Erie Family Health Center Blog

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Health Interview: Mesothelioma Awareness

January 27, 2016 |

Cameron Von St. James is a father, caregiver, and mesothelioma advocate. His wife Heather was Family shot (2)diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005 shortly after giving birth to her baby girl. Heather is now a 10-year mesothelioma survivor. She and Cameron work to spread awareness the disease and issues facing mesothelioma patients and caregivers. We are proud to feature them on our blog to help others cultivate a better understanding of mesothelioma.

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that’s only known cause is exposure to asbestos. It affects the lining of the organs, and the most common type of mesothelioma is known as pleural mesothelioma, or mesothelioma of the lining of the lungs. Most diagnosed have been exposed to asbestos many years ago, and are given around 1 year to live.

Please share Heather’s story. How did you learn about her diagnosis? What sort of side effects was she having?

A few weeks after giving birth to our baby girl, Heather began having some odd symptoms. She was tired, had shortness of breath and began losing a lot of weight really fast. She was losing about five to nine pounds a week. Finally, she went to her doctor.

We started ruling out the simple stuff. The doctor thought maybe Heather had postpartum condition such as a heart virus. He ordered a chest X-ray because they were still looking for postpartum related problems. What they found was fluid, which led to her diagnosis of pleural mesothelioma cancer.

We were shocked that Heather, a 36 year old woman, had something most consider as an “old man’s disease”. Without treatment, Heather was given 15 months to live.

What did Heather’s healing journey look like?

10 years FB (2)Luckily, due to Heather’s age and stage of her cancer, she was a candidate for a treatment option that involved the removal her lung and the use of a heated chemotherapy solution inside her chest cavity. On February 2nd, 2006- groundhogs day- Heather underwent surgery at the Boston based Brigham and Women’s hospital under the care of Dr. David Sugarbaker, a world renowned mesothelioma surgeon who was known as the best in the world.

After an 18-day hospital stay, Heather recovered at her parents home for 2 months. Then she returned home and received a chemotherapy treatment every 3 weeks for 12 weeks. Heather is now a 10 year survivor, and is thriving!

What are you doing now to promote awareness? Why is awareness important to you?

One of the ways that Heather and our family overcame the uncertainty and fear associated wiLLD (2)th such an
awful prognosis, was humor. Taking from the tradition of firewalking where you write your fear on a plank of wood and walk across it in a fire, Heather’s sister came up with the idea to celebrate a “Lung Leavin’ Day”. Instead of walking across fire, she suggested that we write out our fears on a ceramic plate, and smashed them into the fire.

This has become an annual tradition for our family, we call this event and now fundraiser for mesothelioma research “Lung Leavin’ Day”. We invite family, friends, survivors and caregivers to join us in, literally, throwing our fears to a fire.

This is just one way that we have used Heather’s story to raise awareness and funds for mesothelioma research. Heather and I both blog, speak at events and conferences with organizations such as the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

To us, awareness means working toward a global ban on asbestos. There will be no end to mesothelioma until there is an end to asbestos. It also means that maybe just one more person doesn’t have to go through this disease alone. There is a network of mesothelioma survivors, caregivers, and professionals here to help you and your family.

If there was one thing you’d want someone to take away from this blog, what would it be?

That anyone can be at risk for mesothelioma. Heather was exposed to asbestos as a young girl by wearing her father’s work jacket to do outdoor chores. While veterans and tradesmen have some of the highest exposure to asbestos, it was used widespread up through the 1970’s in thousands of applications. Asbestos still exists in older homes and commercial buildings today and it is still not banned in the U.S. and in Canada. It has even recently been found in popular brands of children’s crayons that were produced overseas, and sold in the U.S.

What are other great resources someone can access if they want to learn more?

I would also suggest joining online groups where you can network with other caregivers. Heather is part of the I Had Cancer community. There are also many disease specific websites that you can join.

