Destiny Blegen wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the overdose antidote naloxone saving her life. Blegen, who is in recovery from opioid use disorder, has now made it her mission to give hope to those still fighting the battle.
Naloxone is commonly referred to as its brand name, Narcan.
“When I was around 13, it became acceptable to smoke weed with my mom, and that’s when my life took a big turn,” Blegen explained. “At 14, I started using meth and cocaine with my friends, then with my mother.”
Over the next two decades, Blegen became a wife and mother but no matter how hard she tried, she was never able to successfully maintain recovery.
“No matter what I tried, I’d always turn to heroin to make me better,” she said. “My family was finally getting tired of my continuous life of self-destruction. I was no longer allowed to live with them.”
Blegen said she continued to break the law to supply her habit and ended up in and out of prison.
“The last time I was in prison, I was released in October 2017,” she explained. “I did well for a while but again, I fell for the lies I told myself. At this point I had overdosed several times in my life. They are a big blur to me except for the last time. It was Sept. 23, 2018. I overdosed and this time was different. I saw things that most people would think was crazy talk, but I believe it was my God giving me a final warning.”
She woke up in an emergency room in DePaul, and was told she was considered “dead on arrival.” It took three doses of naloxone to bring her back.
“I’ll never forget the nurse telling me that she had been a nurse for over 30 years and had only seen a few people come back after being gone as long as I was, especially with no brain damage,” Blegen said. “Had it not been for the (naloxone), I don’t believe I would be here today, with a whole new life.”
Blegen moved to Branson where she completed a 12-step program at Communities of Recovery Experience (CORE).
“Had my life not been saved Sept. 24, 2018, had someone not felt that this heroin junkie’s life was worth saving and given me the Narcan, I wouldn’t be able to tell my story to people who are still struggling out there with maybe an ounce of hope to survive,” she said. “I hope that others get the opportunity to wake up from yet another overdose and remember my story and want to fight for their life.”
Today, Blegen enjoys being a mom to her three children and is looking forward to buying her first home.
A fighting chance
Over the past five years, the Stone and Taney Counties Substance Use Initiative has distributed more than 1,900 doses of naloxone and organized 40 trainings where 560 individuals learned to use the life-saving antidote.
Many of those doses have been distributed throughout the community through organizations like Elevate Branson and The Brook Wellness Center.
“It is very important because it saves lives,” said Carla Perry, the former community connections coordinator at Elevate Branson, who now works with those in recovery at The Brook. “People can’t recover if they are dead and they don’t get second chances.”
And Perry’s seen first-hand the life-saving medication work.
“There was a young lady that had just lost custody of her child,” Perry explained. “She was distraught and when she went into the bathroom she was crying. Then her husband came in and said she took a bunch of pills. About that same time, someone screamed, ‘Hey, this girl fell.’”
Perry said she knew at that point they were facing a possible opioid overdose.
“I called 911 while I was running to the bathroom,” Perry said. “With the operator on the call, I administered the first dose of Narcan and she woke up swinging.”
Perry said paramedics arrived and gave the woman a second dose of naloxone before transporting her to the hospital.
The Substance Use Initiative provided Branson Police Department their first doses of naloxone in December of 2017 and then continued to facilitate donations in 2018 until all officers were equipped with the medication.
Assistant Chief Eric Schmitt was the most recent Branson officer to administer Narcan.
“I was on the graveyard shift a month ago and I happened to be around the corner from a motel where someone overdosed,” Schmitt said. “When I arrived, he had what we call the ‘agonal breathing,’ which is known as the ‘death rattle.’ He had a very low pulse and rescue was a ways off so I administered one dose of Narcan and continued to keep an eye on his pulse. Two minutes later, he took a huge gasp of air and started breathing regularly.”
Rescue arrived soon after and by the time the man was transported to the hospital, he was fully conscious and sitting upright.
“Knowing about Narcan can save lives,” said Stan Robinson, clinical director at The Book Wellness Center.
Making it possible
The Substance Use Initiative makes it possible for Elevate Branson and The Brook Wellness Center to be Narcan access points for people who are in active drug use and for their families.
“It’s important to have that safety net so that people can have a chance to plug into resources and find treatment, outpatient services, or therapy, whatever their needs are to work towards a better life and find the reasons why they want to use to begin with,” Perry said. “There has to be something that caused (their addiction) and if they don’t take another breath, they don’t get that opportunity.”
