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.
Tony 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.”
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.”
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.’”
By Josh Jarman
Can you remember the last time you made a promise? Outside of our marriage vows, most of us do not like to think much about promises because they remind us of our past failed personal attempts to watch less television or to floss with more regularity. Despite our best intentions, if given the option to take the easy road or the hard road in life, we all tend to revert back to the path of least resistance.
Stephanie Pate Greer, the Director of Behavioral Health at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS), knows firsthand the danger of complacency. She and her team of nurses, therapists, crisis interventionists and psychiatrists have made a collective and unwavering commitment to always provide high quality behavioral health services in the High Country. For Stephanie, it was a promise made in heartbreak, steeped in love and maintained by her uncompromising resolve.
It takes a village
Stephanie with her mother Geneva Pate at Pope’s Family Center in Newland NC
Stephanie could run the cash register and count back change at 6 years old. It was at her mother, Geneva Pate’s side that she proudly learned the fundamentals of customer service while working at Pope’s Family Center in Newland, NC. In a town with only two traffic lights, she quickly became well-acquainted with everyone in her “Mayberry-esque” community. Between customers she liked to spend her hard-earned wages on peach Nehi and Whatchamacallit candy bars from the neighboring Avery True Value Hardware store.
She also enjoyed spending quality time with her father, Dallas, a retired North Carolina State Trooper, who she considers to be the most influential person in her life. Some of her fondest memories took place in his patrol car, where she was allowed to run the radar detector, wear his trooper hat and just spend quality time with her favorite law enforcement officer.
Stephanie Greer with her father Dallas Pate in front of his patrol car
“While we were ‘out on patrol’ dad also taught me a lot about life,” she shared. “Integrity was very important to my father. He taught me that in this life we are not entitled to anything. But with hard work, we can absolutely accomplish whatever goal is set before us. He also taught me that your word is your bond and that a promise made should be a promise kept.”
Stephanie was named Most Spirited in her high school annual. It was there that she competed in softball, cheerleading, public speaking and in other events as a part of Future Farmers of America, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Future Business Leaders of America and in the Student Government Association.
She credits her zeal for life to her faith in God. “I think it is a normal part of human behavior to mess up from time to time. But when you discover that you have a God that loves you, and literally a village of people like ours supporting you, I think it brings out the best in people.”
Stephanie with bear cub on Grandfather Mountain
Throughout high school and college Stephanie worked on Grandfather Mountain. It was there that she started in the gift shop and then transferred to the role of zookeeper. In that position, she was tasked to take care of the black bear, cougar, white-tailed deer, golden eagle, and bald eagle habitats.
“Little did I know it at the time, but learning how to change my demeanor to accommodate where I was proved to be great foundational training for the work I do today in behavioral health,” she said. “I’ll never forget the first time I went into the cougar habitat. I was told to expect the 115-pound cat to pounce on me. I was told to face the cougar and to knock the animal back; this would in effect quickly establish who the alpha was in the situation. Sure enough, the cat leapt and I did everything wrong. I turned my back and screamed. I think we all do that at some point in our lives.”
Determined, she went back to the cougar habitat a few days later to face her fears. This time, when the animal pounced, she held her ground – a lesson learned and a fear conquered.
Lost and found
Stephanie’s interest in healthcare developed after she injured her knee cheerleading and had to endure multiple surgeries followed by physical therapy. Inspired by her own healthcare experience, she went onto Western Carolina University to study recreational therapy.
Her program required a four month onsite clinical internship. Stephanie chose to complete her internship at Broughton Psychiatric Hospital because it was close to home and more importantly close to her parent’s refrigerator.
“I was the first intern allowed to work on the adult acute-care admissions unit,” she said. “I learned quickly that at a state psychiatric hospital you see people at their lowest and sickest points. I also learned that there is absolutely no difference in the human beings in need of behavioral healthcare and you and me save a few circumstances. Circumstances could be life or chemical related, but they are still just circumstances. They are still people. A group of people grossly misunderstood and under advocated for. I had found my passion.”
Stephanie was hired as the recreational therapy supervisor for adult acute-care admissions at Broughton Hospital when she turned 21. Admittedly, it was a big job, and she leaned on her more seasoned staff to help her develop new programs, such as the first treatment mall, a school equivalent for patients suffering from mental illness. During that time, she was promoted several times and she went on to complete her Master’s in Business Administration at Gardner-Webb University.
