Tag Archives: medical

Giving a Helping Hand to Nebraska Greats

March 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Memory-makers.

That’s what former Husker gridiron great Jerry Murtaugh calls the ex-collegiate athletes whose exploits we recall with larger-than-life nostalgia.

Mythic-like hero portrayals aside, athletes are only human. Their bodies betray them. Medical interventions and other emergencies drain resources. Not every old athlete can pay pressing bills or afford needed care. That’s where the Nebraska Greats Foundation that Murtaugh began five years ago comes in. The charitable organization assists memory-makers who lettered in a sport at any of Nebraska’s 15 universities or colleges.

“All the money we generate goes into helping the memory-makers and their families,” Murtaugh says.

Its genesis goes back to Murtaugh missing a chance to help ailing ex-Husker star Andra Franklin, who died in 2006. When he learned another former NU standout, Dave Humm, was hurting, he made it his mission to help. Murtaugh got Husker coaching legend Tom Osborne to endorse the effort and write the first check.

“The foundation has been a source of financial aid to many former Huskers who are in need, but also, and maybe equally important, it has helped bind former players together in an effort to stay in touch and to serve each other,” Osborne says. “I sense a feeling of camaraderie and caring among our former players not present in many other athletic programs around the country.”

The foundation has since expanded its reach to letter-winners from all Nebraska higher ed institutions.

By the start of 2018, more than $270,000 raised by the foundation went to cover the needs of 12 recipients. Three recipients subsequently died from cancer. As needed, the foundation provides for the surviving spouse and children of memory-makers. 

The latest and youngest grantee is also the first female recipient—Brianna Perez. The former York College All-America softball player required surgery for a knee injury suffered playing ball. Between surgery, flying to California to see her ill mother, graduate school, and unforeseen expenses, Perez went into debt.

“She found out about us, we reviewed her application, and her bills were paid off,” Nebraska Greats Foundation Administrator Margie Smith says. “She cried and so did I.”

It’s hard for proud ex-athletes to accept or ask for help, says all-time Husker hoops great Maurtice Ivy, who serves on the board. Yet they find themselves in vulnerable straits that can befall anyone. Giving back to those who gave so much, she says, “is a no-brainer.”

The hard times that visit these greats are heartbreaking. Some end up in wheelchairs, others homeless. Some die and leave family behind.

“I cry behind closed doors,” Murtaugh says. “One of the great ones we lost, a couple weeks before he passed away said, ‘All I’m asking is take care of my family.’ So, we’re doing our best. What I’m proud of is, we don’t leave them hanging. Our athlete, our brother, our sister has died, and we just don’t stop there—we clear up all the medical bills the family faces. We’re there for them.”

“We become advocates, cheerleaders, and sounding boards for them and their families,” Smith says. “I am excited when I write checks to pay their bills, thrilled when they make a full recovery, and cry when they pass away. But we’re helping our memory-makers through their time of need. Isn’t this what life is all about?”

Smith says the foundation pays forward what the athletes provided fans in terms of feelings and memories.

“We all want to belong to something good,” she says. “That is why the state’s collegiate sports programs are so successful. We cheer our beloved athletes to do their best to make us feel good. We brag about the wins, cry over the losses. The outcome affects us because we feel a sense of belonging. These recipients gave their all for us. They served as role models. Now it’s our turn to take care of them.”

Murtaugh is sure it’s an idea whose time has come.

“Right now, I think we’re the only state that helps our former athletes,” he says. “Before I’m dead, I’m hoping every state picks up on this and helps their own because the NCAA isn’t going to help you after you’re done. We know that. And that’s what we’re here for—we need to help our own. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Funds raised go directly to creditors, not recipients.

He says two prominent athletic figures with ties to the University of Nebraska—Barry Alvarez, who played football at NU and coached Wisconsin, where he’s athletic director, and Craig Bohl, who played and coached at NU’s football program, led North Dakota State to three national titles, and now coaches Wyoming—wish to start similar foundations.

Murtaugh and his board, comprised mostly of ex-athletes like himself, are actively getting the word out across the state and beyond to identify more potential recipients and raise funds to support them. He’s confident of the response.

“We’re going to have the money to help all the former athletes in the state who need our help,” he says. “Athletes and fans are starting to really understand the impact they all make for these recipients. People have stepped up and donated a lot of money. A lot of people have done a lot of things for us. But we need more recipients. We have some money in the bank that needs to be used.”

Because Nebraska collegiate fan bases extend statewide and nationally, Murtaugh travels to alumni and booster groups to present the foundation’s work. Everywhere he goes, he says, people get behind it.