The Substance Use Initiative is a concentrated effort aimed at reducing and preventing substance use and misuse. The project, led by Marietta Hagan, of CoxHealth, began in 2016 and is funded by a Skaggs Legacy Endowment grant. Learn more at DrugFreeOzarks.org or call 417-239-5165.
CT Simulator made possible through Skaggs Legacy Endowment grant
Cancer patients receiving radiation treatment at Cox Medical Center Branson cancer center may soon be making less trips for treatment and experience fewer side effects.
Thanks to a grant from Skaggs Foundation, the cancer center received a new CT Simulator earlier this year. A CT Simulator is a specialized CT scanner used to determine the exact shape, size and location of a tumor to be treated with radiation.
Cancer Center Director Ben Morris said the new equipment is part of CoxHealth’s commitment to providing the latest standard of care to patients. Morris explained that the new CT Simulator has features that the cancer center’s old simulator did not, including four-dimensional scanning, a larger field of view, and an opportunity for stereotactic radiation therapy.
“This new scanner allows us to do what is called four-dimensional scans,” explains Cancer Center Director Ben Morris. “The fourth dimension is motion and that’s the primary reason we wanted this scanner.”
Morris explained that the four-dimensional CT scans provide information that is used during the delivery of daily radiation treatments and determines the treatment field that a tumor moves. This information ensures that an entire tumor is treated while further limiting radiation exposure to healthy tissue.
“Depending on where a tumor is located, when a patient moves during normal breathing, their tumor moves, especially for those with lung or abdominal cancers,” Morris said. “In the past, when we treated a patient, we had to treat a slightly larger volume of the area so that we knew we were treating the entire tumor. When you do a four-dimensional scan, you see how much the tumor moves and you can treat a smaller margin because you know exactly how that tumor is moving. When we know how much the tumor moves, we can treat less tissue. It’s all about minimizing side effects.”
The new CT Scanner is step one of a two-part upgrade that will have big benefits for many patients. This fall, the cancer center will also be receiving a new Linear Accelerator, the machine that provides radiation therapy.
The CT Scanner is a necessary component when used with the Linear Accelerator to offer stereotactic body radiation therapy, a treatment technique that allows for the delivery of curated doses of radiation in fewer treatments.
“In some cases, stereotactic body radiation therapy could be the difference in a patient receiving five treatments of radiation over the course of a few weeks compared to 35 treatments over seven weeks,” Morris said. “This reduces the number of visits to the cancer center and allows patients to either continue to work or spend more time with family.”
Funding for the purchase and installation of the CT Simulator was made possible by a Skaggs Legacy Endowment grant. Since 2013, Skaggs Foundation has awarded more than $5.3 million in Skaggs Legacy Endowment grants. Grants awarded for the 2019-2020 year are set to impact more than 46,500 lives throughout Stone and Taney counties. To learn more about Skaggs Legacy Endowment, visit SkaggsFoundation.org.
To learn more about Cox Medical Center Branson’s cancer center, visit CoxHealth.com.
What started out as a fundraiser for a storm siren has turned into a weekly meal program for a small rural community in Stone County.
McCord Bend Village Trustee Chairman Mandi Carr explained that the stay-at-home order went into place just days before the village was set to raise funds for a storm siren.
Between bad weather and the stay-at-home order, the fundraiser – a cookout on the river during the opening of spoonbill season - was a bust. The failed fundraiser was not the village’s biggest concern however. Village trustees found themselves with a freezer full of hamburgers and hotdogs and a community reeling from the devastating effects of the stay-at-home order, the stay-at-home order that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Many people in our community are low-income,” Carr said. “After the stay-at-home order was put into place, most of our residents found themselves unemployed and waiting to receive unemployment benefits.”
She said many residents struggled to put food on their tables and provide meals for their children.
“The food provided to families with children by the school system made a difference, but still left many gaps unfilled,” Carr explained. “There are many families without school-age children and many individuals who were unable to get to groceries due to health concerns.”
The board soon decided to do what they could to help. They tapped into the village’s emergency fund and began providing hot meals to village residents, serving on average 75 meals each week.
Village board members have also stepped up, volunteering, donating food and equipment. In addition to the hot meals, board members volunteered to run errands and get groceries for those at-risk.
“As residents of our small community and board trustees, we know our neighbors,” Carr said. “We know they are struggling. As trustees, we take our positions seriously, in the sense of being responsible for the overall wellbeing of our community.”