If you are looking to learn more about mesothelioma, and the history of asbestos use, I would suggest visiting the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance website where you will find a wealth of information on mesothelioma, treatment options and ways to protect yourself from this harmful disease. Heather and I blog regularly with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, if you would like to follow along or get in touch please click below.


Click here to visit Cameron’s blog

Click here to visit Heather’s blog


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Gloria’s Story

December 17, 2015 |

Erie 2010-1115Gloria’s* breathing difficulties were keeping her from her job, her family, and her friends. The glands in her face and neck had been terribly swollen and painful for months. She knew something was very wrong, but without health insurance, she didn’t know where she could turn for help. Fortunately, Erie was there.

Gloria saw a doctor at Erie HealthReach Waukegan Health Center who assessed her needs and was able to connect her with a specialist at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. Diagnosed with an inflammatory disease called sarcoidosis, Gloria is now relieved to have access to treatment and a regular primary care doctor at Erie HealthReach Waukegan who can oversee all of her follow-up care. Erie was also able to help Gloria sign up for Medicaid coverage, removing a financial barrier to future health care.

This holiday season help people like Gloria, and give your neighbors the gift of good health.

*name changed to protect patient privacy.

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Mia’s Story

December 17, 2015 |

Erie 11-19-08 Picks-0612Twelve-year-old Mia* couldn’t catch her breath. Her family had no primary care doctor, so they saw their only option to treat Mia’s breathing problems was to bring her to the emergency room time and time again. Each time she checked in to the ER, the doctor on duty would examine her lungs, diagnose pneumonia, and send her home with antibiotics. But Mia’s breath would leave her again – and her family would rush her to another ER.

This cycle ended when Mia’s family found Erie Evanston/Skokie Health Center.

Erie’s full staff of primary care physicians provide consistent, coordinated, compassionate care to their patients. Through regular visits, Mia’s new pediatrician was able to catch the pattern, and correctly diagnose the asthma that was causing her recurring breathing problems.

Mia didn’t need antibiotics over and over again – she needed an asthma inhaler, training on how to use it, and routine care. Mia now breathes deep without panicked trips to the ER, repeated chest x-rays, and unnecessary antibiotics.

This holiday season, help kids like Mia breathe easy, and give your neighbors the gift of hope for a healthier future.

*name changed to protect patient privacy.

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Ernest Chang’s Story

November 13, 2015 |

Ernest ChangA little over two years ago Ernest Chang, Strategic Initiatives Advisor at BMO Harris Bank, learned about Erie Family Health Center through his in-laws. Now he is one of Erie’s most active advocates, regularly at­tending Erie’s Board of Directors meetings and leading the Auxiliary Council into increas­ing its outreach and fundraising efforts as Council Chair. But he admits he wasn’t always interested in health care.

“Preventative health care was completely new to me,” he said. “With my family it’s always been like, ‘Oh, you have an issue? Go to the ER.’ I’d paid for health care benefits my entire life and hadn’t taken advantage of them.”

Ernest’s mother-in-law previously managed the program for high-needs students at Evanston Township High School. At the time Erie was building a new health center to serve the Evanston and Skokie communities and she was interested in tapping into Erie Evanston/Skokie as a potential resource for the students. She arranged for a meet-and-greet with President and CEO Dr. Lee Francis. Ernest came along.

“Erie struck a chord with me,” said Ernest of that initial meet­ing. “Being made aware that of the general lack of knowledge around health care, I thought that Erie was a really meaningful organization that I would like to support and advocate for.”

The Erie Family Health Center Auxiliary Council served as his opportunity to become more involved with Erie. The Auxiliary Council is composed of young professionals who are commit­ted to spreading awareness about Erie’s mission. They have strategized, planned, and hosted the Eriedescence fundraiser for the past four years, raising over $160,000 for Erie’s health and wellness programs, including Erie’s award-winning HIV/AIDS program, Lending Hands for Life.

