Cancer, United Hospital

Virtual Palliative Care Experience: Gentry Kestner

‘Collaborative care has been the best thing for us’

Gentry and Maxine Kestner

October 17, 2019

For Gentry Kestner, the ability to see a palliative care provider via virtual health without leaving the Spectrum Health Cancer Center at United Hospital is a welcome blessing.

Gentry, 42, was diagnosed with advanced-stage liver and colon cancer in October 2018.

While receiving chemotherapy treatment in Greenville, she’s able to be seen remotely by Julie Bekius, a nurse practitioner at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion in Grand Rapids.

“I like that I can do it here instead of travelling all that way to Grand Rapids,” Gentry said.

Gentry’s mother, Maxine, wholeheartedly agrees as she brings in Gentry to each treatment. Maxine doesn’t like driving in busy, Grand Rapids traffic.

“We would be like a fish out of water,” Maxine said. “Our stress level would be double. Collaborative care has been the best thing for us.”

During the virtual health visits, Bekius can discuss Gentry’s symptoms and medications while giving her support and encouragement, just as if she were in the same room.

“She’s super nice,” Gentry said of Bekius, “She’s very compassionate, very friendly. She makes you feel special.”

Gentry was one of the first virtual health patients seen by Bekius. They started seeing each other in November, shortly after Gentry’s diagnosis.

During virtual health visits, an on-site medical assistant will take a patient’s vital signs and then providers listen to their heart and lungs in real time using a Bluetooth stethoscope.

With palliative care, Bekius will discuss how Gentry is coping with her cancer diagnosis and how treatment is going. She can manage symptoms just like she was seeing her in person.

“You forget there’s even a screen or miles between us once you get talking,” Bekius said. “I’ve really enjoyed connecting with patients this way.”

Cancer center manager Judith Smith said the use of virtual health continues to increase. “The positive response we get from patients is amazing,” Smith said. “It helps remove the transportation barrier to treatment.”

Smith said she’s appreciative of the efforts of virtual health specialist Katie Thorsen in getting the program established for area cancer patients. For more information on virtual health palliative care contact 616.391.9945.

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