When the village neared the point of exhausting their resources, Carr turned to Skaggs Foundation for additional help. The foundation provided the village with $2,500 to purchase a new grill, refrigerator and freezer, food and supplies.
“We are so honored and grateful for this generosity,” she said. “You really have no idea what a great thing this project has been. It has brought our community closer together.”
This is the second time the village of McCord Bend received funding from Skaggs Foundation. In late 2018, the village received a $4,875 Skaggs Legacy Endowment grant to begin an AED/CPR program. They used the funds to purchase two AEDs and a state-of-the-art outdoor cabinet that, when the cabinet doors are opened, calls 911. In addition to the cabinet and AEDs, they also provided CPR training to community members.
Many people aspire to receive a master’s degree. For three Branson nurses, they are doing just that, together, despite challenges and losses along the way.
“We’ve really had to rely on each other,” said Martha Whitson, who is an RN at CoxHealth’s Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab Center in Branson.
Whitson has been working in Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab for the past 22 years and in December she completed her master’s in nursing. In May of this year, her co-worker Hollie Holderfield completed her master’s in nursing. Not far behind is Wendy Michel who is less than a year out from completing her master’s in leadership and management degree.
“When I originally went back to school, I started with the bachelor’s program because CoxHealth offered tuition reimbursement,” Whitson said.
Before the tuition reimbursement was available, she said the program was cost prohibitive. Scholarships from Skaggs Foundation also helped alleviate the financial strain. While the foundation helped with funding, the co-workers leaned on each other for support and encouragement.
“I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and a week later my husband passed,” Whitson said. “My work family got me through the last three years. I needed them for emotional support and school helped distract me.”
Holderfield, the nurse manager at Cardiac and Pulmonary rehab, worked on her bachelor’s degree with Whitson. Before she and Whitson completed that program they made the decision to continue their education.
“We both felt like we weren’t done,” Holderfield said. “Learning is something you always need to do and I want to continue to grow my knowledge.”
Like Whitson, Holderfield’s journey wasn’t without devastation.
In September 2018, Holderfield’s husband Marc was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. When her husband’s illness worsened, Hollie Holderfield took a leave of absence from school to focus on her husband’s care.
“He supported me through the entire thing,” Hollie Holderfield said. “I was grateful for the support I had from my co-workers, not only through my schooling but through his illness.”
Marc Holderfield passed in October of 2019. A few months later, Hollie Holderfield returned to class to complete the degree she started working on four years before.
She said having someone to lean on was vital to her success in the classroom.
“We’d lean on each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we supported each other,” Holderfield said. “We made a good team.”
Now that Holderfield has completed her master’s degree, her patients will be happy to hear she has no plans to leave the rehab center.
“I love where I’m at and I love my patients and I love my staff,” she said. “I feel this is where I need to be.”
Michel is set to complete her master’s degree next spring, yet, she actually was the first of the three to begin making plans to go back to school.
As Michel was about to start classes, her husband suffered a heart attack, putting the skids on everything. And while her husband’s heart attack may have slowed down her progress, she continues to focus on her dreams.
“Next year, I’ll have been a nurse for 40 years,” she said. “You are never too old to keep learning. It’s really baby steps. One foot in front of the other, that’s how you get to where you need to go.”
Through it all, Michel, Whitson and Holderfield have had each other to lean on, and the financial support of Skaggs Foundation. Michel, Whitson and Holderfield each received numerous scholarships throughout their years in school.
“It was great getting the help from Skaggs Foundation,” Whitson said. “It was a huge help.”
“My husband is now retired and so it takes some of that financial strain off my family,” Michel added. “It has been a blessing.”
Since inception in 2002, Skaggs Foundation has awarded $419,450 in scholarships to students pursuing or advancing careers in healthcare. In 2020, 47 scholarships were awarded for a total of $35,000. Scholarship funds are made available annually from interest earned from two permanently restricted scholarship endowments.
Learn more about Skaggs Foundation's scholarship program.
August 3 might seem like a long time from now given how 2020 has been going, but we've got a deal too sweet to pass up. Teams that register before July 1 will automatically be entered into a drawing to win 4 additional rounds of golf at LedgeStone Golf Course!
So, what are you waiting for? Make plans now to join us at the beautiful LedgeStone Golf Course for Skaggs Classic.