“Nebraskans are the greatest fans in the country and they back their athletes in all 15 colleges and universities,” he says. “It’s great to see. I’m proud to be part of this, I really am.”

Foundation fundraisers unite the state around a shared passion. A golf classic in North Platte last year featured the three Husker Heisman Trophy winners—Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, and Eric Crouch—for an event that raised $40,000. Another golf outing is planned for July in Kearney that will once more feature the Heisman trio.

Murtaugh envisions future events across the state so fans can rub shoulders with living legends and help memory-makers with their needs.

He sees it as one big “family” coming together “to help our own.”

Visit nebraskagreatsfoundation.org for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Home Away From Home

February 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Volunteer firefighters at the Bennington rural fire station believe saying, “It’s quiet,” could spell the difference between a boring night and one that ends badly.

When the firefighters’ beepers buzz, there is no telling what could be on the end of the call.

“I thought a GI bleed was the worst thing I’d ever smelled, but charred human flesh was worse,” Kim Miksich says.

As a volunteer firefighter for the past year, Miksich expects the unexpected.

At first glance, it seems unlikely that this petite blonde could strap on a 70-pound pack of gear and venture into the smoky darkness of a fire. Yet, a tough determination and reliance is obvious as she recalls her first training runs. Miksich’s heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature heated up just like the flickers of flame as she stepped into the pitch black. Even though she had an experienced firefighter to guide the way, it was still pretty scary.

Miksich, a 20-year veteran of nursing at Bergan Mercy Medical Center, realized at 41 years old that she no longer had a choice. She felt compelled to follow her dream of fighting fires, even if it meant not getting paid.

“I dove in headfirst and went for it,” Miksich says.

It was a longing Miksich harbored for almost 20 years. It took her almost a year to get in good enough shape to pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test.

Miksich now volunteers at least three days of 12-hour shifts a month, staying overnight in the wide-open space of the station.

It was a huge life change. Married for 13 years, she would now have to spend nights away from her husband (who was supportive of her extra hours at the station). “He’s more worried about the dangerous aspects of the job,” she says.

Miksich, along with 44 other volunteers, covered 708 calls, 185 fires, and 523 rescues last year. All for free. Pride in service is evident all over the station, from the clean floors to the gleaming red, yellow, and blue firetrucks, to the smoke-stained coats.

The station—which opened in 2015—is immaculate. The cleanliness of the trucks and living quarters reflect this just as much as the hours the firefighters put in to save lives.

Assistant Chief Ben Tysor believes money normally spent on salaries can be spent on the facility, allowing them to better serve citizens.

It is a far cry from the former small white building down the street. It is no rinky-dink, country-bumpkin fire station. Donated by Darrell and Coe Leta Logemann, the warm brick of the building draws in visitors and volunteers. Tall, stately windows with squares outlined in bright red reflect the rustic scenery.

Opening the door, it feels a bit like a church. The stillness is a reminder of death, danger, and destruction. In the tribute room to the left, a pillar of the Twin Towers tilts to the side in a concrete frozen reminder of what could happen without courageous souls willing to risk their lives for others. The job, “a constant unknown,” matters as visitors stroll past a case filled with helmets, suits, and photos.

Fingers of sunlight reach out to an old hose cart, purchased in 1912 for $13 by the Village of Bennington (a historical reminder of those long-gone firefighters who remain part of the squad).

Chief Brent Jones continues this “family” feeling by staying in touch even with volunteers who have left.

“I spend a lot of time there. It is like a second home,” Jones says.

One of his toughest days recently included 10 calls in a 24-hour period. He hadn’t slept, so downtime in one of the black leather chairs created much-needed relaxation and peace. About eight of these same movie-style recliners are in one room facing a flat-screen television.

Firefighters can also make a meal in the vast kitchen complete with a center island. A stainless steel refrigerator and freezer filled with frozen pizzas, a slab of prime rib, or other items labeled with volunteers’ names fill the insides. Or they can help themselves to a pop from the fountain machine or fresh salted popcorn.

It’s meant to be a home away from home. Upstairs, eight bedrooms complete with bed, television, and desk give it a laid-back vibe. A full locker room comes in handy when someone comes in to use the modern weight room which overlooks the trucks (a reminder to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice—perhaps using the fireman’s pole behind a closed door).

Volunteers must meet three Mondays out of the month for emergency medical or fire training and business meetings. A big time commitment, but necessary.

“[Volunteering] is a disease. Once it is in your blood, you can’t get it out,” Jones says.

