Twice last year little George Anthony Santiago tried to enter this world prematurely, giving a young soldier and his wife quite a scare.
First in February 2012, at just 23 weeks, and again in April at 32 weeks, Amcy Santiago went into pre-mature labor. Her physician, Ellen Phillips MD, discovered the probable cause was a small mass or fibroid.
While uterine fibroids are typically non-cancerous and pose little to no danger, a small percentage of women can miscarry or go into preterm labor with a fibroid, especially if the mass grows.
Dr. Phillips, a partner with Guy Middleton, MD and Thomas W.C. Robinson, MD at Dothan OBGYN, ordered bed rest. It was a remedy that greatly altered the lives of Amcy and her husband Jorge who came to Fort Rucker from Puerto Rico.
"The fibroid was getting bigger and there was concern it was going to be an issue," Jorge said. "The doctor told us she was high risk. If she delivered too early, there was a good chance the baby would probably not make it. If he did, he would still have issues."
This was the not the news Jorge wanted to hear.
As a "Soldier of the Year" in the Puerto Rican National Guard, Jorge was selected for training in the United States. He began his Basic Officer Course studies last year and completed the Warrant Officer Course in January, earning the class Leadership Award. He is training to be a helicopter pilot and will return to Puerto Rico next year.
"There is a lot of pressure for me to complete this on time. It is expensive to produce a pilot and I felt a great responsibility."
Because of her condition, Amcy was to do no household activities such as cooking or cleaning. Bed rest meant bed rest.
Jorge's instructor understood the physician's directive.
"He came to me and said to take time off and take care of my family," Jorge said. "The major talked to my commander. The military is very pro-family. Everyone said they would work with me."
So Jorge's schedule changed to reporting each morning for daily exercises, checking in with his commander for additional tasks, then going home and being available if needed.
"For three months," Amcy said, "that's what it has been like."
The initial goal was to get George Anthony to 32 weeks so he could have a chance at a normal life. That goal got pushed up to 35 weeks. The couple celebrated when 38 weeks came and went.
"We are so grateful for Dr. Phillips. We travel 45 minutes to see her. She has always, always been there for us. Throughout this whole thing we have felt like God put people in our paths to help. We are very grateful," Jorge said.
Amcy delivered a healthy 7-pound, 9-ounce son at 5:07 p.m. on Thursday, June 7 2012, six days before her June 13 due date.
"I feel thankful to God," Jorge said. "Dr. Phillips was not on call but she made a choice to come and deliver the baby. She has great dedication to her patients.
"We've also had such great support from our family and friends at Fort Rucker and in the unit back in Puerto Rico. FaceBook is blowing up with well wishes."
Dr. Phillips shares a special bond with military moms. Her husband, Jay, a Dothan city firefighter, was on his second deployment, to Kosovo with the U.S. Army National Guard, when the couple's youngest son, Jeff, required emergency open heart surgery.
At the time, Dr. Phillips was a third-year resident working long hours at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. "For all practical purposes, I was a single parent with three kids. Jay was Special Forces. He had to go."
Dr. Phillips' son was diagnosed with a heart condition at nine weeks old and went into surgery with 50-50 odds of surviving. Surgeons successfully repaired her infant son's heart.
"That experience made me more empathetic," Dr. Phillips said. "It allows me to say 'I've been there,' to the patient whose baby has a heart defect and to the military families who can sometimes feel isolated. I know the sacrifices made by military families."
At 26, Jorge has more than the typical military father's responsibility. He is also the guardian and father-figure to his three younger siblings, who were orphaned in 2010 with the death of their father. Jorge and Amcy are raising two boys, Jesus, 15, and Gabriel, 11, and a girl, Marangely, 12.
They smile as they realize their home will soon be filled with teenagers and a toddler.
"During the pregnancy, the kids helped, but it is not fair to them to have to do this. They are children. They should have a childhood. It's what we want for
George Anthony as well."
As they reflect on the last few months, Jorge and Amcy breathe a sigh of relief. "It was all worth it," Jorge said. "Everything we had to do. I look back and think, this is our baby's war story. This is how he came into the world. Challenges can be overcome. We are so blessed."
Dothan OBGYN is located on the fourth floor of the Doctors Building inside SAMC. For an appointment with Drs. Phillips, Middleton or Robinson or to see nurse practitioner Jennifer Muraski, call 334-673-3633.
To arrange for a tour of the Family Birth Center, please call 334-793-8956. Tours are available on the first Saturday of every month.
Cancer patients in this region now have expanded access to leading-edge clinical trials at Southeast Alabama Medical Center (SAMC) through an affiliation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham's (UAB) Cancer Care Network.
SAMC is the first and only hospital in the state to be a clinical and research network cancer site affiliated with UAB.
"Our patients will continue to receive the comprehensive quality cancer care offered by SAMC and Southeast Cancer Care Network," said Ronald S. Owen, SAMC Chief Executive Officer. "The clinical affiliation of these two highly respected cancer programs will provide area patients access to an enhanced level of services. The clinical trial and initiatives will be administered at SAMC allowing patients to stay at home rather than traveling to Birmingham."
Breast cancer patient Melinda McClendon said she nearly burst into tears after hearing about the new affiliation. The Dothan native was treated locally by Dr. Steve Stokes, and was referred to UAB where she was part of a clinical trial.
"I had to drive to Birmingham every three weeks and the drive home I was nauseated and emotionally drained," she said. "I thought, 'If I could just go to the Medical Center for this.' This affiliation is the greatest marriage. I almost wore a bridesmaid's dress today.
"This is a big deal, a fantastic deal for cancer patients in this area."
Dr. Ed Partridge, Director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, said he was excited to see the UAB affiliation sign out front of the Southeast Cancer Center Network.
"Our goal is for every patient to receive the highest quality cancer care they can – with that care delivered right at home if possible. We've had our eyes on the Medical Center for a long time. I knew Dr. Steve Stokes was here and I knew the quality of care that was here. We wanted you to be an institution of affiliation."
SAMC's cancer center is nationally recognized by the Commission on Cancer (CoC) and provides compassionate, attentive care for more than 800 newly diagnosed cancer patients each year as well as recurrent patients with ongoing treatment needs. An experienced team of board certified physician specialists and oncology professionals provides an array of state-of-the-art cancer diagnosis and treatment options to meet the wide ranging needs of cancer patients.
Only one in four hospitals nationally that treat cancer patients receives CoC approval. Recognition is given only to those facilities that have voluntarily committed to provide the best in diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The affiliation with UAB will allow SAMC to collaborate with UAB Cancer Care Network to jointly pursue high-quality patient outcomes, improved access to early detection and treatment, and enhanced patient satisfaction.
Research site affiliation is a process that begins with a readiness assessment of SAMC's oncology services' preparedness for administering clinical trials. The readiness assessment will ensure the integrity of the quality standards related to the specifications of the scientific guidelines defined in the clinical trials. The readiness assessment will be performed by UAB and the certification to conduct clinical trials will be administered by a third-party governing agency.
Once the readiness assessment is successfully completed, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center will work closely with SAMC to support its cancer program's growth by providing access to UAB's best practices in cancer care, access to clinical trials and support services, physician and nursing education and access to research expertise and resources.
The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Alabama and the Deep South and one of only 40 in the nation. The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is also a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the internationally recognized provider of oncology clinical guidelines, standards and protocols.