Intermountain saved my life, and all they got was this lousy article on their grand opening celebration

Composite image. Background of new Intermountain Cancer Center of St. George at Dixie Regional Medical Center, St. George, Utah, Sept. 5, 2018 | Background photo by Mikayla Shoup. Person in T-shirt by Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — I’m hoping the readers of this article get my reference to the “all I got was this lousy T-shirt” fad of the 1980s, because actually, I’ve written on the subject of getting cancer a few times over the past four years, at least one of which specifically mentioned the part Intermountain Health Care played in my treatment.

And the truth is, besides my sung praises, I also paid them a good bit to remove my left kidney (and I didn’t even get to keep it). But it was less than what I’d like to hope my life is worth, so again, I’m thankful.

And it wasn’t as much as my wife and I paid to go through IVF to bring my beautiful daughter into the world, the daughter who was only 4 years old when I found out the pain in my lower back wasn’t from carrying around my then 2-year-old, somewhat hefty son.

I would’ve paid any price in the world to spare them having to see their father die.

But I didn’t die. IHC saved my life. And it was these two children – and my amazing wife, of course – who were at the forefront of my mind four years later as I sat at the Dixie Regional Medical Center grand opening celebration Wednesday.

The author and his children, Cedar City, Utah, circa Dec. 2014 | Photo by Paul Dail, St. George News

Because if the surgery performed by Dr. Bryant Whiting – thanks again, doc – hadn’t stopped the cancer in its tracks, since chemo and radiation isn’t really effective with the type of cancer I had, I would’ve only had maybe a 15 percent chance of survival. Only a 15 percent chance that I would get to see my children grow into what will undoubtedly be amazing human beings and then retire quietly with my lovely bride.

While my wife has told me that after my diagnosis, she couldn’t even entertain – had essentially blocked – the possibility that I wouldn’t be around, it was a thought that was present in my head almost every day after hearing the word “cancer” from the doctor to that first followup appointment. And it’s a thought that still haunts me from time to time even four years later. One more year, I guess, and I can breathe even easier statistically speaking.

But almost four years to the day (and on another personally momentous day, but I’ll get to that shortly) I was happy to be sitting in the dry desert wind on a slightly padded but not-super-comfortable folding chair at a program held previous to the public event in the Foremaster Ridge parking lot that would feature the Piano Guys.

The program was for some special invited guests (not sure how I got in) and was fittingly held in front of the new Intermountain Cancer Center of St. George. People spoke, as usually happens at such events of course, and as many such ceremonies are – and presumably many that will continue at DRMC over the next few days – it was heartfelt and emotional.

Read more: Dixie Regional Medical Center to host celebratory ‘Growing Together Ceremony’ coinciding with annual NICU reunion

Intermountain CEO Dr. Marc Harrison called the event a “generational moment.”

“Facilities like this, people like this, don’t just happen,” Harrison said. “They happen once in a lifetime if we’re lucky, and I hope you can feel today how lucky we all are here in St. George and how proud Intermountain is to be part of this community.”

Mayor Jon Pike spoke about a similar event almost 15 years ago commemorating the opening of Dixie Regional Medical Center on River Road.

Read more: DRMC to break ground on Legacy Plaza to honor health care history, heroes of Southern Utah

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who told the crowd he was going to eventually live in St. George, said the expansion was an example of “Utah at its best.”

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the Dixie Regional Medical Center grand opening, St. George, Utah, Sept. 12, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“When government works with the nonprofit sector, with the private sector, when we work together as communities to support the things that matter the most, we can accomplish incredible things.”

But beyond what one might expect to hear from a politician, Cox had some good humorous comments and also took a moment to personally relate his own experiences having a premature child born in the NICU unit of an IHC hospital and siblings who have cystic fibrosis who were in Primary Children’s Hospital every six months as children.

“When they were born, the average lifespan was 10 years,” he said. “My sister is 38, and my brother is 40 because of the care they got in an IHC facility.”

And the new DRMC facilities – and the things they will be able to do there – are truly amazing. Or at least they certainly seem impressive. I’ll just take their word for it. I don’t fully understand what all these marvels of technology do – dammit, I’m an editor, not a scientist – but it seems like they’ll be able to save the world.

Or maybe just one dad. Or some dad’s young son or daughter.

Read more: St. George News tours DRMC expanded facilities in advance of hospital’s grand opening celebration

KC Heaton cuts the ribbon in front of the new Intermountain Cancer Center of St. George, Utah, Sept. 12, 2018 | Photo by and courtesy of Carson Stilson, St. George News

The ceremony was followed by the ribbon cutting. And who doesn’t love a giant pair of scissors? Seriously though, KC Heaton, who has his own amazing story of surviving a brain tumor, held the scissors along with Dr. Jotham Manwaring, the medical director of neurosurgery.

“I want to say how grateful I am for Dr. Manwaring,” Heaton said. “He saved my life. He gave me a second chance. I couldn’t have been here today with you guys if I didn’t have Dr. Manwaring as my surgeon.”

And there was a concert. The Piano Guys were awesome. Even though I played piano for several years when I was  younger, that genre is not necessarily my first go-to musically, but they put on a great show – from Jon Schmidt playing on his back on the piano bench with his head under the keyboard and hands crossed above him to the entire group performing a song that involved plucking the wires on the open grand piano, tapping out beats and even pulling a loose bow between the wires all at the same time.

Piano Guys Paul Anderson, Jon Schmidt, Steven Sharp Nelson and Al van der Beek play the piano strings at the Dixie Regional Medical Center grand opening, St. George, Utah, Sept. 12, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

I wish my kids could’ve been there, but it’s a school night and we live in Cedar City. And it was nice to be able to enjoy the show with my wife in something at least close to a rare night out – to be able to sit by her and hold her hand. While she might have blocked the possibility that I could’ve died, she never left my side.

And this was a message that Steve Sharp Nelson emphasized before their last song, a mashup between “Fight Song” and “Amazing Grace.” In a personal moment, Nelson called the new center a battleground. He told the crowd that he lost his mother to brain cancer and his second “bonus mom” to breast cancer, and he dedicated the last song not only to those who “fight on this sacred holy ground but those who will fight alongside them.”

Overall, people seemed happy to be there, whether on the stage or in the audience. And more than that, some of them – like me – were just happy to be alive. And in that way, it was more than a celebration of a new facility. It was a celebration of hope and life.

Oh, and did I mention Wednesday was also my birthday?

It might not have been if Intermountain hadn’t saved my life.

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1 Comment

  • Camden September 13, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    Thank you for a beautiful story and for recognize mg what that grand opening meant for many of us as audience members. I have been a nurse at DRMC for 12 years and have seen lives saved every day but I suddenly have a whole new appreciation for what our community facility has to offer. My 16 year old daughter is now receiving life saving cancer treatments. We hope to be celebrating her remission and providing similar thanks in 2019. Bless you and your family!

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