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Father's Day at Indian River hospital

STORY BY MILTON R. BENJAMIN (Week of June 19, 2014)

I just celebrated the happiest Father’s Day of my life at Indian River Medical Center.

I celebrated it with my daughter, Jennifer, who is in the Sheridan Intensive Care Unit fighting her way back from a hemorrhagic stroke.

When the Indian River Shores ambulance brought her to the IRMC Emergency Room two weeks earlier, her situation was about as worrisome as it gets.

My wife and I had thought Jennifer, an immunosuppressed transplant recipient already dealing with a rare lung infection that had been exceedingly difficult to diagnose and stubbornly resistant to antibiotics, was simply sleeping late that Sunday June 1.

But when Jennifer failed to respond, we called 9-1-1.  The Shores paramedics were at our front door even before we got off the phone. (How we love the Shores Public Safety Department.)

Whether you live in tiny Vero or in a major metropolitan area, weekends are not the best time to need emergency hospitalization. 

But when we arrived at IRMC behind the ambulance, we were soon ushered back to an Emergency Room suite where Jennifer already was wired up to a variety of equipment.  In recent years, IRMC has made a major investment in its Heart and Stroke Centers.  One result: Emergency Room personnel know quick action is needed when dealing with a possible stroke. 

Even as Jennifer was being wheeled off for a scan that confirmed bleeding in the brain, calls were going out to Dr. Fabio Roberti.

A neurosurgeon and professor of neurosurgery recruited from the metropolitan Washington area some three years ago, Roberti soon appeared and quickly suggested a procedure – which he performed right in the Emergency Room – to relieve pressure on the brain.

In follow-up discussions with Jennifer’s long-time primary care physician, Dr. Gerald Pierone, who was also on the scene, Roberti proposed a second, more aggressive surgery designed to further relieve pressure and remove some blood.  He performed it Sunday evening.

I would like to think the process always works this swiftly and smoothly for any heart or stroke victim arriving at the IRMC Emergency Room in similarly critical condition.

By late that first night, the critical initial steps in Jennifer’s treatment had been taken, and she was moved to the Sheridan ICU – a state of the art facility – where she remains.

In the days that followed, a variety of other surgical procedures were performed to address specific complications.  It’s been touch-and-go, but on Friday the 13th, things at last began to look hopeful.  There is still a long road ahead, but we are prayerful Jennifer in time will make a near-complete recovery.

Even during discouraging moments, never once during the past two weeks have we felt that Jennifer would have received better medical treatment and care if all this had occurred in Boston, Chicago or New York.

This paper has carried a number of stories over the past year about disputes between the Indian River Hospital District and IRMC over governance and finances, and in some cases criticism of operations.

Notwithstanding that, thanks to the hundreds of Vero residents who have been amazingly generous in their donations to the Hospital Foundation, for medical conditions that require the most urgent treatment, the Indian River Medical Center now has facilities and people in place that are second to none.

Does it make sense for a community hospital like IRMC to be investing big-time to bring specialists more commonly found at major medical centers to Vero?  Absolutely, if your concern is about medical emergencies where time is of the essence.

Beyond our personal gratitude to Dr. Roberti and those who persuaded him to move to Vero, we think the community can sleep better for the presence of such world-class surgeons as Dr. Cary Stowe, Dr. Mark Malias and others.

The period ahead in the world of health care clearly will be challenging – for hospitals, as well as communities and individuals.  The soaring cost of treating indigent patients who use the Emergency Room as a substitute for a primary care physician (the waiting room was crowded when we arrived that first Sunday) is a major problem.

We intend to continue covering the struggle over how best to deal with our hospital’s challenges.

But for the moment, we will reflect on a particularly happy Father’s Day at the hospital made possible by Dr. Roberti; Dr. Pierone; Dr. George Mitchell, the omnipresent critical care medical director; and the Sheridan ICU nursing team.

In our daughter’s time of crisis, the kind of care she needed was waiting at Indian River Medical Center.