Category Archives: health care

Health center is well of care, renewal — Wellness facility represents sea change for Kenaitze Tribe

Photos by Patrice Kohl, for the Redoubt Reporter. A “Łuq’a Nagh Ghilghuzht” sculpture by Joel Isaak depicts traditional Dena’ina life at fish camp outside the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s new Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai.

Photos by Patrice Kohl, for the Redoubt Reporter. A “Łuq’a Nagh Ghilghuzht” sculpture by Joel Isaak depicts traditional Dena’ina life at fish camp outside the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s new Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai.

Clarification: It was incorrectly reported that the Dena’ina Wellness Center is currently seeing all veterans and is considering expanding medical services to the public. Currently, only Alaska Native and American Indian veterans receive VA services through the Dena’ina Wellness Center. As a community mental health center, behavioral health services are open to the public. Other services are available to Indian Health Service beneficiaries.

Through the joint venture award, Indian Health Service funding supports operation and maintenance for a minimum of 20 years. The state of Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development Division of Community and Regional Affairs provided $20 million to the project.


By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, a new building in Old Town Kenai is an indication that the tide has turned.

A gradual erosion of culture, connection and community has reversed, and what was washed away, grain by grain, as if by the lapping pull of receding waves, is rushing back in, not only replacing what’s been lost, but reaching a new high-water mark.

That mark is a substantial one, both in its 52,000-square-foot physical form — the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai — and in what it represents for the tribe.

“The Dena’ina word for it is ‘naqantughedul.’ For the tribe it means the tide is going out and it’s turning and going back in,” said Jaylene Peterson-Nyren, executive director. “It means the culture, the people, the land and just the lifestyle has been going away for many, many years, and it has taken a turn with this facility. It’s coming back.”

The building isn’t just a health clinic, nor was the motivation to construct it simply some tipping of an equation of funding and client base and service needs. It grew from a need to come together — to reconnect, strengthen and grow — and to improve health beyond just the physical.

The lobby of the new, 52,000-square-foot Dena’Ina Wellness Center is meant to be an area for gathering and socializing, more than just a medical clinic reception lobby.

The lobby of the new, 52,000-square-foot Dena’Ina Wellness Center is meant to be an area for gathering and socializing, more than just a medical clinic reception lobby.

“We wanted to design not just a health clinic, but we wanted to look at wellness from a holistic perspective, and that means not just that you’d have your checkups and you check out well. It means social and economic wellness, it means educational wellness — knowledge. It encompasses relationships across the board with customers who come in to seek services and for staff who are all working together on behalf of our customers,” Peterson-Nyren said.

Fittingly, then, the facility consolidates the tribe’s three health services programs under one roof — medical, dental and behavioral — as well as expands new services to address the wellness of a person as a whole, not just whether they’re running a fever.

“We try to focus on prevention and intervention. We want to encourage people to return. That’s one of the reasons we built the Gathering Space (building entrance room) is we want people to want to be here,” she said.

Along with being a center for holistic wellness, the brand-new facility, with construction starting in August 2012 and the grand opening ceremony June 12, is also a hub of social connection — an area of wellness which the tribe believes also needs care.

It’s designed to facilitate both — new equipment and the latest technology to aid the delivery of quality medical services, and a welcoming, calming, comfortable design to encourage people to come and enjoy the facility. The entry leads into the Gathering Space, with a large, open, airy design and windows stretching floor to the second-story ceiling above. A stage area anchors the wall facing the doors, while a reception desk, curved as if beckoning a visitor further into the building, stands to the right of the stage. To the left of the entrance is a wide staircase giving the feel of floating upward as it parallels the windows looking out over Old Town toward the mouth of the Kenai River and Cook Inlet. Upstairs are balcony railings to allow a bird’s-eye view of the stage and circular Oculus feature below, which will have a commissioned art piece suspended above it.

The whole space can be configured for large gatherings, such as the grand opening of the facility, which was packed to standing room only. Over 1,000 people came through the facility during the two days of tours, presentations and festivities, Peterson-Nyren said.

“I think the response has been tremendous,” she said. “It was amazing to feel that community support, just everyone showed up.”

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Rally with Relay for a cure — Annual event offers hope, way to help fight cancer

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Phyllis Swarner snuggles with her cat, Mutto, in her home in Kenai. She will be one of many volunteers and survivors at the Central Peninsula Relay for Life on Friday and Saturday at the Kenai Central High School track.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Phyllis Swarner snuggles with her cat, Mutto, in her home in Kenai. She will be one of many volunteers and survivors at the Central Peninsula Relay for Life on Friday and Saturday at the Kenai Central High School track.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

May 19, 1999, was the worst day of Phyllis Swarner’s life, but also the day it changed for the best.