Jones, a 14-year volunteer, loves the challenge. But mainly, it is his way of serving the community. Jones spends 25 to 30 hours a week in Bennington, and about 56 hours on his regular job as a firefighter in Lincoln, where he has worked for the past 16 years. His wife also volunteers when she isn’t working as a paramedic with Midwest Medical Transport.

Although downtime seems like a minimum, pranks are still played. Jacked up trucks, water dumped on heads, and snakes in the lockers are classic.

One firefighter laughs as he plans to scratch at the door of a co-worker who believes a ghost roams the station randomly leaving the showers and sinks running.

Some of the firefighters believe they bring the spirits back after a trip. Although it is possible, the building may just be too new.

“Just don’t say the word quiet,” Jones says again. “Something will happen.”

Visit benningtonfirerescue.com for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Beauty & the Cyborg Beast

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Less than three years ago, it dawned on scientist Jorge Zuniga why a childhood friend wanted nothing more than to play baseball.

It was odd. Growing up in Santiago, Chile, there were not many baseball fans. Just the one, as far as Zuniga knew (after all, soccer reigns supreme in Chile). Even more curious, Zuniga’s friend had just one hand.

Why baseball?

“There’s not one baseball field in the whole country,” Zuniga says, laughing at the exaggeration, “but this one kid without a hand wants to be a baseball player.”

Then, 20-odd years later, Zuniga and his 7-year-old son are playing catch in the long shadows of the front yard. Zuniga remembers his one-armed friend and his inexplicable love of baseball. Then it hits him.

“Oh,” Zuniga says, “I bet this kid that didn’t have a hand just wanted to do what every kid wants to do.” He yearned to play catch.

Biomedical2Earlier that same day, he had listened to a radio news report about “Robohand,” a project in South Africa that creates 3D-printed prosthetics for children. Zuniga—with a doctorate in exercise physiology and a lab at Creighton University—wanted to know more about the Robohand. But he had difficulty connecting with the researchers involved.

After several attempts to reach the people in South Africa, he relied on his own knowledge, resources, and expertise to make a prosthetic on his own. It took several months to perfect his prototype, but Zuniga’s journey highlights how the health care industry is utilizing new breakthroughs in 3D printing technology.

Nothing is more personal than health care. And few things are more customizable than the 3D-printed object. The field of prosthetics represents just one obvious medical application for the technology, one with many advantages: to provide a custom-fitted solution for an amputee; to shave thousands off the cost of traditional prosthetic limbs; to negate the financial burden if insurance doesn’t cover the device; and especially for children, to provide a fast solution to wear, tear, and outgrowing the artificial body part. 

But prosthetics only scratch the surface of possibilities awaiting biomedical 3D printing. The FDA, for example, recently approved the first 3D printed drug—an incredibly fast-acting seizure medication that dissolves in seconds thanks to a structure only possible through 3D printing.

Improvements to medical devices that were once too expensive to contemplate can be prototyped on the cheap. Zuniga, who now (as of August 15) works out of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Biomechanics Research Building, says he has printed the model of a fetus for a blind mother who wanted to “see” her unborn baby. He has also worked with physicians at Omaha Children’s Hospital to print three-dimensional models of patient hearts so surgeons can study the organ long before they pick up a scalpel.

Zuniga’s use of 3D printing carries immediate significance and practicality. A glance at the more fantastic applications, however, can be found at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. There, biomedical engineer Bin Duan is heading up a new bioprinting unit that is printing and growing bone and cartilage for regenerative purposes. Later this year, Duan and his team will implant small plugs of printed bone into animals that should eventually integrate with the animal’s existing tissue.

Bioprinting works by printing with at least two different materials. First, a biocompatible polymer creates a scaffold or lattice in the desired shape of the tissue, such as an ear or a piece of bone. The second material, living cells, are printed onto the scaffold. The cells cling to the structure, and over the course of several weeks they live and multiply as the scaffold slowly degrades and disappears. Eventually, the scaffold material is gone, but the tissue remains.

One potential application of UNMC’s bone tests could be used to help future children born with certain defects. A printed bone implant made from the child’s stem cells would then grow with the child, eliminating the need for multiple surgeries.

In a more distant future, an organ transplant might not be from a random donor, but from the patient’s own stem cells: a new, perfect organ printed when it is needed, and far less prone to rejection. Skin grafts and bone regeneration, all of it made with a patient’s personal cells.

UNMC’s bioprinting program is still in its infancy, so a breakthrough with more complex systems will likely come from a place like Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Widely regarded as the national leader for 3D bioprinting, researchers there have already printed skin, blood vessels, bladders, and muscle—some of them implanted in humans. But complex organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver remain unsolved puzzles…for now.

