Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jim's Obituary

This will run in both Salt Lake newspapers and the Daily Herald on Saturday and Sunday.

James Baker Meeks


James Baker Meeks, beloved husband, father, grandfather and brother, passed away on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 after a fifteen-month battle with spindle-cell sarcoma, a rare cancer.  He was born October 11, 1956, in Concord, CA, the third child of Arden Earl Meeks and Dixie Ann Baker. 

Jim married his high-school sweetheart, Patricia Jo Godfrey, on August 18, 1978 in the Salt Lake Temple after serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served in numerous church callings, especially cherishing his time as Bishop of the BYU 53rd Ward from 2004 – 2007.

Jim began his career as a proud firefighter/paramedic for the Salt Lake County Fire Department, where he worked for eight years before completing the Physician Assistant program at the University of Utah in 1992.  He also served briefly in the Army Reserve before being released honorably due to a serious injury to his hand.

Jim practiced as a PA from 1992 – 2008, when his illness prevented him from working more. He tirelessly worked for the advancement of his profession, and among other things served as President of the AFPPA from July 1, 2008 to the day he died.  He received many awards and honors, among which were 1990 Utah Public Employee of the Year, Utah Physician Assistant of the Year in 1995, and Distinguished Fellow of the AAPA in 2008.  No matter how busy he was Jim always made time for the greatest love in his life, his wife and family.

His mother, father, stepmother Sherry Carr Meeks, and one sister preceded Jim in death.  He will be greatly missed by his loving wife, Patricia; devoted children, Clint (Jen), Mariah (Enrique), Coleton, Clayton, Makell; adoring grandchildren, Boston and Roman; seven siblings, and all those who knew him.

Services will be Monday, May 4, 2009, 1:00 p.m., Lindon Central Stake Center, 50 E 600 N, Lindon, UT. Friends may call at the same address on Sunday from 6 – 8 p.m. or on Monday at 11 a.m – 12:45 p.m. Flowers may be sent to Goff Mortuary, 8090 S State Street, Midvale, UT, 84047. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to ATTN: University of Utah, c/o Dr. Chen/Gouw’s Sarcoma Research, 540 Arapeen Drive, Ste. 250, SLC, UT 84108.

Funeral Information

Thank you so much to everyone who has been posting their comments about Dad here on the blog, as well as those who have called and visited over the last two days. It is so wonderful to hear how much Dad was loved and admired by all those who knew him. The world, and all of us, are a little worse off without him. But, we know he has gone to a better place and look forward to the day when we shall see him again.

The funeral will be held Monday, May 4, 2009 at 1:00 p.m. in the Lindon Central Stake Center, located at 50 East 600 North in Lindon, UT. Two viewings will be held at the same location, the first on Sunday night from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. The second will be before the funeral on Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The interment will be at the Lindon City Cemetery, located just east of the chapel at 550 North 200 East.

Here is a map of the location:

View Larger Map

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's Over Now

Dad's long battle with cancer is now over.  He passed away at 6:10 a.m. Mountain Time today, April 28, 2009.  He didn't sleep at all Sunday night and had a difficult day yesterday (Monday).  He was very anxious all day and had difficulty breathing, but we thought that it was due to the lack of sleep and that if he just got a good night's rest he would be back on track.  Unfortunately, at about 4:30 a.m. the hospital called my mom and said that we should come up as soon as possible.  She called my other siblings and me and told us to head up as soon as we could.  My mom, Clayton and Makell made it to the hospital in time to say goodbye.  The rest of us (all of Jim's kids, plus several of his siblings, his grandkids, and a nephew) didn't make it in time though.

Things at the hospital didn't go quite as smoothly as we would have liked.  Dad wanted to donate any organs he could, but the only ones they would take were his eyes.  So, we sat around waiting for the harvester to come, but it was taking much longer than they had told us it would.  We called the eye bank and found out that the harvester had gone to Pioneer hospital instead of the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center.  He finally made it, completed his task and then called the mortuary to tell him he was finished and that they could come to pick up Dad's body.  He told us they would only be about half an hour or so.

We waited around, some of us in my Dad's room, the rest of us out in the lobby, but it was again taking much longer than we had expected.  I called the mortuary to see what was going on and they told me that the driver had just arrived and was waiting for security to let him in.  We waited for about another 15 minutes and he still hadn't shown up.  I went out and asked the nurse if she could call security and see what was happening.  When she hung up the phone she had a very odd look on her face and was shaking her head.  She looked at me and said, "They picked up the wrong body."  I just looked at her for a second and then asked, "Really?"  She nodded her head and I just said, "Well, I guess it's just one of those days."  Security called the mortuary and had the driver turn around and come back.  He finally made it up to Dad's room and all of us who were still there then left.  It was about noon.

Mom, Mariah, Enrique, Coleton, Jen and myself went and picked out burial plots at the Lindon City Cemetery this afternoon, and we will be meeting with the mortuary and the bishop tomorrow.  We are tentatively planning the funeral for Monday, May 4, 2009 at 12:00 p.m. with a viewing at 11:00 a.m that day, as well as Sunday night.  I will post more details when the plans are more concrete.