She was 52 years old, living in Florida, working for the civil service at Eglin Air Force Base. Life was going along just fine. Until it wasn’t.

“I got a phone call at 5 o’clock that morning that my dad had passed away,” she said. He had been sick. Even though it wasn’t entirely a surprise, the grief and sadness were more than enough to leave her reeling.

And yet, then came another call, at 9 a.m., with the results of her recent mammogram. It was merely a routine scan, as there was no history of breast cancer in her family. She felt fine. There was no reason to think anything would be found. But something was — a 2-centimeter lump in her left breast.

“So it was the day that my life changed,” she said.

Still, given her lack of risk factors, her doctor wasn’t overly concerned. It could be benign. Go to the funeral, deal with your dad’s death and we’ll do a biopsy when you get back, she was told. A month later when the biopsy was done, it showed the lump was cancer, and that there was infiltration into the lymph nodes.

“I found out not only was it cancer, but I had a second precancerous condition, as well,” she said.

“When you hear you’ve got cancer you think you’re dead. I don’t care what they say, you just think, ‘Start preparing for your will and your last days, because life’s over, period,’” she said.

But her life, in a way, had just begun again. In 1995 she had attended her 35th high school reunion and reconnected with her classmates from Fairbanks, where she’d begrudgingly spent her childhood.

“I’d hated Alaska growing up,” she said. “Fairbanks was so remote and cold, and I had roots in North Carolina. I was close to my grandparents there, so Fairbanks felt so far away from everyone and isolated at that time. And 50 and 60 below zero is cold weather. So I swore I’d go as far south as I could, and I did, I went to Florida.”

But she was finding herself more and more pulled back to Alaska, particularly to one classmate — Dennis Swarner, who had become an optometrist in Kenai.

“Dennis and I knew each other since the third grade. We have known each other forever. We graduated from high school together. And I’ve never been intimidated by the ‘Dr. Swarner’ part. He was that corny kid I had to put up with in third grade and he hasn’t changed since,” she joked.

But her feelings for him certainly did. They reconnected and stayed in touch. He came to Florida for a conference, looked her up, dropped by, and that was that.

“My life has never been the same since,” she said.

As if long-distance romances aren’t challenging enough, this was about as long a distance as the U.S. offers — Florida to Alaska. He had a practice in Kenai, and she wasn’t too keen on moving back north. Then came the cancer diagnosis and the years-long process of surgery and recovery. That could easily have spelled the end of the relationship. Instead, it was the beginning of Swarner’s new life trajectory.

“Pow, I had cancer, and that put everything in a different perspective,” she said.

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Birth center gets new lease on life — Management change keeps Women’s Way in operation

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Russet and Bill Morrow, of Massachusetts, watch as Andrea Stiers, a certified direct-entry midwife, performs a neonatal exam on their granddaughter at the Woman's Way Midwifery in Soldotna. Stiers recently retired and in January the midwifery came under the management of Heritage Birth Centers, which also runs midwiferies in Anchorage and Palmer.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Russet and Bill Morrow, of Massachusetts, watch as Andrea Stiers, a certified direct-entry midwife, performs a neonatal exam on their granddaughter at the Woman’s Way Midwifery in Soldotna. Stiers recently retired and in January the midwifery came under the management of Heritage Birth Centers, which also runs midwiferies in Anchorage and Palmer.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

In TV shows, giving birth often entails a woman in a hospital, lying in a mechanical bed, her knees held up to her shoulders and the doctor and nurses yelling, “PUSH!”

In life off the TV screen, though, not all women opt for this type of birth, preferring a range of options beyond the hospital model. On the central Kenai Peninsula, with the assistance and supervision of a midwife, some women choose to give birth at home or in the spalike setting of the only out-of-hospital birth center on the peninsula, which recently came under new management.

“We began managing it at the end of January and it’s all just happenstance, really,” said Kirsten Gerrish. She, along with her business partner, Lena Kilic, are the owners of Heritage Birth Centers in Anchorage and Palmer, and recently assumed management of Woman’s Way Midwifery in Soldotna.

Gerrish and Kilic are both state-licensed certified direct-entry midwives and have certifications in neonatal resuscitation, CPR and IV, and they said they weren’t necessarily looking to take on the responsibilities of a third birth center.

However, Andrea Stiers, the longtime manager and CDM midwife at Woman’s Way Midwifery, was preparing to retire to spend more time with her own family, and the other midwife there, Heather Forbes, had never managed a birth center of her own.

“We just thought the idea of there not being a birth center or any midwives on the peninsula, besides Homer, was just sad,” Gerrish said. “The community seemed supportive of keeping it going, there was the need, there already were the facilities with the license and a midwife already, so we decided to keep it going.”

