Through their professions and passions, Joy and Jerry Walls of Loyalsock Township have contributed in many ways to better Lycoming County and the surrounding region. They provide support to enhance the arts, improve education, encourage community development, and expand recreation. When they both faced unexpected health problems last year, they also saw just how far the region’s medical care has advanced.
The Walls fell in love with Lycoming County when they moved here in 1970. Before retiring, Joy, 76, was a teacher in the Loyalsock School District, and Jerry, 75, was the director of Lycoming County Planning & Community Development. Giving back to the community, including making annual contributions to Susquehanna Health Foundation, has always been important to them.
“It’s very satisfying to be able to make a difference,” says Joy, who coached Odyssey of the Mind teams as part of an educational program that offers creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. “We have seen so many great changes over the years.” Joy also serves on the executive board of Lycoming Arts and chairs the organization’s Cultural Trails committee.
“We love this community, and we just want to make it better,” says Jerry, who chairs the board of the 22-county Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, an organization helping to develop an extensive network of trail-and-bike paths along the Susquehanna River while also organizing river-town revitalizations.
When they’re not volunteering or working out at the Eastern Lycoming YMCA, Jerry and Joy are often outdoors, either kayaking or enjoying the trails they’re helping to develop.
“Biking and hiking make us feel alive,” Jerry says. “They help us keep our weight under control and just make us feel better.”
Last April, Jerry and Joy were completing a 21-mile bicycle ride in Montoursville when Jerry was hit by a vehicle. The impact caused his body to skid some 20 feet along the road. He had several x-rays taken at the Emergency Department at UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport.
Jerry went home that night, but while he tried to keep up with his training over the next few weeks, he limped because of hip pain. He made an appointment with Dr. Patrick Carey, the UPMC Susquehanna orthopedic surgeon who had repaired his shoulder several years earlier
In the meantime, as Joy prepared for a bicycle tour of France in late May with Jerry, she became concerned about a reduction in her endurance and speed while bicycling that prompted her to visit her family physician. Joy’s doctor scheduled her for an echocardiogram, which is a sonogram of the heart, and a stress test at Williamsport in late April.
“I never thought they would find a problem with my heart,” Joy says. “I knew I was slowing down, but I just didn’t think anything of it.”
Following Joy’s echocardiogram, Dr. Mohammed Shafique, a cardiologist with UPMC Susquehanna’s Heart & Vascular Institute, met with Joy to explain that her heart’s mitral and tricuspid valves were leaking. These critical valves send oxygen-rich blood from the heart out into the body. Joy’s valves were allowing some of her blood to flow back into her heart, causing strain on her heart muscle and stealing her energy. Dr. Shafique scheduled Joy for a heart catheterization with cardiologist Dr. Donald Nardone to evaluate and potentially treat the leaking valves.
Only a few days later on May 1, Jerry and Joy both received bad news.
After a follow-up visit, Dr. Carey found that Jerry had a hip fracture, which was located in a more obscure area of the hip than near the usual ball and socket where doctors would expect to see it. While Jerry’s injury didn’t require surgical treatment, Dr. Carey told him to cut back on his strenuous workouts and to avoid bicycling until later in the summer
Joy’s news came when Dr. Nardone determined she needed a surgical valve repair. He recommended Dr. Michael Lazar, a cardiothoracic surgeon who could perform the open-heart procedure at Williamsport.
Under doctors’ orders to abandon their vacation plans, Jerry and Joy prepared for a different journey. They met with Dr. Lazar to review details of Joy’s surgery and were pleased that he was personable and upbeat about her procedure.
“He took his time with us and clearly wanted to make sure he answered our questions satisfactorily,” Jerry says.
When they told their daughter Denise about Joy’s need for surgery, Denise urged Joy to go to a larger medical center in Philadelphia, closer to where Denise lives.
“I told her I wanted to stay here, where my extended support system is,” Joy says. “I felt very confident about the hospital, Dr. Lazar, and the cardiologists, many of whom I knew from teaching their children. When Denise did her own research, she was impressed with the positive reviews and information she found about Dr. Lazar. She even called and spoke with his staff in Williamsport.”
On May 18, Dr. Lazar and his team from the Heart & Vascular Institute performed a five-hour procedure to repair Joy’s heart valves. During her five-day inpatient hospitalization, her first since having children, both Joy and Jerry and their daughters were impressed by the high quality of care at Williamsport.
Since Joy was being treated in Williamsport, Jerry could stop in to see her at different times of the day while also keeping up with his volunteer commitments. He even visited while Dr. Lazar was checking on Joy.
“It was great to be able to talk to the doctor and hear his analysis of her progress,” Jerry says. “Everyone there was really attentive, positive, and friendly. We were both very pleased with her care and the degree of specialization that was available. Even though I knew about all the changes happening at UPMC Susquehanna and their work to bring in specialists, it brought it close to home when Joy needed those services.”
For Joy, recovery was easier with the support of nearby friends and family. She even discovered some former Odyssey of the Mind students among her nursing care team.
After discharge and several weeks of restricted activity, Joy was energized by her valve repair and participated in the cardiac rehabilitation program at Williamsport. The team developed a personalized plan for her that incorporated aspects of her normal routine at the Y.
“In terms of recovery, we were quite blessed,” Joy says. “I did a lot of walking at first, and at cardiac rehab, they constantly encouraged me to do more. They said because I was in good shape before my surgery, I had a relatively quick recovery.”
To continue his recovery, Jerry worked with a physical therapist at a UPMC Susquehanna outpatient facility two times a week.
“It was an outstanding experience that helped me work through muscle tightness and soreness resulting from my injury,” Jerry says. “Everyone there was very supportive.”
By late July, just 10 weeks after Joy’s lifesaving surgery, Jerry and Joy were back to bicycling together.
“We are grateful for the excellent care we received and where we are with our recoveries,” Joy says. “We’re back to doing all the things from before our diagnoses.”
For both Jerry and Joy, their experiences reaffirmed their efforts to enhance their community, including helping to raise the level of health care services available.
“I can say for certain it’s important to attract specialists here so medical treatment doesn’t have to include the disruption and expense of travel to another city,” Jerry says. “On more than one occasion, I’ve heard from UPMC Susquehanna leadership that the quality of the community — including a whole range of assets, from the arts to the trails to the variety of specialty restaurants and good school districts — is critically important in helping physicians and their families feel comfortable relocating here. We stay involved to continue making the region more livable, and to attract visitors and professionals. And that, in turn, helps our local businesses and the overall economy.”