, intelligence, and vision for improvement impressed upon me. Ironically, the Bransfords live in Boone today.”
In 2008, after serving two years at Mountain Home VA Healthcare System in Johnson City, TN, Dr. Beaver received a job offer she could not refuse. What attracted her to the position at Watauga Surgical Group most was the fact that every provider in the group shared her passion for medical mission work both locally and abroad.
“I think it is important to keep your eyes wide open, to realize who all is around you and to acknowledge that wherever you are today, there is a mission field,” she said. “Our mindset at Watauga Surgical Group is to approach each patient with respect and kindness and to provide them with exceptional care served with compassion.”
Over the years, she has worked closely with Watauga Medical Center and the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center to provide general surgery and breast cancer treatment for countless patients in the High Country. During that time, she has and continues to serve as ARHS’s Cancer Liaison Physician to the American College of Surgeons – Commission on Cancer for Approved Cancer Programs. In addition, she serves on the Breast Center of Excellence Committee, Cancer Committee, Oncology Service Line Committee, the Surgical Services Committee at Watauga Medical Center, and the ARHS Foundation Board.
Medical Oncologist, Dr. Anna Sobol and general surgeon, Dr. Paul Dagher worked together to provide care for their colleague and friend Dr. Anne-Corinne Beaver.
“On the morning of November 30, 2017, I noticed something very subtle in my breast,” she recalled. “I actually went into the office early that day and did an ultrasound on myself which all but confirmed my suspicion of breast cancer.”
Alone in the office, she called her colleague and fellow breast cancer surgeon Dr. Paul Dagher to break the news and to schedule a minimally invasive breast biopsy under ultrasound in their office for the following day. After her appointment was scheduled, she compartmentalized her concerns and headed to the hospital where her breast cancer patients were waiting to be seen.
“I was very careful to not let my emotions impact my clinical acuity at that time,” she said. “Breast cancer is very common; on average it impacts one-in-eight women and that is why I stress to my patients the importance of having an annual mammogram. We are very fortunate in this community to have The Wilma Redmond Breast Center, which is equipped with the latest in 3D mammography technology.”
The Tumor Board
After the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis, her case was then brought before the Tumor Board at Watauga Medical Center. The Tumor Board, which meets weekly to discuss cases, consists of a radiologist, pathologist, several surgeons including Dr. Beaver, as well as the Cancer Center’s medical oncologists, radiation oncologist, nurse navigator, and cancer center team members. Together, they review each patient’s case to create a comprehensive treatment plan.
“Observing the Tumor Board for the first-time from a patient’s perspective was very humbling,” she said. “It is hard to articulate just how much professional collaboration goes into the specifics of each treatment plan outlined right here in Boone. What patients may not realize is that we meet like this for each and every case and twice for breast cancer cases (before and after surgery) to carefully determine next steps.”
Dr. Dagher performed a successful lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node excision surgery without complication at Watauga Medical Center on December 14, just two weeks after the tumor was first detected. “I never considered going anywhere else for my treatment,” she said. “Simply put, I know from first-hand experience how good Dr. Dagher is at surgery and how professional the team is in the OR. I also knew that if chemotherapy were recommended, that I would want to have Dr. Anna Sobol, at the Cancer Center to be the one coordinating my medical oncology treatment plan.”
Based on the type of breast cancer and the biology of the tumor, the Tumor Board recommended chemotherapy followed by radiation treatment. As a result, Dr. Beaver went on temporary medical leave while Dr. Sobol outlined a chemotherapy regimen for a collaborative treatment approach at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center in Boone that is expected to conclude in January 2019.
One side effect that can present as a result from her particular chemotherapy drug regimen is peripheral neuropathy, which is a loss of sensory and motor functions in the fingers and toes, a major concern for a surgeon. To help thwart the potential of this condition from negatively affecting her surgical career, Dr. Beaver has committed to safeguard (reduce the blood flow circulation to) her hands and feet by keeping them submerged in buckets of ice water during each and every one of her four-and-a-half hour long chemotherapy treatments. To help pass the time during treatment, her husband and parents gather around her to provide encouragement in the form of prayer, conversation, and old episodes of the TV sitcom Monk.
“Everyone has hard things they have to deal with in life,” she said. “While this is not something I would have chosen for myself, I firmly believe that God is in control and that he has a purpose for everything. I just want to remain faithful to him while I walk down this path.”
If all goes as planned, Dr. Beaver will return to work later this year. She hopes this experience will help her as a physician better relate to and encourage the breast cancer patients she feels so privileged to serve.
“I hope my story will encourage others to keep the faith,” she said. “I hope to one day tell my patients that I’ve been there and done that, and that like me, they too can beat it!”
Remember puppy love? For most couples, that fairy tale feeling is unintentionally lost somewhere between bills to pay and diapers to change. As a society, we acknowledge this marital transition as the norm, but should it be? After 18 years of marriage and a recent knee replacement surgery, Roy and Randi Roach firmly believe that enduring puppy love is attainable for those who are willing to ‘work and love at it.’
