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


Dan and Hannah Are Thrown a Curve, Rebound to Hike Stone Mountain, Georgia

St map of sandy

Up at 4A on this Tuesday in late October 2017, Hannah and I are flying 900 miles southwest from Boston to Atlanta for Hannah’s stem cell injections; it’s an experimental procedure to see if stem cells will improve the quality of Hannah’s voice, diminished for the last 15 years with spasmodic dysphonia.  Hannah has a 1P appointment at Superior Healthcare in Sandy Springs, 25 miles north of Atlanta.

Our Delta flight from Logan Airport is delayed by federal regulations that require the flight attendants to have enough downtime between flights.  Our attendants arrived late last night, so our flight leaves 30 minutes late this morning.

Landing in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Georgia’s capital later than we expect, Hannah calls Julie, the nurse practitioner at Superior, to let her know that we are on our way.  Hearing their conversation in the next seat, I gather that Houston, we have a problem.

St superior healthcare

It seems that earlier in the morning the UPS truck arrived at Superior Healthcare without Hannah’s own stem cells, which are frozen and stored in a stem cell bank in Florida.  Though ordered by Julie for today’s procedure, they are nowhere to be found.   The long and short of it is that Hannah will not be getting her stem cell injection today.  Julie apologizes and does her best to make things right.

Having already paid for a flight for each of us, our hotel room, and our rental car, Hannah and I have an angel looking out for us.  It’s Julie to the rescue as she reschedules Hannah’s appointment for next Thursday; the stem cell bank will pick up all our expenses for our return to Atlanta.

Even so, how is a guy and a gal to feel about this snafu 900 miles from home?  Clearly, it was not the outcome we wanted.  St anger

Angry?  What does that get us?  We all know that anger just poisons the angry one.

Disappointed?  Not even.  Life happens.  Punches are thrown.  This is a love tap.  A first world problem.  Today, we’ll rock and roll with this beautiful sunny day in Georgia!

No, the snafu turns out to be one helluva opportunity.  We have sunshine for our hike at Stone Mountain, to the east of Atlanta.  We always have a choice how to deal with the unexpected.

Stone Mountain has a checkered past.  It’s the site of the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, the heinous racist organization that terrorized blacks, Jews, and gays in the South with lynchings and daily fear and dread.

St 4A Generals better

Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

Also, upon Stone Mountain is the bas relief of two prominent Confederate Civil War generals, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.  In his I Have a Dream Speech, Martin Luther King, jr. spoke of the importance to let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.  Clearly a pointed reference for those who passed 8th grade history class.

St 1 h at sign

Stone Mountain Park has its own exit off four lane Route 78.  For $15, we have the run of the park to hike on a gorgeous southern afternoon.  Parking near the trailheads is plentiful as we boot up for the one mile Walk Up Trail to the top of Stone Mountain.  Though three hundred yards of paved road begin the trail, we soon turn 90 degrees left to climb bare stone to the top.

St 1B D on stony slab up

Stepping up and over stone ledges, I have never seen a trail like this one – a rising all-stone path to the top of the mountain.  Even on this mid-week day, the trail is happy with people but not swarming as it must be on spring and fall weekends.

Climbing steadily, we have a workout that most can do; that said, it’s no walk in the park.  Near the top there is a double railing for climbing a particularly steep section of the trail.  Welcoming the assistance, we see twenty-something athletes using the trail for an afternoon workout.

St 2 H near hand rails

The double railing above Hannah on the way to the top of Stone Mountain of Georgia

Atop Stone Mountain, the wind picks up, but the sunshine and joy of the climb warms us up and down.  Spotting the Sky Tram that floats visitors to the summit, we make a pit stop at the lodge’s rest rooms; across the lobby, there’s a snack shop, worthy of any Regal Cinema in America, selling sugar products; and then even more sugar if you like.

St 3A D on Cherokee

The white blaze of the Cherokee Trail

After a half hour of climbing to the top, the descent is easy-peezy.

Arriving back at the trailhead an hour after our start, we turn right for the orange blaze Connecting Trail that soon hooks us up with the Cherokee Trail that circles the mountain.  It’s a delightful dirt trail within hailing distance of an active railroad under the canopy of deciduous trees.

St 4B H with Generals good too

Confederate Memorial carvings, 400′ above the ground and nearly 200′ wide  (A Confederate Mount Rushmore?)

Within twenty minutes, we are at the base of the Confederate Heroes in all their glory on the flat vertical side of Stone Mountain.  What’s a Yankee to make of all this?

I don’t doubt the sincerity of these men, but I can’t but wonder how misguided was their defense of slavery (euphemistically referred to as the Peculiar Institution); it seems so transparently bogus to claim that the South was fighting for states’ rights in the Civil War.

Were the Southernors rebels or traitors?   Inflammatory nouns serve little purpose.  They divide rather than unite in this time when bullying and name-calling are the order of the day from the Oval Office.

So how do we unite?  One possibility is that we start by not seeing the other side as the devil.  We do the Stephen Covey thing (the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

We listen.  We approach them with love in our hearts, not retaliatory invective.   We believe that good will win out.  And we don’t lose faith.

Later, over wine and cheese and crackers at our Comfort Inn and Suites near the Atlanta airport, Hannah and I toast our unexpected glorious day and thank the turn of events for making it so.