In the here and now, researchers like Zuniga can make accessible what was once out of reach for many.

When he finished his first 3D-printed prosthetic arm, he showed it to his young son. The elder Zuniga expected to impress his son with the level of realism it held. The boy was not impressed.

“He said, ‘If that’s for children, that’s not gonna work,’” Zuniga says. “’Daddy, that hand is too real. You need something cooler than that.’”

Inspired by his son’s insight, Zuniga created “Cyborg Beast,” a brightly colored, prosthetic, cybernetic hand that more closely resembles something out of a science fiction movie than a human limb. The plans and instructions on how to use them are open and free to anyone with access to a 3D printer.

“You’d be surprised at how many people around the world have access to (3D printing) machines,” Zuniga says. “…It’s like the start of a revolution.”

An artificial limb that once cost $4,000, can now be had for about $50—about the cost of a trip to the ballpark.

Visit cyborgbeast.org to learn more. B2B

To Tanzania with Love

January 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and provided by Alegent Creighton Health

Life-changing work by Alegent Creighton Health in Tanzania is the focus of a forthcoming documentary from a one-time Omaha television news personality. When former KMTV anchor-reporter Mary Williams and videographer Pete Soby travel to the African nation in February, their main point of contact will be ACH’s man-on-the-job there, Bob Kasworm, whose life has been transformed by the calling he follows in that distant land.

Kasworm, a biomedical engineer and devout Christian, combines career and faith in Tanzania, his home the last 10 years.

“This was never in my plans,” says Kasworm. “I really wasn’t thinking I would ever go to Africa or have a life of service,” he says.

He first visited in 2001 on a Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America-sponsored trip. He went to evaluate the potential of Alegent assisting hospitals, dispensaries, and public health programs there.

The pull of Africa began then.

“From the very first trip there was never a day and rarely an hour when Africa was not on my mind,” he says. “Yes, it was the poverty and the need, but it was more than that. Somehow Africa just got into my blood.”

He made a dozen or so additional visits in a three-year span as Alegent committed itself to working with the evangelical church and various health and civic partners in Machame, an area on the southeastern slope of Mount Kilimanjaro. He cultivated and coordinated the growing relationship between the partners and implemented various initiatives.

The organization’s efforts there include training medical staff at Machame Hospital, developing Machame Nursing School, providing nursing scholarships, and delivering medical equipment and supplies. Kasworm leads the Homes for Health program that uses local laborers to build new, cleaner, safer homes for residents.

At the end of 2004 Kasworm decided to live in Tanzania full-time. He says it was then his wife “realized that what she thought was just a temporary ‘mid-life crisis’ was something I was powerless to resist.”

He’s since learned Swahili well enough to speak it fluently.

Machame Lutheran Hospital, founded some 110 years ago by German missionaries, is at the center of much of Alegent’s 
work there.

“We have the hospital with about 120 inpatients and many outpatients and clinics,” he explains. “We also have a Clinical Officer Training school and now the nursing school. There are about 20 homes for staff.”

The campus is on a rare paved road. There’s running water (“usually”), electricity (“much of the time”), and internet access (“slow”).

Bob Kasworm in Tanzania

Bob Kasworm in Tanzania

Progress is plodding but rewarding.

“The most satisfying thing is that, in many cases, if not for our efforts and involvement many would simply not get help,” he continues. “A child with a club foot would become an adult with a club foot. The nursing student would not have had a chance to study. It is not like you can just go down the street to an alternative. There is no safety net. We do it, or it won’t happen. We can now point to a number of successes.

“There is such a shortage of trained healthcare workers that our efforts in education may well be our biggest legacy. If you educate one nurse they will care for thousands over their career.”

Williams, who interviewed Kasworm on one of his periodic visits to Omaha, describes him as a “strong, driven” man who “sees opportunities where others don’t.”

ACH mission integration consultant Lisa Kelly says, “He’s so embedded in that culture now it’s amazing. He’s definitely a problem-solver, which is huge in that country. Everything from unloading containers of things we send to fixing machines to keeping a water source going or getting an internet connection set up…you name it, Bob is the guy who figures out how to do it.

“He has to navigate what’s possible in the developed world with what’s possible there in that culture and that setting. So you have to think of medicine in a whole new way and what he has been able to do is to bridge that gap.”

Williams and Soby are eager to capture the story from a grassroots perspective.