Gerrish added that, populationwise, there aren’t more midwife services in the area.

“Alaska doesn’t have enough midwives or midwiferies to meet the need. The largest concentration is in Palmer, where there are three, currently, and a new one opening soon. Anchorage has two, Fairbanks has two and Juneau one, and with the population of the Kenai-Soldotna area it makes sense to have one,” Gerrish said.

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Do you know what doulas do? Event to raise awareness of birth options

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

When it comes to giving birth, the image that often comes to mind is a woman in a hospital bed, surrounded by bright lights and blue-clad doctors and nurses, with everyone shouting “Push!” This might be the most familiar birthing option these days, there are others around the central peninsula, some that are alternatives to a hospital birth and some that complement going the traditional route.

Bethe Smith, of Soldotna, has had three children and experienced dramatically different births with each, so much so that the last one inspired her to pursue a career assisting other women during childbirth.

“I have three children — Ciara, 11, Rennen, 8, and Taryn, almost 2. When I had my first I was 21 and I put full trust in my doctors and did not question much,” she said.

Smith was advised to have her labor induced, rather than waiting for birth to begin on its own. She was given several birth-inducing drugs, as well as an epidural to relax her and prevent her own discomfort.

“After a long nap I was told it was time to push. So I did. She was coming and they were not ready so they told me to stop. They had to announce over the intercom over the whole hospital that we needed a doctor in room 418 STAT. Yikes. I did not know who the doctor was. It was very scary and I felt very out of control,” she said.

Her firstborn ended up suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease and there were problems with the child latching on during breast-feeding. The delivery of her second child was an equally less-than-pleasant birth experience.

“With my second I was given directed pushing and I started hemorrhaging. Again, I was scared and felt out of control,” she said.

For the birth of her third child, Smith wanted to try an alternative to the at-the-hospital model of birth. She researched her options and decided to use a birthing center at Woman’s Way Midwifery in Soldotna and midwife there to deliver the child.

“My last one I had at the birth center and it was amazing. I labored at home with my husband. Then when I got to the birth center she was here 15 minutes later. It was very calm and relaxing. I was allowed to listen to my body as I had her. I wanted this for every mother,” Smith said. “With my birth experiences I know that the hospital can be very intimidating and nursing does not always go smoothly, so I wanted to help women make educated decisions about their birth and parenting choices.”

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Abortion debate on the home front — Protesters, supporters mark Roe v. Wade decision anniversary

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Three of Laura Burke’s 10 kids hold anti-abortion signs during a rally in Kenai on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Three of Laura Burke’s 10 kids hold anti-abortion signs during a rally in Kenai on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Redoubt Reporter

In the last 40 years, a lot has changed in the abortion debate. The specific issues being argued have gone through different iterations, the battlefields have cropped up in various states, the players at the forefront have retired, passed the baton or even switched sides. Even the lexicon of the discussion has changed, as with Planned Parenthood recently announcing that it would no longer use the term “pro-choice.”

Yet, some things have remained very much the same. First and foremost, the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision in Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973, still stands, dictating that a women’s right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, trumping states’ decisions on the matter.

And another thing that hasn’t changed is that abortion is still very much a current events issue.

On Jan. 22, Bob Bird, of Nikiski, stood on a busy street corner in Kenai waving anti-abortion signs, as he has done every anniversary of the Roe decision since 1984. Some years it’s at the “Y” intersection in Soldotna. Others, like this year, he and fellow abortion protestors tromped back and forth through the slushy snow at the intersection of the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road, chosen for its high volume of traffic on a weekday afternoon, and also because of its proximity to the office of the only doctor on the central Kenai Peninsula who performs medical abortion procedures.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” said Bird, a social studies teacher at Nikiski Middle-High School and former candidate for the U.S. Senate. He plans to continue protesting until change comes.

Though he notes that some change has already come, he said, pointing to the Jan. 14, 2013, cover story of Time magazine, with the headline, “40 years ago, abortion-rights activists won an epic victory with Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing ever since.”

“The abortion rate has gone down, the influence of Planned Parenthood has come down, even the pro-choice movement wants to switch slogans,” Bird said. “So I think, like (Winston) Churchill said, ‘This is not the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.’”

Bird comes at his stance against abortion from his religious and moral beliefs, but his most vocal platform against Roe is one of opposition to “overreaching federal authority,” he said. Bird is an active supporter of nullification — the stance that a state has the right to nullify federal laws that the state deems unconstitutional. Abortion, Bird said, falls in that category, and he believes that the federal government has no business legislating social issues, particularly over the top of states’ right to do so.

“At some point I think enough people have realized abortions didn’t solve the problems. The courts didn’t end the controversy. Social issues should be handled on a state-by-state basis,” Bird said.