Here's what you need to know:
• 4-Player Scramble
• 8:30 a.m. Shotgun Start
• Great Tee Gift
• Lunch & Beverages Included
• Great Prizes
• Team Sponsorships start at $1,000
• Tons of fun on a beautiful course
• All money raised stays right here in Stone and Taney counties to help area residents.
Register today! Call 417-348-8998, visit SkaggsFoundation.org, email Meghan Connell at Meghan.Connell@Skaggs.net or download a Sponsorship Packet now.
When you support Skaggs Foundation, you keep your dollars local, helping family, friends and neighbors right here in Stone and Taney counties.
And now, our community needs us more than ever. Over the past couple of months, we have awarded $20,000 in emergency grants to local organizations helping feed families devastated by the current crisis. We are helping co-workers struggling to pay bills and we are helping patients with nowhere else to turn receive medication, supplies and other things they need.
Will you give today?
You can designate your gift:
- Employee Assistance helps Cox Branson employees facing
- Whatever It Takes provides for the financial needs of patients with nowhere else to turn for medicine, supplies, sobriety and more
- Area of Greatest Need gives Skaggs Foundation the ability to meet community and hospital needs as they arise
Provisions in the new stimulus bill make it easier than ever to make cash contributions to Skaggs Foundation. These include opportunities to deduct smaller gifts up to $300, larger gifts may be deducted at a much higher amount and greater incentives for corporations to make charitable gifts. Contact us today to learn more about these opportunities or visit SkaggsFoundation.org.
As always, I’d love to talk with you about these and other opportunities to be a part of healthier tomorrows.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard a lot about heroes in healthcare and we have to tell you, there’s never been a shortage of heroes in the Tri-Lakes Area. Here’s a look at two making a difference in our community.
Kristina Elrick, RN
Cox Medical Center Branson, Emergency Department
“Kristina is always thinking,” said Kimber Unruh, emergency department nurse manager. “She is the first to volunteer to help when a staff member, another department or a need in the community arises. She is great at getting staff to assist and come together for a cause.”
Kimber explains that Kristina was active in helping to collect candy for a Halloween Trunk or Treat, adopting families at Christmas and honoring victims of the Duck boat tragedy.
“Kristina is always willing to go above and beyond to do anything she can for her friends and her department,” said Traci Sheehan, emergency department assistant nurse manager. “As president of the Unit Based Council, she quadrupled our membership numbers and created the most engaged Unit Based Council we have ever had before.”
Kristina has been an RN for two-and-a-half years. Before that, she was a tech for 14 years and started out working in the cafeteria. She said she’s had several people who played a huge role in her becoming an RN, including Kimber and Traci who both encouraged her, inspired her and refused to let Kristina give up on her goal.
“I am forever grateful for all that influenced my journey,” Kristina said. “This includes my biggest cheerleader, my Nana. She was diagnosed with lung cancer the day I received my acceptance letter to Cox College. She stayed on top of me to make sure I was studying every minute possible through her chemo. She passed the morning of my second semester final but the week prior, she made me promise to complete school and get my degree to help others.”
While Kristina’s road to becoming a nurse didn’t lack challenges, her focus was and always is on being the best for patients.
“No matter the reason they are in the emergency department, I strive to meet their needs with dignity and respect,” she said.
Dana Edwards, RN
Cox Medical Center Branson, Infection Preventionist
“Dana has a true heart for the community, staff and patients at Cox Medical Center Branson,” says Rebecca Sigrest, director of infection prevention. “She has worked through this pandemic to answer questions and provide support to everyone who needs not only Infection Prevention help but she takes time from her busy and hectic work to help calm fears from anxious staff members when they need her.”
Dana understands the importance of not just teaching nurses the right way to do things, but why it matters.
“You have to let people decide to do the right thing,” Dana said. “If they do it the right way from the start and they understand why they do it that way, they’ll do it that way forever.”
Dana has been in healthcare the past 12 years, eight of which have been specifically in infection prevention.
“I actually got into infection prevention by chance,” she said. “I worked at a rehab facility where there was not an infection prevention program.”
At the rehab facility, her duties included staff development and in-service coordinator. One day, they added infection prevention to her duties.
“I was eager to get started and fascinated by it,” she said. “I literally started reading page one of the Association for Professionals in Infection Prevention Manual to try and understand what I was supposed to be doing.”
When CoxHealth had an opening in the infection prevention department, Dana jumped at the opportunity to return to CoxHealth.
While it may seem that Dana’s field of focus was by happenchance, it really isn’t.
