Dan and Hannah, Stem Cells and Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia

KM map of atlanta

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.

KM Superior Healthcare sign

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.

KM 1B Hannah's x-rays

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.

KM 1A Dan's x-rays 2

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).

KM 1C Han and Julie

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.

KM 2 H at start of trail

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.

KM 4B H atop little KM

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.

KM 4B D and H at little KM cannon

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.

KM 5 D on rocky trail

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!

KM 5A H on fire road home

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.

KM quality inn

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.

KM enterprise

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.

KM 2A D on trail

Trail up Kennesaw Mountain

 

KM KM map

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!

KM tipping

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Dan and Hannah and the Ways of Our Love

It’s the first week of August, Hannah and I have come to Sandy Springs, Georgia (Atlanta Metro Area) for Hannah’s second experimental stem cell injection; we’ve hopes that stem cells just might hold a key to improving her voice, which has been softened and limited for the past 15 years.

SH 1 Julie and Dr T with H

NP Julie and Dr. Tan prepping Hannah

Injected into her spine (to pass the blood/brain barrier), the stem cells will also be infused into her blood system for improved joint health as well.  We have been encouraged by the positive stem cell results by many pickleballers that we have met from the Yonah Mountain area (north Georgia).

SH 1B J to infuse H

Julie prepping to infuse Hannah with stem cells

Up by 2A in York, Maine for our 6A flight to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, we arrive in the Peach Tree State before 9A; drive 25 miles north to Sandy Springs for Hannah’s treatments.  Dr. Tan administers the stem cell injection; later Nurse Practitioner Julie Thorne infuses the stem cells into her blood system.

SH 2 Anne Frank

Anne

Hannah comes out of the 90-minute procedure smiling, without any pain, but…

…we are both weary beyond belief from our just after midnight wake up call on this 90F afternoon.

Unsuccessful in our attempt to check in the early afternoon at our Comfort Suites motel, we take the opportunity to visit the Anne Frank in the World Center in Sandy Springs!  Who knew that the heart of Dixie would have such a treasure!  Click here for more information about this much-needed telling of her story, especially in light of the August events in Charlottesville and the dangerous equivocating of the President.

Finally checked into the Comfort Suites, we lunch on our Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki subs, sort of nap, later walk to the local grocery store for our dinner, and then, toast the success of Hannah’s stem cell surgery with a fine Cabernet in our suite.

Fried, though Hannah’s feeling no pain, we are in bed by 8P.  That’s when our love kicks in.

Unbeknownst to me in my deep slumber of exhaustion, Hannah soon develops back pain pushing past 12 – on a scale of one to ten.  She can’t sleep.  I mean can’t sleep at all.  She showers; she walks the corridor of the motel’s second floor; she takes a bath; she lies in bed hoping to fall asleep.  Nothing works.  Her back hurts big time.

SH D and NR

Dan and Nancy Rose over brunch at the Summerland Cafe, south of Santa Barbara

And this is where Hannah calls on the wisdom of our Santa Barbara and Unity friend Nancy Rose.   Earlier in the evening, Nancy Rose had emailed Hannah

Dear Hannah,

Just getting around to reading my emails.  I love your friend’s saying- “what soap does for the body, tears do for the soul” -beautiful.  You are good for my soul too, Hannah.  Take good care down there in Georgia.  You are in the best hands, and you know whose they are. 

Later, Hannah emails Nancy Rose.

SH Four of us D H NR Duncan

Dan, Hannah, Nancy, and Duncan earlier this year in Summerland, California

dear Nancy  

            Your latest email helped more than I can say….in the middle of the night last night (after my stem cell injections yesterday) I couldn’t sleep, was feeling aches down to my bones (lower back and back of my thighs), tossed and turned – and thought of your words: “You are in the best hands and you know whose they are.” Because of that sharing from you, I woke Dan up and let him be “God’s hands” in the middle of the night.

      I am so blessed. And I am so grateful for you, dear Nancy. And, for my Danny Boy.  my love – to you and your Duncan.

Hannah

As often in our 50 years together, I am the regular recipient of Hannah’s love, and tonight was another such case.   Hannah wakes me and we cuddle as she tells me of her incessant back pain and inability to sleep.   For me, I am so damn pleased she woke me; I hold her snugly until she is ready to give sleeping another shot.

A few hours later, she wakes me again, still unable to sleep or get comfortable.   We walk the motel corridors together before dawn while everyone else, except us two, sleeps.

And that, my friends, Hannah waking me in the middle of the night is one way of our love…

PS Oh yeah, we’ll remember the Tylenol next time.