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Interventional Radiology Comes Together to Support One of Their Own

March 29, 2023 by bs9ey@virginia.edu   |   Leave a Comment

UVA Interventional Radiology team members pose in the butterfly scrub caps made as a fundraiser for Alicia Simmons

UVA Interventional Radiology team members pose in the butterfly scrub caps that were created and sold to raise money for medical expenses for the sister of former technologist Amber Simmons

Amber Simmons graduated from the Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging’s Charles J. Tegtmeyer Program of Interventional Radiology and Special Procedures in 2016. After graduating, Amber worked in the interventional radiology division at UVA Health for six years as an IR diagnostic technologist before departing in 2022 to take a role with a medical device company.

Since her departure, Amber remains close with the UVA IR team and still works closely with them in her new position. But in December 2022, a close family member of Amber’s experienced a sudden medical event that brought them to UVA for treatment, and Amber came to rely on her IR community in a new and powerful way.

A Sudden Loss of Vision

In early December, Amber’s twin sister, Alicia, a chef at the acclaimed Tavola restaurant in Charlottesville, suddenly lost her peripheral vision. She was admitted to UVA Health and received top-notch care from the neurology, oncology, neurosurgery, immunology and neuroimmunology teams. Alicia was able to return home after a week at the medical center, but unfortunately was readmitted in January with additional symptoms, including facial numbness.

This time, her UVA care team decided to perform a stereotactic brain biopsy. This is a procedure in which neurosurgeons carefully remove a small piece of the brain. By obtaining a tissue sample, they hoped to be able to determine exactly what was happening inside Alicia’s brain.

The biopsy revealed that Alicia has a demyelinating lesion, or a tumor-like mass that was causing damage to the protective covering surrounding nerve fibers in the brain. When this covering is damaged, neurological symptoms, like those that Alicia was experiencing, can occur.

“The biopsy was not easy for Alicia to experience,” Amber says, “She had brain fog afterwards, and for a while it was hard for her to express how she felt. Even small things like forming sentences, or saying the right number, or even reading, was difficult.”

During this time, members of the UVA IR community stayed as involved as they could in Alicia’s care, even though Alicia was not their patient. Some, like Dr. Fritz Angle, Division Chief of IR, and Dr. Meghan Clark, Chief IR Resident, helped facilitate things when they could and gave the family perspective and hope. Some would even stop by Alicia’s room while doing rounds on their own patients at night. “Dr. Angle called it making his house call,” Amber says.

Still, some of Amber’s former colleagues wondered what more they could do to help.

Coming Together For Alicia and Amber

Alicia’s condition is currently stable—she can work and carry on with most of the activities of her normal life—but her exact diagnosis remains unclear. The Simmons family is planning to reach out to additional experts to help determine the best course of action. But this process will come with a steep cost.

One member of UVA IR, Debbie Berry, RN, knew that she wanted to help Amber, Alicia and their family with burdensome medical expenses as they contemplated next steps. So she decided to start a fundraiser for Alicia’s medical care.

UVA Radiology butterfly scrub caps created and sold to fundraise for Alicia Simmons' future medical expenses

A closeup of the two types of butterfly scrub caps

Debbie had the idea of creating special scrub caps with a butterfly fabric to sell to members of the IR department. She knew that Dr. Luke Wilkins, an interventional radiologist in the department, had previously enlisted his mother, Charlene, to create and donate hand-sewn fabric bags to help IR patients with tubes feel more comfortable. Would Charlene be interested in helping to create scrub caps for this fundraiser?

Not only did Charlene say yes, but she was thrilled to be involved. “She actually wrote me a letter,” Debbie says, “Thanking me for what I was doing and saying she would love to help.” Debbie procured the fabric for the caps and  mailed it to Charlene in Michigan. Charlene immediately got to work sewing 50 homemade scrub caps.

It took her less than a month to sew the caps and send them back to Debbie in Charlottesville. “I said to Dr. Wilkins, I can’t wait to meet his mom and take her out to dinner the next time she comes to town,” says Debbie. “I think the world of her, helping us and Alicia the way she did.”

Fundraising Success

With the 50 caps in hand, Debbie and other IR team members got down to business. They sold the caps to other members of the IR department for $20 each, with an overall goal of raising $1,000 for the Simmons family.

Within a couple of weeks there were only a couple of caps left unsold. Debbie says they will absolutely sell all 50 and reach their fundraising goal. “Some people didn’t even need a cap,” she said, “They just handed us money as a donation. Absolutely everybody was on board to help.”

“There’s not a lot you can do, to be honest, in this kind of situation,” she continues. “So it helps people to get involved on some small level.”

“We love Alicia and Amber. They are wonderful citizens and community members and we think the world of them,” Debbie says. “You have an idea, you try something, and to see it bring out all this goodness in others and bring goodness to people you care about makes you feel really blessed.”

Even though she has formally left the IR team, Amber feels the support and care of her colleagues now more than ever. As her, Alicia and their family embark on their next steps, they carry that love and support with them.

“It’s been a super scary situation,” she said. “So knowing you have trusted people and allies who really care, who offer you all this support, means so much to us.”

 

Comments (5)

  1. Simmons Vickey says:

    The love and support has been overwhelming by this group and UVA. We so thank everyone for their generosity, kindness and prayers as we continue to find a diagnosis for my daughter Alicia. Thank you all so very very much!!

  2. Keith Lucas says:

    Prayers for the Simmons family. I was blessed to teach the twins in 8th grade and what a wonderful family they are. I pray her condition improves and remains stable!

  3. Linda Hartley says:

    Sending love and praying hard for dear, sweet Alicia. 🙏❤️🙏

  4. David Maupin says:

    AWESOME !!!! WE HAVE SOME OF THE BEST OF THE BEST AT UVA AND I THANK GOD ALMIGHTY EVERY DAY FOR OUR GREAT PEOPLE THAT WORK VERY HARD FOR GREAT RESULTS !!!

  5. Kathryn Robinette (Karr) says:

    I graduated the IR program in 2002, I am not surprised by the love and support of the UVA family. Prayers for the Simmons family

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