Nine days ago, in late October 2017, Hannah and I flew to Atlanta from Boston (900 miles) for an experimental procedure of stem cell injections for Hannah, a long shot attempt to make her voice stronger after 15 years of spasmodic dysphonia. After landing in the Peach State, she called Julie, the nurse practitioner at Superior Healthcare, to let her know that we were on our way to the clinic at Sandy Springs, GA for Hannah’s 1P appointment.
Uber-apologetic, Julie told Hannah that her stem cells, which are frozen and stored in a stem cell bank in Florida, had not arrived as promised that day. Alas, we had no appointment. But we had Julie.
She set up another appointment for today (a Thursday) and had the stem cell bank cover our flight, lodging, car rental, and gas expenses for our return trip. With a free afternoon that Tuesday past, we hiked up and around Stone Mountain to the east of Atlanta. Click here for the link to last week’s blog about that hike.
Fast forward nine days. Driving in the predawn dark from home on the coast of Maine, we have few others on the road down I-95, then route 1 to Boston. Soon, we are in the air on our non-stop 620A Jet Blue flight to Atlanta.
Upon arrival, Hannah’s text to Julie confirms that Hannah’s stem cells are indeed ready and waiting for her at another Superior Healthcare clinic in Canton, GA, 50 miles north of the airport in Atlanta.
Arriving 25 minutes early for Hannah’s 1130A appointment, we see Julie in scrubs coming out of another procedure; she spots us, flashes her light-up-the-room smile, and says with joy, It’s déjà vu. Do you feel like you’ve just been here? We are home.
X-rays of Hannah’s knees
Over the next hour and a half, Hannah has the intrathecal injection of stem cells into her spine, and later two more in her knees. On a computer screen, we see x-rays of both of Hannah’s knees (to the right); the top picture is from her first (May 2017) stem cell injection and the bottom x-ray was taken today (November 2017). The increased space between her knee and tibia shows the growth of cartilage due to the stem cells. Do note the titanium screws still doing their job below her knee; these were inserted after a water skiing accident five years ago.
X-rays of Dan’s knees (bottom x-ray from May and the top in November)
Since I had had stem cell injections in both knees as well that May day, Julie x-rays my knees to check the growth of cartilage. Since my cartilage wasn’t as far gone as Hannah’s, my growth hasn’t been as great. Even so, I am feeling nimbler on the pickleball court five months later. Julie notes the improved tracking of my right patella (knee cap).
Hannah and Julie
For relationship-focused individuals like Hannah and me, the personal touch by medical professionals matters greatly. Eighteen months ago, Hannah had voice rehabilitation training in Tampa with a woman with whom Hannah just didn’t connect, and ultimately didn’t believe in. Julie connects. We know there are no guarantees that stem cells will strengthen Hannah’s voice, but we believe in Julie and the possibilities.
With an entire 75F afternoon to ourselves, we opt to hike at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, just north of Atlanta. Two years ago, we hiked here in the rain when we came to Georgia to hike our 14th and final Appalachian Trail state. Click here for the blog to our first climb of Kennesaw Mountain in the rain as well as some background of the Civil War battle that took place here.
Finding the last parking spot at 2P on a Thursday, we talk to the ranger about the six-mile Kennesaw Mountain Loop Trail. With 600’ of elevation to Big Kennesaw Mountain, we climb it, descend, and then climb Little Kennesaw Mountain. From there, it’s some four miles of mostly downhill back to the Visitor Center.
It’s déjà vu for us as we remember the rocky climbs, the views south to Atlanta, and the Civil War cannons still in place. By the way, it took 100 men to drag these cannons up the rocky slopes.
As we hike, we step on, over, and around sharp angled rocks on the up and down mountain trail. Surprised by the many fellow hikers on a midweek afternoon, we can see the appeal of this forest oasis in the midst of suburban Atlanta that stretches as far as the eye can see.
Approaching the half-way point, we have a country fire road of soft dirt beneath the forest canopy for our return to the trailhead. Passing hikers making the nearly six-mile loop in the other direction, we see young women and men running the hilly, undulating trail. Dan and Hannah, circa 1992!
Two and a quarter hours after leaving the trailhead, we complete the 5.8 miles of the Kennesaw Mountain Loop Trail. Pleased with this bonus afternoon of hiking thanks to the snafu of nine days ago, we are not surprised that our 30-mile late afternoon drive to our Quality Inn through Atlanta is congested; it’s not Washington, DC commuter crazy, but we do slow drive between 20 to 30 mph.
Toasting our overnight adventure to the South, we treat ourselves to a fine merlot, but… Hannah can’t finish her glass of wine as the Lidocaine painkiller from the afternoon injection is wearing off and the Tylenol has yet to kick in. Overnight, sleep for Hannah comes but mostly goes.
After a mostly sleepless night for Hannah, we leave the Quality Inn in our rental car at 520A for our 7A Jet Blue flight back to Boston; we have no idea that we have forgotten one of our carry-ons. And now I have, a what would you do question.
Dropping off our Nissan Sentra at the Enterprise location about 530A, we get checked out, and then realize that we’d left our cooler bag of food back at the Quality Inn three miles away.
Mentioning this to the attendant, he asks when our flight is, and concludes that we can make it back to our Quality Inn in ten minutes, and be back for our early morning flight. At the Quality Inn, I jump out, get the bag, and Paul (Hannah learns his name through her engaging front seat conversation with him) takes us directly to the Jet Blue Terminal; we save time by not taking the Sky Train from the Rental Car Center. We easily make our flight.
You tell me, what do we tip him? $5? (a muffin and coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts) $10? (enough to take a friend to Dunkin’ Donuts) $100 (just blow him out of the water and give him a story to tell forever). What do you think? Decide and then scroll down for our decision.
Trail up Kennesaw Mountain
We hiked the trail marked in red from the Visitor Center. The elevation of the trail is represented across the bottom of the map.
The right tip for us is $20. (Though the blow-him-out-of-the-water tip is gaining traction for future such events).
We thank Paul for something he didn’t have to do but smilingly did. Southern hospitality in action! Once home, I see is an additional $7 charge on our Enterprise bill. Considering the gas and Paul’s time, it seems like a bargain.
A few days later that charge is wiped from our credit card statement. We love us some Enterprise!