Ernest came on board in October 2013 and stepped into a leadership role on the Council in July 2014. Seeing that the Council was in need of reinvigoration, he reconnected Council members with Erie’s mission. “I think everyone would agree that we’ve made a lot of great progress,” said Ernest of his experience as Council Chair. “We’ve redefined who we are and what we do.” This past September, the Auxiliary Council was proud to run alongside Erie’s Lending Hands for Life patients in the 2015 AIDS Run/Walk at Soldier Field.

Though making the time commitment to be an active advo­cate and volunteer can be challenging, Ernest continues to dedicate his time to Erie because of the passionate people he’s met within the organization. “Everyone has this desire to provide great service to the patients—the doctors, the nurses, administrative staff,” he said. “This is why I do this, why I’m here.”

When you give to Erie, you become an advocate for those most in need of care. Give to Erie Family Health Center today.

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Jade’s Story

November 13, 2015 |

“I’m living proof of how Erie affects people’s lives. I want my kids and my whole family to have the same great experience I’ve had.

-Jade Saldana, Erie Patient and Medical Assistant Team Leader


From her first visit to Erie Teen Center 12 years ago, Jade Saldana knew she belonged.

Her providers were compassionate and respectful, and she felt cared for. But when the Teen Center relocated far from her home, Jade worried where she would go for health care. She was relieved when Erie referred her to its nearby Humboldt Park location. There, she continued receiving the care she had come to depend on. Her growing relationship with Erie doctors and nurses inspired her to imagine a path for her life.

After high school, she continued her education to become a medical assistant. She completed an externship at Erie. Today, she is thrilled to have a career as a medical assistant team leader at Erie and proud to be developing long-term relationships with her patients and their families. Along with Jade, her three children, sisters, nieces, and her husband’s family have all become Erie patients. Like Jade, they look forward to visiting their doctors.

When you make a donation, you don’t just help our patients–you help our staff, too. Give the gift of health today.

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Our Staff: Michele Shubitowski

November 13, 2015 |

Twenty-five years aMicheleShubitowski_HS1go, Michele Shubitowski came on board as Erie’s first—and only—nurse at the Teen Health Center. At the time, it was just a small storefront in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago, and the idea that adolescents required a different model of care than adults or children was just emerging.

But Michele understood well the need for a tailored method of providing care to adolescents—especially the extremely complex adolescents that Erie typically serves.

“These aren’t just any teenagers,” said Michele of her patients. “They have a lot of baggage; they’re dealing with poverty, or state custody, or they’re learning how to become new parents—and all of this is on top of the usual teenage angst that the average teenager experi­ences. It’s an extra layer of hardship for them.”

Michele has led the way as Erie built its services for teens. From 2000 to 2009, she served as the Director of the Teen Center. With her guidance, the Teen Center grew to accommodate a full team of clinicians. Erie Teen Center, now located at Erie Division Street, provides a comprehensive array ser­vices to more than 6,000 teens annually, from behavioral health care to testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and has become an essential regional resource.

In recognition of her leadership, the Illinois Primary Health Care Association honored Mi­chele this past October with the Danny K. Davis Achievement Award, recognizing her outstanding service to the community health center movement above and beyond the call of duty.

“Michele is a leader here—the staff looks to her for guidance each day,” said Robin Varnado, current Director of the Teen Center. “She is a thoughtful teacher and has been a mentor to each one of us, and we’re grateful for her tremendous contribution to Erie’s adolescent population.”

Michele’s empathy and tireless efforts to provide a safe, confi­dential, and healthy haven for Chicago’s most vulnerable teens has impacted the well-being of the entire community. An entire generation of young people has benefited from her skills, wisdom and compassion.

Make a donation to Erie Family Health Center today, and support our dedicated staff.