“When I was 17, I lost my father to a hospital acquired infection,” she explained. “So, it’s kind of full circle for me. My deep passion comes from that 17-year-old who didn’t understand why it was happening and the confusion I felt at the time. That is my inspiration for my work.”
If you would like to recognize a local hero in healthcare, please email Mindy.Honey@Skaggs.net. Heroes can include any person who works for the healthcare system, including nursing, registration, scheduling, case management, environmental services, dietary and much more.
As the COVID-19 situation began to unfold, Skaggs Foundation was ready to respond. With great leadership from our dedicated board of directors, executive committee and grants committee, the foundation was able to take quick action in our community.
In March, as businesses shuttered, unemployment soared and food pantries saw unprecedented numbers, the foundation rapidly adapted to help address those emergent needs.
Over the course of a week, the foundation awarded $15,000 to food banks in Stone and Taney counties, including $5,000 to Christian Action Ministries.
“From the time the coronavirus response began in mid-March, demand for food from Christian Action Ministries increased dramatically,” said Executive Director Kevin Huddleston.
“Fortunately, CAM has been blessed with increased donations from individuals and foundations, such as the gift received from Skaggs Foundation, intended specifically to meet this increased need. We have long been supported by Skaggs Foundation and this is just another instance in why Skaggs Foundation is one of the pillars of our community.”
Soon after delivering the checks to the four food pantries, Skaggs Foundation followed up with $5,000 to Elevate Branson where they are feeding extended stay residents twice a week.
Once the CARES Act went into place, it gave Skaggs Foundation a chance to catch our breath, fine tune our process and prepare to help as other needs arise.
Throughout it all, Skaggs Foundation has stood ready to help Cox Medical Center Branson employees and patients facing financial hardships through our employee and patient assistance programs. We’ve continued to award student scholarships, provide meals for cancer patients and be a beacon of hope for our community through our grant-making program, Skaggs Legacy Endowment.
We can’t thank you, our dedicated supporters, enough for your support throughout all of this and for the past 18 years since Skaggs Foundation was established. We truly are better together.
Skaggs Foundation has made another investment in the future of local healthcare – this time to the tune of $16,500. The foundation recently awarded 24 students scholarships for the fall 2020 semester.
The students receiving the scholarship range from graduating seniors to graduate students furthering their education.
“We are committed to continuing to support our local healthcare workforce, those who are furthering their careers as well as those soon to be entering the field,” said Skaggs Foundation President Meghan Connell. “We are blessed to be able to provide a hand up for many of these individuals, many of whom could not otherwise afford to continue their education.”
Rory Lynn is heading back to school to become a laboratory technician. Through Ozarks Technical Community College’s program, Lynn will learn how to collect samples, study and test specimens – it’s an important behind-the-scenes job.
“This is so necessary for healthcare and my primary goal in life is to help people,” Lynn said.
He was excited to learn he was one of the 24 local students to receive a Skaggs Foundation scholarship for the fall.
“This scholarship has blessed me in so many ways,” Lynn said. “No. 1, it means that it is an indication from God that I am appreciated for my accomplishments. This scholarship has also had a big impact and opened many doors for me. Receiving this scholarship boosts my self-confidence, knowing that I can be part of taking care of people, especially when they need it the most through medical care.”
Among the 24 fall semester scholarship recipients, 12 are currently employed at Cox Medical Center Branson, 22 are full-time students and two are part-time students.
Recipients include Heather Dalton, Thuy Do, Shelly Einhorn, Kahlela Frey, Summer Fronterhouse, Deana Gray, Marietta Hagan, Chloe Heard, Samuel Henriquez, Kayci Hill, Caylee Kaempfer, Collette Lavoi, Gabriel Lavoi, Rory Lynn, Reagan Magdaz, Molly McCartney, Erin Pearson, Lexee Penner, Kylia Rector, Jacob Robertson, Jenna Salemie, Jana Watkins, Traci Willingham, and Alison Winslow.
Since inception in 2002, Skaggs Foundation has awarded a total of $419,450 in scholarships to students pursuing careers in healthcare. In 2020, a total of 47 scholarships were awarded for a total of $35,000. Scholarship funds are made available annually from interest earned from two permanently restricted scholarship endowments.
To be eligible, applicants must reside in Taney or Stone county, or Boone County, Ark., be an employee of Cox Medical Center Branson or the family member of a Cox Medical Center Branson employee.
Learn more about Skaggs Foundation's scholarship program