There’s no foretelling what Alaska would decide were that authority left up to states. On one hand, abortion was legal in Alaska before Roe. On the other, recent legal action has installed roadblocks to access to abortion, such as the parental notification ballot initiative that requires at least one parent to be notified before a minor child can obtain an abortion, or else for a judge to bypass the requirement in certain circumstances. The law went into effect in 2010 and was upheld by an Alaska Superior Court judge in 2012.

“I think it’s best left to the local level,” Bird said. “I have faith that whatever Alaska decides will be different than what Roe versus Wade permits.”

He also has faith that the debate is changing. For one thing, people’s stomach for partial-birth abortions has turned, and the anti-abortion camp is diversifying, still holding the religiously and socially conservative, as well as people who oppose abortion for legal, political or civil rights arguments. It used to be that the anti-abortionists often were charged with not caring about the babies or mothers and what their lives would be like once forced into birth, but that’s less and less the case, Bird said.And Bird said that he sees the nature of feminism changing — no longer is it the movement of the 1960s and ’70s, which so vehemently pushed for abortion rights. Bird said that he sees the younger generation of women being more like what he calls “the original feminists” of the country’s youth.

“The new generation is looking like the original feminism,” Bird said. “Susan B. Anthony — I love having her on the dollar. She denounced abortion as a way for men to degrade women. I think this generation of young people, whether they are religious or not, are not the ’60s and ’70s women. I think they’re the ones who realize, ‘My goodness, I’m lucky I didn’t get aborted.’”

The others joining Bird were there for various reasons. Laura Burke’s 10 kids helping hold anti-abortion signs were a direct underscore to her belief in the sanctity of human life.

Dr. Steve Hileman, an ER doctor at Central Peninsula Hospital, said that, for him, abortion is a civil rights issue, and a difficult one, at that.

“It’s a hard issue. I’m a doctor, I take care of people who face this all the time. I try not to be judgmental, but I think it’s important that people take a stand for what’s right,” Hileman said.

He said that he thinks the nature of the debate has changed over the years, with more room for discussion, rather than diatribes.

“I’d like to think that people are more willing to discuss it without being angry about it. I’m not sure that I see any legal solution to it, but I don’t think conversion is an external that can be directed by law, either way. So I’m mostly here just because I want people to think about it. It’s a matter of conscience,” he said.

For Nancy Whiting, of Nikiski, the issue is moral as well as political.

“I believe that life begins at conception. It’s been shown that a baby’s heartbeat begins just a few weeks after conception, and so I view abortion as killing a life,” she said. “And I agree with Bob that the federal government and the Supreme Court don’t have the constitutional right to interfere with social issues. The people have the right to decide, and the states have the rights after that. The federal government really has very few rights, and I think they’ve overstepped into a lot of areas that are not their business.

“I feel very strongly about life and liberty and to pursue happiness. I believe in the Constitution. And it begins with life. I think this abortion issue has to do with the value of life, and when we don’t value life and when our children are raised in a society that doesn’t value life from the beginning, I think that’s causing a lot of societal ills,” Whiting said.

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Rock solid support — Community lends love, hope to cancer patients with Written in Stone

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Meggean Bos, a volunteer at Central Peninsula Hospital, writes a message Saturday on the wall of a concrete vault that will hold the accelerator in the new radiation oncology clinic under construction at Central Peninsula Hospital.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Meggean Bos, a volunteer at Central Peninsula Hospital, writes a message Saturday on the wall of a concrete vault that will hold the accelerator in the new radiation oncology clinic under construction at Central Peninsula Hospital.

Redoubt Reporter

Angela Beplat’s message is longer than her hair. The note is one of support for a friend fighting cancer, written Saturday on a wall of the concrete vault that will hold the radiation accelerator in the new oncology treatment clinic under construction at Central Peninsula Hospital:

“Dear Friend. Watching you fight this battle this last year has opened my eyes to the strength and endurance every cancer fighter needs to face this head-on. … Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be your friend and learn alongside you — through your pain, suffering, pokes/prods/body/hair changes, but most of all seeing hope through your eyes has changed me forever! I love you and I will always be there for you.”

The hair she cut last year, also in support of her friend.

“My really close friend Casey has been fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for the last year and I shaved my head for her last April, and have just been with her on this whole journey. She’s my age — 34 with two young kids,” said Beplat.

When it comes to cancer, it is not unusual for friends, family, co-workers, community members and even complete strangers to do what they can to help.

Fundraisers are well supported, from impromptu spaghetti feeds to annual community events, like the summer’s Relay for Life or this month’s Way Out Women snowmachine ride. Knitters make hats and scarves for people losing their hair to chemotherapy. Volunteers and staff at the hospital make the oncology department feel more like family care than just cancer care.