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Ana & Sam’s Story

November 13, 2015 |

Erie 2010-0479Ana was worried. Her newborn son, Sam, had devel­oped a bad rash all over his body, and was inconsolably fussy. She brought Sam to Erie Family Health Center, where his doctor recognized his symptoms as a rare milk protein allergy. Sam’s pediatri­cian knew that he would require a very special “elemental” formula that costs almost $40 per can.

She also knew that Ana wouldn’t be able to afford that. So – embracing Erie’s philosophy of caring for the whole patient, beyond the walls of the exam room – she person­ally found a donor who provided an initial supply of this expensive formula for Sam. Then, she was able to con­nect Ana with a supplemental nutrition program for women and children that could provide a continuing supply of the formula.

Sam is now thriving. Ana returned last month with the leftover formula that Sam no longer needs. She has asked Erie to donate the formula to another family in need.

Every donation you make helps to provide the compassionate care that patients like Baby Sam can only receive at a place like Erie Family Health Center. Donate today to spread hope and healing in your community.

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TJ’s Story

November 13, 2015 |

_JSP5339TJ’s summer break was interrupted when he started having seizures. When the new school year began at Laura S. Ward Elementary in Humboldt Park, the seventh grader lived in fear that a seizure could strike at any moment. This anxiety caused him to give up the sports he loved, like basketball. Seeking comfort and a safe place, he frequently wandered in to Erie Westside Health Center, one of Erie Family Health Center’s five Chicago Public School-based locations.

The nursing staff at Erie was concerned about TJ. They consulted neurologists and helped his parents schedule MRIs and other necessary testing. Test results revealed the source of TJ’s seizures: a 2.5 centimeter brain tumor.

This is devastating news for any family to face. Thankfully, TJ’s tumor was benign, and surgery successfully removed it. TJ was able to return to the seventh grade two months later.

Erie’s doctors were just down the hall from TJ’s classroom when he needed follow-up care. When the fear of being hit in the head near his incision site gave TJ anxiety, Erie’s behavioral health therapist was steps away from the gym and ready to assist with coping strategies. Today TJ is now free of seizures, full of confidence and back on the basketball court.

Like Erie Westside at Ward Elementary, each of Erie’s 13 health centers is located in an area that lacks medical resources for those in financial need. Before they found Erie, our patients faced barriers to health care like poverty, lack of insurance, geographic inaccessibility, inflexible hours, and language differences. Before they found Erie, many of our patients worried they had nowhere to go.

Your contribution ensures that Erie’s services will remain accessible and affordable for anyone who needs them. This holiday season, give kids like TJ the gift of a safe place, peace of mind, and hope for a healthier future.


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Daniel Hill’s Story

November 13, 2015 |

Daniel Hill

Daniel Hill avoided treatment for his high blood pressure. As a seasonal worker, he had no health insurance. He also had bad memories of unpleasant clinics with impersonal care.

In 2010, he was rushed to the emergency room and diagnosed with Stage 2 colon cancer. After successful surgery, he was cancer free and grateful. But he was left with high blood pressure—and a mountain of medical bills. His cousin, an Erie patient, told Daniel about Erie. He made an appointment with Erie primary care physician, Dr. Peter Mayock. Daniel immediately felt comfortable with his new doctor.

In 2012, Dr. Mayock referred him to CountyCare, Cook County’s early Medicaid expansion program. Daniel now receives Medicaid benefits and regular care. His blood pressure is under control. He is so pleased with his care that he referred two co-workers to Erie—and is now a member of Erie’s board of directors.

Please help us continue to support patients like Daniel. Make a gift to Erie this holiday season.


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Help Our Mission

November 13, 2015 |

Last year, contributions from Erie supporters helped our team of doctors, dentists, behavioral therapists, and other support staff care for more than 65,000 patients. This holiday season, your contribution will ensure that Erie’s services remain affordable for anyone in need. If you can, please consider making a donation to Erie.

About Erie Family Health Center from Erie Family Health Center on Vimeo.

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