“You can’t really tell the story without talking to the people on the ground who are being helped, and that would start with the patients coming through the door,” says Williams. “You cannot tell the story without talking to all the players—the patients, the nurses, the young women who have a fighting chance now. We can’t tell the story unless we go past the borders and see how exactly the people live and the challenges they face every day. We’re going to experience that first-hand. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

When Williams left KM3 in 2009 and launched her own marketing and media production company, she set her sights on telling stories that engage people’s hearts and minds. From reporting medical news she knew Alegent had compelling stories to be told and she wanted to be the storyteller that shared them.

Kasworm and a villager inspect the bounty of harvest.

Kasworm and a villager inspect the bounty of harvest.

There wouldn’t be a Tanzania story without Kasworm, whose year-round presence in that county makes the Alegent Creighton mission model unique. Much emphasis is placed on building relationships and making connections through ministry and medical mission trips organized by ACH and the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA.

For Williams, whose only previous overseas assignment was covering local airmen serving in Desert Storm, it’s an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a life-changing experience.”

She and Soby expect to complete the 30-minute documentary in the spring.

Kasworm sees the project as another vehicle to foster awareness between Tanzanians and Americans.

“Our experience lets us serve as a bridge between the cultures and reduce misunderstandings. It seems much of our important work has not come from analysis or needs assessment. The work has just found us. I am sure more will present itself.

“As long as the doors keep opening and my health stays good, I hope to continue.”

 Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

Help For Behavioral Health Issues is Just a Few Doors Away

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Getting help for a child with behavioral health problems is just a few doors away at your pediatrician’s office at Boys Town Pediatrics clinics. All of the Omaha-area clinics staff one to two psychologists who are available to work closely with your child’s pediatrician to provide a comprehensive, seamless plan of care.

“Working in the same clinic allows us to communicate more closely with the on-site psychologist so that we both understand each other’s perspectives and can work together to develop a game plan for each child,” says Nancy Vandersluis, M.D., pediatrician at Boys Town Pediatrics. “It also allows us to stay up-to-date with the child’s progress and readily provide input when appropriate. In the end, we think it results in better outcomes for the patient.”

More importantly, the parents and children love the setup, notes Dr. Vandersluis. “It’s been a very successful arrangement for us and the family,” she says. “Families love to be able to come to their pediatrician’s office for counseling because it’s familiar, more comfortable, and less stressful for the child.”

“Working in the same clinic allows us to communicate more closely with the on-site psychologist so that [we] can work together to develop a game plan for each child.” – Nancy Vandersluis, M.D., pediatrician at Boys Town Pediatrics.

The easy accessibility of the psychologists relieves some of the apprehension and stigma of seeing a psychologist, notes Tom Reimers, Ph.D., director of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic with the Center for Behavioral Health. “We’re seeing a greater willingness among families to reach out for our services.”

Parents often discuss their child’s behavioral concerns with their pediatrician, says Dr. Reimers. That makes the close relationship we have with the pediatrician’s and medical clinics so important. The Behavioral Health Clinic treats a wide variety of behavioral health problems in children, from infants to adults. Some of the problems treated include defiance, tantrums, toilet training, learning problems, anxiety and depression, bedtime problems and sleep disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), peer relationships, phobias, habits, and eating disorders.

Determining when it’s time to seek help is something that should be discussed with your pediatrician. A good rule of thumb, notes Dr. Vandersluis: If there is a disruption of your family’s ability to function on a normal basis due to your child’s behavioral health problems, or it is affecting your child’s ability to be successful in his or her daily activities, it may be time to seek help.

“If you’re concerned with your child, whether it’s academics or behavioral problems at home, don’t be afraid to seek help.” – Tom Reimers, Ph.D., director of Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic with the Center for Behavioral Health

“By the time they come to us, parents have likely been concerned about a problem for some time. They’ve reached out to family and friends and exhausted most of their accessible resources,” notes Dr. Reimers. “In some cases, waiting can make the problem worse. We encourage parents to seek advice early rather than later.

“We use evidence-based interventions with the goal of providing the most effective treatment in the shortest amount of time possible,” says Dr. Reimers. “If you’re concerned with your child, whether it’s academics or behavioral problems at home, don’t be afraid to seek help. In many cases, we can provide help easily and readily and get your child back on the right track.”

The Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health offers three services, which include the Behavioral Health Clinic, Chemical Use Program, and Assessment Program. Children may be seen in their doctor’s office or at the Center for Behavioral Health’s main office at 13460 Walsh Drive on the Boys Town campus. For more information, visit boystownpediatrics.org or call 402-498-3358.