Being a resident of the greater Salt Lake City area – a large metropolis with multiple hospital systems – Aspen Garfield never imagined she’d be journeying to North Dakota to receive timely care for a suspicious tumor.
But Garfield, a school teacher, widow and mother of five, found herself in precisely that circumstance when a CT scan revealed an ovarian mass that left her scrambling to get timely care in her home state.
“It was actually pretty crazy,” Garfield said. “I was sure I had a large kidney stone because I was feeling all sorts of pain. I decided to get it checked out and went in for a CT scan. When they called with the results, they said I had an 8-centimeter mass on my left ovary.”
Learning you have a suspicious growth is concerning to say the least. Plus, Garfield had reason to be alarmed. She’d gone in for a CT scan a year and a half earlier and everything was normal. “Usually when something grows that fast, you worry about it being cancer,” she said.
Her doctors agreed that the mass needed to be evaluated at the earliest date possible. Her brother-in law, an oncologist, also advised her to address the tumor right away. “Don’t give it any time,” he said. But getting a timely appointment with an Ob/Gyn was more challenging than expected.
“I was told that I’d be able to get in as soon as possible, but the earliest they could schedule me was the end of January,” she said. That was six weeks away. “The best they could do was put me on a waiting list in case there was a cancellation. My best friends were calling all over Utah trying to get me in somewhere.”
Aspen turned to her sister, a Minot resident, who mentioned she knew David Amsbury, DO, an Ob/Gyn physician with Trinity Health. Although Dr. Amsbury was vacationing with his family over Christmas and New Year’s, the sister managed to connect with him via text to explain her sister’s situation. Dr. Amsbury understood and got the ball rolling. “He was so quick and efficient. He had scheduled everything within the first week of January,” Garfield said.
Their initial meeting was a telehealth-type visit. “I called her on the phone, got all of her history and symptoms and talked to her about what’s going on. Then I essentially just scheduled surgery before I’d ever met her,” he said.
Garfield and her sister arranged the flight to Minot. In the meantime, Dr. Amsbury needed a lab test – specifically a tumor marker – and an ultrasound. Since she would be in Utah for another week or so, it made sense for her to get the tests done there. But once again, Garfield encountered hurdles. The laboratory didn’t want to process an order from an outside provider. “I was finally able to get an order through Labcorp, and they accepted it,” she said.
She guessed that the best way to get a pelvic ultrasound might be to try a local Urgent Care. “I described my situation and actually broke down explaining that my husband had passed away a year and a half earlier and it was very scary because I had five kids.” Pouring her heart out worked. The technologist ordered the ultrasound, and that night she got a call that someone had canceled. “I immediately ran over and got the ultrasound,” she said.
Such administrative barriers surprised Dr. Amsbury. “My nurses had spent hours trying to find labs and faxing things and calling people and saying this is what is going on. They gave license numbers and all pertinent information, so they knew who I was. And boy, she just got so much resistance, which is not at all how it would have been here.”
The tests completed, Garfield arrived in Minot and looked forward to her surgery set for Friday, January 6. She and Dr. Amsbury were supposed to meet on Wednesday, but he ran into travel delays. He and his family caught a flight to Bismarck on Thursday and drove a rental to Minot. “I walked in the door at my house at 2:45 and had a 3 o’clock appointment with Aspen. We had a nice visit. We did her pre-op exam and the next morning she came in and we did the surgery.”
Dr. Amsbury performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy, which went great. He described the mass as large and growing. “It went from nothing to the size of a grapefruit in a year and a half and was causing a lot of pain, so you didn’t have to be in medicine to know it needed to come out.”
He sent the specimen to Pathology. Aspen was told to expect a call soon after the weekend. On Monday the call came, and the news was positive. “Everything was fine, there was no cancer. I was so excited,” she said.
Garfield couldn’t have been more pleased. “The whole experience was amazing,” she said. “Dr. Amsbury and the whole staff were so kind and so wonderful. I was kind of freaking out inside, and they showed so much compassion and kindness.”
For Dr. Amsbury and his staff, it just felt good to help someone finally catch a break. “I think her mind was blown that with just a couple of phone calls we were so willing and timely in helping her. But for me, it’s the expectation. This is the way I practice. If somebody calls and there is a sense of urgency, we don’t put up barriers. My nurses know that’s how I feel so they work the same way. Our attitude is – how can we make this as easy and seamless as possible. I think it represents what Trinity Health expects from its whole care system.”