Thank you to everyone who has visited, called, posted comments, and for all the other support we are receiving today.  Dad was a wonderful man who touched so many people's lives, and it means so much to us to hear what he meant to all of you.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Significant Progress

I finally have some really great news to report – Dad is no longer in the hospital! He was moved to the Promise long-term acute care facility yesterday around 3 p.m. Mountain time. He is in room 240, but for the time being Mom has asked that only his children, siblings, and aunts Jill and Nola visit him. If things continue to progress at the rate they have this week though, I'm sure he will feel up to other visitors very soon.

The week started out very poorly, as some of the doctors in the SICU were telling Mom on Monday that Dad's cancer was back in his lungs because they had seen it in his chest x-rays. They also told her that they had done everything they could clinically, but Dad hadn't made any real progress for quite awhile, and probably never would. As you can imagine, this really upset Mom and she asked to speak with Dr.'s Bull (Dad's surgeon) and Chen (Dad's oncologist) to see what they said. It turns out that somehow some of the doctors in the SICU mistakenly thought Dad has carcinoma instead of sarcoma. Dr. Bull said that if that were the case, then they would have been able to see tumors in his lungs because they grow that quickly. But, he said that sarcoma tumors don't grow that quickly and that all they are seeing in the x-rays is scar tissue and normal post-operative things. He reiterated his optimism that Dad will recover sufficiently to resume chemotherapy and return home, just that it will take some time and patience. He also said that with patients like this, they do sometimes hit plateaus, but that is to be expected and he will continue to progress, we just have to give it time.

One thing that we have definitely learned recently is how important it is for a patient to have an advocate who fights for them and is willing to question the doctors opinions when they seem wrong. If Mom hadn't stuck up for Dad and asked to speak to the other doctors, the SICU doctors would probably still be treating him like he had carcinoma tumors in his lungs and would die soon! It's hard to imagine that such huge "misunderstandings" can happen in an age with so much technology and amazing capabilities in the medical field – but they do. Please don't get me wrong, we are extremely grateful for all the work the doctors at the U of U hospital have done over the last six weeks. They saved Dad's life on more than one occasion with their expertise, but they are human too, and are therefore prone to mistakes. That's why it's so important for patients to have an advocate to look out for their best interests.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support throughout this whole ordeal. We hope that this chapter of Dad's struggle will soon be behind him so that he can move on to the next phase.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Six Week Mark

You read that correctly. As of today, Dad has been in the hospital for six weeks straight, all but a few days of which have been spent in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. In a way it seems like a lot has happened over the last 42 days, but unfortunately there hasn't been a whole lot of progress in Dad's condition overall. In fact, in my opinion, he is doing worse now than he was just 1 and 1/2 weeks ago. When I saw him on April 7th he was very awake and alert, happy to see me, and had gained quite a bit of strength is his hands and arms. He was even spelling words out using a paper with letters and brief statements typed on it. Things seemed to be going well.

The 9th is when his lungs collapsed again; things have not been well ever since. Both my wife Jen and I went to see him on Sunday the 12th and I was honestly quite shocked at what I saw. He was no longer alert or happy. He didn't even really seem very happy to see us. I could see the utter exhaustion on his face, and he couldn't even really find the strength to mouth anything other than, "Thank you," or, "I love you," and even with those phrases his lips and tongue would quiver for a few seconds before he was able to form them the way he wanted to get his message across. Most of the time we were there he didn't even look at us, he would just stare up at the ceiling. One of his doctors calls it, "The thousand-yard stare." The doctors felt that some of the drugs he had recently been treated with were at least partially to blame for Dad's lack of focus, so they have spent the last week trying to get them all straightened out and get him back to being more like himself.

I went and visited Dad again yesterday (the 19th of April), and things seem to have improved, but only slightly. While Dad would look at me more and noticed things go on in the room, he still had a difficult time communicating and would just sit and stare at me or others for long periods of time. He showed very little emotion and was very tired from the new exercise they started him on. They put Dad on what they call a cardiac chair and strap him in. The chair is kind of a cross between a hospital bed and an arm chair (I'll post a picture as soon as I get one). It's adjustable, and they sit Dad almost straight up and then push him around the halls – hopefully he'll be able to go outside soon. Dad's nurse and respiratory therapist on Saturday were both really pushing hard for the doctors to order the chair for Dad, as they felt it would really lift his spirits and hopefully help get some of the gunk cleaned out of his lungs.

Dad's ventilator settings are still very high, and when they tried to change them a bit today his lungs didn't react well, so the settings had to go right back up. His kidneys are producing about 50 cc's of liquid per hour now (which is good) but they still aren't filtering like they should, so he is still receiving dialysis every other day. He has had pancreatitis the last couple of days, so his feeding tube was shut off. It was turned back on today and he seems to be doing alright with it for now. The cytomegalovirus and several bacterial infections are still being treated, and he is still receiving blood and/or platelets every couple of days.