Roy is proud. The 7-year-old boy wipes sweat from his brow and leans on his tobacco planter as he patiently waits for his father to stoop down and carefully inspect his latest row of seed on their family farm in Mill Creek, VA. Moments later an uncontainable grin spreads across Roy’s face as his father provides his customary nod of approval. And so it is, a bond forms between father and son and their many rows of tobacco.
“At an early age, I learned from my dad that hard work won’t kill you,” said Roy. “He taught me that if you commit to doing something, you do your best and you do it with all of your heart.”
Randi is perplexed. The recently widowed North Carolina native strolls indecisively through a Boone grocery store in hopes of finding the perfect get-well gift for a friend at the hospital. Then, somewhere between the produce and dairy section she spots a smiling 58-year-old man wearing a cowboy hat, pearl snap shirt and boots.
“We talked for 15 minutes and then he asked me to dinner,” recounts a blushing Randi. “I made up an excuse on the spot, but he still leaned in for a kiss right then and there with what felt like the whole world watching. Five months later we were married and my darling and I have never looked back.”
Today, the couple remains passionately inseparable on their small farm in Lansing, NC. At 76, Roy is now retired from his ministry career at the pulpit, but he still enjoys the rigorous responsibilities of maintaining the homestead. Randi spends her time in the kitchen, ignoring her arthritis to bake cakes for friends in need and community shut-ins. Until recently, the couple enjoyed holding hands and taking leisurely walks together around the farm.
“I guess my knee just finally decided it had had enough,” said Roy. “It got to the point where I had a hard time walking, much less working in the garden or chopping wood for the fireplace.”
After having his right knee replaced a few years ago at Watauga Medical Center, Roy knew that it was time to replace the left. In August 2017, the couple made an appointment at AppOrtho in Boone, NC, with Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Steven Anderson and Kevin George, PA-C.
“When you walk in the door at AppOrtho, all you feel is kindness and love from everyone that works there,” said Randi. “Kevin and Dr. Anderson truly listen first. Then, they work together beautifully to help you find the best solution.”
In Roy’s case, a total knee replacement was recommended and performed without complication a few weeks later at Watauga Medical Center.
“Watauga Medical Center was the only hospital we would consider going to for a couple of reasons,” said Roy. “For one, we did not want to go off the mountain for surgery and we really like and trust the team over there at AppOrtho.”
Thanks to his successful surgery, Roy was able to return to his seat on the tractor, his axe in the tree stump and most importantly to his wife’s side for their walks together around the farm.
When asked what they still hope to accomplish in life, Randi said, “I’ve already accomplished it. I have a God that loves me and the most wonderful husband in the world.”
Roy added, “When you share the same desires and you live together and work together and you sweat together and you fuss together and you go through all of the things that husbands and wives do together a special bond forms. Like my dad always told me, if you commit to doing something – work, love, you name it; do it the best you can and do it with all of your heart.”
How do you feel when you learn that someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer? Most of us are flooded with empathy and a desire to help, but do not know where to start or what to expect. Fortunately, Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center located in Boone, NC, serves as a refuge for individuals diagnosed with cancer. Bettie Bond is one of those individuals who found joy and beauty in all circumstances, even breast cancer.
An idea shared between young doctors serving as medics during World War II led Bettie’s father, Dr. Robert Bateman, and his colleagues to open a clinic in Somerset, Kentucky after the war. Dr. Bateman would marry, have four children, and go on to serve as Somerset and Danville’s adored “baby doctor” (OB-GYN) for many years.
As a child, Bettie enjoyed weekend trips with her siblings to the movie theatre in downtown Somerset. “Mother would give each of us a quarter, which was enough to purchase a movie ticket, a bag of popcorn and a Sugar Daddy candy bar. We had a blast and I lost all of my baby teeth to that Sugar Daddy! I know it also gave my mother a much needed break.”
Unfortunately, Bettie’s mother died from ovarian cancer in 1984. Bettie can still remember hearing her mother cry out in pain on the day of her death; a memory that still haunts her to this day.
The pursuit of higher education eventually led Bettie and her husband, John, to start their academic careers together at Appalachian State University in 1971. For 25 years, John taught as a professor of mycology and she taught history. The couple quickly fell in love with the High Country and today they remain active in community projects.
In May 2015, Bettie and her good friend Mary made their annual “shopping and mammogram” trip to Winston Salem, NC. “Although we both know that we can get our mammograms done in Boone, being able to go off the mountain to shop has made this annual screening something we have come to look forward to doing together. However, that year was different, that year I was diagnosed with breast cancer.”
As the nurse began to outline treatment options available in Winston Salem, Bettie fought back memories of her mother’s painful chemotherapy treatments.
“No,” she said, while politely interrupting the nurse. “I appreciate your help, but I would like to take care of this at home. The nurse flashed an understanding smile and said, ‘well of course, you have a great hospital and cancer center in Boone.’”
The nurse transferred Bettie’s medical records to her physician at the Davant Medical Clinic in Blowing Rock, NC. Dr. Palmer confirmed the results and suggested that she meet with a specialist, Dr. Paul Dagher, at Watauga Surgical Group in Boone, NC.