The hospital’s administration and board of directors answered the community’s wish to have radiation therapy available on the central Kenai Peninsula, rather than patients having to travel to Anchorage or beyond for treatment. The Kenai Peninsula Borough committed $4.7 million for the construction of the new clinic.

Saturday, people braved icy roads and a damp walk in the chilly rain out to the construction site to contribute another measure of support by writing messages on the concrete walls of the vault. As construction progresses, the messages will be covered over and blocked from view. But through the Central Peninsula Hospital Foundation’s “Written in Stone” project, the messages will be recorded and printed in books that will be given to every patient receiving radiation treatment.

Some messages were spiritual, offering comfort in the assurance of God’s love:

“Never, ever, lose hope. To hope is to trust God. To trust God is to have faith. To have faith is to believe. To believe is to hope.”

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MAPP to find good health — Community process on path to address gaps

A meeting to discuss the results of the Community Health Status Assessment conducted through the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships process will be held at 9 a.m. Monday at the Kenai Public Health Center on Barnacle Way. It is open to the public.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Regina Theisen isn’t fond of the idea of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

As a public health nurse, there’s the cringe-inducing literal imagery to bristle at — babies being ignored in water, much less being thrown under any circumstances.

As the organizer of a communitywide process to identify health concerns and work collaboratively on initiatives to address these concerns, she also dislikes the idea of discarding what already exists.

Theisen, a public health nurse at the Kenai Public Health Center, and others have been working with a Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships process for over a year now. It’s a nationally known, community-driven process with the goal of assessing what health problems, obstacles or gaps in services exist in a community and facilitating planning to address those concerns.

Theisen is familiar with the MAPP process through her work in public health, as it is often employed in that field. She said she particularly likes that MAPP doesn’t start from scratch. Part of the assessment is determining the good — what services and resources do exist in the community — along with the bad, and finding ways to utilize what’s already been done.

“What I liked about it is it built on what’s already here instead of starting from square one, so we utilized assessments that have already been done here,” Theisen said. “That is a big thing because we are a proactive community. A lot of the resources that we have around health are because people came to the table and started working on things at a grassroots level.” Continue reading

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Charmed for life — Soldotna family counts blessings from lucky boy

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman Redoubt Reporter. Tricia Friel, a physical therapy assistant, helps Carter Moore complete a puzzle at Kenai Kids Therapy in Soldotna on Monday. After a rough start to life, Carter is thriving, and his parents hope to make the community aware of the needs of kids like Carter and the organizations that can help.

Redoubt Reporter

Carter Moore’s toddler-sized glasses give his bright blue eyes a look of being permanently cast in wide-eyed surprise, an impression that’s reinforced by his near-constant curiosity and fearless exploration. It’s fitting, given the surprise he was to his family.

“He’s a double surprise. It was a surprise I got pregnant so quick, and a surprise he came so quick, too,” said Sonja Moore, of Soldotna.

Sonja and Rusty Moore’s older boys, Kade, nearly 8, and Cooper, who will turn 4 in August, were conceived through fertility treatments. Moore has had surgery for endometriosis and knew getting pregnant would be a challenge. They did get pregnant naturally once but lost the baby at about four months. Pregnancy with Kade went relatively well, although he had to have surgery at 4 months old for severe acid reflux. Moore lost another pregnancy after Kade, then Moore’s pregnancy and delivery with Cooper went completely smoothly.

With baby Cooper added to the family, life settled into a rhythm for the Moores, with Rusty working for Northern Technology Group and then Central Peninsula Hospital in information services, and Moore working as a nurse’s aide at the Peninsula Medical Center.

The Moores wanted another baby. Being fertility parents, they’d gotten used to thinking pregnancy would come when they were ready to pursue another round of treatments. Kade and Cooper were spaced four years apart, which seemed like a good schedule to continue, Moore said.

Working in part with Dr. Nels Anderson, who does fertility treatments as part of his medical practice, Moore knew nature still occasionally takes charge, even with parents who had previously needed to supplement nature with science.

Photo courtesy of Sonja Moore. Carter Moore was just 3 pounds, 11 ounces, when he was born Aug. 11, 2007 —10 weeks early. He spent the next 18 days on life support.

“I knew working there that there could be cases where a mom couldn’t get pregnant for years and years and had to do fertility. Then the next thing you know they’re back in the office saying, ‘I’m not feeling good. I don’t know what’s wrong,’ and they’re pregnant. And they say, ‘I couldn’t be. I just paid several thousand dollars for my fertility baby, and now I’m pregnant?’  I just thought I wasn’t going to be one of those moms,” Moore said.