As you can tell, there hasn't really been a whole lot of change over the past week. One day will be a little up, the next a little down, but it is averaging out to be very little change overall, which is why I haven't posted anything in just over a week. I promise though, that if there are any significant changes, I will definitely post it right away.

One more thing I wanted to share is about the incredibly huge costs of staying in the hospital for so long, especially under such intense care. Mom said she received the bill for the first month of his stay and it amounted to just under $500,000! Thank goodness Dad has good insurance through the university and for yearly out-of-pocket maximums! :-)

Thank you to everyone who posts their wishes of hope and words of encouragement here on the blog, and to all those who pray, send donations, or help and encourage us in many other ways. All the acts of kindness truly mean a great deal to all of us, especially my mom and dad.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

See What I Mean?

So, we've had another turn around, but at least this time it is in the direction we like. Dr. Bull, the cardio-thoracic surgeon who performed both lung surgeries on Dad, spoke to my Mom yesterday and his outlook is much more positive than that of the Doctor from Friday. He said that he has been doing this for a long time and deals with patients almost every day. In contrast he said that the SICU doctors are usually on for a week or so and then have a few weeks off, and that everything they say should be taking with a large grain of salt. He told Mom that based on Dad's situation and his will to keep on going, he fully expects that Dad will be able to go to the Huntsman Cancer Hospital soon and begin receiving the experimental chemo and that he'll be able to go home at some point. Dr. Bull said that the SICU doctors sometimes forget that cases like this just take a long time, require some patience, and that there are bound to be setbacks. So, for now, we're all breathing a big sigh of relief.

The procedure they performed on Dad Thursday night is called a bronchoscopy, and Dr. Bull says that Dad has been much improved since that time. They took a scope, went down into Dad's lungs and sucked out a bunch of blood and mucus. The virus for which he is currently receiving treatment is called cytomegalovirus. It is actually a virus which most humans carry and have antibodies to fight, but is serious for those with compromised immune systems like Dad. Another factor which puts him at high risk for being affected is the dialysis. The medicine he is being treated with is called ganciclovir, which has been around since 1980. It works by inhibiting the growth and replication of the virus.

Another piece of good news is that Dad's kidneys suddenly started to work on Friday, enough that they put a catheter in him for the first time in a couple of weeks. They aren't producing enough for him to be taken off of dialysis, but Dr. Bull is encouraged by the fact that they are trying to do their job. Overall, Dad was in a much better mood yesterday and is starting to look better again (Mom says he had big dark circles under his eyes on Thursday and Friday).

Happy Easter to everyone! This Easter is especially meaningful for us as we reflect on the meaning of the Savior's sacrifice and resurrection for our family in light of Dad's condition. Although we want Dad to be around as long as he is up to it and as long as the Lord sees fit, we know that we will be with Dad again in the next life because of Jesus Christ. His gift gives us comfort and hope for the future.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Back to the SICU

It's hard to believe how this whole ordeal lurches back and forth and up and down. I was about to post an entry yesterday afternoon which would have been a very positive one. At that time, Dad was still in the Intermediate Care Unit and his ventilator settings had been turned down in the morning to where he was initiating every breath and the ventilator was just supporting him. They had also discovered why he has to keep receiving blood every day. He has some sort of virus (I haven't been able to get the name yet) which is causing the problem and they have started treating it.

Unfortunately, that is the only good news from what happened yesterday. When the care team took an x-ray of Dad's chest, it looked like there was a bunch of mucus stuck in his lungs. They decided to send him back to the SICU so that he could again receive one-on-one care from a nurse and hopefully prevent it from happening again. In order to get out the mucus that was already down there, the doctors decided to use a scope and clean it out. However, when they got down there, they didn't find any mucus. Instead they found that his lungs were again inflamed, bloody and had deflated – especially the right side. So, they had to turn the ventilator settings way back up in order to inflate the lungs again.

One of the SICU doctors took Mom outside of Dad's room and just told her straight up what was going on. He said that while Dad did come close to dying several times in the first couple of weeks and got better, even though none of them expected him to, things again don't look good. The doctor said that most of the time when individuals have been on a ventilator for so long, with so little progress toward getting off of it, it usually means that they never will. He also mentioned Dad's kidneys again, and how they are basically not functioning at all and that they will continue to have to put him on dialysis every other day. Then he got right to the heart of it and said that there is a good chance he will never get to go home again – in fact they may never be able to get him to the point where he can even go to Promise, the long-term acute care facility. This doesn't mean that Dad is going to die in the next couple of days, but it's definitely not the kind of news we were hoping for.

Mom has asked that only Dad's immediate family (kids, siblings and Aunt Jill) come to visit for the next few days due to this setback. The whole family wants to again thank everyone for your continued love and support. It means more to us than any of you will ever know. I'll post again when there is any significant change.

P.S. I almost forgot, here are a couple of pictures Dad wanted Mom to take and have posted on the blog.

Dad wanted to make sure everyone could see him with his trach. :-)

This is Dad's every-other-day dialysis machine.