“I have to be honest, there was nothing to my surgery,” she said with a grin. “I only had to spend one night in the hospital and I felt no pain afterward.”
A few weeks later, Bettie started her chemotherapy treatments at the Cancer Center or as she likes to refer to it, “the Spa.”
“They pamper you,” she said, referring to the nurses and volunteers in the infusion room. “All I had to do was sit back in the treatment chair and catch up on my New Yorker. From there, the nurses hooked me up for treatment, covered me with a warm blanket and brought me lunch. The best part was that I never had a sick day as a result of chemotherapy. I credit that in large part to my meticulous Medical Oncologist, Dr. Anna Sobol.”
According to Bettie, the hardest part of the whole treatment process was losing her hair. To help patients and their families cope with the emotional and physical toll of treatment or post-treatment, the Cancer Center offers a wide variety of classes for cancer survivors including the Radiance program, yoga, nutrition, lymphedema prevention and management, meditation, and a walking group.
One day, Bettie took part in a Radiance class by accident. “I just thought I had walked into a party,” she joked. “I remember meeting a handful of delightfully brave women, who were all losing their hair, eyebrows or fingernails as a result of treatment. Angie Shoemake, the Cancer Center’s social worker, brought in a ton of war paint [makeup] for us to learn how to address the cosmetic side effects of chemotherapy.”
The Radiance program is led by licensed estheticians and cosmetologists who volunteer their time to provide skin therapy, makeup tips and head coverings from the Cancer Center’s wig boutique. Assisting women to cope with the physical side effects of cancer treatments was originally an American Cancer Society initiative started more than 25 years ago. The Cancer Center’s localized adaptation, Radiance, has restored courage, beauty and dignity for hundreds of High Country cancer survivors.
“Angie taught me a lot more than just how to tie a turban around my head,” said Bettie. “She invited me into a special space reserved for women who know just what I am going through. And let me tell you something else, these women are fun. We laughed and cried and laughed some more. This wonderful group of ladies could find joy and beauty in everything.”
In spring of 2017, after her surgery and six months of chemotherapy, Bettie was considered cancer free.
“I am so appreciative for this hospital, this cancer center and most importantly modern medicine,” she said. “When I think about my mother and how far healthcare has come since her passing, I truly believe modern medicine is what saved my life.”
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
A 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.
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.
After hearing that his health was in jeopardy a few months ago, Justin Weltz will graduate this spring with a Thrive “degree” in improved fitness from the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center and a Master’s degree in English from Appalachian State University.
As early as second grade, the Florida native knew that he wanted to go into the teaching profession. He excelled in the classroom and always looked for opportunities to tutor his peers. Justin decided to become an English teacher when his college English professor said, “Whatever your ideas are, they have value. The key is learning how to express them.”
After college, he went on to teach high school at an alternative school for students with behavioral challenges and disabilities. This time in his life was challenging to say the least. Justin recalled a time when a student intentionally damaged his car, but even still, his passion for teaching grew. “I learned early on the importance of having a short memory,” he said. “As a teacher, I gain nothing from holding a grudge.”
The stress of the job did take a toll in other areas of his life. Weltz became depressed and overweight, often coping with fast food twice a day. In need of a change, he decided to go back to Appalachian State to pursue his Master’s degree in English. Although he enjoyed being back in the classroom, the pressure of graduate school did nothing to help improve his depression and poor diet.
“I can remember one occasion where I stayed up for three days straight while trying to teach an undergraduate class, work my part-time job and complete final exams,” he said. “During that time, the only thing I ate was fast food. It was bad, I knew it was bad, but it’s what I did.”
Last December the 29-year-old faced a moment of truth when at 320 pounds his medical provider informed him that he was diabetic. If changes were not made, he could lose his life.
At that point, Weltz’s mother recommended that her son join her in the Thrive program at the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center. Thrive is a medically supervised six-month program that transitions participants from chronic disease management to wellness. The program includes supervised exercise, nutritional counseling, chronic disease education and self-management strategies.
Weltz joined the Thrive program in January 2017. Since that time, his A1C (average blood glucose) went from 7.4 (high) down to 5.2 (healthy level). Additionally, thanks to the help of the Thrive program staff, Weltz changed his diet, lost 75 pounds, went down four pant sizes, improved his overall confidence and formed a closer relationship with his mother.
“Justin has made extraordinary progress on improving his overall health and well-being thanks both to his personal hard work and determination, and to the supportive team from the Thrive program at the Wellness Center,” said Karen Williams, FNP, Weltz’s primary care provider. “He has had significant weight loss which has required stopping medication for diabetes as he no longer needs this. With the Thrive program’s support, Justin has made huge strides towards improving both his mental well-being and physical health.”
“The Thrive program has helped several patients in our practice [Greenway Medical Associates],” she said. “Its comprehensive approach meets each individual at their current level of fitness and proceeds forward with goals of improved health outcomes. The program’s staff also notifies the provider if there are problems that arise when starting a new exercise program. The Thrive program is a much needed and valuable resource for our community.”
“The Thrive program saved my life,” said Weltz with a smile. “I cannot wait to look and feel better as I walk across that [graduation] stage in May.”