Moore was still breast-feeding Cooper when she started feeling sick. It’s only an old wives tale that breast-feeding prevents pregnancy. Still, an old wives tale with Moore’s history of not being able to get pregnant on her own had her thinking her nausea couldn’t be from pregnancy. Until her toothbrush gave her away, that is.

“It had been so long, we’d always had problems, plus I was breast-feeding. I thought, surely it wasn’t going to happen. But one of the telltale signs was I gagged on my toothbrush. One of my friends said, ‘Wasn’t the last time you gagged on a toothbrush when you were pregnant with Cooper?’ Sure enough, I was pregnant,” she said.

With Moore’s history of every other pregnancy having problems, she was nervous with Carter, but nothing in her early pregnancy gave her cause for concern.

“I never really got too sick with him, with any of them, really. The pregnancy at the beginning for most part went fairly well,” she said.

By summer, about 27 weeks along, Moore started having severe upper abdominal pain. She was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which hadn’t happened with Kade or Cooper. The pain was something she hadn’t experienced before, either.

Carter practices his grip with the help of Tricia Friel on Monday. At 2.5 years old, Carter is overcoming his developmental delays.

“I was doubled over downstairs sobbing. It was worse than childbirth so I knew something has to be wrong,” Moore said.

She spent a week in the hospital undergoing a barrage of tests, all of which were inconclusive. After she’d been home about two weeks, she started becoming very attuned to the baby’s movement — or lack thereof. He never moved much throughout the pregnancy, but he was particularly inactive by that point. Moore tried all the tricks that are usually recommended to get babies more active — take a warmer-than-usual shower, drink orange juice, lie down on your left side. None of it worked.

The next day, while housecleaning, Moore said she just suddenly knew something was very wrong.

“It honestly sounds funny but it was like the voice of God, like, ‘You need to go to the hospital now,’” Moore said. “Rusty was outside washing the car. All of a sudden I just kind of decided it was time. He didn’t argue about it one bit. He didn’t even finish washing the car.”

At the hospital, another round of tests commenced. Carter’s heartbeat was very hard to find, and far too low in her abdomen. Her abdomen had swollen, indicating Carter wasn’t processing amniotic fluid properly. Attempts to induce fetal activity for a stress test didn’t work.

Even after all that Moore said it was a biophysical profile — a special ultrasound — that finally made the severity of the situation sink in. The tech had started the scan with the screen angled a little toward Moore. During the exam, he turned the screen so she couldn’t see it. He left the room without saying anything. Two of Moore’s friends working in obstetrics were on duty at the time. One walked into Moore’s room crying.

“She was just sobbing and said, ‘I’m sorry, this is so unprofessional of me, but there’s something really wrong.’ He wasn’t breathing anymore,” Moore said.

Blood bank, March of Dimes to the rescue

Kay Gardner works with Carter Moore to pronounce and sign colors. He is working to strengthen underdeveloped neck and mouth muscles.

Moore was airlifted to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage and Carter was delivered via an emergency Cesarean section. He was born at 8 p.m. Aug. 11, 2007 — 10 weeks early. He weighed 3 pounds, 11 ounces.

Doctors didn’t know how long he hadn’t been breathing or how extensive the damage would be to his heart, lungs and other organs. They realized Carter’s body had been rejecting his own blood — a condition known as feto-internal hemorrhage — forcing it out of his body through the umbilical cord back into Moore. That was the source of her intense abdominal pain.

Carter was on life support for 18 days, longer than even most preemies weighing a pound or two less than he did at birth. He had seven blood transfusions, eye surgery to protect against blindness and underwent a surfactant  therapy treatment, which was developed by the March of Dimes, to help his lungs function properly. He stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit at Providence for two months.

The medical staff was wonderful and Carter started to rebound, Moore said, but doctors cautioned against being too optimistic.

“He had some major heart and lung issues for a while. He didn’t have good oxygen flow for who knows how long. It was kind of a rough road for him there for a while,” Moore said. “They did brain scans and he had some minor bleeding when he was born, which cleared up on its own. And he had some extra fluid between his brain and skull. That’s a sign there could be some developmental issues. They kind of gave us the worst-case scenario — he might have cerebral palsy or seizures. There are things that definitely can be long-term problems.” Continue reading


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Tooth be told — Homesteaders lucky to have retired dentist in their midst

By Clark Fair

Photos courtesy of George Pollard. Dr. Clayton Pollard, who practiced dentistry in Kasilof even after retiring from his practice in Anchorage, is seen here with a patient on the Yukon River in the 1920s. Pollard had a government contract to perform dental work in the Interior.

Redoubt Reporter

In about 1940, Archie McLane, of Kasilof, had a visitor who traveled from Outside and developed a bad toothache. Because of the remoteness of the location — no roads yet existed between the western Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage or Seward — the visitor believed that he would simply have to suffer until he got home again.