Her hardest lesson learned however took place one day when she heard screams coming down the hallway of her unit. She raced to find a patient who had committed suicide on her watch. Devastated, she admitted to the patient’s family that despite checking-all-of-the-boxes in terms of safety and therapy, she viewed it as a personal failure. Through tears she made a promise to herself and to that patient’s family that she would never again be satisfied with just checking the boxes.
“By the very nature of working in behavioral health, you know that things like this can happen,” she shared. “But we have to be vigilant to guard against it. We can never be content or complacent. I made a promise that day and I was determined to keep it.”
After months of mounting pressure from a family friend, Stephanie finally agreed to go on a blind date with Allan, a Boone Police Officer.
“I was so nervous about the whole blind date thing that I made Allan pick me up from my parent’s house,” she said. “He then took me to see a church play, I figured that was a pretty safe first date. We got married a year later and never looked back.”
Fast forward 10 years. Allan had become a State Trooper, Stephanie was well entrenched in her role at Broughton, they now had two children and were “settled” in every sense of the word when she received a call from a headhunter in Arizona to inform her that a Director of Behavioral Health position had opened in Linville, NC. Assuming that she was unfamiliar with the area, the recruiter went on to try to “sell” the mountain community to his client. Stephanie smiled in a moment of serendipitous delight at the thought of returning home to her beloved Avery County.
She was hired for the position at Cannon Memorial Hospital by Carmen Lacey, now president of the hospital and a lifelong friend; and Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of ARHS.
“I’ll never forget my first day on January 27, 2008,” she said. “It was an ice-storm and everything in town had shut down, but I knew that I had to get to work, especially on my first day by 8 a.m. So we parked my car at the bottom of our hill the night before and I made it in on time, an hour before everyone else. I guess you could say that I was eager to get started.”
Meeting a need
And so it was that the behavioral health department formed at ARHS. Within her first year she reopened a 10-bed inpatient behavioral health unit in the hospital. This unit is fully equipped to provide psychiatric evaluation, medication management, individualized treatment planning and group therapy.
She also revamped outpatient behavioral health services to improve access to adult, child and family therapy. The outpatient program started with 12 patients and now maintains a caseload of more than 1300 individuals from across the High Country.
She then launched the Behavioral Health Crisis Team in 2011. The mobile crisis team is designed to meet and treat patients at whatever point they access the healthcare system. In many cases, the crisis team has saved patients from having to incur costly and unnecessary emergency department visits.
Despite these milestone achievements, the demand for behavioral health services continues to rise in North Carolina. As the only inpatient behavioral health facility within a 40-mile radius, Cannon Memorial Hospital receives more than 5,000 psychiatric referrals from across the state each year. Of those, the hospital is only able to admit an average of 560 patients into its 10-bed inpatient unit.
To help meet this need, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) recently awarded Cannon Memorial Hospital with a $6.5 million grant, to expand the availability of behavioral health beds in the western region of North Carolina. The funding for this grant originated from the Dorothea Dix Hospital Property Fund, which was created by the North Carolina General Assembly from the sale of Dorothea Dix Hospital in 2015.
“This grant was an answered prayer for our community,” she said. “Not only does this create an opportunity in Avery County for us to continue to meet the medical needs of the community, but it also allows us to have an opportunity to expand and improve access to much needed behavioral health services.”
After months of careful planning, construction began last month to expand outpatient behavioral health services. Additionally, the grant will be used to create a designated 37-bed inpatient psychiatric unit within Cannon Memorial Hospital.
Thanks to other funding sources, the medical side of the hospital is also getting an upgrade. Once the two-and-a-half year construction project is complete, Cannon Memorial Hospital will operate as a Critical Access Hospital, fully equipped with a state-of-the-art inpatient 8-bed medical unit to meet the needs of the community. In addition to behavioral health services and inpatient medical care, the hospital will continue to provide imaging, laboratory, primary care, surgery, rehabilitation and cardiopulmonary services. This full-service medical campus will continue to serve as the hub of healthcare in Avery County.
“I live less than a mile from here,” she said. “So it goes without saying that it is important for me and my family to have access to good medical services. In a community of our size, it is unheard of to have access to primary care, preventative health and wellness care, behavioral health care and all of our specialty care. It is truly a blessing that I don’t think people in our community fully grasp.”
For Stephanie, everything goes back to that little girl behind the cash register with her mom. At an early age she fell in love with this community and she takes great pride in providing for its needs.
“My hope and prayer is that as we grow our services, the High Country will come to see that these patients are nothing more than our friends and our family members,” she said. “Unlike every other diagnosis, there seems to be a stigma or fear to talk about behavioral health. But the truth is that one-in-four adults will suffer every year from a diagnosable mental illness. Our goal is to meet these people where they are and to provide them with the care they so desperately need.”
