Multiple sclerosis. Osteoporosis. Crohn's disease. Rheumatoid arthritis. Irritable bowel syndrome. These chronic conditions may seem to have little in common.
In Steamboat Springs, the unifying factor is that they all are being treated at Yampa Valley Medical Center's Infusion/Chemotherapy Center, in the medical office building on the hospital campus.
"We provide very personalized care for a variety of illnesses and conditions," Cancer Services Director Jan Fritz, RN, said. "Our goals are to manage illness, decrease pain and improve overall well-being for our patients."
Joe McPherson, 52, a longtime resident of the Yampa Valley, is grateful that he is getting help for multiple sclerosis. McPherson receives a monthly intravenous infusion of Tysabri, a drug that slows the disabling progression of MS and decreases the number of relapses or symptom flare-ups.
"I was a log worker when I was diagnosed about 18 months ago. I went from dancing on logs to not being able to walk down the sidewalk," McPherson said. "I've been coming to the hospital for about 10 months, and this has helped me."
Benna Haughey makes the trip from Craig to YVMC twice a week for her two-hour IV treatments. Because of colon cancer surgery in 2006, she is unable to absorb sufficient liquid, magnesium or vitamin B12.
"This is a very nice place, and everyone is so jolly," she said. "I couldn't be treated better than if I was a queen in a palace."
Haughey was especially pleased last week when the infusion care team presented her with a bouquet of bright yellow sunflowers and a humorous card to celebrate her 78th birthday.
McPherson and Haughey depend on YVMC's Infusion/Chemotherapy Center for their health.
"I would not be getting this therapy if the hospital didn't provide it, because it is too difficult for me to travel," said McPherson, who lives in Oak Creek.
"I tell everyone, 'Go to Steamboat,'" Haughey said. "The nurses are just top-notch, and they keep everyone's spirits up, which is very important, I think."
In addition to the medical care, patients appreciate the soothing atmosphere of the Infusion/Chemotherapy Center, which seems more like a living room than a clinic. Patients relax in recliners and exchange friendly conversation.
"We try to keep the atmosphere upbeat," registered nurse Tina Livingston said. "The care is serious, but our patients get to know each other, they are very comfortable, and we share good humor. It often seems like a neighborhood get-together."
"I enjoy coming here," McPherson added. "I've met a lot of nice people."
If a patient is not feeling good or desires time alone, the center offers a private room with a television and music system.
The number of infusion and oncology patients at YVMC's center has grown from about 40 per month to 200, Livingston estimates. Nurses also provide injections, IV antibiotic therapy for treatment of infection and blood transfusions for chronic anemia.
Medical care continues to evolve as new drugs are approved, and Fritz works closely with physicians to develop protocols for the variety of medications and treatments. IV infusions can require from 20 minutes to six hours to administer.
A recent advancement in osteoporosis treatment may be especially good news for post-menopausal women who are taking monthly or weekly oral medications. A 20-minute IV treatment with the drug Reclast is effective for a full year. This is available to people who have had a bone density test and a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
"Men can get osteoporosis also, but the condition is much more prevalent among women," Fritz said. "Women are attuned to their bone health. They've seen the ads for Reclast, and we are getting requests. Another option is Boniva, available by injection every three months."
While administering intricate medical care, YVMC nurses and staff pay special attention to their patients as individuals.
"Some people prefer to have treatment in the late afternoon and some want to get it done at 7:30 a.m. before they go to work," Fritz explained. "We adjust our schedules around their needs so we can help them normalize their lives.
"YVMC has been offering infusion therapy as well as chemotherapy since 1992. Our patients are so glad that they don't have to travel to the Front Range to get their treatment. They can get it all done here."
Christine McKelvie is public relations director at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at email@example.com.