“As far as he was concerned, it was the boondoggles of nothing, you know,” said McLane’s daughter, Joan Lahndt. “My dad said, ‘No problem. We’ll go up here to the dentist.’” McLane was referring to Dr. Clayton A. Pollard, who, with his family, was spending summers on a small fox ranch in Kasilof while operating a dental practice in Anchorage the rest of the year.

“So he took him to Doc, and he was out shoeing a horse. Doc said to go in and he would be right there. Lucy (Pollard’s wife) took over and made the guest ready for the chair. Then Doc came and took care of him. The guy was pretty impressed.”

Such was the life for the semi-retired dentist who had come to Anchorage in 1920 to open a dental practice. In 1935, he and Lucy and their two young sons, George and Clayton, began living each summer in a small, wood-framed cabin on property owned by Perry Cole. When Cole and his family moved away in 1946, the Pollards bought the whole place, and Doc Pollard closed down his Anchorage practice permanently.

From the time he first came to Kasilof, however, he realized that a full retirement was out of the question.

“He wanted to retire,” said George, who still lives in the family home next to what has become known as Pollard Lake. “He came down here to retire — to become a farmer. He always loved farming. Continue reading

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Almanac: Prescription for longevity — After revolving-door doctors, peninsula lands physicians with staying power

Editor’s note: This week, we conclude a two-part story about the early history of physicians on the central Kenai Peninsula. In part one, we looked mainly at the doctors who practiced in the Kenai-Soldotna area during the 1950s and early 1960s. Part two, which begins just after the departure of Kenai’s only physician, Dr. Allen W. Barr, features mainly the doctors who worked in the area between the early 1960s and the early 1970s.

By Clark Fair

Photo courtesy of Gloria Wisecarver. Dr. Struthers’ nurse, Gloria Crandall (center), chats during a social function in Kenai in the mid-1960s.

Photo courtesy of Gloria Wisecarver. Dr. Struthers’ nurse, Gloria Crandall (center), chats during a social function in Kenai in the mid-1960s.

Redoubt Reporter

Into the breach left by Dr. Allen Barr’s departure stepped Dr. Robert Alden Struthers, a surgeon fresh from his own practice and regular rounds at a hospital in Portland, Ore. He arrived with his nurse, Gloria Crandall (a single mom who later remarried and became Gloria Wisecarver).

Struthers was the father of Emmy Award-winning television actress Sally Struthers (Gloria Bunker Stivic on “All in the Family” in the 1970s). He replied to an advertisement calling for a doctor in Kenai. According to Wisecarver, Struthers flew to Kenai for an interview, at which point he was told that there were plans under way to build a hospital in Kenai at the present location of the Benco Building, and that he could become the head doctor at that new facility.

“I just remember him coming back one Monday morning and saying, ‘Ah! I have the greatest deal!’” said Wisecarver. “And I was going to be the chief nurse. Well, I didn’t really have anything keeping me in Portland, Oregon. I could bring my kids with me, so that was no problem. So I might just as well strike out and see the world.”

In Kenai, Struthers and Wisecarver were installed in the Professional Building, off Willow Street. Their office was in a back corner, next to a beauty salon and a land-survey office.

“We had beds where people could stay, and we had an examining room with the doctor’s desk in there,” remembered Wisecarver. “And we had to go out a door to get to the X-ray, and it was primitive, to say the least. For us coming from Oregon, it was primitive, believe me.”

Just as Drs. Paul Isaak and Elmer Gaede had done in Soldotna, Dr. Struthers did in Kenai. In the days when a basic office visit might cost about $8, he handled everything that he had the facilities and equipment to handle, including setting bones, delivering babies and doing minor surgeries.

“I can remember, I took my son over to Seward because Dr. Struthers took out his tonsils (there), and then he assisted Dr. Isaak on a gall bladder, and then we all came home again,” said Wisecarver, noting that they would all be back at their “regular” jobs the following day.

“People Outside cannot believe what they (the doctors) went through,” she said, and she added that she marveled at how many lives they were able to save, given the conditions at the time. “I talked to somebody who broke his back and had to ride in the back of a station wagon all the way to Seward. It was just amazing.

“I always thought the Lord looked down on us here.” Continue reading

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Prescription for health care fairness — Haves vs. have-nots brings debate into focus after surgery

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

When Ken Tarbox was diagnosed with advancing cataracts and told he’d be blind in six months if he didn’t get surgery, his eyes were opened to the wonders of advanced medical technology.

When he met another cataract sufferer without his level of insurance coverage and without an ability to pay for the surgery, his eyes were further opened to the difficulties of the national health care situation.