In her office you will find motivational quotes hanging on the walls and pictures of her children prominently displayed on her bookshelf. She is proud to share that Zack, her oldest, is considering a career as a physical therapist. And that Reagan “Bob”, her 12-year-old daughter, has her mind set on following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming the next director of behavioral health at ARHS. It is clear to see, that like the rest of us, her children admire their mother’s heart and passion to serve others and have been positively affected by having the opportunity to be nurtured in the same “village” of people their mom did so many years ago.
In this line of work it is not about perfection, it is about progress. We do what we do in behavioral health because we love our patients. It is hard to describe just how blessed I feel to work here and to give back to the very community that has given so much to me.”
Learn more about Behavioral Health services at Appalachian Regional Healthcare System>
Over the past few weeks, we have seen a decline in flu cases within our facilities. This decrease in flu cases matches what our state is reporting as well.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System has removed restrictions for visitors under 18 years of age effective March 18, 2019.
What this means for visitors:
- Visitors 18 years and younger are allowed at all ARHS facilities.
- Adult visitors and visitors 18 years and under should be free from fever, cough, colds or stomach virus symptoms.
- Visitors who display flu-like symptoms may be asked not to visit.
- Visitors must wash or sanitize their hands before, during and after each visit.
Thank you for your patience. We apologize for any inconvenience the restrictions may have caused.
If you develop flu-like symptoms, visit your primary care provider, AppUrgent Care Center, Baker Walk-in Clinic or the nearest Emergency Department. For more information about the flu, visit www.cdc.gov/flu.
Choosing nutritious foods and getting enough physical activity can make a real difference in your health. For National Nutrition Month® 2019, in March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Appalachian Regional Healthcare System encourage people to make informed food choices and develop sound eating and activity habits.
Each March, the Academy focuses attention on healthful eating through National Nutrition Month®. “Through the campaign, we share good eating tips such as how to keep nutritious meals simple, the importance of making food safety a part of your everyday routine, the value of preparing meals with foods you have on hand to avoid wasting food, and how to select nutritious food options when dining away from home,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Robin Foroutan, a New York-based spokesperson for the Academy.
“Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated,” Foroutan says. “Think about what you want your plate to look like and ask if it’s incorporating all the major food groups. Select a mix of lean protein foods, vegetables, whole grains and fruits to enjoy a healthful meal.”
The Academy recommends balancing nutritious foods with physical activity most days of the week. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ physical activity guidelines, adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, including at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities. Being physically active up to 300 minutes per week has even greater health benefits.
“Look into incorporating physical activity into your daily routine,” Foroutan says. “Walk to work or take a walk during your lunch hour. Do something physical during the weekend, such as playing basketball with your kids or going dancing with your friends. The goal is to get moving; every little bit helps.”
For individualized nutritional recommendations, the Academy recommends visiting a registered dietitian nutritionist. Locate an RDN using the Academy’s online Find an Expert service.
“Registered dietitian nutritionists can help consumers determine the lifestyle balance that provides the nutrients you need while still eating the foods you enjoy the most,” Foroutan says.
Initiated in 1973 as National Nutrition Week, National Nutrition Month® became a month-long observance in 1980 in response to growing interest in nutrition.
To commemorate the dedication of registered dietitian nutritionists as the leading advocates for advancing the nutritional status of Americans and people around the world, the second Wednesday of March is celebrated as Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day. This year’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day will be celebrated March 13.
As part of National Nutrition Month®, the Academy’s website includes articles, recipes, videos and educational resources to spread the message of good nutrition and the importance of an overall healthy lifestyle for people of all ages, genders and backgrounds.
Consumers can also follow National Nutrition Month® on the Academy’s social media channels including Facebook and Twitter using #NationalNutritionMonth.
In observance of National Nutrition Month®, the ARHS Clinical Nutrition Department is planning various activities throughout March.
- During the entire month of March, look for a weekly taste testing in the dining room at Watauga Medical Center and at Cannon Memorial Hospital. There will be contests for prizes and a variety of current, evidence-based nutrition information available.
- From March 25th through March 30th, there will be a food drive at both Watauga Medical Center and Cannon Memorial Hospital. The food collected will benefit the Hunger and Health Coalition of Watauga County and Feeding Avery County. Collection boxes for non-perishable items will be available in the dining rooms at each facility.
- Stop by the Wellness Center to schedule a consultation with one of our amazing registered dietitians. A consultation will give you highest level of nutrition counseling with both professional and science based nutrition recommendations. Click here to learn more.