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"Unbelievable": Patients express gratitude for their VCU Health care teams

National Grateful Patient Day is recognized on September 7th as an opportunity to show appreciation for hard-working medical professionals, families and caregivers.

several patients are in this graphic, their images look like polaroid pictures with white boarders. Patients and caregivers share their experiences with VCU Health team members, highlighting excellent and compassionate care. (Sherilyn Smail, VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

By Sara McCloskey

With the latest innovations, research and best practices available within reach, every team member at VCU Health is unconditionally committed to providing the best care possible for our patients.

We are thankful for consistently being recognized nationally as one of the best health systems in Virginia. But the greatest words of gratitude we can ever receive are from the patients we see every day as well as their caregivers and loved ones.

On this National Grateful Patient Day, we want to share some inspiring stories from patients who have experienced the unwavering dedication of VCU Health team members, their families and caregivers.

Father and son stand outside of a VCU Health building.

Father and son, James and Jim Busic, were part of the first fully robotic living donor liver transplant surgery at VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

“Unbelievable... Number one in my books.”

A team of surgeons at VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center performed their first fully robotic-assisted living donor liver surgery on Jim Busic, a son who was trying to save the life of his father, James Busic, who had been diagnosed with cirrhosis and liver cancer.

"I remember waking up post-op and the first-person room was Dr. David Bruno. I see the smile on his man's face... it made me feel good,” Jim said. “Bruno says to me, “You're doing great. Your father is doing great.” I mean, that guy's smile looks like it was Christmas morning.”

“I can't give enough to the staff, the nurses and the doctors. Unbelievable. I mean, bedside manner, you can't get better for a doctor,” James said. “Whatever had to be done — they did it. They were fantastic to me.... They’re number one in my books.”

Read James and Jim’s story 

Woman sitting up in a hospital bed. She is smiling and has her hair braided

Natalie Rainer was recognized as this year's featured patient at VCU Health's Shining Knight Gala, which honors the emergency medicine first-responders, doctors, nurses and others who save trauma patients’ lives. (Contributed photo)

“Unsung heroes.”

A tragic car crash, involving a drunk driver, altered the life of avid cyclist Natalie Rainer. Her best friend, Jonah Holland, was killed in the crash. Natalie sustained critical injuries and was transported to VCU Health’s VCU Medical Center, the only comprehensive Level I trauma center verified in the state for adult, pediatric and burn trauma care.

The trauma care team worked around the clock, using a holistic approach to care for not only Natalie but her family too. They maintained close communication with loved ones, providing updates and answering their questions with care and compassion.

“It’s an organization that’s just dedicated to helping people,” said Mike Rainer, Natalie’s father. “That’s the amazing thing. They are unsung heroes. I have so much gratitude for every single person who was involved in Natalie’s care - from the doctors and nurses to the people who prepared her food and took the trash out.”

Read Natalie’s story

woman walking in neighborhood

Sally Hastentab is part of VCU Health’s Hospital at Home program. As someone who was in and out of the hospital frequently, she says being able to recover at home has made “a big difference” for her health. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

“Hand in hand.”

VCU Health launched the Hospital at Home program in January 2023, bringing hospital-level care to the comfort of patient’s homes. Sally Hastentab, a program participant, has been in and out of the hospital since her liver failure diagnosis two years ago. The frequent trips to the hospital were especially taxing on her, because she has a weakened immune system.

Since getting set up with Hospital at Home, Sally has been able to recuperate more comfortably at home. She’s also been able to be more independent, partnering with her Home Hospital care team on her treatment.

“I had three different nurses and Dr. David Goldberg — are all wonderful,” Sally said. “I'm a retired nurse, so I'm always on top of my care. It's nice to be able to kind of go hand in hand with my nurses and then the doctor to do so.”

Read Sally’s story

Patient and caregiver with their doctor 

Tony Easter, who has ALS, and his wife, Sherry, at a recent appointment with Kelly Gwathmey, M.D., at the VCU Health ALS Clinic. (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

“A blessing to us.”

As the only clinic of its kind in the region, the VCU Health ALS Clinic is committed to connecting best research practices to everyday care. The clinic recently released a study that found Black patients in Virginia experienced longer delays to being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) than white patients.

Now, they are focused on finding solutions through educational programming to help local health care professionals identify early signs of the disease in their patients.

Another key part of this initiative is cutting down patient wait times to visit the ALS Clinic. Patients referred through the VCU Health Rapid Access ALS Program will be seen within four weeks, which will eliminate the need for referral to a community neurologist or a non-neurologist specialist, cut out unnecessary diagnostic testing, and shorten the time to diagnosis.

For patients, like Tony Easter, the clinic has been a lifeline while navigating this complex diagnosis. It took him two years to get diagnosed before coming to the VCU Health ALS Clinic.

“Every day is a different day with ALS, because you don’t know what to expect,” Tony said. “Dr. Gwathmey and her staff have definitely been a blessing to us and I’m sure to many others.”

Read Tony’s story