A Close Call Leads to a New Lease on Life


Kathryn Kramer holding her great-granddaughter

Kathryn Kramer holding her great-granddaughter

Her granddaughter was the first to notice something was off.

When Courtney called from her home in Carbondale, her grandmother, 84-year-old Springfield resident Kathryn Kramer, couldn’t finish sentences. She didn’t remember if she’d eaten, and she was sleeping throughout the day.

Years earlier, Kathryn was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a disease where her bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. Last March, her red blood cells dropped to the point that she wasn’t getting enough oxygen for her brain to function normally.

“I don’t remember much about the dip,” Kathryn said. “They said I would say, ‘Oh, I’m fine,’ but I didn’t know anything was wrong.”

Knowing her history and alarmed by their phone conversation, Courtney, drove to Springfield and brought Kathryn to Memorial Medical Center. Over the course of her six-day hospital stay, she received three blood transfusions. Tests showed she was also in mild heart, liver and kidney failure, undoubtedly caused by the MDS.

By that time, Kathryn’s daughter, Lisa Brihagen, had flown in from her home in Seattle. Together, they were approached by a representative from Memorial’s Heart Failure Clinic.

“My mom wasn’t interested in going at first,” Lisa said. “But I said we should see what it’s all about.”

Memorial’s Heart Failure Clinic is designed to help patients diagnosed with heart disease live comfortable, full lives. The group, made up of advanced practice nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, social workers and an exercise physiologist, deliver customized patient care with a personal touch.

“Patients enrolled in our Heart Failure Clinic observe much lower readmission rates,” said Kimberly Crawford, a registered nurse with the clinic. “Last year, our readmission rate was 6.5 percent. The national average is 22 to 24 percent. We do this with our multidisciplinary approach but also by our close review of patient history and our continued follow-ups with them.”

For Kathryn Kramer, it was just what she needed.

“We brought all her medicine bottles and met with a pharmacist,” Lisa said. “He actually found a couple meds she shouldn’t be mixing. We also met with an advanced nurse practitioner who sat with my mom, looked her in the eyes, and just talked to her. My mom said she was the best doctor she ever had an appointment with.”

Gradually, Kathryn was back to her old self and the things she enjoys—like reading and walks around the neighborhood. Each weekday, her personal data is reviewed by a nurse through an at-home, electronic monitoring scale. She has regular appointments with the heart team and now gets a blood transfusion every three months to stay on top of her MDS.

“For the first time, I felt like my mom was in such good hands,” Lisa said. “I trusted that things wouldn’t fall through the cracks—a feeling that I haven’t had with her other providers. I still say to my mom, ‘We have the Heart Failure Clinic on the case!’”