Tarbox, 63, of Soldotna, is in that ignoble club of people who have had to wear glasses since they were kids. Age 10, in his case. With glasses, his vision was corrected to 20-20 until a little over a year ago, when a cataract in his right eye started clouding his vision.

“A year ago November I couldn’t see out of it very well. I tried (new) glasses, but by spring I couldn’t see out of it at all, it was just light. Everything was out of focus,” Tarbox said.

He went to an optometrist, thinking at first that his glasses just needed an update.

“I said, ‘Well, I can’t see out of this eye. I need to adjust the prescription on my glasses,’” Tarbox said. “He put everything down and said, ‘You’re legally blind in your right eye, and I can’t fix it.’ And my heart stopped a little bit. But he said, ‘It is treatable if you go get this surgery.’”

The optometrist found a developing cataract in Tarbox’s left eye, as well.

“The prognosis was within six months it would close off my left eye. Without any kind of corrective action I’d be blind in both eyes,” he said.

Tarbox was referred to the Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute in Anchorage, which confirmed his diagnosis. He submitted the information to his insurance company, got approval for the surgery and went ahead with it. A laser is used to detach the lens of the eye, take out the cataract and replace the lens.

“The surgery takes about five minutes. I sat up and I could see,” Tarbox said. Continue reading

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The doctor will see you … someday — Central Peninsula had bad case of rotating doctors

Editor’s note: This week, we begin a two-part story about the early history of physicians on the central Kenai Peninsula. In part one, we’ll look mainly at the doctors who practiced in the Kenai-Soldotna area during the 1950s and early 1960s. Next week’s installment will feature mainly the doctors who worked in the area between the early 1960s and the early 1970s.

By Clark Fair

Photo courtesy of the Isaak family. Dr. Paul Isaak and his nurse, “Miss Meadows,” stand by the doctor’s Piper Pacer (PA20) out in front of Isaak’s first clinic in Soldotna in 1960 or ‘61. This clinic stood about where Soldotna’s current fire station stands.

Photos courtesy of the Isaak family. Dr. Paul Isaak and his nurse, “Miss Meadows,” stand by the doctor’s Piper Pacer (PA20) out in front of Isaak’s first clinic in Soldotna in 1960 or ‘61. This clinic stood about where Soldotna’s current fire station stands.

Redoubt Reporter

The 6:30 a.m. phone call brought bad news to Dr. Peter Hansen. On the other end of the line was the wife of Dr. Calvin Johnson, a physician who had been practicing in Kenai for only about six months, and she wanted to know if Hansen could come over to her home and pronounce her husband dead.

“I’ll never forget the morning,” wrote Hansen for a 1997 Central Kenai Peninsula Community of Memory program. “He’d died during the night. It was something I wasn’t really prepared for at that time in my life.”

Hansen — who was then only a few years out of medical school but is now the longest-tenured physician Kenai has ever had — managed to get through the experience, and he then continued a practice that spanned four decades.

Hansen’s longevity in Kenai was by no means the norm, however, before his arrival in 1967. Doctors came, and doctors went. None of them, it seemed, had real staying power. And in Soldotna there had been no full-time physicians at all until Dr. Paul Isaak showed up in the fall of 1960.

The first doctor to work in Kenai was Dr. Joseph Deisher, a Seward physician who drove each week into town to work for a day or two in an office in the old Harborview Hotel on the bluff. Deisher handled the basics in the Kenai office, but for the bigger issues, such as surgeries, he directed his patients to the hospital in Seward.

Peggy Arness of Nikiski said that she went to Seward to have Deisher deliver her son, Joe, in 1951, and Donnis Thompson of Nikiski said that he also delivered her first two children in 1954 and 1956.

Visits from Deisher began to diminish as other doctors tried to set up full-time practices in Kenai. The first to make the attempt was a missionary doctor from Toms River, N.J., named Marion Goble, who was married to an aviation mechanic and arrived in Kenai in about 1953. Although most who remember those days claim that Goble stayed for only two to three years, stories concerning her exact dates here vary enough to create contradictions and cast some doubt.

According to Dolly Farnsworth, Dr. Goble tended to the ear infections of Farnsworth’s twin daughters in about 1954. Arness said she taught Goble’s daughter in kindergarten in about 1956. And in separate entries in “Once Upon the Kenai,” Al and Virginia Poore said that Dr. Goble delivered their son, Tracy, in 1960.

Regardless of these discrepancies, Dr. Goble’s influence was keenly felt in the Kenai area. She is mentioned in more than a half-dozen entries in “Once Upon the Kenai,” and the details from patients who went to see her are clear and evocative.

“She never wore white uniforms,” said Thompson. “She thought that scared the kids. She wore a regular skirt and blouse, and she had a long braid of hair down the middle of her back.” Continue reading

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